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Special Feature: Not What You Thought You'd Be Doing

(© Angelo Vermeulen)

You've heard it 100 times already, and it's a message that we at Science Careers work hard to convey: Careful planning is essential for a successful career in science. Becoming a scientist requires years of training and a long series of good decisions. Choosing a Ph.D. supervisor who will support you, picking a good lab for your postdoc, deciding which research projects to pursue, deciding whether to stay in your current position and finish some important work or to move on to another exciting opportunity--such decisions should not be made without careful deliberation.

Yet sometimes even the best laid plans gang aft agley, and even the most motivated of scientists in training are led astray by some other passion. And the result, sometimes, can be wonderful. Accidents, spontaneous acts of passion, decisions taken casually--all can lead to totally new and unexpected careers, full of new and unexpected challenges, offering great professional and personal satisfaction.

(© Angelo Vermeulen)

As Science Careers contributing editor Elisabeth Pain reports, Angelo Vermeulen one of those children who was born to become a researcher. "I was like the science kid of the class. I had my own lab, with a microscope and chemicals and binoculars, and I made these walks in nature, collecting samples," he says in "The Itinerant Artist." But he also had a talent for the visual and conceptual arts, and as he did his Ph.D. in biology at the University of Leuven, he also learned photography. Years later, Vermeulen has reconciled his dual interests, producing art that often incorporates science.

(Courtesy, Jorge Cham)

Jorge Cham was enrolled in the master's program in mechanical engineering at Stanford University when the student newspaper, The Stanford Daily, put out a call seeking ideas for a new comic strip, Science intern Sara Coehlo writes in "Piled Higher and Deeper: The Everyday Life of a Grad Student." After discussing some ideas with friends over dinner, Cham, who used to doodle as a child but had never tried cartooning, proposed a comic strip about a group of overworked, underpaid, procrastinating graduate students and their terrifying advisers. Piled Higher and Deeper, or PHD, has gone on to become a cult cartoon and Cham a professional cartoonist.

(Hartford Family Winery)

Sometimes a late-blooming passion can lead to a full-time career, as freelance writer Alaina Levine illustrates in "In Vino Oportunitas." Jeff Mangahas, who studied plant and molecular biology at the University of Washington and became a technician in a cancer lab, found his interest in wine increasing. Soon, "the romantic side of wine took hold of me," Mangahas says. A transcendent wine-drinking experience drew him into the winemaking field. Today a professional winemaker, Mangahas uses his scientific training--along with an excellent palate and fine intuition--to make wines his customers savor as much as he does.