Careers, JUST careers

Last week’s blog from Amy featured a great cartoon from The Upturned Microscope depicting a meeting of “Postdocs Anonymous” which may have resonated with some of you. In it there’s a reference to “information about alternative careers” which I’m going to focus on in this post.

Like many researchers developers I have a bit of an issue with the phrase “alternative careers” because it implies deviation from a norm. This was summed up by Marie Thouaille at a meeting recently which was summarised in a tweet by Inger Mewburn.

The reality from the information we have about research staff career paths is that the so-called alternative paths are the norm. Your career is far more likely to develop outside the academic path and I think many postdocs accept this as fact. Despite this, there seems to be an unwillingness to engage in career decision making.

I’m not sure what lies behind this reticence but here are a few resources to help any of you who are aware that there are more options open to you than the fellowship/lecturer route, but may not be sure about how to get started.

Set a deadline to start 

It’s all too easy to push this down the to-do list. I find it easiest to move things along when I can link them to a meaningful deadline. You might be able to use your annual review meeting for this – the deadline for the year here at Edinburgh is approaching fast. If that has already passed why not schedule a similar conversation with someone you would like to talk about where you are, how things are going and what track you are on.

Think about your preferences

There are a number of different frameworks you can use to prompt your thinking about the way you like to work and the types of things you find interesting. You might use our skills audit based on the RDF and just reflect on what you enjoy doing. You can also ask people what they think you are good at and whether they have any ideas about careers or directions that might suit you. Working out what to do for the rest of your life can be intimidating so don’t think of this as a fixed decision. If you also talk to people about the paths they’ve taken (more on this below), you’ll discover that careers develop constantly and often in directions that can’t be seen in advance. Instead of trying to fix on something forever, work out what your next career needs to have more of and less of and see where this takes you.

Look at the destinations

There are a range of sources which set out the careers taken after postdoc research. Vitae, professional bodies, publishers and individual universities have all tried to provide better insights to help researchers be confident about their options. If you are struggling to find something that resonates, let me know and I’ll see what I can add here.

We now have more information about the destinations of postdoctoral researchers than ever before but the picture is incomplete. I make this point because no matter how rich the options are, I suspect there are far more opportunties taken by research staff than we are aware of.

Follow the paths

If the information from reports and profiles doesn’t give you the inspriation you are seeking, why not look at individual paths? Use social media and networks to understand career paths by connecting with people through your boss, former colleagues and start to build a picture of where postdocs have gone afterwards and where they are now. Connect with as many people as you can with on LinkedIn and look back through their online career summaries. If your network is a bit thin, ask around – most people would be happy to make virtual introductions to help you do this.

Be positive

I know it’s easy to say this, but I genuinely believe that you can do ANYTHING after a  postdoc. Some options might require some training or experience, but the value of being a researcher will shine through. Most postdocs still have the VAST majority of their working years ahead and if you put your experience into the context of a forty year working life (more for most of us, probably) any temporary side-stepping or reset is worth the short-term set backs.

Talk the talk

My final message is that once you have worked out what’s next for you, make sure you describe your skills and value in terms that the employer will appreciate and engage with. This is probably best explored in a future post if there is interest, but in the meantime, here’s a resource from my last role where I rewrote a postdoc CV for a new direction.

And finally, 

Can I encourage you all to look hard at where you will have most impact in the wider labour market? We need you…


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