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Pivoter profile: Connor

Biological science postdoc at a UK University for 8 years.

Being a researcher was my whole life

“Research was everything to me. More than a job: it was a passion. Producing novel ideas, getting funding, and becoming known as an expert. My self-worth was entwined with my work: I used the progression of my research to self-affirm. Total commitment was necessary for the potential to succeed. 

I worked as a research scientist for 10 years. Throughout that time, troubled by the lack of structure, no obvious way to make it to the next level, and lack of job security, my desire to commit to an academic career started to change. I didn’t feel valued for successful grant applications, and fellowship rejections were making it difficult to find purpose in my day-to-day role. 

The final push came when I had my first child, I could not see how the all-consuming commitment to my work would allow me to be the kind of parent and partner that I wanted to be for my family. 

At first, I made changes in my researcher role. Becoming a Research Staff Rep and organising a Career seminar. Through these experiences, I began to re-evaluate my career interests, strengths and skills. Gradually becoming more open. One minute I was excited by a sense of liberation, the next I felt loss and frustration about leaving behind the research I had been so dedicated to for 15 years. 

When I saw an opportunity for a professional services job that involved supporting post docs at my University. It felt right: being proactive in addressing cultural change for postdocs, had compelled me to forge a new sense of meaning and purpose. By sharing my lived experience, I could support people and enable change. The university environment was familiar, so that lessened the fear factor. I decided to go for it and was successful. 

I coped by talking to others in my new team who had been through similar transitions. It was cathartic and helped me to adapt to the challenge. Having anticipated this move for a few years, excited that I could finally make it on my own terms, the reality was empowering. 

Making the decision to leave meant leaving behind the potential for future findings, the prestige that comes with discovering something novel, and the desire to understand the world around us. I left a lot of people behind who I had built close relationships with. I did have a sense that I was no longer part of the ‘research family. 

The clear benefits are understanding myself and my skills and meeting other successful people from diverse backgrounds, expanding my perspectives. Working in a more people-centric environment I get more feedback about my own strengths and skills, and we are all keen to help each other grow. 

A key lesson is learning that there is life after research. Taking ownership of what you do is empowering. Even though my phase of all-consuming work is over, I have found passion and purpose in what I do now. Many of the tasks that I found most fulfilling: generating ideas, working closely with others, and using research skills to solve complex problems, are valued everywhere. 

I am less hung up on the need to have a defined career path

My self-worth is not dependent on what I do or accomplish. In the future, my professional identity will evolve alongside me, aligned with the life-long learning and professional communities I experience. 

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