Finding your career path

The first steps to plan your career require reflecting on yourself and putting into perspective both your professional and personal goals.  

To do so, we suggest taking some time to answer these three questions: 

  1. Who am I? 
  2. What can I offer? 
  3. What career do I want?

 

Honesty and objectivity are crucial in any kind of self-assessment. As a verification step you can ask your colleagues, supervisors, and friends to check if and how your perception of yourself is different from how others perceive you. 

Planning your career

You should consider many pieces of the puzzle when you approach the question “Who am I?” 

Your personality influences the way you perceive the world, process information, and make decisions. Your values reveal what fulfills you. Your skills and interests determine the task you can perform and the ones you enjoy. 

Personality

Personality assessment – such as Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), based on the theory of psychological type of Carl Jung – could be a useful exercise to reflect on how you approach different tasks, but it should only be interpreted as an expression of your preference and not as the definition of a category. Remember that no personality type is better than another, each one has its specific characteristics, strengths and weak points.  You can read more about personality here: https://www.16personalities.com/ 

Values

To find a career path that fulfills you in the long term, it’s worth starting from the bigger picture and digging deeper into your values, what motivates you and drives your decisions.  You should identify the values that are most important for you and try to explain why and how they affect your daily work.  Here you can find some examples of values and suggestions of how to implement them in your career development plan: https://euraxess.eventiotic.com/piperstool/#/valuesadvice-2 

Skills

Once you have gained some clarity on your values, it’s time to assess your skills.  The skill assessment allows you to identify your strengths – to stand out from the crowd – your weaker points – areas that need to be developed further. Examine your skills: not only the technical ones, but also all the skills related to management, supervision, teamwork, independence that you are developing in your PhD or Postdoc, and become aware of your professional profile. 

As a PhD student or Postdoc, you are already developing skills that cover different areas: 

  • Discipline-specific conceptual knowledge 

  • Analysis and problem-solving 

  • Written and oral communication  

  • Management skills 

  • Leadership  

  • Responsible conduct of research 

Not only these skills are needed for a successful academic career, but they are also sought after in most non-academic professions. Shifting the focus from the specific details of your scientific projects to the transferrable skills required to handle them successfully will help you identify the strengths that make you competitive on the job market. Different technical skills are required depending on the specific job, but the ability to learn new techniques or information, to analyze and interpret data, to communicate complex information clearly and logically, to manage people and projects, and to do so in a professional and ethical manner are essential in any career you will choose. Here you can find more resources about skills in research careers: https://www.nationalpostdoc.org/page/CoreCompetencies 

To perform your skill assessment you can use the competences checklist developed by the Postdoc National Association of the United States: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.nationalpostdoc.org/resource/resmgr/Docs/competency-checklist.pdf 

Interests

You can use the same competences checklist to assess your interests instead than your proficiency, assigning to each task a score that reflects how much you enjoy performing it. You might discover areas in which you are very skilled but don’t enjoy doing – probably you should not focus on those to find your next job – and other tasks you don’t master yet but love doing – these are skills you could develop in the future and add to your profile. 

To keep track of where you are at and set goals for your career, you can use this tool for continuing professional development: https://s30876.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/interactive-cpd-toolkit2.pdf 

If you answered the first question “Who am I?”, you are aware of your values and skills. 

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to be the best candidate on the job market: you need to be able to show it! 

Your Personal Brand helps you to communicate to potential employers and collaborators how you are unique, what you can bring to the job market, and which skills/knowledge/attitude make you a valuable professional. 

Your Personal Brand should be genuine, conveying the mix of talent and interests you reflected upon when answering the first question. A clear Personal Brand will help you to contact other professionals at conferences, job fares, or networking events, and will give you visibility if you leverage it online – for example on LinkedIn or Twitter. 

Follow the suggestions in this article of Science career to start building your Personal Brand: https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2016/09/building-your-personal-brand

To answer this question, you need to consider what aspects are important for you to be satisfied in your job and find career opportunities that fit those requirements. What jobs are out there for PhD holders? The job landscape evolves constantly and you will have to do some research to discover career paths after the PhD. 

Here you can find some resources to start exploring opportunities in academic and non-academic jobs: 

https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2019/09/what-do-we-know-about-phd-scientists-career-paths 

https://www.findaphd.com/advice/doing/phd-careers.aspx 

https://www.findapostdoc.com/advice/postdoc-careers.aspx 

https://www.jobs.ac.uk/media/pdf/careers/resources/10-career-paths-for-phds.pdf 

The best way to get information about potential career paths and decide if they could be a good fit for you is to ask directly to someone who’s working in the position you are targeting.  

Informational interviews – informal chats with professionals to learn about their field or career – can give you all the insider information you need for an evidence-based decision. 

Learn more about how to conduct informational interviews in this article: https://blogs.embl.org/careers/informational-interviews/