Academic stories: many versions on a theme. Which story will be yours?

From the outside, looking at the profiles of academics on webpages, it can be difficult to picture the complexities of paths that have led individuals to specialised in very focus areas, to move here or there, to apply for this grant or that fellowship. From the outside, the careers of academics often look squeaky clean and polished. We may perceive others’ careers as incredibly strategic and straightforward. It is rarely the case.IMG_20190313_174834355

Academic careers like any others are messy and complex, made of good and not so good choices, of successes and mistakes, of luck and lack of. I think it is incredibly hard to look at other people’s careers and try to not compare ourselves in the view of others’ successes. Comparison can be a killer for enthusiasm and motivation. If you are a master at sapping your motivation through comparison, you may want to have a look at some suggestions to lose the habit.

I led the development of a project called “Academic stories”, inspired by a number of other initiatives (1, 2). The intentions for this project were diverse:

  • Contribute to showcasing the diversity of individuals undertaking academic careers in my Faculty
  • Illustrate the complexities of choices when navigating academic careers
  • Exemplify that timelines, achievements and choices in academic careers cannot be compared; we each have our own timeline, and we have to own it with pride with our own achievements, away from comparisons

The 12 academics who dared to be interviewed for this project and showed great generosity in sharing their personal experiences of the journey, had many great insights to share with us.Academic stories

IMG_20190305_170638610I have been working for more than 10 year with researchers providing many professional development initiatives and running many workshops. When suggestions are made about how to make the most of research periods or how to be strategic, as an early career researchers, researchers can sometimes feel a little bit overwhelmed in figuring out how to negotiate their own research career. I think there is a great deal of comfort in hearing the stories of others and seeing how they have approached their own paths. I hope that you use these 12 stories to inspire you to consider that your own journey is unique whatever path may come.

Own it. Cherish it.

Here are a few quotes from our interviews:

I want to recreate the atmosphere that nurtured me at the beginning of my scientific career and I want to give that back to the scientific community.

 The key step in academia is to choose a place where the environment is supportive, where you can actually talk to people and exchange ideas.

 There are challenges at every stage [of an academic career path]. Find an environment that supports you and find people who you can ask questions and who will support you through that transition.

 I think my career will show people that you don’t have to follow the traditional routes, you don’t have to get the traditional qualifications… Don’t ever be put off, follow your heart and I really do think you’ll make a good career of whatever pathway you choose.

 Even if you’re having a tough time, there is bound to be something you can learn from that and bring it forward to a place where you’re really doing your best work and enjoying it

 Ask for advice, follow it, but also trust yourself and know what you want.

 Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and even to fail because you’ll learn important lessons from that and it will help you in the future.

 I thoroughly recommend networking… I think it keeps you fresh, you get feedback from your colleagues… and you keep your finger on the pulse of what’s really trendy and emerging in your field of research.

 If you’ve got something that’s scary and you’re not really sure whether you have the confidence… just do it because you never know what the outcome will be.

 Even if you don’t feel confident, you really have to take it on the chin and apply for as many places as you can… you just have to carry on going and hope for the best and, as long as you get the one positive outcome, that’s all that matters.

 Have courage, get the confidence to talk to your PI about applying for a fellowship and work out where the lines are and where your research – where your autonomy – will begin.

 If a career in academia is really what you want then persevere and you’ll get there.


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