Your Identity at Work: being a researcher in any sector

What if your goal wasn’t to explore new career options, but to become a scientist in a work place you enjoy? Or being a researcher who chooses to work with people who inspire and uplift them. Or being a __________ in an environment that energizes them.

I was listening to a podcast with James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits (link below). He posed that people’s actions and habits reflect their identity and not their to do list. For example, what if you aimed to become a runner rather than aimed to finish a marathon? This new way of thinking can motivate you to achieve goals that you’ve failed at before. In focusing on who you want to be, you then in turn, choose actions to realize that potential in yourself. It comes more naturally.

I thought about this idea this morning as I sipped my coffee. I’m not a morning person, but I got out of bed with my alarm, for once, rather than snoozing it till eternity. I adjusted my goal from “waking up early” to “becoming a person who has time to read in the morning”. This new way of thinking helped me focus on my identity rather than things I needed to do.

What would this look like for you? How would your daily goals change? For example:

  • Identity: Be a person who is curious about other workplaces to do research/teach/science communication? Action: Talk to other people in other sectors (rather than just someone who needs to update their Linkedin?).
  • Identity: Be a writer. [how do you make room for this in small, achievable ways?]
  • Identity: Be an activist.
  • Identity: Be a student leader.

Defining your identity in the workplace is an extension of identifying what’s important to you. You might be a person who knows right away what kind of boss you want, team you want to work in, work-life balance you need. If this is you, remember to check in with yourself and acknowledge that your values can change. And if lots of things are important to you, and you’re unsure about what factors contribute specifically to your identity at work, others have found it illuminating to talk to their friends, family, peers, and mentors to get insights into what they enjoy most about work, and the type of work they find to be fulfilling.

Hope you have fun as you make these discoveries. Celebrate the incremental successes. I know I won’t wake up every morning at 6am, but I will celebrate the days I do. And for the days I sleep in, I’ll remind myself that I needed that, too!


“James Clear – Building Great Habits” | Entreleadership podcast (Spotify) (Apple Podcasts)

“True behavior change is identity change”, James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits. Adapt this to career exploration by building daily, personal practice to progress 1% everyday.