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Monday, August 20, 2018

Deciding To Change Careers

People who have been reading my blog for a while know part of this story already.  I have a master's degree in Arabic and have been using that skill professionally for years.  A couple years ago, when I started a job that offered tuition remission, I started taking undergraduate-level courses in speech-language pathology with the idea of one day--if I chose to--pursing a master's degree and changing careers.  I then decided to apply to graduate programs last winter, and I'll start classes a week from today.  With a five-semester program plus a clinical fellowship year ahead of me, it almost seems premature to write about changing careers now.  But I'll do it anyway because (a) it's the biggest thing going on in my life right now, and (b) I haven't told the whole story of why I chose to do this and how I chose speech-language pathology in particular. 

I love Arabic, and I'll always be glad I studied it.  It was one of my majors as an undergraduate, and I went on for the master's because I wanted to improve my skills and I had some very good funding and travel opportunities.  One thing that I didn't really understand when I was younger, though, was the overall job distribution in the field.  At least in the US, Arabic jobs skew very heavily toward security.  I don't believe that there is anything wrong with working in security if that's what you want, but I'm also very aware of why people might not want that sort of job for their entire career (or at all, in some cases).  There are jobs in education, but particularly for people without a Ph.D., they are often adjunct positions, which pay very little and offer no security.  Then there are the miscellaneous jobs in research, human rights, etc.  You might get one of those, but competition might be stiff, and you probably shouldn't plan your career trajectory around getting one.  Plus, funding for those positions is likely to be unstable, which can also make your job unstable.  Some people also work as freelance translators.  This is something I've never tried, but I wonder about the long-term stability of that sort of work, too, especially with the advances in machine translation.

Fast-forwarding a good number of years after actually receiving my degree, I was teaching Arabic in Kazakhstan.  I loved teaching, but found many aspects of the specific job (and its location) to be problematic.  I applied to dozens of jobs back in the US while I was out there.  Most of the time, I heard nothing back, even a formal rejection.  I started to think that I might need to retrain if I wanted to move back to the US, and started researching which job fields were expected to grow.  For some reason, speech-language pathology had never occurred to me, but when I came upon it in my research, it occurred to me that it would combine my interests in language and health.  I decided that if I ever retrained, it would be for that.

I was wondering how soon to give up on my job search and start retraining once we returned to the US, but at the point when I started seriously thinking about that, one of those jobs I applied to while I was in Kazakhstan panned out!  It was a job I valued greatly, but there was a distinct air of instability the entire time I was there.  In fact, I was laid off from it and later rehired.  This job provided me with tuition remission, and I had been taking classes with the idea of having the option to pursue a master's in speech-language pathology at some point.  The layoff convinced me that I needed to pursue the master's sooner rather than later.  Even when I was rehired, funding for my position was only (somewhat) guaranteed until April.  It ultimately lasted longer (I left on my own accord on Friday), but the uncertainty helped propel me through the process of grad school applications last winter.

It's difficult not to have mixed feelings about all of this.  It was hard work to take classes while working full time, and I'm now looking at a couple of years out of the workforce.  Plus, career is part of my identity, and Arabic has been the backbone of my career for a long time.  I wish I could have found a stable job that was a good fit for me with my Arabic skills.  On the other hand, even though starting over in my late thirties feels daunting, I am very excited about speech-language pathology.  I also realized as I left my office for the last time on Friday what a source of anxiety my job's instability had become for me.  I was sad to leave the job, but happy to leave behind the worries that came with it.  There is never a guaranteed "happily ever after" in anything in life, including career changes, but I'm optimistic that I've chosen the right decision for myself and that it will bring the stability I crave at this point in my life.

Monday, August 6, 2018


I'm happy to report that I finished my summer science classes and was rewarded with a vacation to Washington and Oregon!  In addition to sightseeing and getting a break from an icky mid-Atlantic summer heatwave, I also saw a lot of my family, and we had a picnic in honor of my grandma.  It was wonderful to see relatives and generally get a break from daily life--I think it will give me the energy to finish the last couple weeks at my job and start my life as a full-time student.  Anyway, here are some pictures!

A perfect dungeness crab shell.

Bridge into Astoria, OR

Haystack Rock in Oregon

One of many jellyfish I saw washed ashore in Oregon.  I felt sorry for them and kind of wanted to help, know...

A slightly frightening number of wild turkeys

Sahalie Falls, Oregon

Clear Lake, Oregon

The largest morels I've ever seen in Pike Place Market in Seattle

Amazon Spheres!

Chihuly exhibit

More Chihuly sculptures outdoors in the garden