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Four pieces of advice for finding your perfect career

  1. Ask yourself, what problem do you want to solve?

Often we are posed the question, “what do you want to do?” or “what do you want to be?”. Instead ask yourself “what problem do you want to solve?”. Dr. Roberts describes a venn diagram (modified from Jim Collins’ version in Good to Great, (, which has three overlapping circles: talent, passion and reality. Consider these three ideas and questions when planning your career path, and try to find something that intersects in the middle. Know that the size and importance of each circle will change as your life and interests change


Passion: What do you care about? Be able to tell a story to remember you by!

Talent: What are you good at? What talents can you bring to the field you care about?

Reality: What job do you need to live your life? Be sure to have something you are asking for, such as, “can you keep an eye out for job openings for me”? “Can you introduce me to this person?”


  1. Don’t put too much emphasis on technical skills

Early in your career (PhD training/post-doc), your technical skills are important (graph modified from Chris Ernst). But over time, technical skills become less important and other people (and how you communicate/collaborate/etc with them) become more important. Which leads to #3….


  1. It is all about people

“I have a no asshole rule, it’s not worth it”. Get recommendations on people you might work wtih, give them recommendations for yourself. Make sure the people you work with are great.


  1. “Nobody has it figured out (especially in DC)”

Read, ask questions, talk to people, and remember, no one else has it figure out either!




How do you find your passion (when you don’t know what it is)?

It’s a journey, you never arrive. Pay attention to what gives you energy, and try to maximize for things that give you energy. Notice what role you play. Are you an idea person? An action plan person? A people person? You might have two interests (ex. health and innovation systems, or energy policy and improving data systems, etc). Try pursuing careers that intersect your interests. Keep trying it out!


How do you find a good mentor?

Find people who care about the same thing you care about. It’s a two way street, and it goes around. Tell your mentors what you need (so they can provide it), and likewise know what they need from you (or what you can provide). Have a board of mentors (don’t be too dependent on one person).

And always keep your eye out for potential mentors for you, for others, etc.


How do you set aside time for technical skills vs other things?

You can treat your research like a job, and explore other options (policy) outside of that. Be very transparent about what your goals are, what your timeline is, and what you’re doing to meet those goals. Do what you do well (if you do policy well, do that). Be clear about what you want to do and what you need to do.


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