We hear a lot of talk these days about how important diversity is—gender, race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, and so on. Is your career diverse?
Network. One of the most important places where you need diversity is in your professional network. Do you regularly keep in touch with people from industry, academia, and government? How about with entrepreneurs? Do you talk with students and recent graduates, midcareer professionals, as well as senior scientists who may be thinking about moving into something else? You can use tools such as socilab.com to visualize and analyze your social media networks. Ideally, you will have many different clusters of colleagues, where everyone knows each other within the clusters, but those clusters are only loosely connected to each other. The more distinct clusters you have, the more diverse your network is—and the broader your reach when you need information.
Projects. Is there diversity in the types of projects in which you work? Do you have both short-term and long-term projects? Short-term projects provide immediate wins, while longer-term projects provide more substantial accomplishments. Do you have some projects that are routine, reliable, and virtually guaranteed to be successful, and others that are riskier but have more chance of paying off big? Having variety in the types of projects you have ensures that when you’re stalled on one, you can use that time efficiently on another. Moreover, your deadlines will be spread out.
Knowledge. It’s easy to find something you enjoy and focus on that, and it’s very easy to stick with it. You learn more and more about an increasingly specialized area, until you know absolutely everything about almost nothing. Making sure that you have some expertise in multiple subjects makes it easier to shift your priorities with changing technologies—especially now, when so much of science is interdisciplinary and shifting constantly.
Skills. In addition to knowing different things, you need to be able to do different things. If you only do nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy or organic synthesis, you will only be needed as long as that particular skill is needed. If you have developed a variety of skills, you will be able to shift your focus as your company or industry shifts and subsequently remain a valuable part of your organization. Soft, or nontechnical, skills are extremely valuable in this regard; communication and interpersonal skills are important no matter how your organization changes.
Facets. Finally, it’s important to have aspects to your life that don’t depend on each other. In addition to your work, you should have family, friends, hobbies, and volunteer activities. Having different facets to your life means that when things aren’t going well in one area, you can take refuge in another. In addition, being able to compare and contrast how problems are handled in different environments may prove enlightening, and lessons learned in one place can be used in others.
Your professional life comprises many different areas, and there are ways you can add diversity to them all. The more diverse you are, the more tools you will have to handle whatever your career brings.
Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers).