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THE BLACK HOLE

A new way to help you choose your science-related career

By DAVID KENT | SEP 18 2012

A few weeks back, the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars circulated a newly released online tool from the AAAS called my Individual Development Plan (or myIDP). I’ve finally had a chance to sit down and browse through it (and do the self-assessments) and I would highly recommend PhDs and postdocs to take a look as well. It doesn’t take long to set up and fill out and, if nothing else, it will make you think about what you actually want to do for a career.

It is divided into three self-assessments:

  1. Scientific Skills: identification of “the scientific skills and knowledge areas in which you are proficient”
  2. Interests: defining the “scientific tasks that you enjoy doing”
  3. Values: helping you figure out “What is most important to me? What rewards or outcomes do I want from my work?”

Basically, you go through a quick series of rankings (you have to keep the range broad or it doesn’t work!) in each area and it spits out your best career matches based on your skills and interests. It is a welcome sight to see that they’ve collated 60+ careers that you could do as a trained scientist – food for thought!

For those that are curious, it told me that I shouldn’t be a tenure-track professor, but rather I should look at options in science policy, science writing and public health. While it hasn’t pushed me from the tenure-track quest just yet, it is interesting to consider such options and I’d be interested to know if others find it a useful/accurate tool.

Overall, this type of tool underscores a very real need for PhDs and postdocs to take an active role in their own career planning. Do not wait for someone to tell you to move into another career and do not be brainwashed into thinking that academia is the only option. If you want academia, you should be actively choosing it, not passively accepting it as the only credible option. Thinking about other possibilities will only help affirm your decision and get you more motivated to dig deep for the uphill struggle.

It is not the only tool available of course and the Science Careers site is a fantastic place to start. In particular, take a look at the Tools & Tips page where there are excellent resources to help guide you through the process. Also, remember to take a look through our series from two summers ago called “So you want to be…” which gives some advice on how to first start looking for non-academic career options.

For those who want to stay in the academy, the Individual Development Plan is still useful – it will help you identify which skills you need to get the professor job and hopefully it will also motivate you to organize a step-by-step plan to get there. Of course, you’ll need to pop out a few publications on the way, but remember that the research itself is only one component of the battle (albeit the most important one!).

While science training programs try to reach the appropriate levels of career guidance, I cannot stress how important it is for PhDs and postdocs to make this sort of self-assessment – is academia the only thing you could see yourself happily doing? If not, you really owe it to yourself to get out there and explore.

ABOUT DAVID KENT
David Kent
David Kent is a group leader at the University of Cambridge in the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute. His laboratory's research focuses on fate choice in single blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. David is currently the Stem Cell Institute’s Public Engagement Champion and has a long history of public engagement and outreach including the creation of The Black Hole in 2009.
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  1. Dawn / September 18, 2012 at 18:10

    Hi Dave,
    I also tried the resources on ‘my Individual Development Plan’ and like you, found it helpful and informative. Since it is a self-assessment tool, I found that it was biased by my own personal experiences to this point, and so thought the data was skewed a bit too heavily towards the job I’m enjoying now. Likely a problem with my own assessment rather than with the tool itself.
    Overall though, a worthwhile exercise!

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