Career plans are good. They help you establish a goal based upon your interests. But interests are ever-changing, so should we not be open to change as well?
The worst thing an undergraduate student can do is convince themselves that their plan should be concrete and that if they change their plan, they have somehow failed themselves or their parents that hoped they would pursue X career. As a premed, I meet a lot of other premeds, and I am always surprised at how much some limit themselves.
Yesterday, I had a conversation with a student at Wash U in St. Louis about undergraduate research. He said he did not pursue research because the available labs did not investigate topics that aligned with his desired medical profession. Keep in mind this student is only 19.
I paused and thought about what he just said. At 19 years of age, this student turned down multiple opportunities to perform research at a top 5 medical school in the United States because he did not think that his potential research would support his future career, a minimum of 10 years in the making mind you.
This has long been a pet peeve of mine. In science in particular, students often limit themselves to one career path and refuse to change it.
As an undergraduate, it is far more important to be open to various fields of study and to have a desire to simply learn. A principal investigator, or any other employer really, does not want you to simply flaunt your credentials. Why? Because every other applicant has similar credentials. Rather, your interviewer/person reading your application is more interested in what else you bring to his or her team.
You are interested in medicine? Great. You want to do research? Fantastic. Do you want to learn other techniques and studies that do not necessarily coincide with your particular interest but instead make you a more proficient researcher? This is where having the hunger for learning supersedes knowledge of a particular topic.
Rarely do researchers focus on one issue, or topic, and investigate said topic until their study yields a result. Instead, the best researchers consider pathways or solutions that involve knowledge that they are not specifically trained in; their hunger to find the answer to whatever problem they are trying to solve facilitates their success.
The same is true for doctors; doctors rarely specialize in only one field, and they rarely are able to properly diagnose people on the first try. It takes a series of exams and images to properly diagnose someone. If a doctor was only trained in one particular imaging technology, or one specific field, patients suffering from things beyond the common cold or similar typical ailments would remain undiagnosed until he/she was seen by a physician specialized in the exact field that comprised said ailment. This sounds ridiculous, right?
Just as researchers and physicians adapt, students must be open to alternative routes to their career destination.