“Step out of your comfort zone and start the uncertain journey of discovering your career!“
During my master studies in Molecular Life Sciences at Maastricht University, I discovered that I was more interested in discussing my research results, than staying focused on filling tubes with 20 µl solution or selecting specifically mutated fruit flies (with curled wings) with a microscope. Due to my interest in the societal implications of science, I decided to start a second Master in Applied Communication Sciences at Wageningen University. Analysing the societal impact of intelligent prosthesis, mapping the ethical considerations of clinical trials and communicating the risks of Q-fever - it was like stepping into a warm bath: comforting.
I combined my thesis with a traineeship at the Rathenau Institute. For this traineeship I worked in Japan to compare the nanotechnological developments in the Netherlands and Japan and the way potential societal implications are handled.
After my studies, I had no idea about my career possibilities outside research. I knew I wanted to get to know the healthcare and Life Sciences field and work in a communicative position, but had to switch between various positions to find out what suited my personality and interest. It is like finding a partner, not everyone marries with the first person he or she dates.
I started as a marketing manager for an international company that produces products for Life Sciences research, then switched to a project manager position and organised events in Life Sciences and healthcare. This position gave me the opportunity to get to know a broad range of companies and organisations in the field. After almost two years of project management experience, I felt the urge to go back to working with content. I was offered a position of healthcare consultant and helped healthcare organisations to implement the idea of Value Based Healthcare. During this job I discovered that I was more scientifically than economically minded and missed the real societal impact of my work. Therefore I decided not to look for another job, but to discover what I really wanted! I started a search of organisations and people whose activities I found most appealing. I looked online via Google and LinkedIn and talked with relevant people in the field. When I found the profile of the head of the Athena Institute, a research department of VU University, I thought: this is what I want to do!
Now I am working as a researcher and teacher at the Athena Institute. The Athena Institute studies and designs interfaces between science and society. I specifically focus on patient participation and how patients’ views can be used for innovating current healthcare paths. Within this position I combine consultancy, research and teaching. It gives me the possibility to integrate my interests and past experiences.
In my job, no work week is the same. Each day is a dynamic combination of activities consisting of teaching, project management, contact with clients and conducting research. To give you an impression: last week I facilitated a group discussion with eight young mothers, who had given birth several months ago, and discussed their experiences with the quality of care during their pregnancy and delivery; I interviewed a physician about her experiences with patient participation and analysed the weblog stories of parents with a child with a congenital lung disease to discover their perspective on the delivered care and possibilities for improvement. I also had a meeting with an intern to discuss a research proposal and talked with Bachelor students of the VU about the perspectives of different stakeholders on the free market forces in healthcare. And I have been thinking about my new article: what set up shall I use and which journal would be most suitable? I ended the week with a meeting with an advisory council to present the preliminary results of a project and to brainstorm about potential future steps.
Through my career choices, I got to know various employers and working environments. This not only made me realise what kind of work I like to do and what I am good at, but it also made me appreciate and enjoy the fact that I had found a job that fits me. People often say that it is not good to switch jobs too often, because it shows you are not loyal or you don’t have perseverance. But which is worse, pursuing fulfilment or staying in a job that makes you (and thus your social and work environment) unhappy. So step out of your comfort zone and start the uncertain journey of discovering your career.
By Violet Petit-Steeghs
published online 14-Nov-2018
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