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.