What do the following have in common?
Collaboration and conferences, access to technology, flexibility, mobility, creativity and problem solving, project management, networking, peer-to-peer discussions, having intellectual freedom, working in an international environment and learning something new every day.
These are just a few of the opportunities identified by PhD students and researchers during my recent career planning workshops, all considered to be ways to help improve their job prospects and move their careers forward. We were taking a positive look at ways to navigate the rather fluid career path of today’s academic research scientist. Unlike the career path of their older supervisors and other academics in their department, modern-day students and postdocs are sailing their careers in much more choppy and unpredictable waters. Competition amongst fixed-term contract researchers is high, with very few permanent islands of academic career stability. This is where capitalising on personal strengths, as well as identifying and creating opportunities, will help you to steer a course towards a more sustainable career destination.
Having career insecurity is not the domain of academic researchers alone. Many other occupations experience the same precarious employment conditions; even ‘permanent’ posts are not permanent. The good news for PhD students and researchers is that they have a unique set of skills and opportunities which can hold them in good stead for keeping themselves as employable as possible. Aptitude and talent is not necessarily the issue for scientists, it’s being aware of these attributes and appreciating how they can be transferred into other career sectors, as well as making progress towards an academic career.
Employers love scientists: Having a can-do attitude, being unafraid of technology and new developments, as well as problem solving and initiating new ways of doing things are all highly attractive to companies and businesses, who are operating in a global and fast-paced world market. Keeping ahead of their competitors is crucial and they rely on innovative and enterprising staff to demonstrate creativity and entrepreneurship as well as flexibility and a willingness to learn.
Collaboration and conferences, working in an international environment and having the opportunity to work in different countries also provide academic researchers with fantastic opportunities to demonstrate cooperation and multi-national and cultural experience. Having an international outlook, being able to communicate with a wide range of people and generally broadening your horizons go a long way to ‘going a long way’ in your career.
So, as science researchers look to your current strengths and consider how you can expand on them by taking as many opportunities to develop, learn and progress as possible. Look back over the past year and ensure that you are always doing new things and building on your experiences. In this way you are more likely to be able to sail your career in a favourable direction.