When you’re a little person, grown-ups ask you all the time: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ The answer is often clear and concise: a doctor, an astronaut, a lawyer, a ballerina, Oprah. But as you get older you start realising that the things people tell you you’re good at and should begin working towards are not necessarily where you should end up, especially when it comes to your career.
You pick the school and varsity you want to go to, put your head down and work towards your dream career. Until you find yourself no longer interested in your chosen field.
I chatted to Alise Davidson, a young woman whose professional life has taken a different turn. She studied science for many years, but now works in retail. We find out why.
What made you pursue studying science and to what level did you study it?
I was constantly told that I had an aptitude for the alleged ‘higher faculties’. I was told to pursue finance, engineering or science by teachers, parents and friends. I was 16 when I chose my degree and was heavily swayed by one of my older friends at the time who told me I would thrive in Molecular Biology (which was their field of study). I followed their advice and it worked out for several years. I was enamoured with the intellectual challenges, problem solving, and (if I am perfectly honest) with the prestige of being a scientist. I stayed up until Masters level, where I got around 90% through my degree before leaving university.
When did you make the decision to let it go and is it permanent?
I reached a form of inertia at university. I had burrowed into a comfort zone where I didn’t need to plan for the next year because I would just keep pursuing academia and I could avoid any plans for the world outside of university. I was increasingly disillusioned with the insulation of days spent in a lab. I had stopped caring about the research. I would just go in, do my time, and go home. Copy. Paste.
After a Christmas vacation, I realised that a part-time job would help with some supplemental income. I immediately thought of a bookstore near to my flat and researched to see if there were any vacancies. I applied the following day. After a few weeks they asked if I wanted to be permanent. The conjunction of financial pressure and all the emerging prospects led me to accept the offer on the spot.
Initially, I tried to monitor any possible scientific jobs available, but as I continued at the new job I found myself checking listings less and less until I stopped entirely.
What do you do now and what drew you to it?
I currently work as a bookseller at a major book retailer. My job is mainly retail. I facilitate in a few of the administrative sides of the business, but I primarily sell books. I am still exceptionally fresh to the industry so I am constantly encountering a learning curve, but that just excites me more. I’m still satisfying my need for knowledge that I previously slated in research.
I have always had a passion for literature, a love that 16-year-old me could never envision transforming into a potential career. I spend my days talking to customers, booksellers, authors and publishers – essentially conversing about books. It is almost obscene how someone can pay me to do what I love.
I have high aspirations within the industry, but I still lack experience and am starting from the bottom again. It is a daunting prospect, but also satisfying at the same time.
Any advice for women who are perhaps thinking about making this kind of decision?
A choice of degree when you are 17/18 does not dictate the rest of your life. Often you only discover the scope of your field when you are entrenched in your studies, and maybe it isn’t for you. That’s okay. If you love it, that’s okay too.
Changing paths might seem frightening, but sometimes what is more horrific is spending most of your week doing something that doesn’t fulfill you. Being content with yourself at the end of the day is far more important than pretty much anything.
Remember: an education is never a waste.
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