Home > social-emotional > Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be…

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be…

Here’s an article making the rounds, which is funny because it’s so true.


Good morning, children, and welcome. Today’s science demonstration will require a laptop, a printer, and 20 liters of coffee. This experiment is called “Applying for Funding.”   <snip>

Real scientists never enter a lab. We work our whole lives to become, if we’re lucky, managers of sorts. We oversee, we organize, and we teach. We attend meetings and send e-mails. We think, we write, we debate, we format, and we complain. The day-to-day job of a scientist — a real one — isn’t too different from that of, say, an insurance claims adjuster.

The article is mainly about the fact that the public perception of science as a profession is shaped largely by mad-scientist movies and whiz-bang demonstrations.  I’d have to add the constant stream of news stories in which some tiny incremental improvement in the state of our collective knowledge about how some ridiculously complicated natural system works and what we can do about some immense problem of human suffering, some little grain of sand added to the sandcastle of the Global University, is oversimplified and treated as an Amazing Breakthrough.  We seem to forget, in the phrase, “quantum leap,” that a quantum is actually a teeny-tiny itsy-bitsy eeeny-weeny change.  Similarly, in those news stories, the contribution of the Lone Genius Scientist is overplayed, forgetting about the legions of graduate students and postdocs who actually do the work, as well as the centuries of giants upon whose shoulders they all stand.

For those who have read the twisted tale of my life thus far and how I got from being the youngest in my class to being the oldest in my class, finally finishing school (this time for sure!) at the tender age of 42, you’ll know that I started life as a starry-eyed molecular biologist.  I was going to cure cancer.  Because although I knew intellectually that science was a lot of hard work and a very long process, some little part of me still held onto the magical belief that you had a brilliant idea on Monday, did the experiment on Tuesday, got data (cells gotta grow overnight) on Wednesday, published on Thursday, and on Friday were on the plane to Stockholm.

It took literally ten years (four as an undergrad, during which I was involved in bench research almost all the way through, and six as a grad student), before I understood what this article is talking about, and realized that my extraverted novelty-loving big-picture-oriented but not-much-of-a-schmoozing personality was not a good fit for the real life of a scientist.  I’d be a good grantwriter, I suppose, but ugh, not what I want to actually do for a living.

So my point in making this post?  Gifted kids need career guidance.  Early and often.  So many of us are afflicted with “the perils of multipotentiality” — we can go in many different directions, we have many different interests and talents, we have many choices.  Sometimes we foreclose too early, other times we wander without direction.

Very often what a field looks like when we’re kids has very little to do with what it looks like when we’re adult practitioners.  And very often what a talented kid looks like when they’re very young has very little to do with what an eminent and creative practitioner of the field is going to look like in adulthood.  Knowing a lot of facts about science or having precocious math procedural skills (which is what precocious science-y math-y kids often manifest with) is a great potentiator of creative thought later in life, but it isn’t the same thing.  Some kids are just good at piling up facts.

Reading biographies of famous individuals, particularly those written for younger audiences, doesn’t help all that much, I’m afraid.   Those tend to contribute to the same misconceptions about heroism and breakthroughs and such.  Same with having occasional visits in the classroom or one-time shadowing experiences — again, the focus tends to be on the gee-whiz aspects of the career, a sales job more than anything else.

Kids need real information about what those people really do all day, what the life is like, what personality characteristics and working styles are good fits for it (and which are not!).  What I think is most helpful is for those kids to have ongoing mentor relationships with adults in the field, folks who will honestly answer questions and suggest routes by which kids can meaningfully explore and pursue their passions.  They should also volunteer information that fell into a kid’s blind spots, stuff they didn’t even think to ask about.  For example, my Little Bird, who wants to be a veterinarian, found out from her mentor that a huge part of the job is about dealing with humans, keeping the patients’ owners happy, because no cat ever brings themselves to the vet.  Perhaps obvious in retrospect, but not obvious to a caring and empathic tween girl who loves animals and science.  If a kid feels weird or intimidated about asking for a mentor, remind them that most people who are truly passionate about their careers also love to share that passion with others, especially young folks who might want to grow up to be like them.

(side hint/plea — if you love your work, offer to mentor kids who are curious about it!  Not every kid has easy access to a family friend who just happens to be in your field.)

Mentors can also help link a kid up with long-term experiences where they can get their hands dirty and become part of the action, particularly as they move into the teen years.  Trying something out, over a long enough time to get past the “squeeeee!” stage, is terrific.  Worst case?  The kid finds out that it’s not what they thought it was and they’d rather go in a different direction in the same field or pursue other passions entirely.  Not such a bad worst case — better than finding it out six years into graduate school.  Best case?  The kid gets experience that both helps them understand the complexity of a field and, oh, by the way, looks great on applications.

As an adjunct to learning about a career in depth, kids need to learn about themselves. Knowing about your own personal learning and working profile, in its many dimensions (subject for a future post), is important.  There can be many different ways to be good at a profession, of course!  But if you don’t know what your own strengths and weaknesses are, you can neither think about how your current style might match up nor think intelligently about what you might want to develop about yourself in order to become a better match.  Introspection can be a valuable tool for this — books like What Color is Your Parachute? (oh, look, there’s a teen version — I haven’t read it yet, but I’d consider that a good bet as a starting point) can help structure some aspects of the exploration.  It can also be helpful for kids to ask the adults in their lives to share their impressions — chances are good that no one vision of a kid will be perfectly accurate, but when diverse sources start to give convergent data, that’s something to take seriously.  Getting professional help (from a formal assessment, a therapy relationship, a career counselor familiar with gifted kids (i.e., who won’t just say, “Ooh, you’re so wonderful, you can be anything you want to be!”) can provide another helpful outside perspective.

What else do people think would help kids make smart career choices?  Chime in below!

  1. August 7, 2010 at 2:24 am

    42 is not unusually old for a PhD; 2 of my 7 completed PhD students were older than that. For that matter, 5 out of 28 for my department were, and 2 of those were over 55.

    As for helping kids find their life work, I have little practical advice. The personality of the kid will determine what mix to use of putting lots of stuff in front of them, pushing them to practice, finding them mentors, giving them opportunities to try things, cutting off useless distractors, helping them learn social skills, and so forth.

    Incidentally, it is ok for kids to have multiple passions. The standard advice given to grad students (put on blinders and focus on only one thing) is not really good long-term advice for most highly-intelligent people.

  2. August 7, 2010 at 3:37 am

    Well, I think it depends a lot on what field you’re in. I started my first PhD program (in cancer biology) at age 20, and virtually everyone was in their twenties. If someone got held onto until they were 42, that would have been cause for showing up at their defense with a hammer (grin). In between, I was a typical-age teacher and educational therapist, and then got my PsyD in a program that had a pretty bimodal age distribution — a lot of kids fresh out of undergrad, quite a few fresh out of masters or with an undergrad plus a couple of years of work; and then the smaller group of re-entry students like myself, where my age was older than most but not ridiculously so. I’m speaking not so much to the age in absolute terms as to the fact that I really could have used more career guidance at various points along the way.

