I find myself at a crossroads.
Approaching my mid-30s. I’ve been working in research for almost 10 years (including the PhD itself).
Coming to the end of another fixed-term contract, with about 7-8 months left. Long enough to plan, but not long enough to ignore.
Time to make a decision about what’s next.
The first option is to double down in my current career pathway, and commit to trying to achieve the next level.
Whilst I have been working in research for almost 10 years, I switched disciplines after my PhD. This meant that the first couple of years post-PhD were spent trying to catch-up with those more experienced than me. On the one hand, it probably set me back a couple of years; maybe I would be further along the career track if I hadn’t switched. On the other hand, my previous research area was on the decline; marked for less funding from various research councils, and therefore fewer job opportunities. Meanwhile, this new research area is a growing field and appears to have more possibilities.
I’m arguably in a position where I am now an expert once again in my field. Of course there is always more to learn, but I can now hold my own in a conversation about this new (to me) field.
Having established that I do vaguely know what I’m doing, the next steps would be:
- make the most of the rest of my current contract and publish as much as possible
- start researching funding opportunities
- seeing as these opportunities usually take between 12-18 months to receive, apply for one more research position towards the end of this current contract
- once I start that next contract, start applying for funding.
It doesn’t look so bad, when it’s written down like that (although make no mistake, it would be a lot of work). There’s just one problem, however… I really don’t enjoy much of my job. I don’t like it now, and I doubt I’d like it with the added stress of constantly searching for the next round of funding.
The second option is to move sideways into something that still uses my degree and work experience so far, but is not actually research.
There are a number of things that this could cover, including:
- Scientific writing/publishing – a lot of work happens behind the scenes to get science out of the lab and into the wider world.
- Policy, government, think tanks – I could make a direct difference to things that are important to me (climate change, for example).
- University professional services – universities aren’t just teaching and research; there is a lot of other work required to keep the whole operation working. One thing that appeals is that the working culture (probably) wouldn’t too different to what I experience now. The biggest hurdle is that universities are facing the prospect of losing a huge amount of their funding thanks to covid-19!
The advantage of option 2 is that I wouldn’t really have to retrain. Career moves from academia to these roles are relatively common. It would just be a matter of rejigging my CV, picking a sector and then applying for any jobs that I find.
The final option is to identify a new field that I am interested in, retrain and then start from the bottom. Some roles that I am particularly interested in are:
- Financial planning / advising – this being a finance / investing blog, it should come as no surprise that I would be interested in pursuing a career in finance. However, this runs the risk of turning a hobby into a career. Sometimes that can be a good thing, but may lead to me disliking the hobby/job and wanting a new one!
- Accounting – obviously another finance-related career. I like this because, once fully trained as a chartered accountant, you should remain very employable for the foreseeable future. However, I worry that it might eventually be subject to automation.
I like the idea of this in principle, but recognise that it would take a large amount of work to retrain myself.
So, what to do?
I am pretty confident in saying that option 1 is not for me. There is very little about my current role that I like and/or enjoy. The prospect of doing something similar for the next 30-odd years is not very appealing.
I could do “one more year” in this current role, by getting another fixed term contract somewhere else. Putting off the decision for another 1-2 years. But life is short. Although the money is decent, do I really want to waste another few years?
This probably makes option 2 the default. It won’t really require any extra effort on my part, beyond updating my CV and applying for jobs as usual. But is that really a good reason to choose a career?
I am drawn to option 3 the most. In the short term, it would require studying during some evenings/weekends in order to qualify (or at least part-qualify) before the end of my current contract. Or a period of unemployment whilst I study. That is doable, as I have the savings for it. But I think it makes sense to start learning sooner rather than later; who knows, I might start studying to be (for example) an accountant, and quickly decide that I hate it. Better to find that out now, rather than when I’m unemployed and changing course may well be harder.
I do find myself drawn towards being a financial planner/adviser. My wife has commented in the past that when I start talking about finance stuff in general, my eyes light up. The most recent example being the time I was discussing pensions with my parents and the best options for them. I felt in my element, able to help them out whilst talking about a subject that I am passionate about.
It may be that “the grass is always greener.” My current logic, however, is why not give it a go?
I’m curious if any readers have changed careers in the past, or are considering doing so in the near future.
Or if you think that changing careers during the midst of a pandemic is a terrible idea!
Any and all advice / thoughts / comments are welcome.
Thanks for reading.