Career planning: your future is now

Emily Troscianko Before you read any further, find a piece of paper or a notebook and a pen, set a timer, and give yourself ten minutes to write down what your current career plan is. Make sure to include some thoughts on the question, “Why this?”  It’s easy to treat career thinking as a distraction from the important work of analysing data or writing theses, books, or papers. But zooming out to make a career plan provides essential perspective which helps with the everyday and the longer term. For one thing, thinking about research as a means to an end, not as an end in itself, often has a grounding effect. A recurrent theme in conversations I’ve been having lately is the problematic ways in which deep research – and especially intensive writing – on any subject can feel like being thrust into a vacuum with nothing but one’s own existential questions for company. Why this? What am I doing it for? A particular hazard for many of us in academia is that when our minds drift to

#RDaudio: Procrastination

In this brand-new audio recording, the first in a series of lockdown conversations we're calling #RDaudio , Dr Steve Joy (Head of Researcher Development, University of Cambridge) and Katie D'Arcy (freelance careers advisor and researcher development specialist) talk about the challenges of procrastination and how to overcome it.

Becoming a 'Young Trustee': expanding your leadership & developing your career

By Paul Rutten, 4th year DPhil student, Oxford Interdisciplinary BioSciences Doctoral Training Partnership - with editorial and ‘next steps’ input from Rachel Bray, Oxford University Careers Service; Sara Fernandez, Oxford Hub; and Frances Meegan, Cambridge University Careers Service In the third year of my DPhil, I took on a role that has boosted me personally and professionally far more than I could have expected. It all began with a question: could I find a project where I would simultaneously help others and build my leadership skills? The answer led me to the Oxford Hub’s Young Trustees Programme (YTP), which trains young professionals in Oxford to be trustees and places them on local charity boards. In January 2019, I joined a team of five trustees at the Rose Hill Junior Youth Club (RHJYC), which serves a neighbourhood with some of the highest rates of child poverty in the UK. Their activities include weekly supervised play sessions for young children at the local community cen

Professional Societies: A career-boost to discover…

Jessica Hedge & Natasha Rhys Conferences, meetings, symposia, roundtables, debates... what was once a 'conference season' increasingly seems to run throughout the whole year. Many early career researchers (ECRs) have the opportunity to take part in meetings organised by professional or ‘learned’ societies, and some will be happy recipients of travel grants, discounted registration fees, or prizes for their presentations. But beyond these obvious benefits, what can ECRs gain from society membership? As postdocs who have valued support from learned societies at important junctures in our own careers, we’re keen to highlight some of the best, newest or most surprising opportunities for all ECRs. Professional societies are membership organisations that support, promote and represent a particular discipline, sector, profession or skill. They work to advance education within the field, cultivate public interest, advise the government, and influence policy. Societies also pr

Resilience (5 of 5): having a strategy for cultivating resilience

Dr Emily Troscianko  &  Dr Rachel Bray Occasionally life surprises us with an event so momentous that it seems to change everything – whether as painfully as bereavement or as beautifully as falling in love. But even events at this scale do not, in fact, change everything. Life has a habit of reverting to the easiest equilibrium: negative feedback  kicks in, and old habits creep back in, whether comfortingly or frustratingly. One thing this means is: don’t expect magic bullets. Even winning the lottery will not remove all your life’s problems (though it may remove some, and create others). The other thing it means is: it’s harder than you think to throw your life into disarray. Investigating, trying out, and even committing to a new career path is not all-or-nothing, nor all-at-once. Real change takes energy, and big turning points often come rather late in the process. Our recent post on Plan A and Plan B  suggested that it’s a mistake to imagine a discrete moment when acad

Resilience (4 of 5): your working identities

Dr Emily Troscianko & Dr Rachel Bray ‘No career change materializes out of the blue. […] Since we are many selves, changing is not a process of swapping one identity for another but rather a transition process in which we reconfigure the full set of possibilities.’ (Ibarra, Working Identity, 2004, p. xi)  If you’ve begun to try any of the exercises we suggested in the previous post in this series on resilience, you’ll already understand that exploring your resilience goes right to the heart of who you are. There are several traps lurking in the realm of work and identity. The first is to believe that we should all know who we are (after all, surely we’ve been alive long enough to have found out?), and that doing things like researching new career possibilities means merely finding ways to put that peerless self-knowledge into practice. Another slightly subtler trap is to believe that there is a ‘real you’ submerged somewhere deep inside, to be uncovered through the hard dredg

Resilience (3 of 5): distinguishing between assumptions and reality

Dr Emily Troscianko  &  Dr Rachel Bray Expectations interfere with understanding – they cause us to misread, misdiagnose, or simply to miss what is really happening. That’s even more true when the expectations that you’re carrying around with you originated with others (your family, friends, peers, teachers, mentors…). Indeed, in a podcast series on ‘Overcoming a sense of academic failure’, this was one of the threads that ran most strongly through our contributors’ reflections on their own professional paths. It can happen so seamlessly: your teachers want you to get to a good university, your lecturers want you to get a good degree, your supervisor wants you to get your doctorate, your PI wants you to publish good papers. Each of these ambitions directly supports the next, and all of them make a good deal of sense within their own system. (Of course they do: most of the time they are put forward by the people who run the system – the academics who stayed and who ‘made it’.) B

Resilience (2 of 5): The feedback dynamics between you and academia

Dr Emily Troscianko and Dr Rachel Bray In the first post in this series on resilience, we thought about how you and the academic environment interact. We considered some of the benefits and drawbacks of working in academia, and some of the personal characteristics that might make you more or less resilient in the face of its stresses. In this post, we offer a way of modelling these interactions in more visual, dynamic terms. Seeing things drawn as well as written can be helpful in understanding the underlying structures (it’s not just about me…), and in adopting a fresh perspective on choices available to you. Once you start thinking of yourself, your life, and the world as a feedback system, it can become an addictively satisfying way of seeing the bigger picture. Feedback dynamics are fundamental to pretty much any system you can think of – biological, technological, institutional, psychological… This means that grasping some feedback basics is crucial to understanding how ins

CV obsession: why fixating on past experience is costing you valuable time and energy

Steve Joy “Please will you have a look at my CV?” “The thing I’m most worried about is my CV!” “If we have a few minutes left, I was wondering whether you could have a quick look at my CV.” I long ago lost track of the proportion of one-to-one appointments, informal chats at conferences, and even phone calls with friends that have included these words. The CV seems to be the idée fixe of the vast majority of early career researchers I speak to. You probably think that it’s perfectly reasonable. But I have news for you: stop obsessing about your CV. It’s rarely the real question. It’s often a cause for self-doubt. It’s almost always a signal of not having the right mindset. And it’s energy which you can much better channel in more productive directions. Let me explain. Not the real question The thing is, I don’t really believe 99% of the people who tell me that their CV is the thing they’re most worried about. Not literally. That’s because the real question, in most cases