Doctorate vs Corporate

Top tip no. 6: Finding a work:life balance

With the majority of PhD students taking up careers outside of academia, how does life change when you move out of the university environment and into the corporate world? In this month’s blog I’m pleased to be hosting a guest blog by Caroline Wood, who secured her science policy post after graduating from the University of Sheffield just under a year ago. Here, she describes some observations she’s made during her first role on how the corporate world compares to life as a PhD student, including lessons learned and some useful top tips.   

Sorry – what is it that you do?

Within Academia, the roles are fairly straightforward: PhD student, post-doc, technician, lecturer and professor covers most people. However, in the corporate world I struggled to make sense of how the various teams fitted together and what everybody actually did. Even when I tried looking up people’s profiles on LinkedIn, their job titles were often meaningless to me. I wish now that I had asked my new colleagues to explain what they did on a day-to-day basis when we were first introduced, before it became too embarrassing to ask.

Top tip 1: When meeting new colleagues for the first time, it can be more informative to ask what their key activities and responsibilities are, rather than their job title.

Poly-cies

I lost count of the number of ‘policy documents’ I read during my induction. There was an official document for everything: claiming expenses, responsible travel, GDPR, not to mention continuous cybersecurity and health & safety training. Of course, my PhD also involved training modules, but these were always directly relevant to my research: how to dispense liquid nitrogen safely for tissue sampling; the correct bin for radioactive waste, and so on. Although I could understand the necessity for corporate transparency and accountability, I knew that most of them would never be relevant to my work.

Top tip 2: Induction can seem like a never-ending marathon at times! If your organisation doesn’t provide an induction checklist, draw one up with your line manager so you can be sure that everything gets done as efficiently as possible.

Meetings galore

Throughout my PhD, I constantly struggled to pin down my super-busy supervisors for meetings to discuss my research. In stark contrast, the corporate world fills your calendar with meetings: team meetings, directorate meetings, all-staff updates, catch-ups with my line manager, etc. Once the coronavirus lockdown started and remote working became the norm, I really began to feel the effects of ‘Zoom fatigue’. When these on-line meetings lasted 90 minutes+ I, like many others, would struggle to focus, especially when issues of no relevance to my work were being discussed, meaning that I had nothing to contribute.

Top tip 3: Always go into a meeting with a clear aim of what you want to achieve, even if it is simply staying awake 😊 If the meeting isn’t directly relevant to your role, you can still use it to look out for colleagues with similar interests or overlapping responsibilities.

Creating creative opportunities

I’ve always loved coming up with new ideas and trying new approaches. During my PhD all I needed to do was get the go-ahead from my supervisor. This freedom to make decisions is more inhibited in the corporate world, where everything in the company is connected and so requires a more structured decision-making process. It felt as though all my suggestions had to be escalated through a chain of people until they reached someone with the power to make a decision. Consequently, many of my ideas simply disappeared into a void.

Top tip 4: Try to find out who are the key gatekeepers – the people who have the ability to introduce change – and approach them with your ideas. If your creative suggestions meet hesitation, aim to channel your enthusiasm into areas outside work instead, such as voluntary and freelance work.

Finding friends

It can be more challenging to meet people without the organised societies, interest groups and journal clubs that the academic world typically provides. Nevertheless, with a little detective work and initiative, I soon found people with common interests. Through the staff intranet, I found groups for arts & crafts, sustainability issues, climate change activism and a host of sports societies. Keen to improve my foreign language skills, I put up posters inviting people to an informal French meet-up and soon a group of us were convening every Wednesday to chat in French during our lunch break.

Top tip 5: Make the most of the intranet, staff forums and even coffee-break chat to find groups to join. But don’t be afraid to start something new if something doesn’t already exist!

Finding a work:life balance

One aspect that did improve hugely in my corporate role was my work-life balance. During my PhD, most of my fellow students frequently worked past 7pm, and I often had to go in at weekends to water my plants or use equipment that was usually booked and unavailable during the week. Now, my colleagues were actually ‘clocking off’ at sensible times and I discovered the joy of bank holidays and paid leave! What’s more, I could relax and enjoy this time, rather than spending it reading a backlog of new papers or planning my next experiments. Even if I wanted to work at weekends, it was seen as a sign that I was struggling to fulfil my core duties, rather than a show of dedication. This gave me more time to recharge my batteries, and I gradually lost that ‘burn-out’ feeling that was so prevalent during my research days.

Top tip 6: Find out in advance when public holidays and privilege days are so you can make the most of your leave and plan some extended weekends away. I always seemed to find out at the last minute when it was too late to organise anything!

Since writing this blog, Caroline has taken up a new role in Science Communication at the University of Oxford.

Work kind

Walking around a market in France last week, my eye was caught by an orange T-shirt being worn by one of the stall holders. Its message read, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind”. How true I thought, as my mind was drawn back to a feedback comment relating to a recent webinar I had delivered with my co-host (@verdantLearn), saying, “Overall, it was a wonderful webinar/workshop. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sarah and Lucy were very kind and helpful.”

Mention of kindness in my evaluations is unusual; participants generally focus on aspects of the workshop content judging whether they were relevant, useful, effective, and, of course, helpful in relation to their career planning. However, when I reflect on this comment, I realise that kindness is a rare commodity in a generally quite harsh and competitive academic culture, and therefore the more greatly appreciated. Being kind indicates compassion and empathy for others. It makes you feel good for other people when you are kind, as well as making you feel good about yourself. Moreover, kindness is a win-win situation and brings out the best in people.

In this month’s blog I thought I’d highlight some published words on kindness and its associated benefits related to careers, work and society:

Should we steer clear of the winner-takes-all approach in academia?

In this Nature article (16/01/2018), Kendal Powell reports on seven interviews conducted with scientists, following their first “Kindness in Science” workshop, held in New Zealand. Tammy Steeves, a conservation geneticist and leader of the Kindness in Science movement, cites “harnessing the power of the collective” as being at the heart of a new ethos in academic conduct, ending the interview by saying: “I believe that kindness in science will lead to better science outcomes. With more scientists working in a truly inclusive way, we will achieve more.”

Meanwhile, Emily Bernhardt, an ecologist professor at Duke University and author of an essay on kindness in science, calls for criticism to be toned down. Science is innately critical and involves much critical thinking, however at the personal level it can be highly demoralising and damaging. “Senior people should be calling out bad behaviour: “I think that’s a little over the top or unkind.””, she says.

The possibility of being kind at work

This LinkedIn article by Karin Lindner is a more general account of the importance of being kind at work, even when others are not so generous themselves. Point 1 in her long list of ways to be kind first tells us to be kind to ourselves; something I had to remember when I started to tell myself off for missing the deadline for my July blog (due to being distracted by the aforementioned holiday in France!). None of us is perfect, nor are those around us – we just have to do the best we can and keep things in perspective. Lindner ends her article by highlighting some of the fringe benefits of kindness: increased self-worth, improved self confidence and a more positive outlook. Who wouldn’t want those?

Human Kind : A hopeful History

This revelatory book by prominent thinker, Rutger Bregman, published by Bloomsbury in May 2020, has received glowing reviews from international press and publishers – and for good reason. Bregman puts forward the argument, with plenty of historical examples, that us humans, rather than being innately selfish and governed by self-interest, as we are taught to believe, actually are innately good, trusting and cooperative (not competitive). He proposes that in order to have a truly democratic society, we must first re-think the human condition and consider ourselves to be kind and altruistic.   

#academickindness

#kindness has started to appear more often on social media in relation to academia, perhaps partly as a result of a report published by Wellcome in January 2020 on the culture of research entitled, What researchers think about the culture they work in. Key findings include the following results: “78% of researchers think that high levels of competition have created unkind and aggressive conditions.”; “Nearly two-thirds of researchers (61%) have witnessed bullying or harassment, and 43% have experienced it themselves.”

@AcademicKindness is a Twitter profile created as far back as March 2014, which links to a blog (academickindness.tumblr.com) where researchers can post experiences of unsolicited acts of kindness and generosity. Quoting from an interview by InsideHigherEd. com, its owner Rabia Gregory, associate professor at the University of Missouri, said, “I hope more academics realise that if you care about your profession and want it to continue after you retire, you really do need to be willing to mentor, to offer constructive feedback, to help younger scholars develop networks, to write recommendation letters. Otherwise how will there ever be a new generation of scholars?”

Keep calm and career on

My final example is a previous blog from BioscienceCareers.org, which I wrote just before I set up on my own as an academic career consultant in August 2017. It focuses on being positive in the face of adversity and includes the words of American writer, Keith M. Keith, “If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway….The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.”

I’m very happy to have been able to inject some kindness into the world of academia over the past three years, by helping researchers and students with their careers. Perhaps I’ve met some of you during that time, or maybe our paths will cross in the future… In the meantime, keep calm and work kind 🙂

Do a ‘Selfie’ to improve your Self

How often do you take selfies whilst on holiday and out with friends? We are constantly portraying ourselves from the outside, but how often do we look beyond what is on the surface and think about our inner selves? This week I ran a webinar on personal effectiveness and how we can adapt to, and harness, situations and events (bad and good) to our advantage.

At the core of personal effectiveness is a whole range of self attributes and attitudes that can help to empower you in your personal and professional lives. Here, are three “selfies” to get you started:

SELF-AWARENESS
“You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”, Ernest Hemingway


How well do you know yourself? What are your greatest strengths and how do you make use of them in your personal and work life? Where do your weaknesses and blind spots lie and how have you tried to off-set them? What skills and abilities would you like to use most in your future career and in which type of organisation? How do you like to interact with others and what are your preferred ways of working?

Learning about yourself is not an easy process – sometimes we are less aware of ourselves than those around us, who know us well. You can improve your self-awareness through professional career coaching, attending courses, engaging with meditation and mindfulness, completing questionnaires, speaking with friends and colleagues or doing a personal audit of your own using a reflective log, for example. When you’re applying for jobs, you’ll need to explain why you are interested in a particular role and organisation when you attend interviews, and some companies may ask you to undertake a psychometric assessment. For more information on self-awareness see my previous blog: Mind your career

SELF-LEADERSHIP
“Mastering others is strength; mastering oneself is true power.”, Lao Tsu.


It’s hard to separate self-awareness from self-leadership, which also incorporates self-management, time management, emotional intelligence, professionalism, integrity and personal growth. It’s a lot to think about, but fundamentally it requires you to be mindful about the way you behave: Treat others with respect; keep your word; be proactive and take responsibility for your actions; understand and manage your emotions; mentor and empower those less experienced than yourself; show empathy and understanding; be honest and act with integrity; be productive with your time and learn to negotiate with others to reach mutually beneficial decisions. See my previous blog for more information: Don’t plead for your career, take the lead

SELF-DEVELOPMENT
“Income seldom exceeds personal development.”, Jim Rohn

It was back in 1976 that Douglas T. Hall first introduced the concept of the “Protean career”- “a career orientation in which the person, not the organization, is in charge, where the person’s core values are driving career decisions, and where the main success criteria are subjective.” This means being self-reliant, directing your own career and taking responsibility for your career decisions. The graph opposite reveals the results of a survey in which research group leaders (PIs) indicated the relative importance of areas of their role, as well as their confidence in carrying them through. Unsurprisingly, career development was at the lower end of their priorities – this is not surprising since they have a lot to think about and have little knowledge of non-academic careers.

You can take control of your career by identifying areas for your own personal and professional development. You can ask for support from career professionals such as myself or careers advisers that reside in your own institution. Career workshops, conferences, job fairs and other events help you to consider other career areas, put you in contact with professionals in your fields of interest and help you to reflect on your strengths, skills, interests and personality. Which, means increasing your self-awareness … bringing us full circle.

For more information on career development use my website – I write a new blog each month and also have lots of resources to help you with your career planning and development. Follow me on social media and use LinkedIn, Twitter, Researchgate and other on-line platforms to meet other people and find out about news and information that could help you to grow your career.

The learning never stops and neither should you 😊

Net Working to Net a Job

Applying for advertised posts is a well-known and well-used strategy for securing a job and may be an approach that has served you well previously. However, if you rely solely on publicised vacancies as you move forward in your career, you are very likely limiting your exposure to job opportunities. Positions are not always advertised, are invariably hidden from general view or haven’t yet been created.

As Robert Alford rightly says in his quote above, you need to prepare well before the end of your PhD or contract so that you are armed with strategic information, contacts and the tools to make a successful transition. Networking is a key tactic when exploring your options; just as you peruse the literature and investigate the research of other labs in your pursuit of new ideas and research avenues, so you need to do the same in your job search.

Using the internet to research the job market, people and companies can yield some very interesting results and help pave the way to your next position, whether within or outside of academia. Here are five ideas for you to try out:

  1. To expand your knowledge of the job market, search company employees to investigate their range of job titles. For example, I have made a list below from a well-known pharma company by searching people on LinkedIn that work for the company:

I must admit, I’m not sure what some of the job titles mean or what their roles entail, but you can investigate these further by researching the profiles and backgrounds of those in these positions. If it turns out you’re keen to pursue this career, make contact with some of those in this role. If you’d prefer to work for a smaller company (SME) look for people working in your area of interest, note who are their employers, and investigate these companies further on social media or by visiting their websites.

2. Once you’ve established the type of post(s) of interest to you, instead of ‘cold calling’ people, you can try to find people with whom you have some commonality. They are more likely to respond positively to you. One method you can use is to investigate alumni or previous employees from your current or former university or research institute, who are working in this role. For example, you can do a very easy search using the ‘alumni’ button on university profiles on LinkedIn and then doing a keyword search. Once you have identified one or more relevant people, you can introduce yourself as someone who also attended or worked at the same institution.

3. Many companies have a presence on Twitter nowadays, broadcasting information about their latest news and developments, as well as responding to others within their circle of interest and influence. Information such as this is invaluable when researching potential future employers and, furthermore, you can see who is following them – very likely many of their employees. They, in turn, will be following others based in associated industries, relaying their news and interests, and so on. This research may well lead you to interesting places and to new and surprising discoveries, so that, just as with your scientific research, you come across unexpected information (e.g. courses, jobs, contacts, funding) previously hidden to you.

4. For those of you aiming for a career in academia, use specialist forums and communities that are associated with your research interests. Researchgate is one of the best platforms for academics to display their research profile and publications. Asking and answering questions can spotlight you and bring you to the attention of others. Discussion lists and forums provide news related to your interests and are populated with people who could be potential collaborators or even future colleagues and employers.

5. Conferences are one of the best ways to network in academia, however with many of them cancelled or postponed in these challenging times of lockdown and social distancing, there are fewer opportunities to engage face-to-face. On the upside, many conferences are now being offered on-line as a series of webinars in place of in-person events. For some people this can actually make them a more viable and accessible prospect, with expenses such as travel and accommodation reduced to zero and registration offered at a much lower rate. Take advantage of these on-line gatherings, not only to hear from speakers, but to connect with participants by email, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., as you would do if you met someone interesting at a regular conference.

I hope these five ideas have given you a flavour of how to make the Net work for you and wish you success as you network your way to your next job!

