You’ve got the PhD. Maybe you’ve done a couple of Post Docs or secured a permanent position.
You’re a scientist now. Cool.
But somehow you still feel like you’re floundering around, not quite sure you’re heading in the right direction. Or in any particular direction for that matter. Without thinking strategically about your science career, you can end up in a dead end, struggling to get funding, wondering why others are getting ahead and not you.
Many of us follow opportunities as they come up, never stepping back to check if the road we are on leads to a destination that is right for us. Watch out! This approach can lead to a mid-career crisis: You hit your late thirties. You’ve got a young family. You feel like you’re plodding in your job, never getting anywhere. Confidence plummets and you may even leave science and do something else.
While that can be the right choice for some, it does have a lot of associated costs, not least on lifetime earnings. Some strategic thinking and clear planning can help you avoid the pitfalls
Science can be highly competitive, and if you want to play in the sandpit with the big boys you’re probably going to have to play the competitive game. For many, this competitive aspect of science is off-putting, and that is just fine. There are many other ways to contribute: it just may not lead to a paper in Nature.
The key is to understand your own preferences and expectations, and then decide what you need to do to get to where YOU want to go in your science career.
Here’s what I suggest:
- Know yourself: What is important to you? What are your values? What are your strengths?
- Identify what you want out of life: Do you have a driving purpose? How important are lifestyle and family?
- Clarify your career expectations: What does success look like to you? Do these expectations come from others, or are they what you truly aspire to?
- Check the realities of the type of science career you want: Do your expectations match your skill set? Are there other options that would suit you better?
- Make a plan: You may need to change what you expect of yourself, aim for a different role, or up-skill. The main thing is to be clear about where you’re heading and what you need to do to get there.
- Get support: There are many ways to succeed in science, and lots of decisions to make along the way. Having people on your side who’ve been there can make a big difference. Sometimes the perspective you need comes from outside of yourself.
Now, with anything as complex as life there is never a time when you’re finished. Expect to review your plan regularly. Adjust and change direction as your priorities and your situation change. By all means take up opportunity, but as you do, stay clear about how it fits within your big plan for your satisfying life.
If you would like any help or advice on science career strategy, or are interested in working through this process with the support of a coach who knows how science works, feel free to get in touch.