Passion vs Practicality as a career choice
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18-10-2015, 11:02 AM
Passion vs Practicality as a career choice
The question is this:

Should I stay in a career which is a charade and promises so much but is founded on bullshit and which I would be more than likely be overlooked even if there was an opportunity. Or should I move into a career where I can actually exploit my skills and do something worthwhile but which I am less passionate about? It would require a significant amount of time and money to change careers now.


Background:

When I was 14 I developed an interest in the field of Artificial Intelligence. I'm now 41.

This has been a passion driving me through life, and even at one point keeping me alive when I was suicidally depressed. I have a degree, a masters, a PhD and a post doc in this area and tried to create a career doing it in industry and academia.

Unfortunately it all just ends up as software engineering which I find boring and soul destroying. I also never have any job stability. This has meant that I have never stayed anywhere longer than 2 1/2 years. My husband ruined his career following me around and hasn't been able to get a job for 4 years because of the gap on his CV.

I still love Artificial Intelligence. I do my own research every evening trying to make a fundamental break-through. And I'm getting some very interesting results. There's only one problem. I've come to the conclusion that the field is utter bollocks. It's bullshit.

There are very few jobs in it. I would love to get a job in academia researching it, and did actually do this for one year. Unfortunately to get a career in academia you are judged on the number of papers that you have published, not what they are about or how good they are. And computer science and engineering is a male dominated field. I realised how bad it can be when I lived in Germany.

And the kind of AI that all the jobs ask for is gimmicky programming that won't ever scale and has no future. This is because there are certain fundamental problems which no one knows how to even go about solving and there is no funding to tackle them either because it's too high risk. These are the kind of things I am trying to research in my spare time but progress is so slow because I can only devote an evening to it after work.

Industry is no better. Working in R&D means that the company will either fold a year later or I will be made redundant. And even when the company does succeed, most of the time it's because of how well the boss has bullshitted.

So I was thinking that I should start my own company and make something that does actually work, is useful and which won't rely on me having to be able to bullshit other people into losing vast amounts of cash on something that won't ever return a profit. The problem is that while I can do this, I'm not really passionate about it. I would mainly be creating a business to make money to buy my own freedom to work on what I want. Which sounds like a fantasy to me.

My current job though is making me reconsider. I am working in a world famous institute researching Biology. While the job has been standard software engineering for the last 10 months it's looking like I might be moved onto something actually interesting. But I am always sceptical about jobs delivering what they promise.

There's a decent gender balance as well in Biology. The first time I've ever worked in a place with a 50/50 balance. So people don't immediately assume that you are substandard and ignore you just because you're a woman. The computational problems they are facing are much harder and exactly the kind of things that I love to tackle. For example, we're discussing how to predict how flu will evolve. So I could move into Bioinformatics. I could bring so much to Bioinformatics with all my skills in AI. But there's a lot of knowledge that I am missing in cell Biology so I would probably have to do an MSc. That would cost about 10K and I can't afford that. And would it even help? After all, I would still be earning just as much as before. I would still be a slave going off and doing other things that other people want.

But on the other hand, there will always be money in Bioinformatics. Society will always be plagued by diseases that adapt. And how much longer do I have for a career? Another 30 years? I need to start preparing for my old age. And maybe that could even lead to another PhD but in total that could be another 5 years back at university including the MSc.

Or will I miss out now on the next big thing if I leave AI now? But then AI always promises and never delivers and even when the next big thing arrives I always seem to get left out (e.g. Big Data).
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18-10-2015, 11:34 AM
RE: Passion vs Practicality as a career choice
I think you have to decide which is more important to you: Making a lot of money at a job you sort of like or taking a gamble and doing something you really love and want to be doing. You then need to obviously seriously weigh the pros and cons of each of those choices. What will the outcomes be? Can you live with those? Where do you see yourself in five years, ten years?

I'm kind of at this point in my life as well where I am considering different career options. I have a degree and a masters plus and was seriously considering getting a PhD in my field. Now I'm wanting to take a gamble and do something completely different that is going to initially bring in a lot less money. I am used to living on the money I bring in now, so that is why I'm pumping the brakes a little on my fantasy career. But at the same time, I feel like we only get one life and we really should be spending it doing what we love to be doing. Some people love to be making money and therefore, are willing to put up with a job they may not really like. I am not that kind of person. I would rather take the gamble and be doing something I love. Obviously, that is going to require me to adjust my living expenses, which I am willing to do.

Of course, everyone's situation is different. I think you just need to do some deep "soul-searching." I'm sure you'll make the right decision. Wink
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19-10-2015, 08:36 AM
RE: Passion vs Practicality as a career choice
That is always a tough situation, but if you feel your area is bollocks, that kind of says a lot. One possibility would be to come to the U.S. for your degree either M.S. or Ph.D. where you would be payed a stipend, have tuition remission and would not have to go into debt. It is becoming quite common for biology or biological departments to have faculty in bioinformatics so finding someone whom you would like to work for should not be difficult. There is a bioniformatics faculty at the University where I teach at in the department of microbiology and molecular genetics and there is even a computational person in my chemistry department. I would think with your experience, a faculty member would be eager to have you as member of their research group. I would be glad to give you some advice about this if you are interested.
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19-10-2015, 08:50 AM
RE: Passion vs Practicality as a career choice
Working in a field you are passionate about will still bring frustrations and insecurities. You will still have to spend a lot of time doing things you'd rather not.