Related content: Five PhD Networking Strategies
Hashtag your way to a job

The why, how and whom of your career

In these turbulent times of ‘Lockdown’ it is becoming clear that the success, and even the very existence, of employers such as small businesses and large organisations, educational establishments and charities is precarious. The interconnectedness of the employment sector is evident, relying as it does on a constant flow of customers, services and money – it’s what makes the world go around.

A sudden and immediate halt to all of this, as happened in March, with no clear ending in sight, has thrown this delicate balance into disarray within a matter of weeks. Similarly, the closure of universities has put staff and students’ work on hold, with additional possible future consequences, such as their very economic viability and financial sustainability1,2,3.

So, where does this leave PhD students and postdoctoral researchers? You will all be in various stages of your PhD and research work and affected in vastly different ways depending on, amongst other things, the nature of your research project and your lockdown circumstances. You may also be concerned about your future career and what opportunities will be available to you in the short- and longer-term. Unlike these issues (and many others), over which you have little or no influence, personal qualities such as self-reliance and self-understanding, are under your own control and can help you to stay positive in the face of adversity. They can empower you to be more resourceful and influence how you manage yourself under various conditions – good and bad, certain and uncertain. In times of great stress and uncertainty, they can be your best friends.

Let me introduce you to the intelligent career. Based on career theories proposed by a well-known figure in the careers field, M.B. Arthur4 and his collaborators, in an intelligent career world “having personal goals and choosing employment that helps us to fulfil them is fundamental to all of us. It is also the key to long-term employability…”. In the context of what Arthur terms the boundaryless career (i.e. not bounded or tied to a single organisation), individuals who pay attention to  the three key ‘ways of knowing’ – knowing-why, knowing-how and knowing-whom – are likely to be more self-reliant and fulfilled in their work.

Knowing-why refers to the personal drivers that are central to our motivation to do the work we do, our values, personality, temperament and preferred work:life balance. So, for example, if you reflect on what it is that excites and enthuses you and that gives meaning to your current work or PhD project, this can help you to understand what types of work will most inspire and motivate you in the future. Think about how you can carry these motivators forward into your next job. Perhaps you prefer to stay within the academic research field, maybe you want a specialised functional role, more contact with people, something more closely associated with helping society or you see yourself managing multiple projects. See related blog.

Knowing-how refers to the skills and expertise (e.g. technical, professional, interpersonal) you have acquired during your current and previous roles, directly related to, or indirectly associated with, your research. The types of skills you enjoy and prefer to use should complement your current career. Which ones you choose to build on will be determined by your career ambitions, so that they contribute towards enhancing your employability for future positions of interest to you. There are many routes into different career sectors, so use your personal development time productively. For example, during this period of self-isolation more on-line courses seem to have become available, so see if you can find one that suits your interests. See related blog.

Knowing whom refers to those with whom you have a relationship. This could be your current and former co-workers, PhD student colleagues, alumni, collaborators, other professionals, friends, family, etc. Building and expanding your ‘social capital’ is not about using people, it’s a two-way process of getting to know new people who are interested and engaged in activities that are of interest to you. Those who show interest in others, and who are well-prepared and professional, are usually well-received by those more established. As an ‘up-and-coming’ enthusiast, you may even be courted as a potential new employee or collaborator. On-line networking can be fruitful, enabling you to move into a community and even to assist with your transition to your next post, especially outside of academia. See related blog.

The intelligent career proposes that ‘knowing why, knowing how and knowing whom’ are inter-related and influence the investment that we put into our careers. Arthur concludes in one of his co-authored papers, “The rewards we look for [in our careers] may well be personal, intrinsic rewards, rather than extrinsic ones like status or money. The important point is to be empowered to have a choice in the kind of work we take, the careers we pursue, and the purposes our careers serve.”

