Saturday, March 2, 2024

Career Choices: To Joat or not to Joat?

JOAT is an acronym used by Philip Jose Farmer in one of his sci-fi novellas, about how society can choose to deal with differences. It stands for Jack of all Trade. More often than not, it doesn’t have a very positive connotation. Switch the word for generalist, it’s no better. In fact, it’s only ok for your family doctor.

But if instead, we talk about interdisciplinary profile, of drawing together the various advances made in different fields to better serve society, then a different picture emerges. A picture full of possibilities.

Many academic researchers have no choice but to specialize. In most fields, and certainly in fundamental physics, specialization is key to career progression.

But I was never wired that way. It is not me to feel joy at the idea that I would spend my entire career examining one phenomenon in more and more detail. I have no issue with the idea that people do it – we obviously need specialists! But I had to come to terms with not being one of them. That was partly the reason why I left academia: I felt too much pressured in staying in my field, and that was a good definition of boredom to me.

The world needs both specialists and interdisciplinary adepts. However, if you are not a specialist, you will have to sell yourself harder to make hiring decision-makers pick you. The onus will be on you to explain your career path in a way that makes sense to whomever you talk to. You will have to present a single picture of who you are for people to grasp your abilities and potential.

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