What I like about my job…statistics graduate student

It has taken me a hell of a long time to find a job I really like, and now I would like to share that experience with others who may be wandering through the same forest I did, looking at the trees. I am 45 and am actually studying for a new job; I am working on a masters degree in biostatistics and have a part time job doing statistical computing (which is basically what I am going to school for and is the same sort of stuff I will be doing when I finish my masters in a few months.)

Why I like it: (1) I am good at it. It utilizes my best natural skills, which are mathematics and the ability to organize and concentrate on a problem until it is solved. It also uses my knowledge base, which is biology and medicine. (2) It presents new challenges daily. But there are many kinds of challenges, some of which are: (a) Trying to do an impossible task, at least as well as it can be done under the circumstances, (b) Trying to manage or motivate others at their tasks, and (c) Doing a task that is easy for you through long repetition without becoming extremely bored at it. But my current work does not present these types of challenges; instead, it presents the BEST kind of challenge as far as I am concerned: Each day I have a set of problems to solve, some of which I do not know (off the top of my head) how to solve. But I know that I have enough knowledge of math and computer programming that if I think about it and work at it for a few hours or a couple of days, I will figure it out. This is my favorite kind of challenge: not impossible, not dependent on others to complete, and not too easy, but also not too hard.

I think this is the crux of why I like my job. Before this job, I worked in two fields. In my teens and 20’s, I worked in restaurants and hotels as a cook and eventually (without any formal training) worked my way into an assistant chef position. It was great while I was learning, but after a while, a knew a lot about cooking, and it became boring. Cooking for people you don’t know and won’t ever see is nowhere near as satisfying as cooking for friends at home. After college, I went to medical school and residency and spent 13 years as an obstetrician delivering babies. I still think it is a fun thing to do, but the actual deliveries are only about 5% of the job; there is plenty of repetition, boredom, staying up all night followed by a full office schedule the next day, and efforts to please people who cannot be pleased. I used to look out the window of my office and be jealous of people I saw walking around, going to lunch, going home at 5:00, and generally living some sort of normal life that I did not live. After about four years of casting about for something else to do that capitalized on my science background but did not lead to another job with 80 hour work weeks, I decided to go back for this masters degree.

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