From post-doc to private secretary

Below is a summary of the discussion from Natalie’s presentation.

One of the key take home points from Natalie is this: make a plan and work towards your goal but be prepared to change your plan to take advantage of new opportunities. You will grow and change during your career. Be open to new and exciting opportunities.

Like many PhD students and post-docs, Natalie was looking for a career in academia and with the end goal of getting a professorship. It is important to acknowledge that academic career paths are affected by a lot of things outside your control. Unfortunately discrimination based on gender, sexuality and ethnicity remain ongoing issues within academic and society more generally. Acknowledging the biases that exist does not detract from the achievements of others. Everybody benefits from a fairer system.

In 2011/2012 here is how gender changes with career stage for physics and maths

On applying for jobs

Don’t wait to apply for a job until you meet all the selection criteria. Interestingly, if you match 50% or 90% of the criteria your probability of getting an interview are very similar. Women are far more likely to choose not to apply because they don’t feel they meet enough of the criteria. Forget that and just give it a go!

On applying for lectureships

Do your market research on positions, look at your long terms aims and how they are aligned with the department’s vision.

Apply for other positions at the same time. You might find something better. You might get more than one offer in which case you can use this to negotiate your contract.

On applying for fellowship

Expect to fail. A lot. While we know it is part of the process, it is very different to experience failure. One of Natalie’s inspirations is Dr Izzy Jayasinghe who showed reliance and determination to succeed when faced with repeated rejections for fellowships.

How to improve your odds

There are different ways to increase your chances for academic (and non-academic) positions and fellowships. Traditional ways include: publishing papers, applying for funding, independent research, supervising and teaching. Other less traditional ways include: participate in training opportunities, networking, entering competitions, putting yourself forward (or asking to be nominated) for awards, reviewing grants, engaging with the media and having an online presence.

Here are some hot tips

  1. Don’t wait for invited to talks to come your way. Seek them out and ask to be invited!
  2. Don’t be scared to start in a whole new area! Natalie did and loves it.
  3. Find out what motivates you and what matters to you.
  4. Be true to yourself.
  5. Be brave! Don’t let fear of failure stop you.
  6. Find a mentor (or multiple).
  7. Keep your cv updated so you can act on opportunities. Get feedback on your cv and continually workshop it.
  8. Regularly search for opportunities.
  9. In addition to having a plan, you also need an exit strategy. When will it be time to move on and to what?
  10. Be flexible in your planning and adapt as needed.