Mar 212017
 
time for a career change

If you’ve come across this post because your last set of experiments went to shit and your supervisor is currently being a massive paper-demanding douche, now is absolutely not the time for you to leave research. I know that it would feel awesome to march into your supervisor’s office, flip the bird, expose yourself and leave a shit in the corner of the room, but this need’s a little more thought than your last break up.

On the other hand, if you can’t get to sleep at night for thinking about ripping off your lab coat and fingering it, unceremoniously, into the vice chancellor’s bum, and you’re desperate to try something else, perhaps it is time to for an exit strategy.

This is assuming that you’ve got the time to figure something out. More than ever, post-docs are relying on short-term contracts to feed and clothe themselves. If this is you, do what you can to live – don’t make any rash decisions.

Before you start planning your exit, you have to remember that short-term disappointment, feelings of anxiety and self-negativity are normal in the research arena. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Addressing them, and seeking help if they persist, will ensure that you start your new career path in the right frame of mind and not as a way of running away from problems. Mental health issues have a way of following you wherever you go.

The start part:

You have got to where you are because there’s something you like about science. Perhaps there are things that you prefer over everything else. Maybe it’s the fact you’re teaching, writing, doing new experiments, presenting your research, learning new skills, operating fancy equipment. Whatever it is, find it and write it down. Don’t rush this part – it’ll be the foundations for your new career.

 

There are certain professions that will absorb science graduates in all their forms. Some even love Ph.D. graduates. Patent Attorneys, IP examiners, and R&D companies are examples of places that employ PhD graduates. If you want to use all of your skills in a new forum then this is a great option for you. If you are not sure if you’d enjoy these jobs speak to someone who’s doing one.

You could be in the “I fucking hate science in all its forms and wish I could do *insert hobby here* as a job” box. That is OK too. All we need to do at this point is identify what you enjoy doing.

The hard part:

Once you have identified what you like doing (besides wanking and injecting marijuana) you need to start doing more of those things. Simply build skills in the things you like doing.

For skills like writing, consider starting a blog (not like this one, you fucking copy cat), you could write alongside your day job for a publication in order to produce a portfolio of work. Many publications offer internships and opportunities, all you have to do is ask.

Get actual qualifications, if you can. Real paper qualifications that your mum hangs on the wall. There are plenty of masters courses, diplomas and vocational courses that you can take alongside your job, in the evenings for example. Like I said, it won’t be easy, but it is completely doable. And, if you like what you are doing, you’ll make time for it.

If you want to turn your hobby into a job, start small. One day/evening a week and see how you go. The important question when turning a hobby into a job is: Do you actually like it as a job or do you prefer it as a hobby? It’s fine that it’s the latter, now you know.

NETWORK YOUR FUCKING ARSE OFF.

Start making contacts in jobs you may want to do. Sneak your way into their office by asking for a discussion about their profession. Everyone I’ve asked is more than happy to help. Once they’ve seen that you aren’t a psycho, and you don’t have sticky hands, you’ve made a new professional friend that may help you in the future.

The scary part:

After a while, apply for those dream jobs with the new skills you’ve gained. If the answer is no, ask why. Put that academic thick skin to work and think of it as professional peer-review. You may not like what you hear but it’ll make sure you are focused on the skills that your dream job needs.

 

It’s rare that as one job finishes your next begins. You may find yourself having to take a leap into the unknown. If you’ve done the hard part, it’ll be way less scary. Leverage your networks, let them know about your new availability, get a mentor and be open to new opportunities. These things, along with some good old fashioned hard work, will eventually pay off and you’ll be on your way to a brand new career.

What’s your story? Do you have any advice for leaving research?


Further reading:

Young researchers thrive in life after academia

Is academia a happier life than a life in industry?

Why So Many Academics Quit and Tell

The ‘system’ failed me. It should have failed me sooner.

 

Jul 122016
 
audience sat in a conference

Yes, we get it. You’re clever. Or at very least, you have played the academic game well enough to have manoeuvred yourself to the top of the academic ladder. A while back I wrote about how not to give a shit presentation, but now it’s time to address you and your shitty, always over time, overly complicated and patchwork-like presentation.

Without a doubt, Professors have given some of the worst scientific presentations I have ever seen. It’s the perfect storm of self-importance and complicated graphs which make professor level presentations insufferable. I’d much rather listen to a PhD student who has taken the time and effort to rehearse and, most importantly, cares about giving a well thought out presentation than sit through another look-at-all-the-cool-things-I-had-my-students-do presentation.

