skip to Main Content
Child's drawing of construction worker, with text "This is me. When I grow up I want to be a construction worker because I want to build houses."

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

My younger son, a kindergartener, recently had an assignment where he had to write one sentence about what he wanted to be when he grew up. “A construction worker,” he told me.

And then, after a pause, “Would I have to use a port-a-potty?”

“Probably,” I replied.

With that, my son burst into tears and howled, “But I don’t want to use a port-a-potty!!”

Oh, child, five years old is too early to be having an emotional breakdown about possible career paths and whether they involve the use of chemical toilets.

For most of my childhood, if you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said an author. I loved reading and writing stories. I subsequently moved on to symphony flutist, then marine biologist (like most of my middle school in the 90’s), then lawyer, before landing on psychologist by the end of high school. I loved the idea of trying to figure out why people did the things they did and then using that insight to improve people’s lives.

The psychologist thing stuck for a long time. I majored in psychology, and then I worked in human services, including with at-risk teens and individuals experiencing opioid use disorder. Within a couple of years, I got disillusioned with behavioral health treatment, so I went to graduate school to learn about preventing behavioral health issues before they started.

I’d never been particularly interested in science as a kid, so I was surprised to realize that I enjoyed doing psychological research. I could take any aspect of human behavior I was curious about, and there was a systematic way of getting to an answer. I spent five years of graduate school, and more than a dozen years after, doing research related to the prevention of adolescent risk behaviors, including substance use, violence, and sexual risk behavior.

An early research career is typically about specialization; you learn a little bit about a lot of areas, until passion or circumstance leads you to a niche. My niche became dissemination, or the stage of the research process when you communicate research findings to the outside world. I constantly volunteered to write reports and give presentations for the research projects I worked on. During my free time, I devoured books and online resources about best practices in science communication. I gave workshops on topics like effective presentations, data visualization, and science storytelling. This. This was the (next) thing I wanted to be when I grew up.

This leads me back to that moment, a few weeks ago, holding my teary son in my lap on the floor of my home-office-slash-remote-learning-classroom. “Buddy, it’s OK. No one really knows what they want to be when they’re five. A lot of adults still don’t know what they want to be, and you may be lots of different things.”

Almost 40 years ago, this would-be writer/flutist/biologist/lawyer/psychologist couldn’t have known that I’d be starting my own research communication company. Yet here I am, launching into a new career. I’m excited to think about the people I’ll meet and things I’ll do. So, without further ado, onward!

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back To Top