It was a dark and stormy night. Annette was bored with Angry Birds and was dreaming of a way she could expand her horizons, advance her skills and learn more about a particular subject. She was especially interested in working with a certain genius in her field and wondered to herself if there was a fellowship or grant available for which she could apply to aid her in attaining her goal. She did some online research, but lo, there was no grant to be found.
But fear not! Annette was not discouraged – she knew that when opportunity does not knock, is not advertised, or may not even exist, she could either find it herself, or even better – she could make opportunity happen all on her own.
And that is what she did. Annette contacted the Einstein with whom she pined for a partnership and requested an informational interview to chat briefly via phone about his research and discuss mutual interests. And she mentioned in the initial email that she had an idea for collaboration she wished to share with him.
That one phone call turned in to two more, plus a few emails, with her CV, publications and references cheerfully passed along to The Wiz. And before Annette knew it, magic had occurred – she was invited to visit Dr. Awesome to do a collaborative project and learn more about his work and methodologies. Cha-Ching!
Annette’s tale is a true one, and can be your tale as well. But as you might have guessed, you don’t need a wand to wind up your own career magic. You simply need the creativity, fortitude, inventiveness, persistence, persuasiveness, and above all courage to conjure your own opportunities.
Part of being a professional, in any field, discipline and industry, is knowing what opportunities are needed to advance in that vocation. This may come in the form of a postdoc, internship, or an apprenticeship. But sometimes formal opportunities with your desired institution or scholar either don’t exist or are not heavily promoted. This is where your courage and creativity come in. If you can think of an opportunity that will advance your career AND can help the other party in some way, there may be a scheme to make that opportunity happen.
Think about this in terms of entrepreneurship. Most entrepreneurs make their own opportunities – they see a need and figure out how to fill it. You are also an entrepreneur: you are the CEO of your own career and if you can think of a way to fill a need for both you and a potential collaborator, don’t be afraid to suggest and explore it. You need these opportunities to progress in your career, and you can contribute something significant to the other institution or scholar that will help them advance as well.
As you continue on your career path, always look for opportunities to grow, advance, master more skills, partner with new wizards, and have more fun. And when you don’t see a particular opportunity that you think can be interesting or helpful, gather your courage to ask if it exists or to explore ways in which it can be manifested. The worst case scenario is the other party rejects your idea. They won’t ban you for life from the All Important Conference, or giggle at you as you walk down the hall (“My word! Did you know that she actually suggested working with Dr. Nobel-Prize-Winning-Scientist? What gall!”) Rather, their perception of you will be even more positive. Your brand (or promise of value) will be elevated and your reputation for being a success will be cemented. Even if they say no, you still have demonstrated your expertise, experience, and passion for the discipline and your interest in the other party, which may lead to other, more enchanting opportunities in the future. But if they say yes to your idea, then you will have created something truly spectacular- an opportunity for career-and scientific-advancement, seemingly out of thin air. And that is something to send an owl home about.
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