Do you experience procrastination when it comes to making decisions about your next career move? Are you avoiding doing anything practical about addressing your future career? Perhaps you are even feeling fearful of the prospect of moving out of academia.
If this is the case, rest assured that you are not alone. It is well recognised in the careers advisory business that the process of decision making and career transition tends to be a ‘slow burner’. People need time to come to terms with the prospect of leaving a job which, to all intents and purposes, has become their identity.
How many of you have responded to questions like: “What do you do?” or “Tell me about yourself” with “I’m a scientist” or “I’m a researcher”? Many former researchers still include their scientific background or refer to it years after they have moved on to non-research careers. In fact, I even do it myself to some degree, retaining part of my former biologist identity through working for a biological organisation and focussing on research bioscientists as my major client group.
For those researchers who regard the prospect of moving out of academia stressful, and even unimaginable, I came across the following career theory recently, which may be helpful in demonstrating recognised processes that we all go through when faced with the prospect of taking on a new career and, by association, a new career identity. The theory of identity development, proposed by James Marcia in 1996, describes how our commitment to a new identity can influence our motivation to explore and accept new career possibilities. Although his theory is aimed at adolescents choosing their initial careers, it is relevant to researchers who, in moving out of academia, will need to accept a changed career identity and start to come to terms with a new work role. Marcia identified four stages in this process where we move from low commitment through to high commitment and how this ultimately results in identity achievement so that we are motivated to explore new career options (see Figure).
On a scale of 1 – 10, how committed are you to your identity as an academic research scientist? To what extent are you investigating other career options? How ready are you to make a transition into a new career or work environment? What could you do to ease the process? Professional careers advisers, like myself, can help individuals to reflect on and manage their careers (whilst helping each other with our own careers too!). But it is a gradual process – a slow burner. So if you’re currently procrastinating and hesitating about your next career move, take heart in the knowledge that your actions (or lack of them) is normal behaviour in this situation. However, take heed of the fact that even if your commitment is low, exploring and addressing your career in one way or another, thinking about and testing out new possibilities as well as seeking support should help to start to ease you through the process.