Running away from the circus
Don’t tell the boss, but I’ve been looking for a new job. I have spent many lunch breaks over the past weeks browsing through endless career sites and search engines. While I consider myself ambitious, flexible, and somewhat clever (hey, they gave me a PhD didn’t they?), the first thing I realised is that there are a lot of jobs that I have no interest in doing. Then I realised that there are a lot of jobs for which I have no qualifications (and no desire to go back to university). Which seemed to have left me with only one (albeit not so bad) option – a research position where I can use my experience and skills to my advantage.
Is that it then? Am I destined to forever be doing research? Don’t get me wrong here, I enjoy what I do and I am fully aware that there are very few jobs which give you the flexibility and benefits of being a researcher. The one thing I don’t like, however, is not having a choice. So I ask the question – what am I able to do outside of research and academia? What skills have I learnt over the years which may be of interest to non-academic employers?
Those in the know call these “transferable skills” – skills that can be generalized and are valuable in many jobs and settings. Maybe we can call them “real world” skills, things which are of use outside the research circus. Everyone has heard of (or probably knows) people in positions they are not prepared for. For example, the genius researcher without management and administration skills, or who crumbles under the pressure of public speaking and networking with humans. But these skills can be developed, provided you know which ones you personally need to work on!
I started by writing a list of my academic capabilities, trying to go beyond the obvious ones (like reading journal articles, drinking coffee, procrastinating). This included stuff like learning quickly, synthesizing information, and problem solving. I also included leadership and managerial skills, administrative, planning and budgeting skills, and even interpersonal skills like persuasion, tact, and the ability to motivate and counsel students. Then I included two of the most important characteristics of early career researchers (in my opinion): effective communication skills (written and oral), and successful self-management and work habits. Writing papers, conference presentations, and meeting last-minute deadlines. We’ve all been there.
Then I compared my list to this one of the 10 hottest transferable skills: budget management, supervising, public relations, coping with deadline pressure, negotiating, speaking, writing, organising, interviewing, and teaching. Looking good right? Then this list of the most sought-after skills from employers: the ability to get things done, common sense, integrity, dependability, initiative, well-developed work habits, interpersonal skills, enthusiasm, motivation to achieve, adaptability, intelligence, oral-communication skills, and problem-solving abilities. All skills which I think I have (some more than others).
So this left me with a more positive outlook on my career prospects and opened my eyes to greater possibilities. Maybe I won’t starve if I have to run away from this circus, my bag of tricks might be more useful than I thought!