  3. August 7, 2010 at 4:51 am

    Sorry, I was a grad student at Stanford (having just switched from math to CS) at the time of Ram de Leeuw’s murder and don’t find the “(grin)” appropriate. Ram was the nicest faculty member in the department (which is probably why he ended up with the psycho). There is apparently some risk in being the most accessible faculty member of a department.

    Most of the older PhDs in our department did not take unusually long to finish; they just started late, often after a long career at other jobs. I don’t think we have any students left who’ve taken more than 7 years full time, and I think that by October we won’t have any left with over 6 years full time (assuming the defenses go as well as expected).

    Last year we had a fairly flat age distribution for our grad students from fresh out of undergrad to about 57 or 58. Several of the older ones just finished, so I don’t know if we have anyone over 50 this year.

  4. August 7, 2010 at 5:28 am

    Sorry, did not mean to be inappropriate, nor did I wish to condone a murder. Thanks for reminding me of the complexity of that story.

    For my part, I knew a nontrivial number of doctoral students who were inappropriately kept from graduating by their PIs because they were too useful.

    In any case, this is a side issue. My point about being 42 when I finished was that I took many different paths along the way, and can identify several different points where I either should have been provided or sought out guidance and didn’t, or did seek out guidance and didn’t get very good advice.

    • Kirsten
      August 11, 2010 at 8:07 pm

      The committee is supposed to be in place to prevent that (inappropriate retention of useful students). However, if there is an imbalance of power in the committee, few people are willing to go out on a limb for someone who is not their student. Plus, very few doctoral students pick the committee early enough or convene it often enough to protect themselves. When someone is being exploited, that person finds it hard to protect his or herself.

      • August 12, 2010 at 9:52 am

        Absolutely. I should add that one of the other features of us re-entry students is that we are likely to be a lot more savvy and comfortable about using the committee process more actively. But even so, the difference between theory and practice in theory is a lot smaller than the difference between theory and practice in practice.

        I have to say that my own doctoral committee members were each wonderful in their own way, although the nature of my program is that I was working on my own research instead of on some aspect of my chair’s research — this was much more like a mentoring relationship than a traditional PhD program would be. But I’d been ’round the block a few times before, and was highly intentional in terms of who I chose.

  5. LizPf
    August 7, 2010 at 5:35 am

    What did my husband do this week? [He’s a PhD research engineer at a government funded research lab, not all that different from a scientist.]

    “I wrote a 51 page patent application and struggled to create 17 drawings according to the patent office requirements.” He did get some lab time, but it was mostly type, type type, draw draw, mutter — he is *not* an artist or draftsman.

    Other typical days involve endless meetings, trying to get into the lab when the only guy with a key considers it his private empire, figuring out how to express your dismay that your primary research was used as the basis of a major paper, and you *aren’t* listed as an author …

    There’s a lot of romance about the lone scientist/egineer in their private lab, perhaps with an assistant (Igor! I need brainzzz!), working all hours inventing things. The reality is that scientists/engineers need people skills and diplomacy as much as any one, perhaps more.

  6. Maryann
    August 7, 2010 at 5:50 am


    This is exactly what’s been going through my head recently. It took me YEARS to figure out what to do with myself. The advice I tended to get in school was along the lines of “what are you good at?” & “what’s interesting to you?”

    By the time I got to college, I was bored in my engineering classes. So much so that I switched to Political Science, studying problems with lots of variables and no carved in stone “right” answers.

    Only recently (as I’ve been researching issues for my child) have I realized what a disadvantage multi-potentiality is when it comes to choosing a direction. My parents always seemed slightly disappointed that I didn’t “reach my potential” by going straight to grad school, but when you haven’t found your passion, it’s just passing time.

    Having an adult life outside of school has also made me a much better student than I was prior to finishing my undergrad. Prior to real adulthood with the attendant responsibilities, I never had to learn study skills, etc. Now, I at least have a career that includes enough big-picture complexities to keep me interested (and it is not directly related to my undergrad major or minors).

    • August 8, 2010 at 10:34 am

      “What are you good at?” is a mostly useless question — gifted folks are often good at many different things. Also, we’re often good at learning new things quickly and well, so not being already good at something isn’t necessarily the best indicator that we’re not going to be good at something. And, like I said in the article, what you’re good at in a domain as a learner might not have all that much to do with what an expert practitioner of the domain does in real life.

      “What are you interested in?” is another question that sounds nice but isn’t going to tell you all that much. A lot of us are interested in a lot of things, and a lot of things we might be interested in we don’t even necessarily know about. I became a scientist because I love learning about science, I love talking about science, I love thinking about science — but what I love about science is how broad it is, how interconnected everything is, the magic of getting from not-knowing to knowing by carefully designed observation. But to be a scientist means focusing down on something tiny enough to do a good experiment and staying there for a very long time, which means that the stuff I was most interested in wasn’t what was done. Meanwhile, while I was reading some stuff about psychology (I was particularly interested in animal cognition) on the side, I didn’t have enough actual exposure to the field to realize how fascinating I would find it.

      I also agree that having real-world experience is totally worth it. Re-entry students are the best!

      • atxteacher
        August 18, 2010 at 9:59 pm

        My path was rather winding, too. For me, I needed permission to truly pursue ANY career. I was the elementary student who was going to be a pediatrician when she grew up. Decided in 4th grade and was nicely rewarded by my grandparents and teachers and father for such a fabulous declaration. Never mind that I was disturbed in my high school internship by having to hold down a child for stitches – I tear up when I think of it now. Never mind that I was bored to tears in my college internship – how many ear infections does the pedi see in a day, in a week, in a year?

        Declaring you want to be a teacher doesn’t garner ooh and ahhs from the gallery. I wouldn’t be fulfilling my potential in a teaching career. I got here eventually, though! My first year teaching was as difficult as my first year in med school – but much more rewarding personally. I lamented how I could love something so much that would never provide the financial rewards I was taught to value. But I have found my calling. I make a difference for children – which was why I wanted to be pediatrician in the first place.

        I needed permission to truly examine any career as a possibility. And BTW, I am a “doctor” of sorts now – finished my Ph.D. in Ed Psych at age 36.

      • August 20, 2010 at 11:15 am

        atxteacher, I think you bring up a good point — we have to be very attentive to which ideas we support and which we subtly denigrate when we’re talking with kids. There are lots of old Jewish jokes (which I can tell because it’s my tribe) along the lines of, “How old are your kids?” “The doctor is 7 and the attorney is 5.”

  7. kcm
    August 7, 2010 at 6:15 am

    I’ve stumbled around a bit too, and am still doing so in spite of being a bit older than you. Of the books I’ve read/advice I’ve gotten, I’ve liked “The Pathfinder” by Nicholas Lore the best. I went to the trouble of doing career testing through the company he started (Rockport Institute), and it was interesting. I gained more insight there than from the questionnaire-type career guidance tests. I think it would provide useful information for a teen. (Things like spatial ability/preference, tendency to try to solve problems (diagnostic reasoning), different types of memory (design, number, associative).) But…I can’t say that I’ve put any insight I gained to good use!

