Most people have some part of their job that they really like, getting out of bed when the alarm sounds probably depends on it. Inevitably there are also parts that are a bit, well… rubbish. We at the ICECream thought the same might be true for researchers, seeing as most of them are probably people too. This is the What’s to like? (and what’s not?) series!!
So we contacted two researchers each, at 5 different career stages, and asked them to name; the 5 best bits, and the 5 worst bits about their job. We wondered whether researchers would all see things similarly, or differently, we also wondered if views change over the career path. Each week we’ll put up the lists from two researchers at similar stages of their career.
So the postdoc is done, and miraculously you’re still pulling a wage as a researcher, this is where this week’s two researchers find themselves. During the postdoc period it is time to try and establish oneself as an independent researcher, with an identifiable area of expertise and a research profile beyond the group with which you trained.
Jim Elliott completed his PhD 9 years ago in Queensland, Australia and is now Assistant Professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, Steve Kamper finished his PhD in 2011 at University of Sydney and has a position as Senior Research Fellow at the George Institute.
5 best things
National and international travel…to some pretty cool places where you can meet some pretty cool people
Seeking and establishing interdisciplinary collaborations around the world…provides for some lovely cultural diversity, which can only enhance your science...and maybe even YOU.
Supervising and mentoring research higher degree students (& Post-Doctoral Fellows) and watching them transition to their own independent career, be it industry, academics, clinical practice, etc…If you do it right, they should surpass you quickly...and isn't that great!?!? Be a (good) leader and do it by example.
Creative freedom & autonomy to drive your own research line
Establishing a line of research that may (and likely will) influence clinical practice and ultimately help people for years to come
5 worst things
Seeking and securing research funding to keep it all going forward
Don’t pursue a career as a Research Academic if money is your motivator...money will come, eventually
Dealing with academic egos…there are brown spots everywhere you go…it can be a pointy pyramid out there…establish your own line, develop some hypotheses and stick with it...and learn how to get along with, um, er, everyone, even if it makes your belly ache.
It can be a challenge to find a good mentor (or mentors)…though, my humble advice...don’t be afraid to knock on some doors, mingle with folks at conferences, go to the social events, get outside your comfort zone, and talk to people within and outside your own professional identity…you NEVER know where it’ll take you…and it’ll likely surprise you, even if it creates a bit of diarrhea along the way.
Negotiating a start-up package can be difficult/confusing/frustrating...you only get to do this once, ask for "IT" , but don't be ridiculous in your requests...use common sense & seek advice.
5 best things
Flexibility, to spend my time as I think best. I’m not bound to clocking up hours in any particular activity, I’m assessed on my output not where I am at any particular time or day. So it’s up to me to decide when and on what I work.
Travel, visiting people and places overseas and in Australia. I love to travel; spending time in other countries, checking out the culture and getting to know how things work in different places.
People, I get to meet and work with lots of smart people. The nature of the job means that whether I’m at work in Sydney, visiting other researchers, attending conferences of traveling I’m always interacting with smart people, driven by a desire to do something good. I don’t come across people who say being a researcher is; ‘just a job’.
The chance to indulge my curiosity and pursue my interests. This is pretty unusual I reckon, my position means that I can decide which direction I want to take my research and my career.
Spending my time doing something good for other people. I really believe that what I do can make a difference, if I do it well and make the right decisions along the way.
5 worst things
Number of hours spent at work. The hours are long, I firmly believe that success in this line of work won’t come without hard work and lots of it. I’m definitely not clever enough to get by on natural talent alone!
Difficulty switching off. I think this is the price of a job that involves a lot of thinking about stuff. Questions and tasks don’t magically get resolved at the end of the work day, pretty often they follow me home too.
Uncertainty about future job prospects. My employment term runs from one contract to the next. If I’m successful with a fellowship application, I might have 4 years or so of stability, but beyond that I don’t know where, or if I’ll have a job.
Stress of trying to manage many different projects. Ongoing success depends on continual output, levels of output high enough to stay in the game necessitate being involved in a large number of projects and constantly developing ideas and plans. Trying to keep on top of everything is difficult, and gets overwhelming at times.
Constant competition. To maintain funding, whether for projects or for salary, I need to perform at the top of the class. My CV, and my achievements are constantly being measured against other researchers, including those I know and work with. This means there is a constant pressure to perform and be the best.