Monday, June 20, 2016

Frameworks to guide a career path: Sarah Martyn Crowell, NIH

This is the first of our summer series, "Post-Humphrey". We highlight the theory alumni learned while in school, and what they've learned in practice since, among other tidbits of advice.


The Humphrey School provided me with a wide variety of experiences to explore how to approach my future career. Since graduating 8 years ago, I’ve studied and worked with various frameworks to help others translate their experiences – both professional and academic - into more intentional strategies for their futures. Organizational and professional development research can help guide our future success, when we apply it to our practical experience.

One that I have liked and used when thinking about internal motivation is Daniel Pink's work on what drives us (here's a good 10 minute overview). He finds three key elements for motivation: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. These help define one’s internal focus and provide understanding of motivating factors behind work. This has helped me articulate to my peers and coworkers how I can be most productive and offer the greatest contribution.

In the more external process of finding a career, I have appreciated Herminia Ibarra's research on working identities and leadership, which highlights that sometimes we find what we want to do through experimentation. You cannot always figure out the best direction in your head, so taking action and assessing your experience is a significant part of the process. It is a good reminder to me that cultivating a fulfilling career is often an evolving process.

In addition to these, there are frameworks to think about the workplace itself. One of my favorites is not from a book but from a former mentor and boss of mine. The framework highlighted three workplace priorities for job seekers:

1) Type of work – seeking specific job duties.

2) Organizational culture – seeking a specific type of workplace culture (flexibilities, values, leadership styles, etc.).

3) Organizational mission – seeking an employer that forwards a specific mission or that has a mission that is personally meaningful.

Most of us want a mix of these aspects in our place of employment; the trick is to consider the balance and know how that may shift. This framework has helped me make career decisions over the past eight years. After graduation I was focused on organizational culture, as I wanted a collaborative environment that would support skill development. As I have developed a more defined skillset, I notice a shift towards "type of work" because I want to further the expertise I developed and take on more leadership.

As your professional path develops, I encourage you to think about a framework that speaks to you. How does it help you reflect on past experience? How does it inform your future vision? You might find some new insights that help you recommit to the work you do, discover new opportunities, or shift your approach to what’s next.

By: Sarah Martyn Crowell
Sarah works for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a Management Analyst. In this role, she develops, implements, and evaluates initiatives to enhance HR business, operations, and services to the NIH community. She also works for Conspire Coaching as a career strategy coach. Before joining NIH, Sarah worked in project and volunteer management for several non-profit organizations, including Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and Habitat for Humanity (Tacoma, WA). Sarah earned a Master’s of Public Policy from the Humphrey School and a BA in Philosophy from Kalamazoo College.

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