Career Conversations with your PI

Have you recently undergone your annual review? Did you leave much time to focus on your career development or were you focussed on discussing current research plans and priorities?  If you have focussed on discussing your current research project with your PI that’s completely understandable as there are lots of deliverables expected from you as an Early Career Researcher. However, the purpose of this article is to get you to also think about the importance of career planning and development and how it should be part of your annual review.

Alongside discussing your career development within your annual review, you may find it extremely helpful to take time to set up a separate career conversation meeting with your PI/supervisor to discuss it further and build on those review conversations.  Why? You may ask. This is because researchers often leave career planning to the last minute and with the introduction of the Concordat to support the Development of Researchers you have 10 days to use for professional development opportunities – take advantage!

It is important to make any Career Conversation successful – in order to do this you need set SMART actionable goals.  The first of these could be to set up the career conversation with your PI! It doesn’t have to be a long meeting, 45minutes would be beneficial. It is up to you to set the agenda: do you want to take a very specific approach with key questions and topics to cover or would you prefer a broader discussion looking at possible options or pathways to follow?

How can you prepare:

Make sure that your CV is up to date. It will be useful to get your PI to review your CV. They will have plenty of advice to offer, maybe in terms of layout or areas that you might need to develop further to ensure that you are a more marketable candidate for your chosen career pathway.

Complete a skills audit ahead of the discussion and leave enough time to analyse it yourself (possibly with friends/family and colleagues) before discussing it with your PI. It can be interesting to see if your PI agrees with your self-assessment or if they see areas of strength that you yourself have not recognised. Discussing your strengths and weaknesses can be particularly helpful at providing clarity on skills and areas for development over the next few months.

Have some ideas as to how you would like to use your 10 days professional development allowance i.e. any conferences or training courses happening in the near future that would be beneficial to attend?

If you are considering options/pathways outside academia don’t be afraid to voice this and let your PI know. They may have useful thoughts and suggestions to share with you. It is recognised that with the levels of competition within academia that not all researchers will continue to progress to a long-term academic career, and that’s OK! Even if you are aiming for an academic career ask your PI/supervisor about their knowledge of training and networks that might be useful for you. Talk to them about the value of networking and which professional bodies to liaise with. Early Career Researchers often have reservations about networking for career development purposes. It can be useful to discuss this with your PI not only to get their opinion but for valuable tips too.

Come up with action points on who else might be able to offer advice e.g. senior colleagues in your department, post doc societies and networks, increase your online presence (LinkedIn profile, own independent academic webpage or profile). Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor for access to their network of contacts.

Further resources:

Eleanor Hennige is the IAD’s Research Staff Careers Consultant, supporting fixed-term research staff at the University with their career planning and options.  Eleanor runs our 1:1 career development consultations, she delivers our suite of career workshops and works with Schools/Research Staff Societies on career specific events and workshops.  Eleanor works on a part-time basis (4 mornings a week) and can be contacted at

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