On Being Entrepreneurial to Find Your New Career
There are many paths out of academia, and finding one can be surprisingly difficult.
There are a few things I might suggest can do to speed the process, things I wish I’d done earlier.
Academia has a way of keeping people in a holding pattern, especially at the postdoc level. By that time in a career, there’s a sunk cost fallacy at work saying “Tenure Track or Nothing” and the culture of academia is sticky. Experiments work out just enough to keep you going and motivated. It can also be hard to know where to go as access to professional development isn’t always present.
Exploring a new path for me started when I started a personal blog. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, I think, but didn’t really explore it until I was a postdoc. From my personal blog, I also started writing a little bit about science and decided to start a science blog. I joined Twitter. I started live-tweeting at conferences and got involved with my professional society writing for their blog. My science blog led to guest writing opportunities on other blogs and opportunities to edit. These guest writing gigs, largely unpaid, were enough to get me membership in the National Association of Science Writers. These are a lot of people I’ve connected with beyond academia.
Then my PI told me he didn’t have money for me late last year. My projects were mostly wrapped up, and my side gigs had convinced me it was time to move on. I had a few small freelance jobs and that is where I am today. Several months out and having done a lot to gain new professional experiences and continuing to network.
I’ve realized that these experiences are good ones I’m glad I’ve had, but they aren’t yet a career that’s sustainable. I am focusing on what might interest me next, realizing that it doesn’t have to be a forever job, and likely won’t be. There are skills I’m building up too, of course, honing, and hopefully skills that will get me noticed.
Doing my myriad side jobs, being entrepreneurial, has prepared me for at least being open to possibilities and flexible. And science has taught me to be comfortable with uncertainty.
I’m still making sense of my experiences as an academic in the world beyond academia. Where do I fit? But if there aren’t formal opportunities to explore new career paths, creating them yourself is necessary, and that is what I have done. It has led to growth, and that is one key to making it to the next career stage.
Very good view - I also created my own experiences during my grad-school/post-doc times in-order to identify a direction to go with my career. That's the overall process - no one in generally will create opportunities for you. Being Entrepreneural is the general theme of personal career management and growth in the real-world. So good you got that now. Spot on about the growth you have found and self-created. That was exactly my situation when I took the decision to leave academia, it means that you're armed and "tooled-up" to a certain extent.
You questioned finding your fit. I explored varied avenues just like you and eventually found my fit.
In terms of finding fit, a first step I recommend is be a bit self-introspective first and try to understand your strengths and your work preferences. For example, I knew my social abilities and ability to related to others was a strength - I was at ease building relationships and preference wise I preferred to work in teams/high social engagement vs. individual work. Like you, I also identified writing opportunities albiet in a different environment (medical writing) but certainly it was not my strength and even though I was in science, and thus in the practice of deep data generation and analysis, I was not interested in being deeply analytical or high science in my career - I liked big picture, high level views, as my preference, but a strength was that I could come off my perch and swoop down deep into data if needed. So, medical writing was absolutely not for me. Strike that.
So at least I had a idea of a job profile where I think I would be and ideal fit and low and behold I found it. Serendipitously, but still found it, or maybe it found me. Irrespective I was ready and prepared - all that exploring I did gave me sufficient readiness to seize the opportunity when it came.
Whereas I had explored varied career paths, I didn't create a map, so I would then recommend to do what I didn't do, Create a map careers/jobs where you think your strengths and work-preference. May also be good to have a list of no-go jobs, to remind you want you don't want.
Then there is interest. That will also help with your map and also your question of fit. This is a big one.
I had many interests - the outsider may say de-focused at the time, looking back I could cluster them, so at least clusted-interests vs. de-clustered. But follow your interests as well.
So, wishing you luck on finding that fit and path. You're doing it at the right time, no need to think about prolonged post-doc time if that's not what you want.
Feel free to ask any questions -
I was able to locate the original poster of this blog (which transitioned automatically from the website to the Forum) and let him know that there had been readership and commentary on his post at the Forum. I hope he'll take a moment and come back to continue the discussion.
As an aside, I will try to find a way to get these blog posters notified of the discussion so that they can be true contributors to the site. Apologies to all for not doing this previously,
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum