As a child, whenever somebody asked me about my future, what I planned on doing when I grew up, I already knew the answer: I was going to be a physician. I enjoyed medicine, I liked helping people, and doctors, as a whole, seemed confident and glamorous. Becoming a physician was a confluence of everything I loved and wanted in a career. The question wasn’t hard, and the answer never changed.
Until, that was, I entered college. For a variety of reasons, I realized that I preferred medical research to clinical practice. I switched my interests over to graduate school instead of medical school and, years later, I am the struggling, nervous, easily excitable fourth-year graduate student who’s writing to you now.
And yet, despite this seemingly decisive change in my professional aspirations, I never regained that confidence I had as a child. I recently had my dissertation committee meeting, and when I was asked directly about my future plans (academia, industry, etc.), I admitted somewhat sheepishly that I didn’t know.
That’s the truth—I don’t really know. I have no idea about my future, other than (a) I will probably graduate with my Ph.D.; and (b) I will have significantly more white hair as a result of the effort.
But the indecision isn’t unique to me (despite the Imposter Syndrome-like feeling sometimes that I’m the one graduate student unable to pick a freakin’ lane career-wise). Not only are other students also having these tumultuous self-reflections, the entire scientific Ph.D. enterprise is undergoing seismic evaluations of its utility and effectiveness in training the next generation of scientists.