I often write blogs in my head without managing to get them down in actual real words that others can read. This is one I wrote over the festive season…

Many people have more than one career, I didn’t change pathway because I hated my first choice, geography played a significant part in the opportunities I had and ultimately my decision making. But as I reflected over Christmas I found potentially important parallels between them, and started wondering if this was a reflection on me.

Cell biology felt like a world that no-one sees. Processes that happen under the skin (technically also in your skin) that continually hold us in our state of being and enable us to function at a higher level. To focus on the things that matter to us. Cell biology is something that no-one will really bother with as long as everything is working as it should. To quote Count Rugen in the Princess Bride – “If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.”

Now let’s look at heating and plumbing – processes that happen behind closed doors, under floors and in walls. No-one sees the pipes but having clean running water and a home at a comfortable temperature enables us to function at a higher level. We don’t have to think about keeping our bodies comfortable on a daily basis. Plumbing is something that no-one will really bother with as long as everything is working as it should. See what I mean? Radiators fade into the background of a house, underfloor heating is invisible and the pipes in the airing cupboard are covered with towels.

Both these disciplines are vital to our everyday lives, BUT you don’t need to know how your bodily processes work to get through the day and you don’t need to know how water gets heated in your home. Neither avenue is particularly well remunerated compared to other specialist jobs. When I lectured I was paid hourly for teaching time but not for exam writing, any marking or lecture preparation and certainly not petrol costs. Admittedly I am only starting out on my heating and plumbing journey, self employment does mean you have more control over hourly rates and costs but when subcontracting the hourly rate is a little over the living wage. This is not a complaint more of an observation on my current path. I am in a place where I am learning and that is absolutely the place I should be… for now.

So how do these choices reflect on me? Do I place more value in these subjects than others? Possibly not, I’ve just been given the chance to study them. Do I enjoy knowing things other take for granted? Yes, I think I do. But the biggest factors in both these career options has been their ability to help people. Cell biology and the subsequent lecturing enabled me to share my knowledge with medical students who’d almost certainly go on to save someones life. Heating and plumbing, well you only need to think back to when you last needed a plumber. It definitely ticks my ‘need to help people’ box.

But more importantly I need a bigger picture. Science always felt like you were doing your piece of the jigsaw and the bigger picture is invariably linked to helping people. Recent climate change and heatings contribution to carbon emissions have provided me with the bigger picture I need this time around. Now not only can I help people but I can help the planet. It may only be a small part but I can actively make a difference and job satisfaction is something I am not prepared to compromise on. Simply because I don’t have too.