Alright, first things first, we know what happened. You got invited to give a talk because you are a well-known scientist and, because you haven’t stepped in the lab for the best part of a decade, you asked your PhD students and/or post-docs to send you “a couple of slides about your research”. So far, you have not done anything wrong. We know being a professor is a tough gig. You have to secure grant funding, publish papers and more recently, hobnob with industry, in order to convince the Vice-Chancellor not to sack you when the inevitable latest round of redundancies happen.




What you continue to get wrong is assuming your notoriety excludes you from providing a well-structured and focused presentation that…wait for it…runs on time – you can’t rely on the chair person with an anxiety disorder to stop you when your time is up.

Perhaps you think a sizable portion of the people who are attending your talk will know who you are and also be familiar with your acronyms and field specific language. The reality is that a large portion of the audience have been told to turn up because “it makes the department look like a busy and thriving research environment”. These people will be the ones sneaking a look at their phone while you’re distracted trying to operate the laser pointer (middle button).

Before your talk ask yourself these simple yes or no questions:

  1. Do I know who my audience are? If it’s a general audience, chill out. We don’t want a run down on your entire career. Choose your favourite bit(s) and stick to it.
  2. Have I looked over all the slides and made sure I can connect them with a coherent story? You should not be surprised by any of the slides your post-doc gave you and the story should flow nicely between them.
  3. Have I removed slides that I plan on skipping over? It is not OK to say “ignore these slides, and if you have epilepsy, cover your eyes”.
  4. Have I been to the toilet? Your bladder isn’t what it used to be.
  5. Are my slides free of any undefined, not commonly used, acronyms or specialised language that a non-specific science audience would not know? – save the specific terminology stuff for a conference that’s in your field.
  6. Did I practice my talk in front of an audience before today? Just like talking dirty, if you haven’t said it out loud it’s probably going to come out wrong.
  7. Can people read the axis of my graphs? Copy and pasting from the Nature paper you’re desperate to talk about is not going to help.
  8. Are all these slides necessary?

If you have answered “no” to any of these questions you need to stop and ask what the f**k you are doing.

Failing everything, pay careful attention to your audience. They’re the best indicators of whether you need to stop talking. Once the lecture theatre chairs start squeaking, as the audience shuffle around to get blood back into their legs and bums, consider stopping and letting the person who invited you ask a couple questions. They will always start with “Thank you for a great presentation”, don’t be fooled, they are lying.





Do you want more honest opinions and frank discussions about science?

Check out Publish, Perish or Podcast! 

Jul 052016
 
full time part time road sign

Have you ever sat in work, looked out the window and thought “I wish I didn’t have basic human desires, like eating, mating and bitching about Ken in accounts, so I could just do my jobs 24 hours a day”? we’ve all been there. If the answer is no that’s mental, read on…

The typical scientific working week comprises at least 5 days (or 40 hours) worth of work. Although, many academics and scientists work as if their success depends on not seeing or interacting with another human being – unless it’s through email. That work can consist of hands-on research, writing for angry reviewers or the physical pantomime of productivity whilst not actually getting anything done. For those that aren’t strict with their time, the pressures of an academic appointment can start eating its way into weekends, holidays and time sat watching Netflix, drinking wine, multi-screen Facebook stalking and taking pictures of your dog or cat in adorable positions.

For the past 2 years, I have been a part-time scientist and this is why you should consider it too:

  • People get jealous of your “every weekend is a long weekend” lifestyle.
  • I have been using Fridays to do the things I really enjoy, which includes being in my underwear for large parts of the day, pretending I’m a pirate and also editing for the best podcast on earth (yet to be recognised as such) Publish, Perish or Podcast.
  • I am learning new things (video editing, a new language and how to convince my partner I did NOT eat most of the chocolate), although not directly related to my day job, they’ve all been used in my job at some point…

The strange thing is, despite my extra underwear time I feel just as good at my job, more creative while I’m in work and Mondays now feel like a Tuesday, Tuesdays feel like a Wednesday, Wednesdays feel like a Wednesday and Thursday feels like a Wednesday. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are rolled into an orgy of cafes, beer and writing shit for the internet and invited contributions to things (yes, despite this blog people still invite me to write stuff – I don’t understand either).

When I first asked to go part-time in my previous job my boss looked worried. Supportive, but worried. That is, until I said that the day would be used to follow my science communication desires. So, if you are going to ask your boss if you can go part-time, make up something that sounds productive. That way they feel good about the decision even if you are planning to stay at home and see how many clothes pegs you can cram onto your genitalia before passing out.


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