The Intersection Between Luck and Hard Work with Dr. Sharon Belden Castonguay

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:40:49] I think that notion of actively reflecting and really analyzing what’s going on, that’s the difference between an employee with 10 years experience and an employee with one year of experience that they repeated 10 times. You have people that really grow and develop and you have other people that honestly you couldn’t tell if they’ve got three, four or five or 10 years of experience because, yes, they’ve been here and they know some folks, but they haven’t taken that time to reflect and figure out what what can I bring forward from this year into next year so that I’m better off. People talk about when you improve one percent a day or whatever, you’re twice as good and well under a year. That sort of thing is something I think, that a lot of people don’t actively reflect on and don’t actively steer the wheel, you know. So what if if the if the tide is rough or whatever the case might be, if you’ve got a handle on on the the the rudder, at least you’ve got some control over the situation. Think about where you’re going and where you want to go and what has knocked you off course. What can you learn from that?


Dr. Sharon Belden Castonguay [00:41:53] Yeah, it was people and I see I saw this post on my dissertation research as well as in my advising practices. People who don’t feel like they have control tend to be the ones who are really unhappy. And I mean, the organizational behavior literature bears that out in general terms. If you don’t feel like you have control over your work, you’re probably not going to be very happy. People like to have like the absence of agency. But I think generally speaking, in the career sphere, if you’re thinking about am I happy with the work that I’m doing right now, do I need to make a change that is a very big part of it. Like, do I have the power to make a change? And how much agency do I have over making this change? And can I make things better is a big part of it, because people who do believe that it’s OK for them to leave this employer that’s not working for them. Right. And that they can, in fact, find something else and that they had that they know how to do that because there is a practical component to this as well. You know, do people know how to build professional relationships and do they know how to maintain, say, their social media presence and the right way? And that’s part of what we’re doing in the university career development space, as well as giving students, teaching them how to manage their careers in a very practical sense, as well as learning how to make choices over time, because people don’t obviously stay in the same thing anymore. And once to graduate from college, we don’t assume they’re going to keep doing the same thing for more than a year or two. Right.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:43:18] And it’s interesting. I wonder how much this is taught in school. I mean, we we I was talking with someone not long ago about all the things that we don’t teach our kids in school, balancing a checkbook and compound interest and and a variety of things along those lines and and how hard it is to remove digital footprints from social media. Once you once you do something when you’re a kid, it shows up on your college applications, in your job applications and all this sort of thing. But but you’re mentioning an entirely different set of skills for nascent adults that that are necessary as well.


Dr. Sharon Belden Castonguay [00:43:52] Yeah, absolutely. I I’m the president of a consortium called the Liberal Arts Career Network, and we have small liberal arts colleges all over the country that are really looked at looking at this idea of how are we best supporting these students who are being very broadly educated. They’re not picking a vocational major like accounting and then walking into one accounting job. They’re also very successful on the job market and they’re very successful as leaders. And whatever it is they do go on to do, but helping give them those the mental tools and the practical tools to be making wise decisions. So they’re not finding themselves, say, three years into medical school, realizing they don’t want to be a doctor like you want to nip that kind of thing in the bud.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:44:33] That would be a good idea.


Dr. Sharon Belden Castonguay [00:44:35] I don’t like like actually, you know, and it’s goals at highly selective schools like Wellesley. And you get a lot of students who come in with very preconceived notions of what success is. Yes, my parents are saying I have to be a doctor or a lawyer and helping them think through that as well. Well. You know, all our students who take I have an online class that helps students think through this, that we push our students when they enter Wesleyan and I’ll have students who are reflecting on, well, I’m realizing now that maybe I don’t want to be a doctor, but I’m really interested in public health or biomedical engineering. They’re not leaving the idea of getting rid of the idea of being a doctor in favor of being an underwater basket weaver. They’re choosing something that is just a different way of using their talent in science.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:45:25] What would you say to… We work with a lot of folks that are in their 30s, 40s and 50s even who are getting their doctoral degree, and most of them are doing it. Some of them have very, very specific goals in mind. But as I mentioned to you before, there are so many people I talked to that say I would have never predicted I would be doing this thing, you know, two years, three years, five years after I graduated while I was getting my degree. Any advice you would have for someone who’s in that process right now about how they should be thinking about utilizing their doctoral degree once they earn it and when they should really be focusing on those sort of postgraduation thoughts as opposed to just getting it done?


