Contributor, Ben Thomas
An unsatisfying scientific position can lead to frustration. After spending years preparing for a role as an expert in your field, you may find your day-to-day work isn’t meeting your expectations. Plenty of researchers have felt this way – and many have scratched their itch and successfully followed a different path. If you’re ready to make a move, but aren’t sure where to begin, read on.
Back in Part 1 we saw that the crucial first step is to do a little introspection to find out what about your current position is unsatisfying and what your criteria are for a better one. Once you’ve got a handle on your reasons for seeking greener pastures, the next logical step is to examine external factors that stand in the way. These factors can take many forms, and the only way to move past each one is to face it head-on.
“In the past,” says Sherry Marts, life and career coach and co-author of The Book of How: Answers to Life’s Most Important Question, “the biggest external barrier was a lack of awareness about what other careers – besides academia or industry research positions – were available to people with science degrees.” The internet and Google search are useful tools here, but Google isn’t going to present your dream job to you on a silver platter. Learning to target your online searches is a key skill to finding the right job.
Start by finding out where relevant people congregate online and check if those websites offer specialized job boards. In the natural sciences, websites like ChemistryJobs.com, Cyber-Sierra.com, Naturejobs.com and the Physics Today Career Network list jobs within specific fields. Many scientific societies also provide free job boards. Doing a Google search for terms like “[name of your specialty] + society + job board” may turn up some promising postings.
Social networking websites are also powerful tools for connecting with people who’ve pursued enviable careers. Send friend requests and messages throughout your extended networks; fire off a few quick, professional, practical questions to people you admire, whether you know them personally or not. You’ll be surprised how many of these people are willing offer helpful tips.
Social networking sites also offer groups with a specific focus that you can join. Facebook, Google Plus and LinkedIn all have advanced search features to help you target communities in your field, outside your field, or even in a particular geographical region. Members of these groups may offer insights into your quest for a better career orencouragement that you may have a hard time finding elsewhere.
If you aren’t receiving encouragement, it is worth addressing this as soon as you come across it. “One major barrier to a positive scientific career move,” Marts says, “is the stigma attached to the decision to leave academia.” Faculty advisors are known to discourage students from considering anything other than an academic career, making it difficult for academics to recognize the opportunities that await them. “I still hear academics use the term ‘failed scientist’ to describe scientists who chose a career other than academic research – no matter how successful they are in their chosen career,” Marts says. So if you’re feeling trapped, remember that the end of an academic career isn’t the end of the line.
The final external barrier is job market politics. It can take time to navigate this world effectively, so treat it like a research project: gather all the data you can; cross-test; verify or falsify each hypothesis you encounter and figure out how to present yourself and your skillset in a way that stands up to scrutiny.
In Part 3 of this series of articles, we’ll look at how to tackle the obstacles within your own mind. Until then, experiment with Google searches, run through your contact list, and start gathering info on potential career paths you might like to take.
Ben Thomas writes articles about a variety of topics for the Riley Guide, an online repository for career and education resources. As a freelancer, Ben also covers scientific research and technological breakthroughs as well as social issues involving the sciences. A regular contributor to several leading science news websites, Ben helps scientists and academics connect with the general public by explaining their latest discoveries and controversies in clear, down-to-earth terms. You can follow Ben on Google+.