By Ann Guernon, MS, CCC-SLP, CCRC
My career started just over twenty years ago when I entered the workforce as a speech-language pathologist. Working with brain injury and stroke survivors has always been my passion and I thrived in the medical environment. In graduate school, I brushed off the idea of being involved in research. In my research methods class I began my project presentation with the words, “I will never do this but….”. Fast forward a few years, I found myself interested in research and splitting my time between clinical work and research. I loved the structure of the research and the application of my clinical skills to the development of meaningful evidence for clinicians.
As I was realizing my attraction to the academic research world, I was starting my family — the idea of returning to school was daunting. I was unsure how to juggle working, parenting young children and the pursuit of another academic degree. It wasn’t the right time for me to adjust my career path, instead I spent several years building my family, establishing my role as a parent and learning everything I could about clinical research in my role as a clinical research coordinator. The work I was exposed to during this period allowed me to realize my potential and to see the value of a higher degree. The experience I gained served to develop the skills necessary to launch myself as an independent researcher.
Once my kids were mostly in school, I knew the time was right for me to fulfill my goal. The timing and the right program fell into place and I now find myself pursuing my PhD in Health Sciences at Northern Illinois University. Here I am, twenty years later, fitting the definition of “early career”. I’ve always looked up to the strong women around me and been amazed at how they balanced successful academic careers, parenting and all the other things life throws their way. What I have learned from my own experience is that balance is deceiving. I read an article a while back that challenged the idea of work life balance and instead proposed the idea of “sway”, meaning that instead of having balance our lives sway to the needs of the moment. Sometimes it is heavy on the work side and other times heavy on the family side. I have survived the last several years reminding myself of the sway in life. This has taught me to evaluate my priorities frequently and lean on co-workers, family and friends. Time management is key and developing realistic timelines and expectations prevents unnecessary stress.
Although I could have gone back to school earlier in life and been further along in my academic research career, I chose to pace myself, enjoy the stages that I was at and wait for the right time to pursue the next step in my career. By doing this, I have likely missed some professional opportunities and clearly will have a shorter academic career, but I would not trade the time and flexibility I had with my young kids. Now, as my family is older and they can understand the choices I need to make for work and school, I feel much more comfortable with those choices and know that the “sway” will come back around. The moral of my story is that there are lots of different ways to achieve career goals and each person has their own path to get there. For me “having it all” means small achievements in waves instead of everything at the same time. This path is not for everyone but it has been perfect for me. Lucky for all of us there are different paths on this journey we are on.