Monthly Archives: August 2014

Careers – the planned and the downright unplanned!

Naturejobs and Vitae are currently running a survey aimed at postdoctoral researchers who have left academia and are enjoying an ‘alternative’ career. They are inviting them to tell their career story and offer advice to those who are also considering leaving academia. A snapshot of the initial results posted on the Naturejobs siteis already revealing some interesting experiences and advice from researchers, who have entered non-academic employment sectors. With the final results being showcased at the International Researcher Development conference in Manchester in September 2014, they will be a welcome addition to the information available to help researchers to transition out of academia – and with less than 5% ultimately realising a permanent academic career, this applies to a lot of people (see my previous blog “What’s the point of a postdoc”).

Planning to leave academia is not an easy choice to make for many researchers. In fact, career planning itself is not a straightforward process. With ‘luck’ playing a large part in many people’s career journeys, how do you plan for that? If you look at two well-used career planning theories (Figure 1), you’ll see that a combination of planned and unplanned activities provides a great strategy for finding your ‘dream job’.
Figure 1
DOTS Model blended with Planned Happenstance theory, illustrating the need for a combination of structure and flexibility in the career planning process (reprinted from Blackford, 2013 “Career planning for research bioscientists”).
First, the DOTS Model (proposed by Bill Law and Tony Watts in 19771, and refined in 19992), illustrated as the yellow boxes, consists of all the important factors which need to be taken into account when choosing and searching for a job suited to your skills, personality, abilities etc. It is shown as a step-wise process comprising Decision-making, Opportunities, Transition and Self. However, the reality is that, usually, all of these activities are happening at the same time. The trap most job seekers fall into is that they focus solely on looking at jobs (O), and writing their CV (T), whilst ignoring self-analysis, so risking bad decision-making (S and D). In my professional opinion, I suggest that the most important part of the DOTS model is S – knowing your SELF (see my blog for more on this)
Moving on to the other career theory, ‘Planned Happenstance’ (proposed by Mitchell et al in 19993), this is the ‘luck’ part of the career planning process. Planned happenstance is based on the notion that life happens to us and that we have little control over it, except to harness and capitalise on events and circumstances that we sometimes find ourselves in, and which may be helpful to our careers (although, note that the ‘O’ networking part of the DOTS Model can be invaluable for generating ‘chance’ circumstances). Mitchell et al, identified the key behaviours, which can assist in harnessing chance moments, as being Curiosity, Risk-taking, Flexibility, being Positive and taking a Proactive approach.
Looking at the initial nuggets of advice on the Naturejobs website, as well as other career stories such as those on, it seems clear that these two career theories are still very relevant to today’s career planning strategies. Remind yourself of them when you view the published career stories and see if they apply to your own, or perhaps you can see a way of using some of the tactics for your own career plans.
If you are a researcher who has moved into a new employment sector outside of academia and you would like to take part in the survey go to:
1.      Law, B & Watts, AG (1977) Schools, Careers and Community. London: Church information office.
2.      Law, B (199) Career-learning space: new-dots thinking for careers education. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling 27 (1), 35 – 54.
3.      Mitchell, KE, Lewin, AS and Krumboltz, JB (1999) Planned happenstance. Constructing unexpected career opportunities. Journal of Counselling and Development 17 (2), 115 – 24.