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Making a Living v Making a Life

Someone said to me recently “Why don’t you work as a scientist anymore? Why don’t you do what you’re qualified to do?”. Good questions, both of them.

Do you remember deciding what you wanted to be when you grew up? I don’t (but, admittedly, I don’t remember much earlier than 2001; something to do with that debaucherous post-PhD year I spent living in a hostel in London). My recollection of my decision to “become a scientist” revolves vaguely around several influential people telling me I was “good at science” and some other (as it turns out, misinformed) influential people telling me that scientists make heaps of money. Since I grew up in the country, my only real desire was to do something which propelled me out of small town South Australia.

Without doing any due diligence of my own, I was encouraged to apply for a Bachelor of Biotechnology at Flinders University, at a time when it was the only degree of its kind in Australia and the course was only two years old. The Biotech Revolution!

Four years later, I was lucky enough to have churned out enough well-written essays and a thesis with sufficient scanty data, to pass with first class honours. From that point on, until I left science in 2009, I really had my scientific career laid out for me. Due to the collaborations I’d made during my honours year, I was offered a PhD at a lab in Melbourne. Wait, did you say Melbourne? Did you say adventure? Where do I sign up? Then (after the aforementioned “freedom year” in London), I sent an email to a great guy I’d met at an international conference once asking if I could come and work with him. Yes, really, just like that. “Well, it just so happens we’re hiring!” After three delightful post-doc years in the UK, I made my way back to Melbourne and found a job waiting for me back in the same lab in Melbourne.

Perfect, right? Lucky, right? Well actually, it turns out I didn’t ever really want to be a scientist. It turns out it was always just really easy to float along into the next “golden opportunity”. Oops.

Here is a small sample of my thoughts at the time: How could I have just “wasted” 17 years of my life on this career path? It’s too late to just change careers now, I’ll just have to make the best of it. My job could be so much worse, look at how noble this is! This actually pays quite well, what’s the problem?

The problem, actually, was that I had been concentrating for so long on making a living, that I had never stopped to consider making a life. Lucky for me, in this day and age career reinvention is pretty standard. Inspired by the success of my friend, mentor and now business partner Kirsten, I took the plunge and made a radical career change. Sure that involved a bit more study and hard work, but the reward today is seeing Universities, not-for-profits and commercial businesses win bids and advance their projects with our help. What more could anyone ask for?

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