Family Wishes Vs. Career Moves: Pressure from your family should not change your final career goals.
“Work with the situation you are given; never give up; and know who you are and what you want.”
~ Pamela Padilla, PhD
By Mallory Molina
Unique cultures; unique pressures.
The amount of pressure one might feel from their family varies from culture to culture, and can be difficult to wrap your head around. For many in the United States, parents encourage their children to follow their dreams with few restrictions. However, for many Hispanic students, the expectation is that any demands their family makes are to be strictly followed. This might seem limiting, but people like Pamela Padilla, PhD, found a way to respond constructively to her family’s pressure while still attaining a level of success she defined for herself.
Currently an Associate Professor of genetics at the University of North Texas with research support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Padilla grew up in New Mexico, and was always interested in science. Her parents created a warm family environment and installed both good work ethic and a standard of excellence, but never specifically encouraged her pursuit of a science education. When she was in high school, she had the opportunity to work with an engineer at an Air Force base and was told for the first time that she was intelligent and should consider pursuing a doctoral degree.
Forced into a tough situation—but thriving.
This inspired her to consider scientific research as a serious career option. When she was in high school, a representative from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology came to her high school to talk about the university and to encourage students to apply. Dr. Padilla was interested, but her parents did not want her so far away from home. In response to their insistence on the issue, she felt forced to stay in New Mexico and ultimately her degree from the University of New Mexico (UNM).
While in school, she had to work a full-time job to support herself, but this only galvanized her to continue forward. It did, however, also create a lot of pressure to perform, forcing her to plan carefully so she would be well positioned to apply and matriculate to graduate school.
Resultingly, she taught herself be successful academically and adopted the mindset that earning a PhD — or facing any challenge in life — is like training for a marathon. You can’t prepare for the race and run it in the same day; instead, set an ultimate goal and then develop a plan made of smaller, intermediate goals that enable you to reach it. As you near your ultimate goal, start planning the next one so you never lose momentum.
Gaining ground and learning to stand on it.
Using this technique, Dr. Padilla completed her undergraduate and graduate work at UNM. Realizing that it would be vital to her career, she began looking for postdoctoral positions in the last year of her PhD, and was accepted for a position in Seattle. Even though the move went against her family’s wishes, because she was finally financially independent, she could advocate for herself and her choices, and explained to her family that she was making this decision for herself. Initially, her family was apprehensive about the decision, but they came to realize how important it was and were ultimately happy she made the choice for her career.
Dr. Padilla is just one success story of a woman of Color who, when facing the tough decision to respect family wishes or to build a satisfying STEM career, chose to honor herself and her plans for her life. She advises all to, “Work with the situation you are given; never give up; and know who you are and what you want.”
Instead of changing your plans to meet your parents’ or family’s desires, work with that situation to get an outcome desirable to you! Looking at the whole process can cause you to become overwhelmed, so learn to parse your goals so they becomes more manageable.
Never let the wishes of your family, or any other societal pressure, make you give up your dream if it is truly what you want.
Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
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