    The complaint about what a scientist’s life really entails holds true for a variety of careers in engineering and the sciences, in both academia and industry.

  8. August 8, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Hm. I tend to be relatively skeptical about most questionnaire measures. They’re typically very transparent, so they tend to tell you not much different than the person could just tell you if you asked them, and they tend to tell you what the person thinks about themselves, and/or what the person wants to present about themselves. It’s not that you get no information, but you have to remember that testing of any kind never actually tells you about the person. It just tells you what happened when that person took that test that day. It might reflect something about the person, or it might not. (Gee, I should write some posts about what testing does and doesn’t tell us.)

    It sounds like the testing you did was a bit more in-depth — how did it work?

    • kcm
      August 10, 2010 at 9:59 am

      Yes, that is the way I feel about questionnaire measures too. The other testing I mentioned was self-proctored, IIRC there was a CD that paced the testing, and had maybe 10?12? sections. (Not at home right now, so can’t check my notes.) Parts of it resembled parts of IQ tests, to the extent that I remember any tests I took as a child, but it was somewhat different. Let’s see, I recall sections that involved having to remember things (different in different sections – lists of numbers, nonsense words, design details) that were shown for a short period of time. There was a section just to gauge writing speed, another to write as much as possible about a topic in a specified period of time. In any case, though there was also a short questionnaire, the test was mostly active tasks of some type or another.

      One thing about it, although I’m still/yet again trying to figure out what to do with my life, the results were useful in that they confirmed that my original career choice had been a reasonable one and that what I was doing at the time was also a good fit in some ways. At the time, I came away feeling like I just needed to tweak things to find a better fit. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to follow through on that tweaking.

      • August 11, 2010 at 10:10 am

        Interesting! Although I don’t think a computer version would be as useful as a human-administered evaluation (because when I do this, I am looking not just at “what did you get right and wrong” but “how did you approach different kinds of tasks and what did you do when things didn’t go the way you hoped”), I could see that as being at least mildly helpful.

  9. Helen
    August 9, 2010 at 2:43 am

    I know — every questionnaire I ever tried had a lot of questions that if I knew the answers, I’d know a lot better what I wanted to do. In addition, they would ask what one enjoyed doing in a very general way, without any input about what level of the activity one enjoyed, so that I was constantly getting told that I ought to be a mathematician, simply because I had said that I didn’t mind working with numbers, doing mental arithmetic, etc.

  10. bj
    August 9, 2010 at 3:32 am

    I think the question of the value of a re-entry Ph.D. (i.e. when you’re 42 or 57) might be quite a bit field-dependent. In some biology fields, most of the entrants are planning academic careers and not many go to other fields (practical fields, be it clinical practice, industry, pharma, government, ngo’s, etc.). In other fields (Clinical Psych, for example, or engineering the non-academic career track might be bigger). In addition, many older students might actually have extensive experience in the field and are getting the Ph.D. to change their role or focus, rather to newly enter the field. I would be hard pressed to imagine a neuroscientist (or a molecular biologist) finishing their degree at 42 (following it with a 3-6 year post doc) and then looking for academic positions at 45-48).

    • August 9, 2010 at 5:02 am

      Most of our re-entry students are looking for postdocs and academic jobs in their 40s and 50s. Granted, they are mostly computational biologists rather than molecular biologists, but several of them do molecular biology lab work. Why are you “hard pressed to imagine” this? Now, my eyes aren’t good enough and my hands not steady enough to work with microliter quantities, so I don’t do wet-lab work, but that has stopped others in their 40s and 50s.

      • bj
        August 9, 2010 at 5:15 am

        But do they succeed? (in finding academic positions in their 50’s)? I’m not making a judgment about one’s ability to do a Ph.D. (though lab work in the form of all night experiments or standing at a bench all day can be harder on an older body, it really depends on the particular person), I’m making a statement about the likelihood of someone gaining value from their Ph.D. beyond that of the enjoying the Ph.D. work itself (that is, a future change in employment).

        (But, I think that my perception points out the other comment I had, about how even within a field, science, or biology, or molecular biology, there might be even more variations dependent on employer and sub-field, and so on).

  11. bj
    August 9, 2010 at 3:46 am

    I agree whole-heartedly that lots of people have a mis-understanding of what the practice of a profession entails. And even people who have some understanding may have not understand how its practiced in a slightly different way (for example, the engineer’s understanding of pharmacology practiced at a medical school, or the medical pharmacologist’s understanding of geology practiced at a PUI).

    So, for advice given to youngsters, my goal is to first, not tell them they have to choose now, unless they push for it. I don’t want to immediately suggest to a child interested in biology that they should get a Ph.D. in Genomics, or to a musician that they should aim for the symphony. Instead, I try to encourage my kids to find out for themselves how they can follow their interest, with the acceptance that only the person with the limiting passion might pursue the extreme profession (i.e. the violinist who wants to — and might end up playing for — the National Orchestra). That’s a price to pay, potentially, the loss for these high achievers of some sorts of positions, but children who casually focus single-mindedly also pay a price, in, perhaps, not finding what they really wanted to do, or recognizing that they are ill-suited to the practice of the passion they felt at 10.

    I also try hard not to rank professions. I find a lot of bright kids are subtly discouraged from teaching, as an example. But as Aimee points out (in her linked bio), teaching was a better way for her to express her interest and passion for science than grad school in science was. Law is often seen as a default field, or one you do for money. But, I know many lawyers who find their legal work, which they would characterize as applying rules to solve problems.

    Finally, as Aimee points out in her essay, sometimes the practice of a field (being Ms. Frizl, for example), might conflict with other important values in your own life (be it having children the way you want to have them, or to live in a particular place, or to pursue a hobby extensively). I try hard to let my kids here all these things.

    And, as rather achievement oriented youngsters, my kids don’t need a lot of pushing to stay on track, so my pushing is mostly oriented towards getting them to stay true to themselves. Kids with different personalities might require different kinds of feedback (say, the child who *knows* they want to be a rock star, but doesn’t want to learn anything about music.

    • August 9, 2010 at 8:37 am

      Yeah. Something else I would mention is that kids should learn about the diversity of jobs available in a field, the paths by which people get from here to there, what the “carrying capacity” of any given niche is (i.e., how competitive it is and what fraction of the people who say, “I want to be X” eventually end up being able to do it professionally), and what the fallback positions are if they don’t get their first choice. The carrying capacity for the niche “making a good living as a professional musician” is very small, and the fallback positions (giving music lessons, teaching middle school band, etc) may not be particularly attractive. The path to veterinary school is very competitive, and takes more than a love of animals to get through.

