Elaine Denniss is an experienced careers consultant and a chartered occupational psychologist. She is running the workshop ‘How to Manage Your Career Effectively‘ at the Society of Biology on June 26th 2015.
When you think about your career in research, do you ever try to imagine what you will be like in the future? Where will you be? What will you be doing? How will you be different from the way you are now?
When you look at senior research leaders, do you ever try to imagine what they were like as PhD students or postdocs? How might they have changed over the years? Do you ever talk to them about the challenges of their roles?
Having a successful long-term research career isn’t just about having a great publication record. As you progress to more senior research roles, the tasks and challenges you face will change. This means you will need to be ready to develop different skills, to think about different things and even to think in different ways. The more you are able to anticipate these future demands the more ready you will be to take advantage of opportunities that arise and deal with them successfully.
Some of these future demands are relatively easy to anticipate. Not only will you have to take responsibility for the progress of your own research, but you will also have to monitor and support the researchers under your direction. You will also be responsible for ensuring the funding income for your unit and have to deal with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders placing demands on you. There will almost certainly be a lot more meetings.
Other changes are harder to predict. The scope of your thinking and your planning will have to enlarge. Rather than thinking about how you will succeed in a research project lasting three or four years, you may have to develop a strategy for the development of your whole research programme over the next decade, or longer. Many researchers struggle to extend their thinking in this way.
Another complication is the fact that, by the time you get to a senior research role, the research environment you will be operating in may have changed significantly from how it is at the moment. Governments may have changed, bringing changes in science policy and different funding priorities. Scientific and technological developments may have made some current areas of research obsolete or opened up completely new areas.
So, even if you do question your research leaders now, the challenges you face in the future may be very different from the ones they face now.
However, the ability regularly to raise your eyes from the bench to see what is going on in the wider world of research and research policy will always be helpful and will be increasingly necessary as you progress. As will the ability to build connections with a wide range of people who can keep you up to date.
For now, it may be useful to identify a few senior researchers that you would like to have as role models and find out as much as you can about how they had to change in order to be successful.
Places are still available on the ‘How to Manage Your Career Effectively‘ workshop at the Society of Biology on June 26th 2015.