Monthly Archives: August 2022

Tales of the unexpected

“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.”

This quotation, attributed to the mathematician, John Allen Paulos, has never been so poignant. We live in turbulent times, and trying to take control of our lives, plan our careers and instil some surety into our futures is nigh on impossible.

In fact, this has always been the case – ‘permanent’ jobs, even within academia, don’t really exist. Anyone and everyone can be made redundant.

As Peter Hawkins states in his book, The art of building windmills: career tactics for the 21st century,

“To be employed is to be at risk, to be employable is to be secure”.

This concept may be at odds with those doctoral and postdoctoral researchers who are chasing ‘permanent’ positions, looking for stability and security. But don’t be dismayed – in the short term this is certainly achievable and will help to act as an anchor for building foundations on which, for example, to secure a mortgage, plan for a family or invest in the future. However, in the longer term, looking after our employability and planning for the ‘unplannable’ is how, ultimately, we are likely get through the more turbulent times in our lives.  

The good news is that graduate doctoral students have a very low rate of unemployment (almost negligible) and this high employment rate persists due to the personal and professional attributes and skills researchers develop as they progress in their careers. Of course, you need to be aware of these capabilities, value them and be able to articulate them to potential employers, as well as build and utilise networks – and that’s where the planning part comes in.

So, taken together, career planning activities overlaid with career happening behaviours can act as a ‘belt and braces’ approach to ensuring sustainable employability and helping you to combat times of insecurity and unpredictability.

These two contrary approaches to career management and development have been encapsulated in two career theories, as described in a previous blog.

The yellow blocks show the planned part – e.g. knowing yourself, knowing the job market, making decisions, taking action and marketing yourself, for example, online, in a CV or interview. The other ‘happening’ activities scattered around include Curiosity – getting ‘out there’, being more informed and visible, Risk-taking – that is to say, coming out of your comfort zone, learning and growing, as well as being Proactive – taking charge of your career.

And, on a final note, if you want to hear about tales of the unexpected, just tune into career podcasts, turn up at career events or listen to career stories of former doctoral and postdoctoral researchers and you’ll, no doubt, identify many of these factors within their narratives.

Related blogs: Put your skills to work