  12. August 9, 2010 at 8:29 am

    Threads got too deep, so I’m replying to bj’s comment #13 here.

    Two of our students who were in their 40s when they got PhDs ended up with tenure track faculty positions at top-ranked universities (UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins).
    They may both have tenure now. Two more recent older grads have just finished and are doing postdocs, but I think that at least one of them is likely to have a tenure-track position within 3 years.

    • August 9, 2010 at 8:57 am

      I think the tolerance of a field for re-entry students is likely to be highly dependent upon not just the specifics of the field, but also the specific program and its existing faculty, and then the specific places they’re trying to get hired later on. Certainly, career-changers or career-morphers in education and counseling are quite common, and tend to be viewed as in many ways superior to the “fresh out of college” crowd. Before this conversation, I knew only of a few examples of re-entry students in the sciences. It sounds like your school’s program is highly welcoming, and that’s wonderful.

      Overall, my feeling is that re-entry students, where they are tolerated, are likely to be the best students in the bunch — they’re typically much more goal-directed, and, as mentioned above, they’re also likely to be better at self-regulating, staying organized, etc, and the real-world experience is very helpful. However, especially when we’re gifted re-entry students, we’re also potentially a lot more intimidating and confusing to people whose image of “a good student” is someone who is young and eager to be shaped in the teacher’s image. The teachers need to be a lot more mature and confident in themselves to find such students attractive.

      • Helen
        August 9, 2010 at 9:06 am

        One of my sisters got her first non-post-doc position (microbiology) in her mid-forties, so it certainly happens. She didn’t have any luck with getting an academic position, but she hasn’t had too tough a time getting jobs in industry at all, and is now a research fellow in Cambridge (Mass., not UK).

  13. Tamara Lichtenstein
    August 12, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Really helpful and insightful, Amy! Thanks! May I forward to my sister?

  14. Anonymom
    August 14, 2010 at 11:23 pm


    Great post and something my rising senior is struggling with right now. He is beginning to choose colleges to apply to. His interests range from computer game design/development to chemical engineering to pharmacology. Computer game development and design is his top choice, and he’s looking for programs with a strong computer science basis, as that is his fall-back position. One thing that we don’t know about the computer game industry today is how likely a single person is to be able to have input into the design of the game idea, storyboard, levels, etc. and also be able to work on the development. I sense that many places now use interdisciplinary teams, which is great, but does that relegate the developers to just code monkey, or do they get to work on the game design phases too?

    His AP biology teacher recommended pharmacy. He looked into it but felt that pharmacist was mostly a role of “expert” and not what he was looking for. He wants to be “making” things, not just “knowing” things. But he is fascinated by the ways that drugs act on the body, and would be interested in working on the development of new drugs, which is how the interest in pharmacology came up, but he has truly no clue (neither do we, his parents) of what a day in the life of a pharmacologist would be like. Similarly chemical engineering, which he thinks might be another cool “making” profession (developing new materials?) but again he doesn’t really know what it would entail.

    But… he feels like he needs to decide now, because all of these college programs are things that start freshman year almost everywhere, and in many cases you even have to apply to the right college/program within a college right now. RIT offered a summer intro to careers program that he wanted to attend that seemed like it would give some of this information, but he couldn’t coordinate the time off from his (residential camp counselor) job. I will encourage him to contact them about maybe getting copies of presentations or information that would have been handed out at the sessions he was interested in. (RIT is also fairly high on his list of colleges he’s looking at, along with RPI, WPI, MIT, Northeastern and Drexel.)

    So, are there any good resources/approaches you can recommend for a senior in HS who feels like he needs to decide right now? Thanks for the article!

    • August 15, 2010 at 2:52 am

      Anything the size of a serious computer game (or any other major undertaking) is likely not to be a solo endeavor. Gifted kids tend to hate group projects because most of the other kids aren’t as interested or skilled enough to make a real contribution, and the projects tend to be simple enough that the GT kid can do them on his own. This is a real issue for kids as they grow into adults, learning to find teams that they can work with and learning the interpersonal skills needed to work well with them (topic for another blog post, I’m sure).

      Agreed that pharmacy (dispensing medications) is not even remotely the same thing as pharmacology (developing medications). Argh, this is just the kind of dumb advice I wish I weren’t shocked to hear coming from a science teacher. (“Oh, you like chemistry and aren’t afraid of big words, maybe you should be a pharmacist.”) I agree with gassstationwithoutpumps, though, that pharmacology is too narrow a focus — any undergrad major in chemistry, biology (cell-sized and smaller), chemical engineering (whether that’s more about industry or developing new ideas depends a lot on the program), materials science, etc, would be a fine route. He doesn’t know enough yet about the field to know where to specialize yet — specialization happens in grad school. Get a solid science undergrad and explore within it. Get real bench research experience — most research universities (those on his list would all qualify, although they’re all quite competitive) will have some route by which that can happen.

      Similarly, with game design, I am wary of undergrad majors which are too tightly focused. Get a solid computer science degree, learn the important principles of software architecture and algorithms and program design, and you can apply those ideas to whatever types of programming challenges you later find interesting. (I’ll ask my husband, who knows this field much better than I do, having his undergrad and one of his master’s degrees from MIT in computer science, if he has anything else to say on that topic.)

      Interestingly enough, both biology/chemistry and software are areas of endeavor where the specific content material you learn as an undergrad is likely to be outdated within a few years of your graduation. The key is not to find a program which teaches lots of cool programming languages, but which teaches how to think about programming in a way which will enable you to learn any new language and to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of any new development environment. Same with science. What matters is how they teach you to think about research, how to be thoughtful, creative, skeptical, careful, intuitive, rigorous, etc. The specific content is just the surface-level chrome. Get these thought habits into your system, they’ll apply to anything you do. That’s why people like me can become serial career changers/career morphers.

      In terms of specific resources, he needs to start doing serious research, and soon, if he plans to do applications this fall. He can do a very surface-level search on Peterson’s or other college-search websites, but these are just ways to make a very broad list of schools (in terms of what general majors, levels of competitiveness, etc) to investigate more closely. Schools now all have their catalogs online — don’t read the fruity admissions materials (which will all say lovely wonderful attractive marketing stuff), look at what the courses are that you’d be taking in different majors, look at the flexibility of taking courses in other majors and movement between majors. It’s normal and good for a kid to have interests in more than one area of the sciences. I would regard having to apply to a specific major as a freshman as a negative about a school. If they have sample course materials available to read, read them. Go visit. Talk to alumni and/or current students (admissions office will likely be able to get you in touch with them in most places (I know that MIT will because my husband and I are both alumni interviewers)). When you do informational interviews, come prepared. Don’t come with questions you could easily have gotten answers to by websearching; instead, come with questions about the life of the field. And don’t feel like you have to know the exact answer right now. Choose a school / program which will let you explore science and make choices within it — the stuff that will eventually be most interesting to him, he probably hasn’t heard of yet.

