On finding where I want to take my career

As I wrote earlier this month, one of my goals this year is "to figure out my career path". Writing it down I already realize it sounds like an overambitious and kind of ridiculous goal, but let me explain what I mean:

In academia, my career path felt a bit like this

narrow path

A narrow and steep path with very few places to choose to go into a different direction. In addition, notice that it is not even entirely possible to see the end, but I just kept climbing and climbing.

After switching to a company, my options feel like this:


It feels like I can go anywhere: I can stay a scientist and stay within my discipline, or I can try other things. It is encouraged to switch positions every 3-5 years, especially for those wanting to go in a more management-type of position. And ideally, one would choose tasks within your job and a next position with some type of long-term goal on the horizon that you work towards. This year, I need to define that for myself, also because I feel that that is something that motivates me.

But how do you define where you want to go? Am I ready to not be a neuroscientist anymore, because I feel that that has defined me for a large part for the last ten years. Am I ready to take on a job that requires more travel for example? I will discuss this with my manager and perhaps with HR, but any other tips into finding where you want to go with your career? Or should I not make such a big deal out of it and just see what comes on my path?

4 responses so far

  • David says:

    Regarding a management job, I suggest talking to current managers both inside and outside your company. Where I work, managers are essentially just paper pushers, while where a friend works, the mangers set the mid and long term research goals of the organization. While I have no interest in being a manager where I work, my friend has already started to become one.

    I talked to a 50+ year old manager at a third company. He became a manager because he already had his name on enough papers and he was ready to support and guide the next generation. If that is one of the aspects of a professorship that interested you, then management might be an outlet for that.

    You could also ask whether front-line managers in your company still have time to do some of the things you currently do and enjoy. You might not be doing bench work anymore, but might be able to analyze the data (I think this is rare, but not impossible to find).

    • babyattachmode says:

      Thanks for the suggestion! Last year I talked to a whole bunch of people in my company that are a level above me, either in management or more senior scientists but I hadn't really thought about comparing similar positions at different companies.

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