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A Pedometer For Your Professional Life

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
January 4, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 1

Image of a pair of hands holding a smartphone and a wearing a smartwristband.
Credit: Shutterstock
Set up a system to track your professional development.

Have you noticed how many people these days are sporting fitness trackers? These small, wearable devices count the number of steps taken, flights of stairs climbed, minutes of activity completed, and so on. The trackers have a default goal, which can be adjusted to accurately quantitate and report the wearer’s physical activity on a daily basis, and produce a cumulative report. The wearer not only learns how active he or she really is (numbers don’t lie), but anyone with even the smallest competitive streak is motivated to do just a little bit more today than yesterday, and do even better this week than last week. The truly brave can even get on their bathroom scale and correlate their activity (or lack thereof) with weight loss (or lack thereof).

As scientists, we love numbers and finding ways to measure and quantify things. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a fitness tracker for your career? Something that would quantify your activities and growth not only in your current job, but in your overall professional career? It could let you know on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis how you are doing against your personal career goals. What would you track with such a device? What do you think the default goals should be?

Until someone invents such a tracker, you can create your own system to track your career. Identify your long-term career goals and then step back and determine what strategies you will use to achieve those goals. If you want to move into a new field of study, perhaps your goals for the next six months are to take one online class, watch six educational webinars, and attend four local meetings of the professional society that covers this new area. Write down each goal, along with the completion date, and post them someplace where you will see them on a regular basis. Better yet, add electronic reminders to your calendar: “It’s halfway to July 1; are you halfway to your goals?”

Another important aspect of tracking is accountability. With the fitness tracker, you connect with friends and see their progress, and they can see yours. Ideally, your friends cheer for you when you exceed your goals and gently nudge you when you slow down. The ideal situation is to find friends who are consistently just a little bit better, stronger, or faster than you are, and you challenge yourself to beat them.

Now, apply this to your career. Can you enlist the help of friends or colleagues to help keep you on track? Perhaps you can set up a regular lunch date with a friend, where you report on what you have accomplished and detail your next goal and deadline, and they can do the same. Maybe you set up a reminder in your calendar to register for a conference or class in a new field or block out time to update your LinkedIn profile for your friend to review. Can you find someone who has the job you want next, or is a few years ahead of you, and measure your progress against their past?

Tracking your career may be as simple as following these three steps: know what you want, figure out how to get it, and then set goals and track your progress until you get where you want.

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 (


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