      Read broadly in science — magazines like Science News, Scientific American, American Science, etc, or their web-equivalents. The goal there is not to say, “Oh, I liked this article, I want to go to the university these researchers are at,” but to get a sense of where things are fizzing and popping and just how diverse the broad spectrum of interesting stuff going on is. Let him see what really intrigues him, without placing the requirement that he bind the anxiety by choosing Right Now.

      • August 15, 2010 at 3:23 am

        One of the advantages of attending a highly competitive school is that you are much more likely to find yourself on a team with equally capable people and doing projects that are considerably more difficult than in high school. This means that the GT kid can’t just do it all him or herself. I will note, though, that many try and produce inferior results compared to what they could have done as a team (I recall some software projects at MIT where attempting to do it individually or even as “parallel play” really blows up in your face. Fortunately, we figured that out soon enough to get it done right!). If you want some articles on team development, you might check out:

        “Too Many Chiefs” @ http://www.corpmagazine.com/Features/BusinessVeteranAdvice/tabid/76/itemid/1519/Default.aspx

        “The Missing I” @ http://www.7stepsahead.com/articles/April10MissingI.pdf

        “Where There is Nothing” @ http://www.7stepsahead.com/articles/WhereThereIsNothing-lr.pdf

        “Deja vu All Over Again” @ http://www.7stepsahead.com/articles/DejavuAllOverAgainlr.pdf

        “Who’s In Charge Here?” @ http://www.7stepsahead.com/articles/WhosInChargeHere-lr.pdf

        There’s also my tip sheet from my Davidson Course on Gifted Kids and Group Work (http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10632.aspx)

        Regarding the computer game industry, you’ll find a wide range of involvement in teams. Some developers are also designers, some are not. At some companies you have to work your way into a design role, etc. Given how rapidly the industry is changing, I’m not sure how much any specific information will be useful in four years. That said, a solid background in computer science will certainly help here, along with an understanding of project management and scheduling. I know that MIT and WPI have some excellent computer game research going on. The MIT program does not require you to apply to it when you apply for admission, or even to decide a major until the end of your freshman year.

        You might also consider informational interviews with people in these different fields. If he’s not applying early, he’s got some time to make up his mind, and even then, if he looks at colleges that give him maximum flexibility in choosing majors, then he has that much more time to make a final decision. One approach is to find colleges that allow a final choice of major as late as possible vs. at time of application, and focus on those schools that maximize his available choices.

      • August 15, 2010 at 7:25 am

        I have to disagree (mildly) with the advice to delay choice of major. At a school like MIT or Caltech, where everyone takes similar first-year courses, that might work, but at a good state university, it won’t. Students thinking of a science or engineering major should declare one right away, so that they get advising by science or engineering advisers. The generic advice from generic advisers is almost always bad for science and engineering students, since it puts almost all the non-technical classes in the first 2 years and almost all the technical courses in the last 2. Maintaining sanity and finishing on time usually requires a more uniform spreading of the technical load.

        Note: I’m not saying that students have to make up their minds right away, just that they have to declare a major right away. It is fairly easy to change away from a STEM major, but rather difficult to change to one later on.

  15. August 15, 2010 at 1:05 am

    Drug design is a field, but it isn’t populated by pharmacists. Molecular biology and biochemistry are better routes to that field. Chemical engineering is more about scaling up to industrial quantities than in developing new materials (for that, try “materials science” or “synthetic chemistry”). Truthfully, for many of the cutting-edge making professions, a graduate degree is required, which allows for changing fields somewhat, so the B.S. degree does not define what you can do (though a poorly chosen degree can limit your choices).

    Computer game design (with rigorous computer science) is a hard major to find. UC Santa Cruz has such a program, and I believe that George Tech does also. Many for-profit colleges offer “game design”, but their offerings are usually smoke and mirrors, with no real preparation for the industry. Like movie making, it is possible for one person’s ideas to dominate the final product, but it currently takes a huge effort by many people with a wide variety of skills to make a successful video game. (Note: it is possible for a person to make a game single-handedly, just as it is possible for a person to make a movie single-handedly, but they rarely become major successes. I wrote recently on a feature-length animated movie done by a one person: “Sita Sings the Blues”.)

  16. August 15, 2010 at 9:40 am

    I agree with gasstationwithoutpumps’s advice that you don’t want to go in as a generic “undeclared” major if that would mean getting advising from people not likely to be in at least a related field. But that’s part of researching a college — figure out how much overlap there is in the first-year courses and how much freedom you have to do a little exploring and how easy it is to shift from one major to a different but related major and how advisors are assigned and how hands-on they are in the process (my undergrad advising could charitably have been described as “laissez-faire”). And obviously, don’t go in looking like an undeclared liberal arts major if you’re pretty sure you’re going to end up as something science-oriented — go in at least as some kind of science major.

  17. Anonymom
    August 15, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Thanks for all the detailed advice everyone. I just wanted to clarify about his AP Bio teacher recommending Pharmacy — the teacher is a practicing pharmacist, so the recommendation was not made out of ignorance. We looked into it a bit, and found that a pharmacist generally fills a role of a consulting expert on medications in addition to dispensing. My son has a lot of the right skills and abilities to fill this role, but it isn’t one he thinks he’d enjoy.

    He knows he is probably looking at a graduate degree and that’s a good reminder that a good basic degree is fine and he doesn’t have to specialize too much. We have been looking at the course requirements for the CS degrees and many of them require physics first year; not too many want or leave room for bio or chemistry but maybe with AP credit taking out some first semester courses (including physics most likely) that would give him the “space” to plug in some microbiology or something cool like that. Other schools are more flexible about the science requirements for CS majors, so they may be a better fit. MIT’s core first year would be perfect, but MIT will be a stretch (he has good stats but just average extra-curriculars and community service). In my mind his best bet at this point is to look for a strong CS degree with a gaming “track” or related options (computer graphics, artificial intelligence are pretty ubiquitous) that he can pursue, that also has the flexibility for him to take some biology and or chemistry at least first year, and have the flexibility to switch majors or pursue a minor for fun, or whatever he ends up wanting, meanwhile working on opportunities to meet with people in the fields he may be interested in. Thanks especially for the hint about asking to be introduced to alumni in career areas that are of potential interest to him. He’s a bit shy about that type of thing, but it seems like a great opportunity to learn more about what a “day in the life” would be like in various fields he might want to pursue.

