Working Life

Taking ownership of luck

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Science  16 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6305, pp. 1330
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6305.1330

When people ask me how I got my job as the facility director for a biotechnology incubator right after finishing my Ph.D., my answer used to be, “I was lucky.” I felt lucky to land an intellectually engaging job that gives me the freedom to shape the future of a company in the city where I want to live. Actually, I felt lucky to get a job at all. But recently, I've realized that luck doesn't deserve all the credit—I do. I'm not saying that I made all the right choices, and serendipity played its role, but landing my job was first and foremost a result of my own hard work and determination. I'm now learning to take ownership of my success, which will help me continue to progress in my career.


“Each of my choices and accomplishments contributed to my success.”

As I was finishing graduate school, my plan was to write a paper while continuing my research as a postdoc before figuring out my next move. (I knew I wanted to pursue something other than a typical academic career.) But the postdoc position lost funding right before I defended my thesis. Suddenly, I had to choose between writing my paper and finding a job. One of my ambitions in grad school had been to publish in a respected journal, and shelving that goal made me feel like I was failing in a major part of my education. But papers don't pay rent, so I chose to leave it unwritten and find a job.

I figured that I was most likely to succeed if I cast a wide net, so I applied for many different types of positions—including grant writer, part-time lecturer, and laboratory manager—but nothing was panning out. With the possibility of living with my parents as a 28-year-old looming, I was getting a little desperate when I happened upon a job ad for a biotechnology incubator facility director, which an acquaintance of mine had posted on LinkedIn.

As I looked into it, I realized that I really wanted this job. The responsibilities included managing the daily operations of the facility, writing grants, promoting the space to potential clients, doing local outreach, and accounting. I didn't know how to do most of those things, but I was confident that I could learn and would enjoy the variety of tasks. I also loved the mission of the organization—to help early-stage biotech startups by providing quality labs. This was a chance to help nurture companies that would offer satisfying work to young scientists like myself.

When I got the job, which started the day after my grad school stipend ran out, I thought, “How lucky! What a serendipitous series of events that led me to a job I actually wanted.” Now, I know better. On my 1-year anniversary at this job, I reflected on all the new experiences I've had and how surprisingly well prepared I was. But the more I thought about it, the less surprising it became. Luck wasn't the only factor in landing this job. My actions led me here.

When I decided in my third year of grad school that I didn't want a career in academia, I took the initiative to seek out experiences that would help me build skills for other jobs. I wrote for a hospital media relations department, planned events, tutored, and attended every networking session I could. These experiences helped me submit a strong application package for the incubator job, and they have served me well as I have written marketing materials, run outreach events, and secured new clients over this past year. Each of my choices and accomplishments contributed to my success, so it's time that I own it.

Adopting this mindset hasn't been easy, in part because I am a woman, brought up with certain social norms. I am used to waiting for compliments only to humbly deny them, to declining to offer ideas if I'm not 100% sure that I'm right, to not talking about my accomplishments unless I'm asked. In being more vocal about how my choices and talents got me the job I wanted, I know that I risk being seen as arrogant. But I remind myself that no one will know what I can do if I don't tell them.

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