Some time ago, I volunteered to participate in a QN Podcast's "Voices" episode. These episodes consist of the awesome Sage asking questions about a particular topic from 4-6 people, and then combining the answers (either recorded by the participant themself or read by someone else) to an interesting, beautiful, inspiring glimpse into various human lives.
The below is a modified version of my answers to her questions concerning career choices. If you want to hear what she did with these, see QN: When I grow up (4 Voices). I was absolutely delighted about the reader who did my part; I feel she managed to portray my feelings despite being a complete stranger to me.
This is highly personal and publishing it is pushing my confort limits for this blog. Which is partly why I do it. Enjoy.
What did you want to be when you were twelve? Why?
Sometime between ages 10 and 12 I became aware of the fact that the world in general is a nasty place. Like, I suspect, many idealistic children grown up in relatively safe environments, I was shocked hearing about such things as wars and famines, and quite unable to believe that adults could not stop those things if they wanted to.
I decided to become a doctor, so that I can travel to the places with these problems and help the people. Being a naive and idealistic child, I was convinced that human suffering can and will be solved in my lifetime. I never doubted that. After all, it is just a question of the rich giving food to the hungry, and all the people deciding together that they will not fight the wars anymore. That's all it takes, and since people are inherently good and sensible, we just need to organize things a bit, and it'll be alright.
Part of me still believes that. But like the child, I have no idea where to start from. (Unfortunately, they did not teach that in medical school, after all.)
What did you want to be when you were eighteen? Why?
At 18, I was still planning to become a doctor. To be honest, that was probably more because I had spend the last six years telling everyone that's what I will become, and it would have been to embarrassing (I felt) to change my mind. Appearances were very important to me at that time of my life, though you might not have figured that out if you saw me, as my chosen appearance was to be more than a bit peculiar.
Now that I think about it, so was propably everyone else's at the time - we all wanted to be unique, just like everyone else.
I suppose I was still five years old in one sense: I was still unable to envision myself as an adult with a job, and I picked a career that sounded fancy, without really understanding what it means. Very rarely during my studies did the thought enter my mind that I had better learn the stuff, because I will need it when I am a doctor. When I went to see a doctor myself, I did not really imagine myself on the other side of the desk.
For someone having entered medical school out of the wish to help people I was paying very little attention to the tools that could help me do so. I still had a genuine belief that doctors help people, and I still had the genuine wish that someone would do something. I just could not imagine myself as that someone.
What's your career now?
Telling you about my current career (if you can all it that) would require a longer answer than a podcast episode. I went on to finish medical school, then (partly because I did not find I was ready to be a doctor - unsurprising after not spending all the years preparing that I should have) went on to get another degree in computer science.
Currently, I am doing my PhD on the applications of a certain computational method on certain type of medical research. It is highly specialized and about as far as you can get from concrete helping of people without actually leaving the field of medicine altogether or using your MD title to cheat money out of patients or the public.
I have also recently gotten back to actual work at a clinic, in child psychiatry, but after 1.5 years of working half time in both I decided I need to actually concentrate on one thing at a time, and I decided to try and finish the PhD first. I have now given it a mental deadline, and then I'll be out, one way or another. (I am not sure if I have said this with quite these words to my supervisor, so, if you heart the episode or are reading this: yes, I seriously mean it.)
How do you feel about your current career?
Sometimes I hate it, and sometimes I love it.
There is a lot in science I detest. Or, rather, not in the science itself, but in the culture of science. For one who was very concerned with appearances in her youth, I have come a suprising way and started to feel terrible about the necessity and pressure to keep them up. And there is a lot of that in science. There are days - one day every week, probably - when I think I just cannot take it anymore.
Many things in the culture of science need to change, and will change in the coming decades - but I am not sure if I have enough in me to be part of that revolution, either.
But of course, it is not only that. It is also exciting to be part of the community that spends their time discovering new things and disproving old truths. It is a fairly free job, too, most of the time: I can decide when to come to work, when to leave, I can work late if I want to and no one thinks me weird, I can take a day off to just read at home if I am trying to learn something new... That kind of things.
The practical side of my work, with actual patients... well, I love it and I hate it, too. And for much of the same reasons: I love the work itself, I like patients - yes, in the end, I do like helping people, and I am told I am and I feel reasonably competent at psychiatry for one without that much experience. But I hate and detest the public health care bureaucracy, especially with the panicky reorganizations that the supposed global economical depression causes just when we would need more time to work in peace and more resources because of it.
I suppose there's the 12-year-old me speaking here: I like the work, I want to do it, I see what should be done, and I cannot understand why we cannot just do it the sensible way.
What do you plan to change in the next five years?
During the next two years or so, I want to get my PhD (or quit trying), and I want to get my full lisencing as a physician so that I can do private practice, which requires about a year's worth of full-time work in health care still.
I mostly want those, and especially the lisence, because I think they are my current best option to freeing myself to pick and choose my own work.
I still want to change the world, even if I now think that my 10-year-old self's idea that we will see the end of wars and famines in our lifetime simply because people are good and don't want those things was, uh, slightly exaggerated. That if it was likely to work that way, it would have happened already.
I am at a point where predicting where I'll be in five years is pretty much impossible. And I am excited about that: an adventure is starting. Closing 40 years, I've finally realized that I can become an adult, and that it sounds like a lot of fun.