  18. Anonymom
    August 15, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Here’s what he’s looking at for Computer Game design programs. (We have looked up all the required classes for all of these at some point, but they do begin to blur together for me at least.) We’d love feedback on the likely CS rigor of these programs:

    MIT: CS degree with access to Gambit Game lab and Media lab (ok, we know the CS here would be rigorous!)
    WPI: Interactive Media and Game Development, Technical Track
    RPI: Game & Simulation Arts and Science, dual degree with Computer Science
    RIT: BS in Game Design and Development
    Northeastern: Dual Major in CS and Game Design
    Drexel: Game Design and Development “track” of BSCS degree (I think they have a separate Game Design bachelors available too, not sure if dual major is possible)
    (Drexel is probably his financial safety, at least out of all the options above)

    A few others we’ve had recommended to us but haven’t looked into fully yet:
    SUNY Buffalo: CS Degree with Game Studies certificate
    Pitt: CS degree with Game concentration
    GA Tech: Their game design program looks like more of a Design program than a CS program — unclear how much you could tailor the CS degree to take advantage of some of the offerings
    Kettering: CS degree with Game concentration
    Case Western: CS degree with access to some game design classes and Virtual Worlds (Gaming and Simulation) Laboratory

    Thanks in advance for any comments on any of these. We’ll have to review them in detail for flexibility of first year classes as well. (With the programs that are dual majors, that’s probably harder.)

  19. Kirsten
    August 16, 2010 at 12:03 am

    I will comment that Bio majors usually do not take a biology class their first year. Usually, they concentrate on Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry (or fundamentals of Chemistry) and Physics that first year. Then in the second year, they often take a survey class of biology (full year) that introduces genetics, cell biology, biochemistry and evolution and some physiology. That survey course duplicates the A.P. Bio, but in greater depth.

  20. Anonymom
    August 16, 2010 at 4:20 am

    Thanks, Kirsten, good to know 🙂

  21. August 16, 2010 at 6:58 am

    Kirsten, Anonymom, all of that depends a great deal on the specific program, which is why I advise looking at actual course catalogs rather than assuming that all majors with the same name are similar. When I was a bio major at MIT (admittedly 20 years ago, but I don’t think that’s changed much), I took two (maybe three, can’t remember offhand) bio courses as a freshman, none of which duplicated the AP curriculum (they all took that as sort of “given” — there was no class which mimicked AP or did any survey course as you describe, I just got random credit for the AP. Genetics, cell bio, biochem, and comparative physiology were all in-depth full-semester courses.

  22. Anonymom
    August 16, 2010 at 11:07 am

    ok, we’ll do our homework on that 🙂 I was thinking of him just taking some “relevant” classes freshman year to figure out if he wants to switch into a science major from a CS. But based on Aimee’s experience, and the article that spawned this blog post, classes aren’t a great indicator anyhow. So also meeting with folks who do these things for a living will be a priority for this year. (I’m a computer scientist but so far removed from the game industry that I’m fairly useless at helping him know what his life in that industry would be like.)

  23. kcm
    August 18, 2010 at 12:47 am

    I’ve been debating whether it’s relevant to mention an article I read recently, in Mechanical Engineering magazine, titled something like “Engineers as Visionaries.” (It’s extremely unusual for me to actually read an article in that mag, much less remember it.) One of the themes of the article was that increased specialization in technical fields has resulted in work which is unsatisfying to many of the people who go into those fields. To me, this seems related to the difficulty of multipotentiality, with a focus on those whose strongest suits are math/science.

    Anyway, I’ll throw it out there in case anyone else is interested. A link to the article – second paragraph is what hooked me.

  24. August 20, 2010 at 11:01 am

    from the article…. “More telling than this general conclusion, though, was the determination that of male engineers who left engineering to find a job in another field, 16 percent did so to earn more money, whereas 32 percent changed careers to find more interesting work. For female engineers who switched careers, the difference between financial motivation and the quest for more intellectual satisfaction was even greater: 4 percent versus 48 percent.”

    Very interesting. As a non-engineer, I think of engineering as something that seems cool and interesting and neato-keen — you get to come up with all these crazy ideas and then actually make them work. Again, that’s what we see in the popular press. But I suspect that the reality is much less sexy: between the brilliant idea and the really neatokeen finished product (and the CEO salary) is a lot of very dull work, and, like science, a lot of the people who contribute to the finished product weren’t getting to be very creative themselves. There’s a lot of scut-work in any field.

    Which is itself something I think it’s worth thinking about with kids. Every field has its boring parts. Believe me, I spent I think eight hours yesterday doing paperwork, doing things like writing treatment plans for community mental health clients who showed up once and aren’t likely to come back, oy, that has to be my least favorite part of the work (because I am privileged to have a wonderful office staff who does most of the insurance company interface work). It’s not a question of finding a field where there is no boring work, but rather finding a field where you’re willing to put up with the boring work that is there (and/or where you can find ways to automate it or farm it out to someone who is better at it than you).

  25. August 24, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Aimee, I am a new reader to your blog and am fascinated and entranced, and extremely excited to join the conversation.

    so many competing thoughts, I hardly know where to start…

    First, your post in #9 of comments (date Aug 8) was really important for me to read tonight. I’m a card-carrying computer scientist (er, well, I have an MS in CS.) I still can’t get my wireless printer to print wirelessly (or wired, for that matter. Argh.)

    But your points in that post resonated with me because I actually found a field where my ability to learn new things quickly was valued, and where I could actually put that skill and that multi-potentiality stuff to work productively for me, and that is consulting, specifically eLearning consulting. (amusingly enough – I used to do recruiting for my big consulting company, who I no longer work for since the tech bust of the early 2000s, and we often sought candidates from ALL engineering programs because we found their problem-solving skills and ability to learn quickly to be somewhat universal. My best-ever technology lead on a project was a Mechanical Engineer who was doing absolutely no mechanical engineering, but was an exceptional team lead, technology architect, and manager.)

    I think this might be relevant to Anonymom’s detailed questions about her son’s college search.

    I stumbled across my degree program entirely by accident (a cute guy I knew was in this degree program and when I compared notes with him I realized I had met many of the prerequisites as an early Sophomore.) I have a Cognitive Science undergrad, with a Computer Science masters from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. I haven’t looked at the details of the program since I graduated in 94/95, but the undergrad program was a multi-disciplinary program (psychology, computer science, linguistics, and neuroscience.) My graduate degree was basically a 5th year masters with more in-depth work (I took a non-linear path through my masters, having found a way to bundle my last year of undergraduate with my first year of graduate school, and get my 20 hr/week internship employer to sponsor me, though I/my family paid my way. I was wily like that.)

    But what I learned was how to build computer programs that teach people stuff. Even now, 15+ years later, the things I learned then are 100% applicable. The technologies have changed, but the principles of adult learning theory and user-center design haven’t changed at all. I can still design circles around most learning designers. And the principles of managing a technology project haven’t changed in the slightest. We’re all still out there running design/build/test/deploy cycles in software development. Any good CS program is going to give your son a chance to understand that (and heaven help them if they don’t, because working in the field with employees who don’t understand this stuff is torture.)

    Point of note – 4 years ago, nobody was designing iPhone apps. Today? And I GUARANTEE that they use some level of design/build/test/deploy methodology even if it’s just one or two guys/gals tinkering with code on weekends as a break from their boring job in the IT department at some insurance company.