  1. https://www.iie.org/en/Why-IIE/Announcements/2020/03/IIE-Releases-Survey-on-Effects-of-COVID-19-on-International-Students-and-Study-Abroad
  2. https://www.studying-in-germany.org/the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-higher-education-in-germany/
  3. https://www.iie.org/en/Why-IIE/Announcements/2020/03/IIE-Releases-Survey-on-Effects-of-COVID-19-on-International-Students-and-Study-Abroad
  4. See for example,  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/43507907_The_development_and_application_of_the_intelligent_career_card_sort https://www.amazon.com/Intelligent-Career-Taking-Ownership-Your/dp/0190494131

Desiderata: “Things desired”

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann

Desiderata, published in 1927 by American poet, Max Erhmann, was sent to me via a friend/colleague this week as part of an uplifting poetry exchange through Women Leaders. I hope you found it as enjoyable as I did. Perhaps you have something positive and inspirational to share with your friends and colleagues to give them a boost during these times of separation and isolation. Wishing you good spirits and contentment.

The heart of the matter

On this Valentine’s Day spare a thought (or feeling) for your heart when making decisions. Otherwise known as your intuition or ‘gut feeling’, the sense of right or wrong and yes or no that you experience when making important decisions can sometimes better inform you than the logical process associated with ‘thinking with your head’. Whilst weighing up the advantages and disadvantages, referring to facts and data, and taking advice from others should definitely be a consideration, your heart can tell you what you really feel about a situation, helping you to feel more confident and self-assured about tackling your more difficult decisions.

For example, many years ago I was considering getting a dog. I spent many months mulling over the practical implications, worrying about what could go wrong. However, once my heart and instincts took over, I decided to take a leap of faith and it ended up being one of the best decisions I ever made, culminating in 10 years shared with the most wonderful companion. Another time I was offered a job and, although instinctively I felt it wasn’t right for me, having weighed up the pros and cons and the reality of needing a salary, I took it. However, after just over a year I had given it up! It had served me well in terms of new experiences, but it was not for me – my heart had been correct. Following that landmark decision, scarey as it was at the time, my career took a turn for the better and I have never looked back 😊

When making career decisions, it can sometimes be overwhelming and even frightening to consider new types of careers about which you know very little, apart from what you have read and heard about. If it’s a career that’s quite different from what you are already familiar and the job itself is in a far-flung location, removed from your colleagues, friends and family, the apprehension can be even greater. Most PhD students and researchers will end up in careers outside of academia, so it’s important to consider what kinds of jobs might suit you in the future in preparation for your transition. Many universities and external organisations offer support for this purpose, such as providing information, statistics, career stories, events and counselling, but ultimately it is you who must make the final decision.

Using your knowledge of the present and past can help to inform your future, so an important component of making career decisions is to consider what has given you pleasure and a sense of satisfaction in the past and, now, in the present. For example, when I was young, I wanted to be a vet. At the time, I thought my interest was fuelled by an interest in Biology and Physiology, but in fact it was my desire to help animals. As my career progressed, I realised that ‘helping’ was core to my career satisfaction and ultimately culminated in my current profession as a careers adviser.

So, with your heart, gut feeling and intuition in mind, try considering what you are enjoying now and what has inspired you in the past. Reflect on the tasks, people, work environment and things you do in your everyday personal life and dig deep to discover those aspects that you know make you feel good about yourself and give you a sense of fulfilment. Then, using this information, let it guide you towards potential careers of interest. My PhD Career Choice Indicator can assist you in identifying and investigating different types of careers, with the aim of finding a job you love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

2020 Vision

Here’s a question: How’s your eyesight? Many of us wear glasses or contact lenses because we don’t have 2020 vision, i.e. perfect vision. We need help to bring into focus objects that are either far away or close up, so that we can see clearly to manage and navigate our lives effectively.

Here’s another question: How’s your ‘i-sight’? In other words, how well focused are you on yourself? Do you have a clear vision for 2020 and the decade ahead? What plans do you have for your near and future career?

