Saturday, June 2, 2007

Thinking Back to My Emergence on the Job Market

While reading a blog posted by futuresubject about the kinds of questions one may have as a young person arriving onto the job market, I was reminded of my recent thoughts concerning my own career. I remember when I finished my Ph.D. I had very similar questions and concerns as futuresubject about my future ... how was I to distinguish myself in a productive and contributory manner to the world? As futuresubject suggests, I felt myself to be similar to hordes of other young people in a similar situation. Although judged by my professors as being someone bright with a lot of potential, there were no particular features that distinguished me from others.

I had done my doctoral studies in astrophysics, because, I suppose, I was interested in the "broader picture" of the world. At the time, "environmental studies" was a fledgeling discipline with no clear future, and, besides, it involved studying biology which was never my strength.

I went on to take a job in a field called "remote sensing", actually much closer than what we called "environmentalism" today than was astrophysics. This suited me, but, again, there was very little to distinguish me from many others.

However, in a relatively short period of time, my unique nature as a person emerged and impinged on my career. I brought to bear a wider scholarship and set of readings on my research than many researchers more senior than I were able to do, and from this developed a unique research programme, originally somewhat contraversial for my peers, that focussed on the relationship between the use of spatially or geographically oriented analysis tools and cognitively-informed perspectives. From there I developed into other lines of inquiry, bringing in the health sciences and the arts, and my social conscience brought me to head up important initiatives in the world of research.

This resulted, over twenty years of professional life, in a unique career path quite different from those of my colleagues and most other academics. But what was it about me in my early days that spoke to these developments?

I'm not entirely sure, but I believe the result was the result of "who I am", more than my "pedigree", my history up to that point. Certainly my training in astrophysics contributed to what emerged, however. Nonetheless, I've become the person I am because, to a certain extent, I couldn't become anybody else! If I could have told the young man I was, 25 years ago, not to worry so much about my destiny, that time would take care of itself, I would have. I've learned to accept who I am, weaknesses as well as strengths, and to worry less about the future.

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