    And Aimee, you’ve really helped me understand what’s been frustrating to me about working of late. I took a hiatus to raise my kids, who are now full-time in school and have been for 2 years. I’ve worked some contract work in the meantime, but oh my heavens, the people, the work, some of it is really painful. I joke that I could train monkeys to do some of the work (but that wouldn’t be kind to the monkeys…) Your later post (#40 – of Aug 20) is really resonating with me, particularly about how women are more likely to state a desire for greater intellectual satisfaction as a reason for leaving the field…(or something along those lines, I am sure I’m misstating.) It’s hard to re-enter a field after a break, even though your fundamental skillset hasn’t changed.

    And, as a gifted adult, the technology landscape having changed is meaningless to me – I can still do what I need to do, I just adapt to the changing landscape, but, sigh, people look for buzzwords on resumes and I don’t always have the right ones. So I’ve had to AGAIN punch my card, put in my time, do the grunt work (and learn a software program by looking over the shoulder of the “developer” in one four hour dev session, growing increasingly frustrated at his turtle-slow pace in doing the supposed development work.) I’m glad to see I’m not alone in this desire to seek meaningful work – I wonder if there’s a strong gender divide in “wants meaningful work” as a rule along the lines illustrated in that study you quoted from.

    But meanwhile, one of my other potentialities is around my advocacy for gifted kids (having two of them now myself) and specifically for differentiated gifted ed (my kids attend a private school for gifted and talented) – and now you have me wondering if career counselor for gifted children might be something I should consider for a future role for me…

    Ah, the constant buzz of activity that is my brain. It’s a joy to be up there some days, when I’m not driving myself crazy. 😉

    Thanks for your blog and your wonderful articles. Can’t wait to comment more on the organizational ones and others!

    • September 3, 2010 at 5:21 am

      I think you’re absolutely right. You use your computer-science training the way I use my scientist training — for me, it’s about the continual cycle between observation and hypothesizing, with an experiment (or test, or intervention, or question, or anything else I do) being essentially a structured observation, designed to provide information that will help shape and refine hypotheses. That’s why I am so much in favor of getting a solid training in a field, emphasizing transferable skills and habits of thought. Specifics go out of date too rapidly — specializing in what’s new and hot may get you the first job, but you run the risk of being overspecialized when the path you were going on turns out not to be the path the world goes, so you don’t have the right buzzwords on your resume.

      As far as “wants meaningful work,” no, I don’t think there’s a gender divide. There’s a lot of diversity within the population regarding how strong the drive for self-actualization is, and there’s also a huge amount of diversity in terms of the real practical choices people get. While I don’t think that gifted folk are unique in terms of looking for meaning, our tendency to be able to process information at a postformal and postconventional level (we will tend to question assumptions and to be able to handle very high levels of abstraction in reasoning) probably leads us to ask those big questions and to become eventually dissatisfied (dare I say bored?) with simply bringing home a paycheck. Whether it’s the job or the hobbies that become the vocation, I think that a lot of us are very aware that what we want or even need in life is some understanding of what our “calling” (since that’s what the Latin root for vocation means) is.

      I know a lot of folks who started off in one field (many in physics) because they thought it was amazing and cool, and then got drawn off into another field (many into computer science) because the first one was harder than they thought and they realized that the new one was relatively easy and lucrative and provided lots of cool problems to solve, only to wake up five, ten, twenty or more years later to realize that they’d lost that sense of vocation. Many did find a way to change careers at that point (my husband, Steve Balzac is one of them!). My own path has not had that “disillusionment” stage, but it’s been a sort of constant journey of realizing what skills I needed in order to keep pursuing my own calling.

      • September 3, 2010 at 8:47 am

        Computer science done right is *not* easier than physics (though many physicists think that physics is harder than anything else). The difference is that half-trained, marginally competent computer scientists get hired in droves, while physicists have relatively few job prospects. So a moderately good physicist can become a crummy computer scientist and get hired.

      • September 3, 2010 at 12:32 pm

        Well, I’m not making claims that any particular field is hard or easy. It would start sounding too much like the jokes orchestral musicians tell, each instrument’s players making fun of the other instruments’ players. The guys I know who found computers a siren song were first-rate software architects. It’s just that what they thought they valued when they were young turned out not to really reflect their values as they got older.

      • September 15, 2010 at 1:20 pm

        I think I’ve pinned down things a little better in my thinking since I jumped into this discussion.

        First, I think it is very challenging for the non-primary-career parent (I’m going to go ahead and call this “moms” from now on, fully aware of the fact and friends with a few “dads” in this role) to find part-time work when the kids return to school.

        My husband and I go around and around with the working discussion. In his mind, it should be simple for someone with my credentials and experience to be able to find work. He’s right. When I actually seek work, I’ve found it (literally the projects fall into my lap. I have exceptionally good Job Karma. I must have bribed the Job Gods in a previous life.)

        I don’t, however, actively seek work very often. Reference aforementioned difficulty in finding part-time work (although I have found part-time consulting work, but it requires much legwork to find) as well as the fact that my “street cred” in my field is dusty and I find it exceptionally painful to be doing work that I could train a monkey to do (wait a minute – that wouldn’t be nice to the monkeys again…lol) even if they pay me my desired rate.

        My husband finds this astonishing, and thinks I should suck it up. Because, after all, that’s what he does when he slogs off to work each day.

        My other primary aha with this thinking is this – as much as he complains about his job and the slog (long commute on top of demanding job and fast-paced work environment with high travel) – the reality is that he is meeting his need for self-actualization through his work. The extras give him something to complain about (hours, demanding colleagues, travel, commute) but the reality is that his job IS really intellectually rewarding. But I do not think he would report it as such. So his perception of my job search including a “satisfaction” component is that I’m being lazy or too demanding in what I’m looking for, and that I should just take the first darn thing that comes along.

        Not that this is supposed to be a treatise on the challenging marital dynamic when one job is primary and the other is secondary, but as it turns out…my job is secondary, and has to be secondary to the real (and challenging while also annoying and sometimes mind-numbing) work of caring for two school-aged (gifted and intense) children. Therefore any work I seek has to REALLY be worth it, because it’s a severe drain on my mental, physical, and emotional resources which are already in the danger zone from the everyday slog of being the primary parent around (see aforementioned Crazy Partner’s Schedule) for two intense kids.

        I have no idea if I’ve made things make any more sense or just babbled, but I feel better for having pieced it all together in text. 😀

        Meanwhile, to change subjects interestingly – my favorite subject in senior year of H.S. was physics and I debated it as a major until I learned how much Calculus (which was completely unintelligible to me) was required. So I went cognitive science as undergrad and did a graduate MS in Computer Science.

        I have a feeling that the people who went CS but now feel disillusioned might be caught in the hamster wheel of big-company IT, which is no home for a free-thinking problem-solving computer scientist. Those folks should go off and design some iPhone apps and become iPhone app zillionaires, or at least have some fun with what they “do for a living” – or reinvent themselves like all the women I know are doing! I’m in the process of also trying to become a published novelist. Why not, you know?

