The Power of Peer Support

Continuing with the theme of my previous blog on motivation, I have been struck recently by the amount of peer support and inspirational comments made on a LinkedIn Discussion group, ‘PhD Careers Outside of Academia’.  A new discussion thread was started last year called, rather fatalistically: “Falling off the postdoc treadmill into the abyss”. It was started by a postdoc who had begun to realise how difficult it is to secure an academic career (see related blog), with the added belief that a PhD would be a hindrance rather than a help to him securing an alternative career path. The subject attracted over 50 comments, with still more being posted in January. I wanted to share some of them (anonymised) with you here, to demonstrate the power of positive peer support:  

“Four years ago I came to the realisation that by specialising in a narrow field, I was heading into postdoc oblivion. I was also a female who chose to have kids late, and so I have taken the opportunity over the last 4 years to reinvent myself. It has taken some time but, as of next year, I will be teaching at a [private school], who value the PhD and real-world experience I have gained over the years.”
“Don’t sell yourself as someone who fell of the post-doc tread-mill – in other words, as someone who failed. You did not. Keep a positive attitude and instead consider yourself as someone who’s starting a new career. Use positive wording such as “my previous career”, “moving on”, “exploring new options”, “bringing my previous experience as a biomedical researcher (name some skills) to this new exciting path”… Well, I’m sure there is better than that but I hope you get the idea. I hope it helps. Good luck.”
“I am going through the same transition period, still on my exploratory career path after my post-doc. I agree we have to embrace the positive attitude and turn this experience into an excellent new opportunity and vision. I wished I had found this career development plan webpage ( earlier, very very useful. I went through the test and it helped me a lot in recognizing what else I CAN and WANT to do with my PhD beside the traditional post-doc and academia.”
“…if you do not think you want to stay in academia, then definitely start your non-academic job search now. It took me about 18 months to find a position and I started looking about 12 months before my thesis defence, so you can see the gap. Trust me, you want that gap to be as short as possible!”
“I was a microbiologist….expert in developing rapid methods for rapid detection of pathogens….I have now an office based job and completely different from my field. We can always apply the skills we gained in PhD or postdoc years ….there is definitely many skills we can transfer. It is not the dream job, I agree, but you need to start somewhere until you find the right fit for you. I am still looking for the right fit !!!! All the best and keep going…….”
“I did have some friends who were biostatistics PhDs, neurologists etc who transitioned to data analysis and machine learning companies. It seems the skills that they encountered during their PhDs and postdocs were very favorable to these companies. The point is I think looking outside your domain may be a very good idea especially if jobs in your field are hard or just saturated.”
“I know what you are going through. I understand your feelings: rage, humiliation, disappointment, confusion, despair. My advice, try to find something positive in your situation. It’s not an abyss. It’s a new turn in your life. Then, look around and try to figure out what you love to do in your life.”
“Think about what you really enjoyed doing along to the way to becoming a postdoc and work on that aspect. For me it was teaching. Good luck and remember, it is never too late to change :-)”

Staying positive and motivated can be hard, especially for those who are receiving little or no support in their own institution, or if they are currently unemployed. LinkedIn is one avenue to share your thoughts and to swap ideas and information with like-minded people – see my previous blog on other benefits of LinkedIn. You can also join, or set up, a peer support group of your own. Many graduate student and postdoctoral researcher groups exist in universities, which offer opportunities to get together for career and/or social events. See more on researcher associations.

Related post: What’s the point of a postdoc?

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