Who are you without your profession? For the longest time, the only identity I had was as a scientist. That path is lost. I closed my research lab back in 2010, and have had numerous fantastic opportunities outside of science since then. I’ve written previously about some of my new directions and major life detours. Back then, I wrote “The key for me here is that taking action implies making a choice, choosing a path, and moving forward on it. Some doors, some options will be closed or lost when you do.”
It always amazes me that I can know something logically, and yet still be surprised when something happens to prove it. A few weeks ago, I received an email inviting me to serve on a panel reviewing federal research grants. Grant review was one of my favorite activities as a scientist. I loved seeing the research plan and strategy before it was complete.
“Based on your scientific contributions to this field, I would like to invite you to serve as a reviewer on our panel. Please let me know as soon as possible, so that we can come up with alternate candidates if needed. Here’s hoping you will join us.”
I responded back that I would love to participate. Granted, I was surprised to be invited, as I hadn’t served on this specific review panel since 2013. Alas, the next email stated in part,
“It’s not clear if you’re still an active researcher in a lab. Could you please let me know? For this particular round of review, that’s one of the qualifications.”
Just like that, I realized that door was firmly closed, that path lost.
And it’s got me thinking about professional identity. When I’m asked what I do, and I’ll often start by saying, “well, right now I’m….” and I think I’m secretly hoping I might be asked what I’ve done in the past. Why does that matter?
I’m certainly not the only one to feel unsettled by this topic. See e.g. It’s hard also to separate who I am from what I do and this great story of an entrepreneur losing and reclaiming his identity. The latter article closes by stating “Right here, right now, I am choosing my identity by how I am choosing to spend my time.” And maybe it’s just that simple.
Who are you?