    • kcm
      September 15, 2010 at 9:28 pm

      Thread has gone a bit deep here, so it may not be clear that I’m replying to Karen’s message of 9/15, but that’s my intent.

      Just wanted to say that the dynamic and trade-offs regarding work are very similar in my household. Finding the right balance is difficult. We also have the problem that increased work for me means that my husband has less flexibility to spend more time on either his work or on consulting. Since he’s junior faculty on tenure track at a top tier university and is currently commanding much higher consulting rates than me, whatever work I commit to has to pay reasonably well to make sense. That makes experimentation a little difficult.

  26. MB
    August 30, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    This has been a wonderful bit of synchronicity for me as I was up all night rethinking my career options. I was given this link in the am and have been entranced by all of the comments. In particular, Karen’s note about “Your later post (#40 – of Aug 20) is really resonating with me, particularly about how women are more likely to state a desire for greater intellectual satisfaction as a reason for leaving the field…(or something along those lines, I am sure I’m misstating.)” just hit me on the head.

    I was a Biology and Russian Areas Studies double major at a most competitive liberal arts college and graduated 25 years ago. I was pre-med but for personal reasons pursued a PhD in neuroscience right out of school. I wanted to do more teaching or clinical work than basic bench research and left after a year, deciding to find a job in my home state (NY) while applying to medical school. I did hospital consulting work out of a software company until entering med school, where again I “loved everything”. I have been a practicing pediatrician for 15 years now but have had some degree of frustration with it for about 14 years.I have always held outside leadership,business, and education roles to spice it up but the effort to “spice it up” is wearing on me.

    I do not want to trade in my cash cow (not alot of cash from this cow, but definitely a secure supply of milk!)until I have settled on my specific career change but I am pretty close to making the jump, probably to the law. I am totally switching based on the need for more intellectual stimulation. I am a learner, an idea person, and a service-oriented person and I just need to be growing and helping, so working on advocacy and policy is what I think I will be doing in 10 years. Healthcare law (a natural) and education law or policy (from the personal side of life) are my interests. I would love to be a constitutional scholar but I don’t see myself landing a clerkship with a judge at age 49 or 50!

    I need to do this as much for my kids as for me. I know that they (especially my 13 year old)struggles with multipotentiality as much as I have always done and I need to show all of us that sequencing works for very intense gifted people like us. I have tried to throw myself into volunteer work (oh, am I overextended at this point) and other hobbies to distract myself and that doesn’t work.

    Thanks for all of the wisdom from Aimee and the comments. The universe is smiling on me this morning.

  27. Maryann
    August 31, 2010 at 5:54 am

    MB – Wow you have lots of things to think about right now.

    As I was reading your comment, I wondered, “Why does she need another degree???” While degrees often give us the “certification” to get the “job” we want, you likely have the skills and potential to handle steep learning curves. It sounds like you don’t need a “job” either. You’re looking for more project based consulting work in policy or lobbying. If you don’t want to practice law, do you need the certification to be able to do so?

    Like Aimee said, maybe you should find a mentor. 🙂 You can find out if it’s possible to do what you want to do without spending the time and money on a(nother) degree.

    • August 31, 2010 at 7:04 am

      The question you asked implies that you regard school as an unpleasant place, to be avoided. I saw MB’s comment more as “what excuse can I use to justify going back to grad school and having fun learning again?”

  28. Maryann
    August 31, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Thanks for the check! That was not at all what I intended.

    Certainly, if the goal is to be in school, be in school. Personally, I have found that I learn more (and more quickly) outside of a formal school setting than I do in school – it seems that I learned to learn to expectations in school. (Not that I want to avoid school, but if it’s not the goal, it may not be the place to be.)

    Many grad programs seem to allow students to determine their own course of study. Law school does not seem to do that as much as others (as is the case when you are learning a trade vs. independent, specialized research). I say this from the outside, having not attended law school, but considered it – for similar reasons as the OP. One of the things I found was a local, part-time, evening Law program. That may be of interest.

    If the goal is to be doing advocacy and policy work, find a way to do that work with the background already in place. There will be tremendous amount of challenge built-in to any career change. Something as flexible as advocacy & policy will have constant new info to learn.

    Again, a mentor, who has BTDT might be the place to start.

    • September 3, 2010 at 6:09 am

      I agree with Maryann that if your goal is to do policy and advocacy work, you may well be able to do quite a lot of helping individuals or small groups of people without an actual law degree. Not sure where the ceiling on that is — if your goal is to make larger-scale changes, I’m not sure to what extent that is possible without a law or public policy degree, although I note that we have a few doctors in Congress. Agreed that if you, like me, like school (okay, I hate jumping through other people’s hoops, but I long ago resolved that raging against it was nowhere near as useful as learning to be very very good at doing it), and can tolerate the financial and time crunch of law school, it may not be a bad idea.

      But I’d investigate, and think carefully about what you want to accomplish. You have the card from the MD guild, and having one from any guild can often get you quite a lot of respect in other guilds, particularly if the work you’re doing can be tied to pediatrics. E.g., if you were interested in doing something around raising awareness of diagnostic puzzles (and the sometimes resulting psychopharmacological train wrecks!) raised by young GT and 2E kids, your pediatrician status might be all you’d need. Go for it!

      You might be able to start as an advocate with your own real-world experience as training, and then work on getting some kind of official calling-card along the way, see where you are pulled and the absence of which degrees is getting in your way. “Advocate” is not a regulated term or field the way “psychologist” or “pediatrician” are. As a caution, I would say that a lot of certification programs exist, some of which carry more and less actual weight, and this can be very difficult to sort out. Looking at <a href="www.degree.net"www.degree.net, which is a reputable source for information on which schools are real and which are degree mills, I only see one night-school JD degree, and nothing online, but I see places like Capella with degrees in things like Public Administration.

  29. September 3, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Aimee Yermish :
    The guys I know who found computers a siren song were first-rate software architects. It’s just that what they thought they valued when they were young turned out not to really reflect their values as they got older.

    As one who changed fields myself (math to CS), I was not intending to pick on others who made similar choices. I have met others who changed fields and became first-rate in their new field. I was just reacting to the “the first one was harder than they thought and they realized that the new one was relatively easy” comment.

    The perception that other fields are easier seems particularly common among people switching from physics. I’ve met a lot physicists who thought that physics was the “queen of sciences” and that as physicists they could solve any problem in any science if they just turned their minds to it. A lot of (theoretical) physicists have made fools of themselves by trying to apply their simplified models to complex systems in biology, for example, not realizing that the field is data-driven, not model-driven, nor that the noise levels in the data are much higher than physicists are used to dealing with. (I’ve also met physicists who switched to biology because they thought the problems were harder and more interesting in biology—they tended to do better.)

    People who switch to a new field because it is “relatively easy and lucrative” do often end up unhappy later on. Those who switch because the new field “provided lots of cool problems to solve” are much more likely to be successful and happy.

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