We like to think that our career decisions are made by us, rather than by somebody else. But what if the people around us influence the decisions we make, asks Jessica Gorrill.
A recurring theme from the recent Naturejobs Career Expo 2017 was the importance of interpersonal relationships and how these can shape the course of our careers.
Whether these relationships leave a sour taste in the mouth or whether they give us a much-needed shoulder to lean on, they are still vital to our career development.
Relationships led Seishi Shimizu (pictured left) to move all over the world. It is often forgotten how much the lab environment can influence your experience in a particular place – a controlling supervisor or hostile colleagues can ruin your time there even if the research isn’t going well. On the other hand, a supportive environment can inspire positivity, even if things aren’t working out the way that they are supposed to. It’s therefore important to talk to present or past lab members to get a feel for how things are.
An interaction with a professor from Ontario on the Tokyo subway led Shimizu to move to Ontario to study the biochemical basis of solutions. A few years later, a close friend encouraged him to move to York, UK, where he currently resides. These chance conversations changed his view of the future and encouraged him to pursue a path that was different from any he had previously imagined. Like Shimizu, we can use our colleagues and friends to push us out of our comfort zone by discussing hypotheticals (“If I applied to this PhD position in California…” or “What if I were to collaborate with…?”). We can use conferences and social events to question others about their work and explore the realities of these possibilities.
During his time at York, Shimizu pursued a controversial theory about solvents and received an unwelcome response from the academic community. He remembers this time as being very difficult, and has said that the support of his students and colleagues was key to staying in academia. His story illustrates the importance of having a close network to fall back on when things get tough. Whether it is writing your PhD thesis or handling multiple journal rejections, do not be afraid to reach out to those around to for their help and support. It is repeatedly cited that we are living in a lonelier world, even with social media. But with more tools out there, we can connect with people who may be going through similar issues. Do not be afraid to rely on online friends and seek advice on forums if you feel that they would be better suited to give support.
Jessica Gorrill is an MSc student at the University of Oxford.