To maintain good eyesight, you need regular visits to an optician who can use their special skills and equipment to keep you focused. In the case of your career, the situation is more complicated: The type of help you need to improve your ‘i-sight’, and from whom, depends on the circumstances you find yourself in and the network of support on which you can call upon. Perhaps it’s a short-term problem that requires some instant specialist advice (e.g. analysing some data, writing a paper), a medium-range goal such as learning new skills and techniques or maybe it’s a long-term plan for your career for, which you need to prepare and research before you take action. See Table below for examples:

Help needed Examples of possible support
Planning and managing
your career
Career consultant, mentor, supervisor  
Analysing your data Specialist data analyst, supervisor,
courses, peers, collaborators
Writing a paper or
applying for funding
Supervisor, peers, collaborators,
professional consultant, self-help books
and courses.
Making career choices   Career consultant, case studies, alumni,
information, tools and techniques
Writing a CV & covering letter / Interview
technique
Career consultant, professional in your field of interest, HR, examples and guides
Self-presentation and
networking
Career consultant, media/marketing/brand
specialist, science communicator, mentor
Innovating your
research
Enterprising, tech transfer or innovative
specialist, supervisor, courses, books
Finding out about
specific professions
Professionals in careers of interest, alumni,
career consultant, career stories
Enhancing your
employability
Career consultant, professionals in careers of
interest, company/business contacts, alumni

For the majority of examples listed, apart from the more specialist academic activities, you’ll notice that I’ve included ‘career consultant’ as a source of support. Career consultants are a very useful starting point for most of your career needs, especially helping you to make career decisions. Working to an ethical code of practice, we use specialist skills, knowledge and techniques to listen and guide you initially, helping you to reflect and review your situation, ideas and plans. This can be done in individual interviews (face to face or on-line) or as educational workshops where you learn techniques, engage in discussions and take part in self-reflective exercises to help you to gain a clearer vision of what you need to do in the short and longer term, in order to achieve your immediate and future career goals. We may also signpost information and resources, assist you in practical aspects such as perfecting your CV and interview technique, or refer you to other professionals who can give you further expert assistance. You may have noticed we like to use metaphors too 😊

Wishing you a forward-looking and visionary year ahead !

To find out more about my career services including talks, career workshops and 1-2-1 career interviews visit: https://biosciencecareers.org/career-support

New year, new career ?

What a difference a year can make: Looking back at PhD students and postdocs who made changes to their careers in 2019, there seems to be no end to the variety of jobs and locations to which they have moved1. Some have left academia to take up jobs in sectors such as science communication, medical science liaison, data science, policy and research, whilst others have remained in academia but moved countries. Some PhD graduates have even gone back to study for a business master’s or diploma degree.

As we enter a new decade (or leave one, depending on your perspective), what are your plans for your next career move? Where will you be this time next year? Maybe you are in the midst of your PhD right now, or still have a few more years before your postdoctoral contract comes to an end, so you feel it’s not the right time to be thinking about your career. For others, the time frame may be rather more urgent. In any case, it is never too early to be thinking about your career and wondering where you want to go next. Even if you find yourself in a permanent position in the future, there will still be decisions to be made about the direction, flexibility, focus and seniority of your role as you progress. For example, one junior academic may prefer to build up a large research group, whilst another may decide to focus on teaching and pedagogy; those who enter industry in a research role may ultimately decide to redirect their career trajectory into regulatory, marketing or executive functions, depending on their interests.

It can be difficult to make choices about what types of career might be a good fit for you in the future, especially when research takes up the great majority of your attention. However, you’d be surprised how many different things you do within your PhD or postdoctoral role that are driven by your interests and provide clues to potential careers of interest. These interests can be broken down into six career categories, as shown in the figure2 above, and can help you to start homing in on possible future roles. Which three categories do you think you would choose as your favourite? Reflect on the activities you enjoy doing most, what you look forward to or even voluntary work you engage with to help satisfy these interests. For me, I enjoyed investigative work, helping people and the creativity of data presentation, rather than lab work (plus I was always quite bad at organisation). This led my career into scientific publishing first and then careers work. For you, perhaps functional technical work is your number one interest followed by investigative and entrepreneurship. Maybe you like the managerial side of your research and would like to make this a greater part of your role in the future? These clues can be helpful not only to guide you towards your next career transition, but also to signpost skill gaps and areas for personal career development that will enhance your chances of securing your next job, whether it’s within or outside of academia.  

