“New responsibility creep” can drain the satisfaction science jobs provide. We describe strategies and tools to redesign your job to reflect your interests and goals.
Science Jobs As Houses With Additions?
The house may look good, but with those additions, what’s it like inside? Is getting from bedroom to kitchen a tortured journey through twisting hallways, up random stairs, around imposing walls? Does the house’s design enhance its occupants’ quality of life?
Science jobs resemble houses with additions. They begin with simple structures. Then, as houses respond to new needs with additions, science jobs respond to “new responsibility creep” with new tasks. Like the evolved house, the evolved job may look good on the outside but be problematic inside. Its new tasks may dilute the scientist’s core interests, diverge from the scientist’s purpose and goals.
The ebb and flow of projects in science organizations makes it feasible for most scientists to redesign their job to better meet their needs. The payoff for redesign can be significant, like the difference between microwaving a packaged dinner and making a recipe from scratch. Cooking the meal takes a bit more effort but yields a more personalized, satisfying dining experience.
Three Job Redesign Tasks
Three redesign tasks keep science jobs as satisfying as they have the potential to be:
- Clarifying the foundations of the job—passions, purpose, aptitudes and pay—provides a basis for taking action to make job changes.
- Using tools—formal roles, informal roles, studies, and mentors—builds the foundations into the job.
- Completing a one-page goal-based work plan builds on the foundations and uses the tools to create a comprehensive, prioritized roadmap for action.
Answering these Foundations questions provides the core for redesigning jobs:
- Passions: What passions generate provide the most significant sources of motivation and energy? For many scientists, solving complex problems, disproving erroneous theories, or doing complicated calculations spark very high levels of job satisfaction. As “new responsibility creep” grows, it’s easy to lose sight of one’s passions. A 30-minute exercise restores much clarity. In the first 15 minutes, one lists without analysis as many job tasks as one can that generate any spark of motivation. In the second 15 minutes, one rigorously matches each item on the list against all the others, progressing to a small (3–5) number of the most important passions. (Readers interested in more details for this exercise will find it at the website www.thepassiontest.com.)
- Purpose: Like passions, purpose also motivates many scientists and can also fall prey to “new responsibility creep.” Purpose can be overall life purpose, e.g., “I am personally committed to curing Disease X within the next 10 years.” More often, purpose encompasses several smaller-scale issues, e.g. “I believe clinical pharmacologists should be more involved in research design,” or “I think discovery and Phase I research should be less encumbered by expectations for quick payoffs.” Whatever the scale of one’s purpose may be, it’s essential to make sure one’s job honors, and possibly actively expresses it. (Readers interested in more details about clarifying purpose may find it useful to write a “This I Believe” piece, see www.thisibelieve.org.)
- Aptitudes: Though some career counselors advocate building jobs primarily on one’s aptitudes, i.e., natural abilities, scientists know that this approach can create problems as well as solutions. It’s easy to confuse ability with enjoyment—just because one finds it easy to write poetry doesn’t necessarily mean that one enjoys either the process of writing or the completed poem. Also, following one’s aptitudes can lead scientists to be pigeonholed doing tasks that generate little passion or purpose.
- Pay: As long as scientists are not independently wealthy, it’s also important to include aspects of pay—salary, benefits, upper limits, career paths, etc.—as an essential aspect of job redesign. Thankfully, the Internet makes data on pay available to all in a way that makes it possible to deal realistically with the financial aspects of many science jobs. Regrettably, some scientists fail to do the due diligence with this data, and experience surprise and disappointment when they discover that the job of their dreams imposes financial limits on the life they want to lead.
Project Flow and Tools
The ebb and flow of projects naturally beginning, developing, and concluding in science organizations makes it easy to redesign jobs, continuously bringing new opportunities for scientists to alter formal and informal roles, engage in studies, and work with mentors:
- Formal roles, tasks, and responsibilities that become part of a scientist’s job provide one excellent job redesign tool. Taking on a formal new job responsibility gives a scientist license to connect more effectively with one’s passions, purpose, pay, and aptitudes.
- Informal roles, tasks, and responsibilities provide an additional, often overlooked job redesign tool. A scientist who wants to reconnect with her passion to perfect Bayesian analysis can often arrange, beyond her formal job responsibilities, to work more informally in advisory roles with specific projects.
- Independent studies, whether done as part of one’s job or on a scientist’s “own time”, enable scientists to work in areas that tap into their passions and purpose, and benefit their organizations as well. Independent studies can enable scientists to expand their existing passions and principles as well as explore new areas that intrigue them, e.g., how other departments in their own organization work.
- Mentors, people with extensive expertise in specific subjects, abound in science organizations. Most are open to having discussions with other scientists who want to learn from them and explore new applications of their knowledge.
This concludes Part 1 of this blog post, providing the building blocks for the foundations and tools for redesigning science jobs. Part 2 of the post draws on the foundations and tools to produce a one-page document useful both for clarifying the scientist’s thinking and negotiating changes in the job in the organization.