By: Kelly Young
When I first started training in my current lab, I remember a doctor asking me, after I explained what my position was, “Aren’t you a little young to want to do that for the rest of your career?” This response, albeit far from unusual for someone my age, always baffled me. Youth is one of those ephemeral traits that our culture has told us to down play when trying to be professional, because it often implies immaturity or lack of experience, but somehow, is a trait that everyone wishes they could recapture as they age. And there’s a name for the young professional that’s newer to the job market, with limited experience and a healthy dose of both uncertainty and ambition.
It’s not a bad name, I assure you, but the “M” word often carries more baggage for an individual looking for work than it does the employer looking to hire. The term “millennial” has gained such a negative connotation over the years that just about anyone in this generation will adamantly let you know that they’re in their twenties (or early thirties) but they are not a millennial, thank you very much. As I approach turning 25, I’ll admit that I’ve also downplayed being part of this generation, if only because I never identified with any of the stereotypes that surround people my age. However, after an overhaul of our lab resulted in all of our current employees being so-called millennials, I’ve found that my generation and Histotechnology were practically made for each other.
You see, my generation was raised on the same rapid wave of technologic innovation that continues to drive how our field is evolving to this day. We were built and taught to adapt quickly alongside these new technologies, which translates into a propensity for multi-tasking in fast-paced environments. Does this sound like a strong quality for a histotech? Add in our desire to find meaning in our day-to-day work, to find something we’re truly passionate about and make a career of it, and you have the makings of an employee who not only cares about the work that they do, but who has the ability to innovate and streamline work flow on a daily basis. These are the kind of techs who could build a dream team, who aim for quantity AND quality, without sacrificing one for the other.
Now don’t get me wrong, these traits alone aren’t enough. Regardless of passion, personal skills, or adaptability, there is one factor missing from the equation for our success: you. You, the veteran histologists, who hold the tribal knowledge gained from experience that no textbook or tutorial could teach. My biggest mentors have been the scientists, professors, and managers who’ve shared their insights, failures, and criticisms, as part of what our lab has termed “dynamic management.”
When given the flexibility to act autonomously within the lab, but supported by the guidance of our supervisor, our millennial team is able to act as many parts to a whole – filling the shifting needs of various departments within the lab throughout the day as it’s needed, rather than seeing and sticking solely to a single task for the duration of a shift.
This field would not be where it is today without the minds behind the microtomes; we need, and we want, to learn and grow from you so that we can contribute to the lab and workflow in the most efficient way possible. While I know that this isn’t the case for everyone, for those of us with a college background, the interest and the lab experience exists, if only we knew where to look for the opportunities that this field can offer. Even having done manual IHC for three years as part of my undergraduate research, not once in my collegiate career was I ever given the information on what it takes to get into this line of work. This is why it is imperative to reach out to local schools, regardless of whether they offer a histology program, and to host events like Career Day at national and state conferences, so that more of our generation can be exposed to what Histotechnology has to offer.
Lastly, there tends to be a preconception that millennials are inherently unreliable as they hop from job to job, but from my own experience and the experience of my peers, one of the biggest factors that influences my decision to stay with or leave a company is its willingness to invest in me as an employee. One of my favorite ideas someone shared on LinkedIn was along the lines of, “What happens if we invest in our employees and they leave us? Well, what happens if we don’t, but they stay?” With all professions, there are certain limitations to how far an employee can grow at a single company. But any employee, regardless of age, is more likely to stay engaged and committed if there is opportunity for growth and appropriate compensation for increased responsibility.
Millennials are faced with more student debt than any generation before us, and salary is often the deciding factor on whether or not to commit to a company in the long term. That’s not to say that financial compensation is the only way to invest in us – supporting professional growth by sponsoring continuing education and networking opportunities, so that we can share and implement new information back in our own labs, further supports our ability to innovate and streamline both our work and the field at large.
So who are millennial histologists? We are the next generation of professionals who want to share our unique strengths with this field and the companies of which it comprises. We are the students, researchers, and clinical techs who respect those who’ve paved the way before us, and want to continue to build and transform Histotechnology going into the future. We are your next dream team.