Dr Edward Latter, Earth observation policy lead in Defra (Civil Service):
I think, be mindful that your PI may not have personal experience of careers and career paths outside of academia. Whilst in terms of careers in academia, they’ve been through it, they know what it’s like and they’ve got to the stage they’re at because they’ve been through that process, in terms of careers outside of academia, they’ll have worked with lots of people. If they’re experienced PIs, they’ll have worked with industry. They’ll have probably worked with policy and funding and areas so they have a certain amount of value that they can add there. I suppose my advice would be to just certainly have that conversation, have that conversation, but try and get a sense of what their experience is of working with people who have been outside of academia, who have made that change. If there’s anyone that they have contacts who you could speak to. When I ended up leaving one of my jobs, one of my PI’s actually said to me that they thought I’d make a good civil servant. I’m not entirely sure if that was supposed to be the compliment that I took it as at the time. They have got that experience of working with people from other disciplines even if they haven’t done it themselves and make use of that expertise. Just be open and honest as well about what you want from your career. It’s your career, it’s your life, so just try and be as honest and as open as you can.
Dr Al Mathers: Head of Research at Good Things Foundation
What do you want to get out long-term from your career? People always ask you really difficult questions about where you want to be in five years and I think that’s too hard because it feels like you should say a certain role and you should say a certain sector. I think there is something about what motivates you. What do you see as the thing that has driven the work that you’ve done for that PI? Do they think that it’s because you are driven by being a really good organiser, a really good planner? There’s something with your PI about separating those operational skills from more pure research skills and what the balance of those is, and having that conversation about how far you’re motivated by one or the other. Do you really find that being a skills specialist is where you want to go, or is it about the management and operation of projects, and getting that right that’s really critical, and then unpicking it? Again, having someone to bounce that back off might start challenging your assumptions about, ‘Well, actually I’m not a specialist. I just want to complete things. To get them done. To have a process.’
Dr John Miles, Founder and CEO of Inkpath:
First of all, honesty, it’s important, I think. There’s a lot of, as often the case, that postdocs who feel very nervous about going to their PI and the PI will have invested in them in all sorts of different ways, not least in terms of funding. Having that honest conversation and being clear about the huge value that you got from that relationship, I think is important because that will set that conversation on the right footing. I think also, to be completely honest, bearing in mind their background and their trajectory when you’re talking to them, because it may be that they’ve gone into industry and come back and they’ve had a really varied career and they’re in a great position to be able to advise you on the different kinds of things that you might be able to pursue. It might also be the case that they have been, had a very, very focussed career and you’re asking someone about things that they are not experts in and they’re not able to answer.
I think bearing that in mind and having a kind of, giving them a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card, if you can, by saying, ‘Look, I want to be able to talk to you about this and I’ve been thinking about X, Y and Z,’ and those things might be particular avenues you’d like to look at but they might also be, ‘I want to talk to the careers service. I want to go and take advantage of some of the opportunities that are available to me in terms of training and things.’ I think being honest and having, being prepared. Just go into it prepared, have a good long think about what you want to take into that conversation, the kind of input you want from them. It might be limited input, but what you’re really doing is securing their support, probably more than their advice in a lot of cases.
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