I have a dog and he has a few less than desirable traits, barking at other dogs and generally making a complete show of me are the highlights. We go to ‘Naughty Dog School’ (not its real name) to try and help him and, let’s face it, me, to resolve his problems. The other week I took the pooch off for a walk with Rachel, one of the trainers, and she and I got to talking about her route into dog training. She told me that after she rescued her ‘Naughty Dog’, she sought help with its behavioural issues, attended the training sessions and it turned out she was quite good at it. Her trainer, obviously identifying her ability, suggested that she start to assist him during his classes. She loved training the dogs so much more than the job she had taken after leaving college and now, after putting in some hard work and long hours, she does it full time. She gets to work with animals, work outside and be her own boss – it ticks all the boxes in her dream career and she’s never been happier.

I'm not naughty...honest!

I’m not naughty…honest!

So why am I telling you all about my dog walking conversation? Well, it reminded me of some of the stories I heard at the recent Careers Expo on Third Sector Careers which was hosted by Think Ahead and the University Careers Service. The speakers, working in not-for-profits and charities, were there to share their knowledge and experience with researchers contemplating careers outside of academia and, in particular, how their PhD and Post-Doctoral experiences helped them get where they are today. Alongside the discussion about the transferable skills researchers develop when undertaking a PhD or a Post-Doctoral position and how these skills are desirable to employers, a number of them spoke about being fortunate enough to have developed a career that they are passionate about thanks to their networks.

Having a passion and developing a career around it is all well and good, but how do you identify your passion in the first place? Many of the speakers suggested undertaking voluntary work, not an option for everyone I know, but it certainly assists in getting a variety of experiences. Others explained that they took advantage of lots of differing development opportunities while they were in academia; speaking at conferences, outreach work, teaching, professional development workshops and collaborating with colleagues in different disciplines. Many of these experiences were initially outside of their comfort zones but, with a bit of reflection, they helped them to identify what they really enjoyed doing; what they were passionate about. They then looked for career opportunities which utilised these skills; often being approached about their next position through their existing contacts which they had developed by undertaking these opportunities in the first place.

All the speakers generously sharing their career journeys had a common theme; they took every opportunity to develop their networks and, in turn, their networks developed opportunities for them. The speakers at the Careers Expo all worked in areas outside of academia, but the principles can be applied to academic careers (I’m sure we all know of at least one person whose skills we have recommended to another) or starting your own business.

I suppose what I’m trying to get across is that you never know where your next opportunity will come from; it may be that conversation you strike up on your morning commute or reconnecting with an old colleague, but don’t be afraid of a change in direction if an opportunity arises; you too could be like Rachel and living your dream on a daily basis.