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  • Writer's pictureSue Schleifer

Unrealized Potential

In the past few weeks, two of my coaching clients have described “career tests” that they took in their past that they thought told them they should be ‘x.’ When I hear people say this, it makes me shudder. They are referring to taking the Strong Interest Inventory and not understanding how the survey works. They are making assumptions and even decisions based on faulty information.

The inventory does not tell you what you should be; it tells you how your interests compare to others. The assumption being that if my interests are similar to a minister’s, for example, then I might like or be good at being a minister.

Many people want quick answers to the questions: What work might I do? What am I good at? How do I find a job? So they turn to career tests for answers. For most of us, these are not easy questions to answer, and they take a lot of thought, exploration, and discovery. Unfortunately too many people do not take the time to explore their career choices and spend many unhappy years in positions that are not a good match for their interests, skills, and temperament.

Then there are those people who know from a young age what they want to do or what questions they want to explore in their work and are thwarted in their career. In the NOVA documentary, “Picture a Scientist,” we are introduced to women who had a clear understanding of what they wanted to study and pursue as a career. Instead of being encouraged and supported, they often were undermined.

The 1999 MIT Report demonstrated that women had significantly less lab space, they were paid lower salaries, and were offered no convenient childcare options, among other discrepencies. This report provided data to illustrate what some of the women scientists experienced for years but were not believed when they tried to bring up the issues.

So much of their time and energy was spent fighting for the right and resources to do their work. So much energy diverted from the science that they desperately wanted to do. It was and still is a waste of potential for individuals and for science. And think about the people who are discouraged from pursuing science or another career before they have barely started.

While the MIT report was written in 1999, problems still are rampant throughout the country. MIT’s undergraduate class is now 50% women; however, the number that go on to earn PhD’s and become professors is significantly lower than men. Why is that? The film demonstrates that there continues to be explicit and implicit bias. Women are passed over for internships, jobs, and research funds, and this is not happening because of lack of competence. It is even worse for women of color. Some college administrators are admitting that systematic and structural change needs to happen. One of the scientists in the film stated that “we need allies to make things happen.” And, we need to take action.

As a life and career coach, I help my clients to discover their interests and talents and careers that might be a good match. I teach them how and where to find people to talk with in order to learn more about careers, organizations, and to make contacts. I am an ally for my clients and a partner to help them find and grow their stable of allies, overcome obstacles, and nurture their talents. I help them realize their potential, and as leaders I help them to nurture and mentor others.


Picture a Scientist - NOVA documentary

The Unlikely Pioneer Behind mRNA Vaccines - New York Times, The Daily Podcast


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