Dr. Sharon Belden Castonguay [00:46:07] Yeah. When I work with. PhD candidates, people who have received that degree, the way that I like to frame this question is really thinking about how close or far away do you want to be from the ideal of your discipline. So meaning. You know, let’s say your degree is in chemistry, know, the ideal in that discipline is your primary investigator in a lab at a research one university, and you’re getting a lot of big federal grants and you’ve got all these people working for you. And I refer to that as a point. So I said that that that’s this one point that’s considered the ideal, OK, for that world. And then the farther away you get from that, the further away you get, the more options open up so it becomes cone shaped. Right? On where let’s say, well, you know, sometimes I would talk to folks who would say, well, OK. I still love my discipline, I still love chemistry, but the idea of having to scramble to constantly get these grants to keep my lab running, my P.I. now is a Nobel Prize winner and he has a hard time getting grants. I just don’t want to have to put myself through that. But I love being a good batch. So they’ll look at corporate positions, you know, industry positions at the bench, and then you’ll get folks like my husband who would say, well, you know, what I love is teaching. I don’t feel like I get to do enough of it. There’s all this pressure to publish and I enjoy research, but it’s really not what gets me up in the morning. What gets me up in the morning is teaching others. So if I was talking, you know, my husband chose to actually really focus on teaching, but then you will get people who say, well, know, what I want to do is teach at an even higher sort of a different level. I want to go to science journalism. OK, OK. We’re not going to translate what other science. So I’m not a scientist anymore because I’m not doing the science, but I’m translating the science for other people. But, you know, the further away you get, the more options open up. True. And that that’s going to be true no matter what you’re studying. Right. That’s right. What I usually start people on that mental journey by thinking about how close or far away do you want to be from that discipline? And it is is it OK if you get so far away that you’re no longer identified with it now? Are you still a chemist? You’re not a chemist anymore. You’re not a chemist anymore. Like other chemists won’t consider you a chemist and it’s not going to be OK. Yeah, and there’s a lot of identity. You know, people get acculturated into these professions and it can carry a very heavy mental load depending on how they’re being socialized in their programs.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:49:03] Well, I like some of the things you said there about the the questions they were always asking is what do you love to do? What what parts of of this thing that you’re studying now or this identity that you would have as a chemist, for example? What parts of that do you like? And it’s OK. I don’t like the administrative pieces. I don’t like the funding pieces, but I do like running experiments, designing experiments. You know, just doing that work. I like I like that there’s some some calming to me. I don’t have to deal. People just get to deal with the you know, the chemicals and the chemicals always do what I tell her to do. And whatever the case is, knowing what you like and what what you connect with, I think is really important. And then it also got me thinking in my mind a key example of this notion of what what is your the ideal of your profession and how far away do you want to be from it? When you mentioned science journalist, I thought Neil deGrasse Tyson, because he’s somebody who runs the Hayden Planetarium, which is already a little bit away from being a scientist, so to speak. But I’ve heard him speak on a variety of things. And he’s so great with explaining science to a public audience, which is such a valuable skill and and just advocating for science and being a champion of science. But I heard him talk about when people ask, what do you want to be when you grow up? He does. You know, at some point I’d like to give up all this stuff and go back to the lab. I’d like to be the scientist and do that. And so I think it’s great that we have phases in our careers and time to do all of these things. But keeping in mind what you really enjoy and what you like doing is, I think, really important. I think it’s good a good way of framing it for people. It helps with all these options to decide which ones are the right ones. So now you mentioned, I think, just in passing there, of course, that that you you were working on with the with folks about making these career choices.


Dr. Sharon Belden Castonguay [00:51:03] So I have a class on Coursera that I teach through Wesleyan in called Career Decisions from Insight to Impact. You have listeners who are listening to all this. They I’ve never really thought about how my background affects my career decisions. And maybe that’s something I should give some thought to. I have a TEDx talk called The Psychology of Career Decisions. That gives a taste of that. So that’s a quick way of getting a bit of expansion of what I’ve discussed here. But then people who want a deeper dove can look at career decisions from inside to impact on Coursera. And during the pandemic, they’ve been offering the course for free, off and on.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:51:42] So what’s the what’s the involvement for the course? I mean, is a certain amount of days, weeks, months.


Dr. Sharon Belden Castonguay [00:51:48] It’s structured as a four week class, but it’s kind of a Coursera construct as opposed to literally it takes four weeks to take the class.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:52:01] But it sounds like it’s a it’s something good for anybody to do from time to time just to focus on where are you? What are you what are your thoughts? What are your goals? How are you going to be intentional about them?


Dr. Sharon Belden Castonguay [00:52:10] It’s a lot of self reflection. So in other words, it’s not the kind of class where you’re going out and doing a lot of heavy reading and writing long papers. It’s not like it’s all just doing. Self reflective exercises like one of us, one of the earliest assignments I have in there is to have people do a life history interview, find somebody else to give you this interview protocol where you’re basically talking about every single thing that you’ve done and then really think about what came out of that, because there’s usually surprises. You know, you didn’t expect yourself to talk about those things. And why did you talk about those things? Does that relate to some of the other topics on the course and things like that?


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:52:52] That sounds like fun. You got to find the right person to interview you, I guess, right?


Dr. Sharon Belden Castonguay [00:52:57] Yeah, I would have to do that.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:52:59] Well, Dr. Castonguay, thank you so much for joining us here today. I think that’s that’s just some tremendous insight for folks who are in our audience who are often at a bit of a crossroads career wise, that notion of self reflection and and what you have an affinity for, what you want to be doing and what parts of your identity are important to you and how far away from that ideal do you want to be? I think that’s those are some really good things for folks to think about and really appreciate the insight.


Dr. Sharon Belden Castonguay [00:53:29] Thanks for having me.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:53:30] You’re quite welcome. I’ll remind folks that once again, this episode has been brought to you by Dissertation Done. So if you are getting ready to start your dissertation or maybe bogged down in the middle. Reach out to us at and we’ll see what we can do to help you out with that. And if you are a professional working in the expert space and would like become a published author and expand your authority by doing so, reach out to us at and we’ll have a conversation there. Again, Dr. Castonguay, thank you so much for being here today. We had had a fun time.


Dr. Sharon Belden Castonguay [00:54:05] Thank you.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:54:07] And to everyone else, have a wonderful day and go out and live your unconventional life.


Outro [00:54:18] This has been an unconventional life. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, subscribe now to keep getting inspirational stories of unconventional lives as soon as they’re released. Until then, go out and live your best unconventional life.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.