The Tragic Optimist

How did I get here

Last night I participated on a panel at Carleton (my alma mater, and my employer) about the career paths of science alumni. There were six of us, and each of us gave a very short talk on our career path and then answered questions.

I was pretty excited to have been asked to be on the panel. I love my job and I love talking about it. I know how lucky I am to have my dream job, and I know how hard it can be to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, so of course I’ll talk about it.

When I came to Carleton as a freshman, I already knew that I wanted to be a geologist, and I just figured that I’d go on to graduate school right away, get my Ph.D, ???, profit! But as much as I loved the research that I was doing – and I did, I still love going into the field and hitting rocks with hammers – as I approached my senior year, the idea of going to graduate school and getting a Ph.D started to leave me cold.

So I started to think about what else I liked doing, and settled on informal education – I’m still not entirely sure where I came up with that phrase, but there it was.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really know how to get that kind of job, and it being ’97, there were opportunities at software companies, so I took a software programming job.

I worked as a programmer for a short while, and then moved to the customer support team, where I could investigate and research why code wasn’t working and fix it. I found that what I loved the most was doing the research, figuring out how the software was supposed to work and explaining it to our customers. I started to move into Knowledge Management, which sounds super cool, but is really just keeping track of information that people have and documenting it so that if that person leaves, you don’t lose their knowledge. I even got the title of Knowledge Engineer for a bit, which is certainly the loftiest title I’ve ever held. (Embarrassingly enough, I accidentally misspelled “Knowledge” on an application later on when listing my title.)  I learned that the best training for knowledge management was to go to library school. Who knew?

Since there was a library science program at a local school, I enrolled and took weekend and evening classes while working.  I thought I’d be a corporate librarian, maybe work somewhere like 3M.  But within the first day or two of intro to library science, I realized that you can be a science librarian at a college or university, and it was like something clicked and I realized that this was exactly what I’d been looking for. My luck continued, and a new science librarian position opened up at Carleton just a couple of months after I finished my MLIS.

So here I am, as Alicia noted, just like Henry, with a little less time travel, and fewer naked episodes in the library.  Actually, though I love going naked, I’ve never been naked in a library.  Hmm, new goal?

It’s a little funny in retrospect.  I keep thinking that if I went back to my high school reunion, I’d probably be voted “least surprising career”.  Ann, in a library?  Doing science stuff?  Yeah, no surprise.  My first multi-syllable word was “library”, all four years of college, I worked at the library and loved it.  I even thought maybe I’d volunteer at a library after graduating, I loved it so much – it just never occurred to me that it could be a career. Only took me 6 1/2 years, and a circuitous route to figure it out.



  1. Thanks for the interesting reflection Ann. As you know I’m going through my own “what should I do?” moment, and it’s fun to hear how a friend came to something she loves. I’ve always been jealous of those friends who clearly love what they do for a living, find fulfillment in their jobs, homes, families, etc. (in a wishing I could feel like that, rather than begrudging them their happiness sort of way). As someone who’s been constantly looking for what makes her happy and fulfilled and satisfied (more often than not without success), I am gratified to know that it can happen and does to some of the best people I know.

    Keep up the good work Ms. Librarian.

    P.S. ADORE the Time Traveler’s Wife reference! That reminds me that I should re-read it again….

  2. Yay! That is so awesome that you love your job so much! It is so great. WHo cares how long it took you to find it, you DID! So many people don’t! I think I will call you Mrs. Henry from now on! ha ha!

  3. My work-study in college was at the music library. I loved all four years of it. I think I would like to be a college librarian. Maybe someday.

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