Turn right. Take your first left. Turn left again at mile marker 318. Traveling to your destination is easy when you have a GPS device, a map, or well-written instructions to guide you. But it’s not so easy to do when you haven’t yet
decided where you want to go. It took me a long time to figure out
what I wanted to do with my education in chemistry. If you’ve felt a
similar uncertainty, I hope the following tips will help you make that
momentous “what-do-I-do-with-my-future” decision and set the
best course for your destination.
I graduated in April 2014 from Brigham Young University-Idaho
(BYU-Idaho), with a B.S. in chemistry. Although I was a chemistry
major from the beginning, I struggled to discover my particular
niche. I loved organic, analytical, and even physical chemistry. In
fact, I loved every chemistry course I took. How was I supposed to
choose one area of focus?
If you’re in a similar position, I recommend trying the following
four things that helped me make my decision and still help me as I
navigate my career choices. I advise trying them all simultaneously
One Think about the big picture
Identifying and keeping in mind the purpose for your life is one of
the most important things you can do. After you have finished reading this article, sit somewhere quiet and ponder some “big-picture”
questions. What makes you happy, and what do you want from
life? What captivates you … and what do you want to experience or
It may be a bold claim, but I doubt the reason you exist is to
measure the concentrations of a trace chemical in a remote environment (if that assertion makes you upset, please keep reading). Your
purpose might be to cure a disease, solve a problem in a remote part
of the world, or provide others with important scientific tools. Or
maybe it is to teach children. I have been very interested in energy,
but the purpose of my life is not to study solar cells. I more fully discovered the purpose for my life when I got married. My life decisions
now take into consideration my spouse and future family.
But wait … how did this realization help me narrow down my
career options and make a decision? For me, it relieved a lot of
stress knowing that one small career decision wasn’t going to throw
everything off. As long as I am fulfilling my purpose, life is going
well. Try it for yourself, and you will discover why finding your purpose is so important.
I was returning to the United States through the Los Angeles
airport when a U.S. Customs officer asked me why I had been out
of the country. After explaining to him that I was completing an
internship in chemistry, he told me about an emerging area of
promising research that I had not heard of before.
The point is that you can learn new things about science in
many places and from unexpected sources (such as the Customs
officer). Keep note of your findings and rank each according to
your interest level. When you have time, investigate those ideas
further. Find out who is leading the research at the top of your
list and where they work. If you Google the researchers or look
them up on LinkedIn and begin communicating with them early
on in your education, you may feel more comfortable talking
with them when you are applying for work or graduate school,
and they will already know you and your level of understanding.
Here are a few of the places I look for interesting tidbits about
• Chemical & Engineering News. Great summaries of modern research
and practical applications.
inChemistry • www.acs.org/undergrad February/March 2015