screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-19-38-06In 2014-15 22,650 people qualified with a PhD/MPhil in the UK. This figure has been rising year on year for the last decade, according to HEFCE (http://www.hefce.ac.uk/). With the number of academic jobs few and far between and fixed term contracts the norm for early career researchers in academia it is little wonder that the job of a post-doc can make you feel insecure. The pressure to “publish-or-perish” is as high as ever and the feeling of unease, being unsure of your future prospects or thinking of jumping ship but wondering whether you have what it takes is something that many of us feel on a day-to-day basis. Thankfully the University offers some fantastic resources, not the least of which is the Moving Your Career in the Right Direction – Research Development Course.

As a current PDRA in the School of Chemistry, just entering my 3rd year, I fit well with the intended demographic of the course (Faculty of Science and Engineering staff). By and large we were all in our first, second or third post-doctoral positions. However, depending on the exact nature of the individual workshop, the course also attracted a number of PhD students and newly appointed lecturers.

The course ran over a three month period during which you were expected to participate in the two core modules, “Creating Your Future Career – Understanding Yourself, Your Options, and Your Direction” and “Creating Your Future Career – Decision Making and Action Plans”, which were the first and last of the workshops. In-between we were given the opportunity to participate in three optional sessions, these ranged from CV workshops, one-on-one careers advice, alternative career directions, getting promoted in academia, interview practice and learning how to network.

The course explored the theme of career reflection, exploring your career path so far, understanding where you are currently, how it makes you feel, what you enjoy and what you don’t. The course encouraged participant to ask important questions such as: does your current role suit you? Where would you like to be in the future? And what plans should you make for achieving your goals?

I’ve not always been keen on workshops involving a lot of hands on activities, teamworking and quizzes, all of which played a large part in this course. However, I came to realise that the very simple task of just putting pen to paper, exploring your own perspectives on your current job, your likes and dislikes and having the ability to discuss your thoughts with your peers is incredibly useful. Taking time out to think about and write down your goals (something you can’t always do proactively at your desk) is hugely beneficial to understanding what you expect from a job, what makes you tick and ultimately what career best fits you. Furthermore, the opportunity to meet people in the same position as you who share the same concerns about their careers in academia and research is really refreshing. To know that your concerns are universal and that it’s okay to be confused and worried about your career makes the process a lot easier and was probably the most beneficial aspect of the course.
As the course progressed my confidence within my current role grew, it helped me feel in control, something we often lack on fixed term contracts. We were constantly reminded when moving forward to keep a “Growth-Mindset”, to learn from your mistakes and take positive action when you make them.  I signed up to the course because I was unsure whether I could make it in academia; I was at a loss as to what career was best suited to me and how to go about making a change. By the end I felt more confident about my future, more reassured about my current position and capable of using the resources around me to make positive steps toward “Moving My Career in the Right Direction”.

Post by: Adam V. S. Parry

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