What do you want to be when you grow up? Chances are, you’re thinking ‘an academic’ – especially if you’re a member of research staff in the Humanities (the recent CROS survey showed that 61% of Humanities respondents from Manchester University aspire to a lectureship or research post in HE).
However, in a recent Inside Higher Ed article, Cheryl Reed and Dawn Formo suggest that it’s worth going back to basics to really think about what you want from a job, rather than what job you want. They suggest that an academic career is not the inevitable next step after a PhD or post-doc position – but it can often seem that way: “There are many different things you can do, but you’ve been – we’ve all been — just a little bit brainwashed to think of the [academic] position as the only real marker of success and everything else as “settling.” Rather, they argue, it’s just the most obvious fit for the skills, knowledge, contacts and experience that you have accumulated over the last 3-10 years. Those same skills, knowledge and contacts may serve you just as well in a different type of role – and it might even be a role that you’d prefer.
In order to begin to think outside the box when it comes to your post post-doc career, they suggest taking some time to imagine your perfect job on a perfect day – not in terms of what title you have or the reputation of the University you work for, but by considering the apparently little things – what time of day is it? What are you wearing? Are you relaxed, excited, challenged, busy? Who are the people around you? Are you indoors or outside? The answers to these questions might surprise you, and give you some time to consider how you really want to spend you working life. If your ideal working day is spent outside with kids, it may be that you’re not really going to find research hugely rewarding… That doesn’t mean that you should rule out academia if it’s really what you’ve set your heart on – just that you may need to be creative about your working life in order to feel satisfied. Maybe an academic post with a large public engagement remit which allows you to spend time working with kids would be the ideal?
Reed and Formo admit that “a tenure-track position can be great (we’ve both been granted tenure in large state systems), but it’s not the one true path to happiness. Our own career tracks and those of some of our colleagues have taken wildly different turns, with treks through corporate consulting, creativity coaching, educational software development, publishing, and grant writing, along with the more traditional teaching, writing, and administration”. Maybe a similar ‘portfolio’ career would work equally well for you?