Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Career Choice Puzzle: From Astrophysicist to Labor Organizer . . .

It is interesting to analyze the career choices people make. It’s an interesting puzzle. And, you can often learn something about yourself and other people.

Take Bernie Fanaroff. In 1974 he was a brilliant young South African astrophysicist. He along with Julia Riley developed a way to categorize galaxies known as the Fanaroff-Riley classification system that is still used today. Two years later he gave up his science career to organize black workers. He became the leading light in the union movement during the apartheid years. Why did he make this career change?

According to the leading theory of career change, John Holland's, it doesn't make sense. You would not expect someone with an "Investigative" personality to change to its opposite -- an Enterprising type of work, a labor organizer. More on this theory . . .

Twenty-five years later he returned to radio astronomy. When South Africa announced in 2003 that it would compete to build the world's largest radio telescope, the multibillion-dollar Square Kilometer Array, he was the team leader.

Why did he make that first career change in the 1970s?

When you Google his name on the Internet you get some tantalizing hints:
In an interview he mentions feeling guilty in Britain while the people in his country were suffering under the apartheid regime . . . that in the 1920s his parents were active in the trade union movement.

At a university website, he writes, "Not only did I thoroughly enjoy learning physics and doing research in radio astronomy, but it has stood me in good stead all my life. As the result of this training . . . I was . . . able to approach the difficult and intractable problems of organising workers in the face of strong state repression and intimidation with objectivity, systematically and logically (most of the time)."
It would seem that while he values science, his commitment to human rights and the people of his country is even greater.

It is also apparent that his science abilities and training prepared him for a career that, on the face of it, seems like a poor choice.

What do you take from this story?

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