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Member Feature: How I Took Charge of My Career. You Can, Too.
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Diane A. Safer


Over the years, my interests shifted and developed. However, I was able to transition between these seemingly unrelated paths by recognizing the value of my past experiences, continually assessing my skills and knowledge, and understanding the need to fill any experience gaps. As you gain more real-life and real-world experience, you, your values, and your needs change; and this may affect your career aspirations. A successful modification in career direction at any stage of your life is possible with the right amount of effort.


An unexpected career path can be the most rewarding

Go Your Own Road: Man pulling along asphalt road

Career direction is something shaped and developed - one must build their own path to success. ‘Go Your Own Road’ | © Erik Johansson

I am a psychology researcher, public relations (PR) information specialist, and a career services professional. Looking at my resume, you will see a career path that moves from a doctorate in experimental social psychology, to healthcare PR research, to career and professional development services.


Here is a simplified snapshot of my evolving career path. As a social psychology researcher, I studied the effect of messaging on motivation. Understanding motivation was key to moving to a marketing job in healthcare PR. Because I developed strong research skills in graduate school, I easily segued from the PR account side to PR research. After years of significant business experience, I had the know-how (and the persistence) to open my own healthcare PR information consulting firm. As a seasoned PR professional, I was often asked to help with resumes and networking for those entering the field. I enjoyed these experiences so much that I wondered how I could apply these skills to a career.


Mindfully Transitioning

I began to attend local professional association meetings. Networking at these meetings led to my first job in the field, at a small liberal arts college. To grow my skills, I got more actively involved in local and national professional career services organizations. I also enlisted mentors, networked at professional meetings, joined and chaired committees, and never turned down an opportunity to learn. These efforts opened doors and led to a position as assistant director at a larger university. There, I continued to advance my skills in career coaching, office management, and employer relations. My next move was to my current position, where I work with postdoctoral scholars and doctoral students. Here, I have the exciting opportunity to combine my psychology background, my love of research, and my expertise in career services.


Each of my experiences provided me with knowledge, skills, and capabilities that were assets for each successive profession. My unconventional route increases my appreciation of the challenges that others face as they embark on their unique career paths. But no matter what your path has been, career success only comes to those who proactively seek, take advantage of, and, if necessary, create opportunities. The key is to be forward-thinking (where are you going next?), reflective (what have you done that can contribute to your future success?), and proactive (what can you do to get there?).


These efforts opened doors and led to a position as assistant director at a larger university.


How to take responsibility of your own career

Here are six proactive steps for taking responsibility of your own career:

  1. Set goals: Research interesting career paths. Consider more than one path, then work backwards to determine what is needed to get there. You aren’t going to get to your destination if you have no idea where you are going.
  2. Self-reflection: Reflect on your experiences – academic, professional, and personal – at your institutions, in your free time, via your hobbies, or volunteer activities. What are your assets? What value do you bring?
  3. Self-assessment: Use tools (such as myIDP) and self-scrutiny to assess current skills and experiences. Where are significant gaps?
  4. Find support and guidance: Determine how to gain needed skills and experience. Network and conduct informational interviews. Seek support from a variety of people to create your own steering committee.
  5. Be open to opportunities: Francis Bacon famously said, “A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.” So seek opportunities, but if you don’t find them, create your own.
  6. Market your brand: Cultivate a message about what makes you unique and a great fit. Remember to make use of all those assets from step two. This is your brand. Learn how to market yourself.

My career path – as someone with an experimental psychology doctorate, years of professional business experience, and a passion for career and professional development – has not been traditional, but it has its own advantages. I come with distinct knowledge and skills that I use to help others achieve career success.


I am a psychology researcher, PR information specialist, and a career services professional. Who are you, where do you want to go, and how will you get there?


Diane A. Safer


Diane A. Safer, PhD, is the director of the Career and Professional Development Program for Graduate Students and Postdocs at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY.


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