What are you doing after grad school? How about be an astronaut?

We all as graduate students get asked this question a lot; by family, friends, future employers, grant committees, scholarship committees, colleagues: “What do you want to do after grad school?”. That dark, heavy looming question that always makes us stop and think in the back of our heads, “I’m just trying to get through this month, let alone the rest of my life”, or “I don’t even know what jobs are out there let alone have a specific one in mind” or my personal favourite, “stop judging me”.

And I’ve been honest on a lot of applications where I answer that I don’t know, that I want these specific things (insert list here) and that I’m willing to venture out of the typical jobs associated with a PhD to try just about any research position out there.

When we were kids we were often told that the sky is the limit and in some cases that may be partially true, and yet it’s really not. Or so I thought. This week I got an email from a work colleague asking me to be a reference for them; something I have done fairly frequently after working with such large research crews and worked on large teams of research scientists in the Arctic. But this was a special request. They wanted me to a reference for the Canadian Space Agency Astronaut program. And seriously, I thought it was spam. Most definitely spam, and I proceeded to email this person to confirm that it was to ensure that I didn’t click on any of the links and get some weird virus taking over my computer. As it turns out, this was a legitimate request.

A fellow research scientist in biology with a doctorate, it eligible and indeed quite a good candidate to be an astronaut. Who would have thought?! And how inspiring when you think about it. Not only am I proud to know this person and believe them to be qualified for many wonderful career paths in this life, but I found myself suddenly very motivated and proud of my accomplishments. I work hard and have acquired though be it somewhat unique skills, they are specialized highly disciplined skills. And at the end of the day I might not know what I want to do after grad school, but the sky is the limit, or even better yet, to ‘infinity and beyond’.