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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / June 2019 / Consider Developing a Career Strategy Instead of Planning for Your Dream Job

Consider Developing a Career Strategy Instead of Planning for Your Dream Job

By Annabelle Kleist, PhD, Director of Teen Health and Success Partnership at the Center for Community Health & Prevention at the University of Rochester and Previous Science and Technology Policy Advisor at the California State Capitol

Nonlinear. Curiosity-driven. Opportunity-seeking in a tough economy. Hmmm… I’m still not sure how to best describe my unexpected and highly branching career path. I was in graduate school when the global recession hit, and our lab lost a lot of grant funding when the state abruptly stopped supporting several environmental grant programs due to the budget deficit. Although I was able to cobble some funding together to complete my research projects, continued low funding in my area of research led me to explore other career paths. My experience volunteering with the California Invasive Plant Council while in grad school inspired me to want to become a nonprofit leader, so I searched for opportunities that would help me gain skills and experience for this dream job. 

And then reality hit. It turns out that it’s not always easy to find a job on a specific career path when you have an advanced degree but no relevant job experience. My best job lead right out of graduate school was breeding potatoes for a French fry company. Although it was a well-paying job and would utilize my hard-earned skills, I knew I’d be unhappy in a job where I didn’t feel I was able to make a positive difference.  Instead of breeding potatoes, I accepted a fellowship as a Science and Technology Policy Advisor at the California state capitol. During this one year fellowship, I was placed directly in a legislator’s office and was incorporated into the day-to-day work of his staff. This work included developing a bill that required open access publishing for research funded by the state. In addition, I staffed the Assembly on the Education Finance committee at a time when the state funding formula for public K-12 schools was being revised. Through my background work for the committee, which required many meetings with constituents, stakeholders, and experts, I learned a lot about education policy as well as critical issues of equity and access in education. I became very passionate about education equity, leading to a total career pivot to pursue this work when my fellowship ended. 

For the next four years, I worked for Capitol Impact, a firm that leads and staffs education nonprofits and projects. I provided long-term support for two projects, serving as Chief of Staff for CORE Districts and a program manager for Alliance for Regional Collaboration to Heighten Educational Success (ARCHES). My work with CORE Districts in particular deepened my knowledge of educational systems and how to support equity-centered improvement in large bureaucracies, and my particular role provided amazing experience managing projects and organizations. 

I loved that job and felt like I had opportunities for growth, but I had to resign and look for a new job when we moved across the country two years ago for my husband’s new role as a professor in URMC’s Biochemistry and Biophysics department. Rochester wooed us with its welcoming UR faculty and leaders and the excited energy of improvement projects throughout the city, and I was incredibly fortunate to be hired as the director of the Teen Health and Success Partnership (THSP) at URMC’s Center of Community Health and Prevention. This position allows me to use my experience in the educational equity space for important work in our local community and has already provided ample opportunities for professional growth and development. 

Reflecting on the very different jobs that I’ve had and how they led to my current role, I’m so glad that I stepped off my intended career path and took a chance on opportunities that I was excited about. Please join me on June 19 at 10:00 a.m. at URMC room CEL 2-7544 for a conversation about developing a career strategy that allows you to pivot for exciting opportunities or when the need arises, rather than getting stuck on a linear path towards one dream job.

Tracey Baas | 6/14/2019

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