Planning your next career move

Dr. Eva Alisic is a psychologist and research fellow at Monash University, where she focuses on children’s recovery from traumatic events. 

Eva grew up and studied in the Netherlands, while spending some time in France, Switzerland and the US.

She edits the Trauma Recovery blog, which has weekly updates regarding traumatic exposure and recovery in children, adolescents, and their families. It includes news, practical tools and key insights from research findings. 

An engaging colleague and a scholar with great initiative, Eva is also a regular at our Friday #shutupandwrite sessions at RMIT. She is on Twitter as @EvaAlisic.

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First, decide what you would really like to do. Then, find out how you can make it work.

Sounds obvious, right? Often, it’s not.

Many people start by thinking about the constraints and try to design their future within those boundaries. Many ‘yes, buts’ show up quickly after a great, bold idea surfaces and make the enthusiasm disappear even more quickly. Sometimes, there is simply a lack of thinking about what it is that really makes you tick. You just continue on the path that you appear to be on.

I hope to activate you, to make you combine dreaming and doing.

This post was initially meant to be about doing a postdoc abroad. I was planning to tell you about the pros and cons, and give you some hope by showing how far I got with the few contacts I started with. Then I considered a post on ‘Paper in a Day’, a process that I’m developing to stimulate connections and collaborations among early career researchers. Both may eventually be written, but each time they got me thinking about the ‘yes, buts’ that I had encountered.

Yes, I am absolutely aware of constraints and limitations. And I think there is often a way around them. There are many opportunities if you dare to believe and act.

Sometimes the ‘yes, buts’ allow people not to take action and stay where they are. If the plan under consideration wasn’t what you really wanted to do, that’s fair enough. But if it is a great, bold, exciting idea, you shouldn’t let the ‘yes, buts’ guide you. Focus on what you want to do.

Your idea could be anything:

  • Going to the French alps for a postdoc because you’ve always dreamt of learning new (language) skills while spending your December weekends on ski slopes.
  • Setting up an ambitious international collaboration and getting your group’s research more aligned.
  • Taking care of the kids as a full-time dad.
  • Translating your research into a practical program that improves the situation of homeless people in Victoria.

Maybe you already know what your goal is. You may also need some more time. That’s all right, as long as you are actively working on it.

A helpful question is: What would you do if you could not fail?

A measure that I often use is: If died tomorrow, would I look back on what I’ve done with the time and resources I had in my life and be happy with it? I also often ask myself what I would like to learn in the next few years.

When you have decided on what you would really like to do, only then is it the right time to figure out how you can make it work.

In my view, getting to the goal is an incremental process. Often, there are no direct routes, but you can set small steps that move you in the right direction. The following story is a good example:

A young student advisor heard that the position of the head of student services would become vacant. That position was her ultimate goal: she would be able to shape the services and guide them in a new, exciting direction that she thought would be helpful to students. She decided to apply. Her colleagues and some friends thought it was a useless exercise; she was never going to get it. She also knew that she was too young to get the job now. Why apply for it then, while being certain of failure? She wanted to make clear to the senior managers that this was the direction that she wanted to go, to show what her ambition was.

Even though it wouldn’t get her to her dream immediately, the application would make her more focused, and management would now be aware of her goal. They might even decide to help her get into a personal development program, or she could learn that they didn’t support it, and would have time to explore other universities.

The beautiful ending of this story is that she got the job: management wanted someone who was really motivated.

I could tell you many more examples, my own included, where success comes from first allowing yourself to dream, then to act on it (and to be open-minded when unexpected opportunities present themselves!). The junior student advisor attained her goal much quicker than anticipated, but she would have made it there as well if she wasn’t successful with that particular application. I am not sure she would if she had listened to her colleagues and their ‘yes, buts’.

So I’d like to ask you: What would you really like to do? And what’s the first step to get there?

As a bonus, have a look at this 1½ minute video on failure and success, and decide how seriously you want to take the ‘yes, buts’ (or even the straight no’s).

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4 Responses to Planning your next career move

  1. Dale Reardon says:

    Great article. I definitely have a philosophy of “if you never try you’ll never know” and never giving up.

    Dale.
    Twitter: @DaleReardon

  2. Lozzz123 says:

    I actually really want to do a postdoc in the UK (finishing my PhD in Australia), so I’d also be interested in a post on doing a postdoc abroad. There are a lot of times right now where the ‘yes, buts’ keep coming up – such as I don’t really have any contacts in the UK and that I also really want to change direction a bit with my research focus (so I wouldn’t have any experience for the jobs I’d want to do). It’s pretty scary but I’m not giving up yet. Thanks for this post, I found it quite encouraging :)

  3. Pingback: Links – fun, funding, and frustration « ivry twr

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