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Navigating a New Career Path

Connor Lang

With my graduation date approaching fast, I’m realizing that I don’t know what I want to do next. As early as elementary school, I have been laser-focused on a career in neuroscience… well as much as someone that age could be. The mystery of the brain grabbed my attention in third grade when the class was asked to make a presentation about a job they’d like to know more about. I chose neurosurgery. As I continued to grow up, I sought as many opportunities as I could to be exposed to that career path and the field of neuroscience as a whole. Frankly, I didn’t give myself the opportunity to explore my options; I had chosen neurosurgery and only saw myself doing that. So, I applied for a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience program at my city’s university and have spent the last four years diving into the complexity of the brain. There has been a lot to learn in what seemed like the fastest four years of my life.

Thankfully, my earliest instinct was correct in a lot of ways. I’m still excited by the unfathomable complexity of the mushy organ in our skull, and I can’t help but laugh about the idea of studying the brain with my own brain! As a part of my degree, I was able to participate in a research project focused on the way pain uniquely manifests in people with Parkinson’s disease. Through my experience conducting this research with animal models and patient interviews, I quickly realized that my interest in neuroscience and medicine that focuses on the brain lies, not in the final stage of neurosurgery, but in the initial phases of identifying, researching, and understanding a new problem in a laboratory setting. While an important revelation, this realization abruptly dissolved the path I had set for myself since the third grade.

This year, I joined the Alumni Advisory Council of the Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC), an exciting opportunity to re-engage with the volunteer program that shaped much of my adolescence. Through Youth Central, an organization in Calgary, Alberta, I was able to participate in the YVC program for four years. Through projects at homeless shelters, elder care centres, summer camps, and special events, I was fortunate to be able to provide over 500 hours of service. Notably, in 2018, I spent the whole summer as a support volunteer at Between Friends Camp Bonaventure, an outdoor day camp for youth aged 5-17 with various physical and intellectual disabilities. This opportunity made me feel valuable: I was able to support campers one-on-one, help them develop communication skills through ASL, and quickly make friends with the 17-year-old campers that I was asked to assist. I started by signing up for a single shift at the beginning of the summer months, and after the first day, I signed up for all the remaining shifts.

In the last year, I found myself nearly finished with my degree and the only thing I’m sure about is that I don’t want to follow my initial career path. A position I think many upcoming or recent graduates are in. I’m fairly certain I want to pursue neuroscience research, but that still leaves me with numerous potential specialties. Do I want to focus on memory? Brain development? A specific pathology or disease? The electrochemical workings of the neurons inside our brain? Or should I continue with my current focus on pain in Parkinson’s disease? As I tried to rectify the numerous options in the back of my mind, I attended my first meeting with the Alumni Advisory Council. Through my introduction to the board members, I quickly realized that each person, in big or small ways, had been guided to some extent by their YVC experience. Whether through the non-profit sector, public policy, entrepreneurship, or medicine, each person had internalized their volunteer experience and applied it to their education and career. With the recent launch of the YVC Alumni Network, I am continuing to see that pattern.

So, I reflected on my own experiences and in particular, volunteering with Between Friends Camp Bonaventure returned to mind. I have always known that I want to work with youth in the future! My research experience that focused on pain in Parkinson’s disease, under the support and supervision of Dr. Veronica Bruno, helped me realize that pain perception is a topic of interest of mine. Through the connection of these opportunities, it became clear that I may want to focus on chronic pain conditions in youth, particularly those caused by an underlying pathology or disability, and I hope to contribute to scientific understanding through medical neuroscience research focused on this topic. Perhaps, there is even room for neurosurgery techniques in this path. Regardless, I have learned to make my future plans less rigid.

While I have gained some understanding of my interests and the research I’d like to pursue in the future, this is simply a rough path, and I can deviate and take new trails at any time. Further, this experience helped me to be more open to the possibility of new opportunities and the potential places they may lead, as every new experience has the ability to meaningfully contribute to my personal career trajectory. Most importantly, this was a crucial reminder that the curiosity and captivation I experience does not exist in isolation. The joy and value I experienced as a volunteer assisting camp councillors, is much the same as the joy and value I experience supporting current neuroscience research in pain and patient outcomes. As I begin looking for graduate school and master’s degree programs, it only makes sense I connect the two… or anything else that may come my way.

Written by Connor Lang, YVC Alumni Advisory Council

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