A purposeful career is something many yearn for, but few manage to find. Work that allows you to fulfil your passion, tap into your expertize, have a real societal impact, and give you the ability to earn enough money to live can seem like the holy grail for many young adults entering today’s workplace — so much so that some give up on their quest to find it.
But not Mareike.
A Research Scientist for Siemens in Berkeley, California, Mareike focuses on the world of augmented reality, building ways for humans and technology to work better together, by ‘augmenting’ humans with digital superpowers. As Mareike puts it: “We don’t want to replace a human, we just want to support them in what they’re doing.”
After advancing from university into academic research, Mareike realized that the many ideas and projects coming out of her studies were simply wasted: “Most of these projects went right to the trash bin. You write a paper, you talk about it, but nothing happens.”
In academia, the focus is on doing the research and recording it in publications, as opposed to taking action on those findings. It’s a common complaint both within the research community and outside of it, especially when you consider the lost potential of years of research sitting in PDFs in online journals.
The pursuit of purpose
So for Mareike, this simply wasn’t enough. “Going to a start-up, I thought I could have more impact and really see where things go. I built a lot of applications that could be used by different newspapers and different companies.”
Start-ups are known for their fast-moving nature and their tendency to create innovative products that have never been seen before. There’s plenty of output, but small companies tend to struggle to make an impact on a global scale, resulting in many start-ups creating stuff that doesn’t really move mountains. “I couldn’t see a real purpose. It looked great, it was shiny, it was gimmicky and blinky; but I couldn’t really help to solve a problem that I’d face in society.”
So Mareike continued her hunt for a job that would allow her to continue her research, but also really see the impact of her work on broader society. “Here, at Siemens, I have the access to real business problems, and we also have the means to find the solution. We have a huge network — we have almost 380,000 people to work with or to work for, and you can really solve a big problem that will solve a bigger issue for our world.”
It seems Mareike has got the best of both worlds: working as an academic, but backed up by a large company who can bring her ideas to life. “It’s a great position we’re in working in Berkeley: we have the universities, so we are really close to what is going on currently in research, but also, being Siemens, we have a lot of possibilities to talk to a lot of other companies on the same level. If you speak to big companies as a university researcher, they see you as someone who wants to try something but doesn’t know the use cases. But being a researcher for a corporate, when we talk to start-ups and bigger companies, we can really have a useful exchange and see how we can bring the technology forward.”
For Mareike, finding a purposeful career was a quest with many chapters, but her constant drive to make an impact meant she didn’t settle for less. “I want to do something in life that has impact: do research and do something that solves a real problem.”
An academic’s job is to constantly ask questions, to repeatedly test new ideas and to prod at current beliefs to really see if they hold true. The idea that a purposeful career cannot be found, in Mareike’s case, has clearly been disproven.