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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Allow me to tell you how awesome you are | Your Unicorn Career - Science Magazine

Photo: Alaina G. Levine
Introducing “Your Unicorn Career,” a new column from Science Careers, recommends Alaina G. Levine, STEM careers consultant, a professional speaker, and the author of Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015). 

Photo: Rich

Throughout my undergrad years studying mathematics, I fancied a magical job as a “theoretical mathematician.” In my mind, I would stand around blackboards all day, exploring the topological formulae that describe doughnuts and coffee cups—because that’s what we did in topology class. I envisioned lots of deep thought, ivy, wood-paneled offices, and nerds. Lots of nerds. As a nerd myself, it sounded like heaven.

But I was curious whether this was my only career option. I figured I had a variety of decent opportunities ahead of me. After all, I had majored in the language of the universe.

When I brought up the topic with my academic adviser—having never had a career conversation with him before—I was looking forward to him telling me about the many enchanted careers and jobs where I would be valued. 

Instead, with a blatant tone of disappointment, he used the word “nothing” to describe what I could do, other than become a professor, a teacher, or go into actuarial studies. He informed me that I was one of only two of his protégés to not go to graduate school. In his mind, it was clear: I was a failure. 


In the 22 years since then, I have thought back on this moment 1001 times—and I have heard similar stories from 1001 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals. I’m not angry at Dr. Math for counseling me as he did. Dr. Math, like many professors, contently resided in the two-dimensional plane of the tenure track...

But something funny happened on the way to the quasar. I realized that as much as I love astronomy and physics and indeed many other areas of STEM—I soon switched my majors to math and anthropology—I didn’t want to conduct research in any of these areas. Solving mathematical problems was great fun, but it was not what I wanted to do 100% of the time. I wanted something more from my STEM career.

As I explored jobs in science communication, outreach, marketing, and career planning, I realized that, to do all the things I wanted to do, I would have to be creative and entrepreneurial. I would have to make it myself, in my own way, to stay authentic and achieve my own definition of success. It also meant I would have to argue with the ill-informed and haters who couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t want to help me in my vision.

But over time, I forged my dream job. You can, too.

Source: Science Magazine