What lies ahead? 7 Tips on making career choices

Proteeti Bhattacharjee - contest winner
23 Mar ’21

Done with a PhD, now what? I am not cut out to be a Professor but love to do science – so should I apply for a post-doc or an industry position? I have heard about career options outside of hard-core academia, but where should I go and what should I look for? Do all these questions sound familiar to you? Then you are not alone.

Many of us working in academia are confronted with these questions during or after our doctoral training. We are conditioned to think that a tenure track is the only career path and applying for a post-doc right after completing a PhD seems like the most natural thing to do. Scientific reasoning, analytical approach, managing failures and problem-solving abilities that a doctoral candidate develops during their years of training in the laboratory can be applied successfully in a range of job settings; however, we are either unaware of the possibilities or simply afraid to take the leap and try something new!

Back in 2010, when I was a second-year doctoral student at European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Heidelberg, Germany, I heard about opportunities outside of academia at EMBL “Career Day” for the first time. The invited speakers came from diverse fields of industry, management, consultancy, publishing and communication and shared fascinating stories of the role they play in their current positions. All of them had one thing in common – they were all scientists with PhDs and several years of rigorous academic training from top-notch institutes – yet they chose to work in fields related to science but away from bench. As I walked out of the seminar room, I started to see the importance of scientific research and training in a whole different light. I learnt that when you are thoroughly trained as a scientist, understand and respect the process of scientific research completely, only then can you engage in different and meaningful roles both inside and outside of academia.

After completing my PhD and a short postdoctoral stint, I made a conscious switch from ‘bench work’ to a career path in science management and international relations. I pursued an internship in comprehensive science communication at the office of information and public affairs (OIPA), at EMBL shortly after my PhD. Following this, I was offered the position of scientific liaison officer for the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG), India office and worked closely with the unit of international relations at administrative headquarters of MPG in Munich and German House for Research and Innovation in New Delhi, India. Since 2018, I work as Scientific Project Manager of multidisciplinary and international breast cancer research consortia – PRECISION (Cancer Grand Challenge: Funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and Dutch Cancer Society (KWF)) and B-CAST (EU Horizon 2020 project) at Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI) located in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

In my professional career so far, I have been able to apply my scientific training and research administration experience to work at the confluence of all elements I am interested in - science communication, networking, and management. So I share with you some tips which I followed to make my career choices over the years and hope this helps you to start your unique journey in science post PhD.

1. Know yourself

Figure out what part of your research/lab life you enjoy the most – Designing experiments, gathering and analyzing data, writing manuscripts/abstracts or preparing posters and presenting your work? An ideal position is one that matches your personality, professional training and expertise!

2. Start early...

Start early to navigate the job portals to acquaint yourself with what is out there and what captures your interest. Trained scientists with specialist knowledge are in high demand in academic, commercial and non-profit sectors. You can be hired as data analyst, business development manager, science policy advisor, science writer, project/product managers, systems engineer, grant writer and the list goes on. It’s all about identifying your interests!

3. Talk to people

Talk to people who have ventured outside of academia, biggest inspirations can be drawn from personal experiences. You never know who has been there and done that!

4. Develop a transferable skill set during your PhD

This is irrespective of whether you want to stay in academia or not. Sharpening your management, organizational, leadership and communication skills will help you go a long way in any career of your choosing.

5. develop a global mindset

Teams today are multidisciplinary and international – intercultural empathy and a global mindset are key to success.

6. Attend career-oriented workshops

Attend career-oriented workshops, webinars, enroll in courses and land an internship. All of this will help you make an informed decision on next steps of shaping your career.

7. Do something valuable

Science has developed an international character now more than ever. Connecting with peers from diverse areas of scientific expertise and building a unique range of solutions for a defined problem will be the ultimate goal whether you choose to stay in academia or pursue a different career route.

To sum up, there are several opportunities in the job market – go find your right match!

To help you and your fellow researchers find your career path, AcademicTransfer developed a new career platform: AcademicsConnected. Here you can explore six research focused career journeys in the Netherlands, get expert advice and read personal stories from other researchers. On top of that you can take a free self-assessment to reflect on your talents and skills. Start navigating your career on AcademicsConnected and be inspired!

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