January 16, 2015, by Jackie Thompson

Early career researchers: get started in just 10 minutes

By Clare Jones, Senior Careers Adviser (Research Staff and PhDs)

I’ve supported early career researchers for 10 years and a recurring challenge for them is finding the time to think ahead to explore their career options and consider their career needs and aspirations. Many leave this to the latter stages of a PhD or post-doctoral contract and are then under pressure to get a job rather than having time to consider what they really want to do or may be suited to.  However, just give yourself 10 minutes and try this activity.

Let’s reflect on all of your research experience  to date.

Step 1: What are you good at…

Write down all the work activities, experiences, skills and behaviours you are good at and enjoy using and as a contrast, note those you are good at but dislike using. It can be surprising to find out how many people are in jobs where they operate effectively but actually dislike what they are doing or the work environment they are in.

What stands out to you in the good and enjoy category? For example, have you enjoyed and been good at entrepreneurial activities or science communication?

You can also add in experiences, behaviours and attributes gained from activities outside your daily work to the good and enjoy category.

There is a potential third category: enjoy using but not yet good at. Have you got experiences, skills and attributes you would like to develop and use more of in the next stage of your career? Examples of this could be developing leadership and management experience.

Step 2: What are the career possibilities?

Now review the good and enjoy list, what career possibilities could it generate for you? Do you know former colleagues, family or friends who have a similar career or job role? Does the enjoy using but not yet good at list also offer possibilities?

Identifying these experiences, attributes and behaviours can help to focus your research of potential career or job opportunities on whether they are going to use and develop your areas of strength and enjoyment. However, don’t look for a perfect match there are always aspects of our daily work or environment that we may not enjoy.

Step 3: Checks and balances

Use the good at but dislike using list as a check when you see a job that you could do but might not want, especially when the pressure is on at the end of your PhD or contract to get your next job.

I’m not unrealistic; I know you need to keep your career moving as well as pay the rent or mortgage but it is still important to identify the career area or work you will enjoy and be fulfilled by.

And finally…

There are similar career and self-research activities you can undertake but my final points would be:

  • focus on finding what you want to do in the next phase of your career rather than setting yourself the task of finding what you want to do for the ‘rest of your life’. This is too daunting and pretty impossible for most of us to achieve
  • take action – don’t wait for the career answer to reveal itself to you (it probably won’t) or rely on others (your supervisor, friends or family) to provide the answer. It may be what they want you to do rather than what you want to do

Inspired to get started? Visit our dedicated website for research staff and PhDs for advice and how to book an appointment with one of our team. Alternatively, contact reception on 0115 951 3680.


First published on the NatureJobs Careers Community

Posted in Postgraduate Taught Students