Welcome to realjob.org.uk the accompanying site to the podcast "When are you going to get a real job?". Find all the episodes of the podcast here and have a look at our blog which will give you extra tips and tricks.

Made in affiliation with Birmingham Graduate School.

I want to leave academia... but where should I go?

In the episode I made about leaving academia there was lots of useful advice about moving away from academia, however, I just wanted to spend a little bit of time helping people who know they want to leave, but aren't really sure where they want to go. Knowing that academia isn't for you is one thing, but knowing what is, is something else entirely.

I faced the same problem not so long back, where, after a period angst and unhappiness, I had realised that my dream of being an academic was not for me. It was not without an ounce of regret that I realised this, but I realised I had to start planning for alternatives.

So what was I to do? I had amassed a great variety of useful skills during my PhD, such as: waiting for meetings that never happened, poking bees to check if they're alive or not, dropping lights on my head, moving heavy scientific equipment around etc. etc. etc. But where was I going to apply those highly sought after skills? The advice I found myself taking, and I recommend to you, is to try new things.

Sounds simple, may even sound obvious, but honestly if you're struggling to think about where you want to go next then this is the most practical advice I can give you. 

In my case, after my dreams of winning the Nobel Prize had been dashed, I took up some hobbies. I tried drawing, writing, making cards, all sorts of things, until I accidentally found something that I enjoyed and I thought I might be able to make a career out of. I found that I loved talking about science. It made sense, the reason I had gone so far down the academic track was for a love of the field. So now I find myself making science programs and other media content in my spare time, after a variety of half-pursued hobbies.

Certainly, what I decided on for my future career was perfectly practical to do in my spare time, but you may be wondering how you may try jobs whilst you're doing your PhD? Well I think that the PhD represents a chance to try all sorts of things. I know, it's very time-consuming and it's your number 1 priority (as it should be), but it does represent a unusual time in your life where you are flexible and can try all sorts of things. You may be able to do a project, or start a collaboration, with industry. You may be able to do some outreach (after all, this is often written into grant proposals these days). You may be able to get involved in policy. You could start a collaboration with another discipline.

There are a number of things you can do as part of, or whilst you do your PhD that can give you insights into what other careers are. Even if you can't fit things as part of your PhD, you can arrange to give yourself some time to explore other things. Most careers these days will involve something that you can probably try for yourself in your spare time. Volunteer somewhere, take an internship, research what a career involves and try doing it yourself.

The trick is to not worry about not spending time on your PhD... easy right? I'm fully aware of the guilt that comes with other activities. But try to, instead of thinking of it as time spent away from your PhD, think of it as gaining the skills necessary for your future career. Your PhD is a couple of years, your future career may span the rest of your life. Don't be afraid to switch from one thing to another, this is all about trying to find something you enjoy, more than that it's trying to rationally establish the skillset required for a fulfilling career. That goes for jobs after the PhD too, you may not find the 'right' job straight away, but it's all part of your career journey and can help guide you to something that you really want to do.

So go out there, and try something new.


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