If your present job is well paid and leaves you enough mental energy to do significant work on your passion as a sideline, those are things to consider. Also to consider would be your family situation and whether your job is actively making you miserable/miserable to be around. But if your passion seems to demand more time than you have to give, if you're filled with ideas about it, that could mean it's time to abandon the safety net.
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19-10-2015, 09:01 AM
RE: Passion vs Practicality as a career choice
Tough choice.

My wife and I agreed that one of us would hold down a steady job while the other one went out on their own...it worked great for us and we are both happy.

Creating your own business has great risk but incredible upside, both financial and in personal satisfaction.

“I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.”~Mark Twain
“Ocean: A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man - who has no gills.”~ Ambrose Bierce
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19-10-2015, 03:33 PM (This post was last modified: 19-10-2015 03:39 PM by Adrianime.)
RE: Passion vs Practicality as a career choice
Ohh very interesting. I'd like to be kept updated Big Grin.

Personally, I'm risk averse, so I can't fathom risking stability to start a business. Too many factors, too much unpredictability, too much I don't know. But I get the passion vs money making dilemma. It would be great if the two pointed to a single choice.

My strategy: Do something you enjoy, even if you don't love it. Know that no matter what you do, you will never love it ALL the time. And balance income vs happiness in such a way that you make as much as possible while avoiding unhappiness. I actually took a pay cut to leave my last job to where I currently am (although now I am making much more than I was) because to me unhappiness isn't worth money. Unpleasantness sometimes can be worth it if the good outweighs the bad over a set period of time. Ultimately, my plan at this point is to keep this up, be very frugal and smart with money, and retire at 50. And by retire I mean not feeling obligated to work for money. I may still work for enjoyment (and monies $$$, but that will be a bonus).

I'm fortunate in that, while I enjoy software development (my profession), I actually could probably enjoy doing anything. I just really enjoy completing projects or tasks. When I retire I may not do anything related to computers. Depends on what seems the most fun.

Of course you are hearing from somebody with 15 years less experience than you, so what do I know? Tongue

P.S. When I was unhappy in my last job I said something like this to myself, "If I died tomorrow, I would have spent the last 6 months spending almost ALL of my time working. Is it worth it living a life where I have no time to pursue happiness?" No matter where I work, I make sure that my life outside of work is not negatively impacted by work (i.e. once I leave the office, I really leave the office).

I prefer fantasy, but I have to live in reality.
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19-10-2015, 03:56 PM (This post was last modified: 19-10-2015 07:32 PM by GirlyMan.)
RE: Passion vs Practicality as a career choice
(18-10-2015 11:02 AM)Mathilda Wrote:  But then AI always promises and never delivers and even when the next big thing arrives I always seem to get left out (e.g. Big Data).

That's only because the engineers quickly claim any practical use of AI. Now that Artificial Neural Networks are undergoing a renaissance because we have the hardware to train Deep Neural Networks with millions of nodes and many hidden layers the engineers claim it as theirs.

(18-10-2015 11:02 AM)Mathilda Wrote:  I could bring so much to Bioinformatics with all my skills in AI. But there's a lot of knowledge that I am missing in cell Biology so I would probably have to do an MSc. That would cost about 10K and I can't afford that.

You don't need any more credentials. You can take a 7-course Bioinformatics specialization from UCSD on coursera for like $350US.

If you're looking for Big Data you can do a 9-course Data Science specialization from JHU on Data Science on coursera for like $470US. What is a data scientist? They know more about statistics than any programmer and more about programming than any statistician. Smile

#sigh
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19-10-2015, 04:02 PM
RE: Passion vs Practicality as a career choice
(19-10-2015 03:56 PM)GirlyMan Wrote:  What is a data scientist? They know more about statistics than any programmer and more about programming than any statistician. Smile

Are ya saying they're crappy at stats *and* coding? 'Cos that's what I think you're saying... Tongue

We'll love you just the way you are
If you're perfect -- Alanis Morissette
(06-02-2014 03:47 PM)Momsurroundedbyboys Wrote:  And I'm giving myself a conclusion again from all the facepalming.
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19-10-2015, 04:03 PM
RE: Passion vs Practicality as a career choice
I can only tell you this, when you love what you do, you never work.

I remember flying in from a tour, and as the band drove from the airport amongst all the people going to their day jobs, a member said "Ha, look at 'em all going to work!"

We were returning from a week playing a northern gorgeous Pacific island.

Do what you love.

Good luck.

NOTE: Member, Tomasia uses this site to slander other individuals. He then later proclaims it a joke, but not in public.
I will call him a liar and a dog here and now.
Banjo.
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19-10-2015, 04:37 PM
RE: Passion vs Practicality as a career choice
(19-10-2015 04:02 PM)morondog Wrote:  
(19-10-2015 03:56 PM)GirlyMan Wrote:  What is a data scientist? They know more about statistics than any programmer and more about programming than any statistician. Smile

Are ya saying they're crappy at stats *and* coding? 'Cos that's what I think you're saying... Tongue

That's not what they mean but that is an excellent retort. Big Grin

#sigh
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