Job security comes from having more control over your career, which starts with asking probing questions, says Clare Jones.
Wanting to leave academia for a less stressful and more secure job, is a regular comment made in individual careers appointments with early career researchers. Academic life has certainly become more stressful, and the early stage research career has a great deal of uncertainty about it. More and more people are considering whether or not this is the career for them. However I do not want to move immediately to providing job search resources as this may not be beneficial initially, and difficult as it might be I would like you to consider:
Why are you looking for something less stressful?
As a Careers Adviser and someone with a “career” to manage, I am concerned when the motivation to make a change is about seeking a less stressful job. I do accept that some reading this may have a diagnosed stress condition and they do need to carefully balance their career and condition. For others (myself included) we can get “stressed” by our work or career situation in very different ways. Do think about why you are stressed: are you working on the wrong project?; or in the wrong environment or group?; have your priorities for your career and your life changed? By identifying, and accepting, that you or your priorities have changed or that the choice you made to undertake academic research hasn’t worked out as you hoped, you may avoid simply changing one stressful situation for another.
What are the positives about your current job?
What work activities do you enjoy? What skills and experiences do you want to continue to use or to develop? Is staying in science important to you or do you want to consider a complete change of career path? Read (or re-read) “Thinking Ahead – Ten Minutes on Your Career” and begin to identify what you want your next career move to focus on. Also write down or discuss with partners, family and friends any compromises or constraints you may need to consider – an open discussion or consideration of these can lead to finding out if there are ways around them. Perhaps your partner might consider relocating if you find the right opportunity. Constraints and compromises can be built up as barriers too early in the search for a new career and prevent any consideration of an option.
Where do I look for inspiration as to what I want to do next?
When searching for a job there can be some factors which make it a narrowing activity, such things as looking for specific job titles, locations or salary ranges. As you consider a career change try also to allow time for more research on the options that may be available to you and analyse these against the information you have about your requirements (answers to questions above). Can you also use information about others who have moved out of academia? Are you in contact with former colleagues or can you get back in contact via LinkedIn or other networks? If not there are other resources that could provide you with insights and examples of the career options that may be possible:
• Read What do research staff do next? Career stories – these career stories are from research staff who have made career changes and they also contain advice and suggestions that could be both inspiring and helpful to you.
• Professional associations and trade or industry websites can also be helpful to get a general picture of options. An example would be the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI) website which has careers pages with a section aimed at early career researchers.
Where do I look for another job?
To begin a job search I would suggest that you will need to use different strategies including networking, ensuring your on line profile (LinkedIn etc) emphasises the right skills and experiences for the area you want to move to. If you have collaborative partnerships with industry or other organisations, take a chance to talk to them about potential opportunities. Unless you make the first move they may assume that you are on the academic track and have no intention of moving. Of course, you may want this conversation to be a confidential one and you should make this clear to them at the outset.
There are lots of jobs boards and websites with advertised vacancies and it would be impossible to cover all of them in this response. But I would suggest that if you wish to remain in areas related to your discipline that you begin with those with some clear links to your background. Obviously Naturejobs is an example of this. If you are looking for a broad range of opportunities across sectors I usually suggest that the Guardian jobs pages offer a good starting point. Also do check out the vacancies close to home – your University’s vacancies as well as a careers service’s vacancy listing. Remember that employers are on campus and whilst they will be mainly there for the undergraduates and PGTs it is an opportunity for you to go and meet company reps, if they are not the right people to talk to, ask for contact details of someone who could provide more information on other opportunities. I would advise that, if possible, you do not exclusively use advertised vacancies.
What about something more secure?
In reality this is difficult, we are in challenging times and it would be wrong of me to say that moving career guarantees more security. Perhaps I will conclude with the observation that the request for greater security is actually about having more control over your career and being able to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. Acknowledging why you want to leave academia, gaining more insights into the opportunities available to you and building your confidence in the attributes, skills and competencies you have to offer will be vital in enabling you to move on to a new phase of your career.