Welcome to another round of the YSSC “What’s on ISN?” articles. For those going back to normal life after conferences or holidays, it is also going back to all these tasks we could nicely move to the “I will do this when I get back” folder. That does not work anymore! This folder is open and it can only be closed again right before Christmas. Looking back at talks with you guys at the meetings, career planning was always a big thing that rules our everyday life. Whether just in the background or as the major hill in front of us depends of course, but it’s there.
What park-rangers do when they want to make a mountain climbable for tourists is they carve steps in it, to break the steep incline down in little, more manageable pieces. Why not doing the same thing with career planning? Before going further down this road, it has to be said that planning your career and the best way of doing it is something very subjective and actually never ending. The only thing that we can give is ideas, potential strategies or starting points, but you will figure out your own path at some point and that is how it should be.
One interesting approach currently discussed in the field is the “In-and-out” approach. “In” means looking at yourself first before checking what is “out” there in terms of potential jobs, qualities asked, experiences required, blah blah blah. Employees, yes that’s what you are, you are not just a scientist, you are also an employee, often underestimate their own skills and qualities. They also underestimate how important it is to do something you really enjoy or you are at least very interested in. This will push you to stay motivated even through the inevitable lows of every job or project.
One starting point (attention: can end up in a rabbit hole) is to sit down with an old-fashioned piece of paper and think. What’s important for me in a job: money, location, flexibility, a particular topic, the reputation of the PI, …? The harder question is usually: What are my qualities? Oh com’on we all have some (although finding the way home after a night out does not count). As a scientist, you can mots likely: work indecently, plan your day, present your results, analyse your data in various ways, have acquired skills like analytical and critical thinking, recognising and solving problems, etc. These are all things you just do every day without noticing that it is actually a skill, making you attractive for a PI or other employers. The result of this will change over time, but looking at it written down often already makes a difference.
After you have a clearer idea of what you are looking for, you can check what’s out there in terms of projects, you can email PIs that work on topic you are interested in, apply for fellowships or look outside of academia. There are millions of options, especially if you are not fixed to a certain location. On the other hand, this is one more reason why it is good to look at yourself first. The flood of options can be overwhelming and if you already know what you don’t want, sorting it is much easier.
Whether you start with a simple pro-con list, a more advanced listing of strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats, or a listing of priorities with mathematical scores, there are so many options out there to sort your thoughts about your future career. Whichever one you use is your choice, if you are stuck with one, you can try something else. The only thing is said in this quote:
“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” – John Bingham. OK, he is not a neurochemist, he is a marathon runner and authors… but you know scientists are also authors and planning your future seems like a marathon sometimes.
Information used in this article is available on this website: https://www.ed.ac.uk/careers/your-future and vitea.co.uk
See you soon and have fun getting to know yourselves,