Annual Campbell Lecture: The Invention of Career

Last week, I visited Southampton University to give WiSET’s Annual Campbell Lecture, alongside Professor Jane Francis, director of the British Antarctic Survey. I was asked to talk about my career, which initially was a bit of an alarming prospect because my career is hardly what one could call a shining example of how to run your professional life. The more I thought about it, though, the more I felt that my story was a very relevant one for today’s students and graduates because it’s one of uncertainty, dead-ends, and making things up as I go along. It’s worked out well in the end, but it’s been a rather circuitous route to get here.

In the talk, I chose to discuss the two ways in which we invent our own careers: by creating polished stories about our careers that gloss over the difficult bits, and by actually inventing new jobs that didn’t exist before. The stories that we surround ourselves with — the ones we hear about others, the ones that we tell others about ourselves, and the ones we tell ourselves about our capabilities — are important because they shape how we think about the world, how we understand our place in it, and how we imagine our future. And the way in which we imagine the future directly shapes our actions in the present, because you cannot plan for a future that you cannot imagine.

And with technology remaking entire industries, destroying some jobs and creating others, the ability to recognise opportunities and create new roles for oneself is a skill too valuable to be left to chance. We need to learn how to take our skills and apply them in inventive ways that allow us to spot and exploit opportunities that didn’t exist before.

The talk is about 45 minutes long, and I hope you enjoy it!

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