More information and ideas for careers are available on my “Making career choices” page, where you will be able to link your interests with types of careers.

  1. You can find out about career destinations of PhD students and postdocs by reading blogs such as NatureCareers and PhD Career Stories, looking at posts on LinkedIn and Twitter as well as annual surveys such as those conducted by Nature and AdvanceHE.
  2. This figure is adapted from Holland’s Theory of Vocational Choice to be more relevant for careers requiring a PhD.

Join the Club!

“I refuse to belong to a club that would have me as a member”, so said legendary comedian Groucho Marx in one of his many famous quotes. He wrote it in a fake resignation letter which he sent as a joke to the Friars Club of Beverly Hills, the private show business club of which he was a member. Other members included Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Hope, Judy Garland and Dean Martin so he was in good company.

In actual fact, the value of being a member of a professional club is no joke and should be considered very seriously. Having worked for a learned society for over 20 years, I probably know more than most the benefits of membership for those in the academic community, especially students and early career researchers. For a relatively small fee, these charitable organisations offer services such as discounted conference registration fees, awards, travel grants, a newsletter, mentoring, career support, opportunities to get involved in activities such as blogging, committee membership, outreach, event organisation and much more. These experiences add value and bring advantages to those who get involved, giving them access to personal and professional development as well as a privileged network.

Dozens of learned societies exist, especially those associated with the biosciences: the Microbiology Society, Biochemical Society, Physiological Society, British Ecological Society, American Physiological Society, American Society of Plant Biologists to name but a few. International in their membership, the big ones are usually funded by their journals, which generate very large annual incomes used to fund staff, act as a communication platform for science dissemination and provide benefits to members. To read more about these societies visit my webpage.

Learned societies are particularly valuable for those wishing to pursue academic careers. However, if you’re looking to move into a non-academic career joining professional bodies and networks associated with a particular career sector can be more fruitful and rewarding. For example, as a career professional I am a member of several organisations associated with my professional interests, including the Career Development Institute (CDI), the Higher Education Academy and the Association of Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS).

Students and researchers interested in a career in science communication might benefit from membership of Euroscience, as well as other organisations such as the Association of British Science Writers, the Science Entrepreneur Club and networks like BIG and STEMPRA. Meanwhile, those considering a research career in industry might consider joining organisations such as the European Federation of Biotechnology, Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI) or the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (ASPS).

For some organisations such as the Royal Society of Biology and Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), there are different grades of membership depending on the seniority of your current role and your competency level, whilst others such as the Medical Science Liaison Society and TOPRA welcome complete newcomers aiming to break into MSL and regulatory affairs roles, respectively.

The International Society for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (ISCB) has student and postdoctoral membership categories and membership of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) includes an early career and a limited-access networking and engagement category. For those associations that are closed to non-professionals or who only offer organisational or partner membership, such as Europbio, BioDeutschland and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EPFIA), it can still be worth visiting their websites to learn about their work and latest news to enhance your knowledge of the industry.

So, if you’re not currently a member of a professional club think about joining one or two relevant to your present and future career ambitions. For any profession you can think of you’re likely to find an associated organisation by simply plugging it into a Google search (I looked up ‘Oil Pipe Association’ on a whim to prove this to myself and sure enough one exists!). Why not give it a go yourself? Once a member, make use of the information and networks and even see if you can play a more active role – who knows where it could lead and who you might meet along the way?

Related content:
Five PhD networking strategies
Learned societies – a party worth joining?
Social media – so shall I?