Which career is ‘right’ for you? Many researchers recognise the need to consider careers other than those based in academia due to a shortage of tenured posts. However, have you ever thought that you may be a better ‘fit’ for an alternative career? Your personality, skills and personal agenda may not suit the rigours of academic life. You may be happier working in a small research company, in an advisory role or in a more team-orientated environment. Blogs and careers information posted on others sites feature alternative careers which you could seriously consider, but how do you know you will be suited to them, or that you will enjoy them?
“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment”, Lao Tzu.
Self-awareness features in most theoretical models of career planning along with more practical activities such as job-seeking, networking and making applications. And while the latter activities are important, it is self-awareness which is really fundamental to the process. It underpins your ability to make informed decisions about your career, assess which jobs might suit you and where your strengths lie. Self-awareness can also help you to make decisions about your personal development and even improve your performance at interview.
In the context of career planning, self-awareness can be defined by a range of personal factors including (amongst others) interests, knowledge, skills, personality, values, intelligence, personal situation, gender, cultural and social background. The two factors with which most of us define ourselves (especially in work) are knowledge and interests. They are also perhaps the most influential in terms of career choice. As researchers, your interest in and knowledge of your academic subject and the particular research specialism you have chosen is what has, most probably, brought you to your current position. However, basing your career solely on your knowledge and disciplinary interests can limit your options. Deep career thinking requires a broader awareness of ‘you’ so that you widen your career perspectives and broaden your options. Research tasks and other activities may more accurately reveal where your career interests lie: you may enjoy planning and designing your research over practical work; perhaps problem-solving and analysis is what truly interests you or maybe communication is your real passion. Job descriptions are packed full of skills which vary according to the type of job being advertised. Being able to recognise the skills you possess and, in particular, those you enjoy using or would like to develop further, can provide clues to the type of jobs and roles to which you are most suited.
Your motivational values are at the heart of your ‘self’ and will influence decisions you make about the kind of work which attracts you, your preferred professional role and working environment (e.g. commercial, charitable or educational). Values can alter during the course of your lifetime depending on your situation. In addition, awareness of your personality can also increase your personal effectiveness in many areas of your life including career planning. As well as helping you to make informed career decisions, it can have a more subtle influence such as improving your understanding of others and thereby your personal and professional relationships. Being aware of your personality type and your preferred way of doing things can help you to organise your time and workload more effectively and reveal areas for personal development.
So, if you’re wondering which career might be ‘right’ for you remember to consider factors such as your skills, personal qualities and values to help you to make an informed decision. To find out more about self-awareness, try the following publications: ‘What color is your parachute’ and ‘The art of building windmills’. The Career Choice Indicator is a useful tool linking interests with career options and my book, ‘Career planning for research bioscientists’ contains three practical exercises (skills, personality and values), relevant to all postdoctoral researchers.