This chat was hosted by Chiat Cheong from the Postdoc Career Development Initiative (PCDI), in the Netherlands. Chiat brought her expertise as a project manager at PCDI and her previous experiences as a researcher to help answer our questions on “making choices for the next step”.
Tweeting from the PCDI Twitter account, Chiat started the discussion by asking what questions are important to us in making choices for the next step as early career researchers. From this, she distilled our concerns into two main themes, first, how to decide what career would suit us best, and second, when is the best moment to decide. In order to answer the first concern, we discussed what methods we are already using to explore different careers and what might suit us. Many options were discussed, such as using a SWOT analysis to explore personal preferences before trying to think about what job possibilities we might fit into.
One strong theme that led from this initial discussion was the shock, fear, and anxiety that can surround the realisation that academia might not be the best path for us. Many of us seemed to think that we had approached this realisation relatively late, and that it might have been easier if we had had the opportunity or encouragement to prepare for it sooner. Another important point was about the framing of this exploration of other careers, not as a back-up plan, but as an exploration of whether academia is still a positive choice that we actively feel like making. Much of the discussion focused on ways to take control of our career path, and be active in its direction, rather than just drifting to the next short-term post in the hope that a permanent academic position will come along.
The discussion did acknowledge some of the difficulties faced by ECRs in taking control of their own career destiny. For example, sometimes the end point of the path is not the most important aspect, because finding something that fits “right now” seems the best option. Also, with a limited supply of permanent jobs, sometimes the active decision to stay in academia does not work out.
Some final thoughts from the chat:
- Start with your personal motivation and needs, not what you are good at; ECRs can be good at anything when motivated – Chiat Cheong
- Get a realistic view on non-academic jobs, start get in touch with those who made the step to find out whether it would suit you – Chiat Cheong
- I think the phrase we’re all looking for is keeping an open mind – academic or not, do what is best – Kate Maxwell
You can view the chat tweets, including many more links and tips, in this Storify.