Developing my portfolio career

Ian StreetIan Street is a postdoc at Dartmouth College working on how plant hormones affect plant development.

He is the writer of The Quiet Branches plant science blog and is looking towards a career in science writing or editing.

In his time away from the lab bench and writing, he’s a runner and cat owner.

Ian tweets from @IHStreet.


Photo by Ian Street

Photo by Ian Street

First, let me state my situation and some of the things I am assuming as I develop my career:

  1. Most postdocs do not go on to jobs as Primary Investigators (PIs).
  2. The longer you’re a postdoc, the less likely #1 becomes.
  3. Major depression ground me down mid-postdoc. Having a lot of support and writing has helped me recover some momentum.
  4. Deciding to leave academia is not easy. Introspection and experimentation are required.
  5. To find a job/ career outside academia, network, yes, but it is also important to gain experience in fields of interest if possible.
  6. The Internet is the key to my efforts from the small-town college where I’m a postdoc.

The career I’ve settled upon to pursue beyond academia is perhaps obvious: it is the world of science writing and editing.

Addressing Doubts

It seems obvious. Too obvious, for a few reasons.

This is the “Who are you to break out into a new field?” anxiety narrative I have in my brain:

It’s writing and editing. Who can’t do that, and do both well, in academia? Besides, the written word is apparently dying because pictures and video are more important/ compelling in the digital age. Writing is more than putting words on a page, of course. Getting things out of a brain in a coherent form (it’s always perfect in my mind, why can’t that just pop out on the page?!), letting an editor’s brains see it, review it, suggest changes, or say “no” (it’s almost always a “no”) is daunting. Then there’s the exposing of your ideas to a wider audience – this might be exciting, but it is also fraught with fear of rejection.

The path of a career transition is far from certain. Read more of this post

Staying on the radar

I unearthed this fragment of a post the other weekend. I started writing it in 2012, when I was about two years into a professional role at a university as a research grant developer. I had had about ten years of researcher life before that, with back-to-back research-only fellowships. My feelings about leaving my researcher self behind were mixed, to say the least.

Now, I’m about two years back into an academic job after leaving that professional role. And I have things to say to my 2012 self. 

Hopefully, this dialogue with the self is useful for those of you with ‘portfolio careers’ and seemingly zig-zagging career paths. It may never seem like the right way to do things, but  it helps to know that there isn’t a right way to do things.


Me, writing in 2012 while in a professional role: 

What’s the shelf-life of academic expertise?

This is an issue that’s haunted me ever since I started working on the ‘other side of the fence’ in my current professional research development role. I was used to being easily identified as ‘academic’ for many years, and it was the angst of having to explain being a research fellow position that occupied my time. Common things I’d have to say: “No, I don’t teach”, “no, I’m not supposed to teach”, “yes, I’m 100% research”, “yes, that means I don’t teach”.

Now, as a research grant developer, I’m in a role where I’m constantly advising researchers on what’s good practice and savvy research strategy. I can’t help but view my on-the-ground experience as a researcher for over a decade as a core part of the value I bring to my job. Similarly, if I’m not publishing, presenting at conferences, or debating critical issues with peers, am I a lesser occupant of this role?

For example, if I was awarded (and completed) a shiny competitive grant, does my experience in putting that application together count, more than five years later? If I haven’t published in an academic journal for over ten years, do I have credibility advising researchers on how to strategise submissions and papers, or negotiate editorial processes?

I’ve kept a part-time hand in with running the research network but, other than that, haven’t given an academic conference paper or written an academic article for about two years.

It feels strange. Read more of this post

What does it take to move from precarity to security?

dani-barrington

Dr Dani Barrington is a Research Fellow jointly appointed by Monash University and the International WaterCentre, and an Honorary Fellow at The University of Queensland.

Her work focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) in developing communities, meaning she is often referred to as ‘The Toilet Lady’ by strangers and ‘Sani Dani’ by at least one of her friends.

She tweets at @Dani_Barrington.


Photo by Oanh Tran

Photo by Oanh Tran

A lot of my friends and family are appalled that my contract ends in a few weeks and won’t be renewed.

But it makes complete sense to me. The university never had money to pay me in the first place.

For the past three years, I have been a research-only academic. This means that my salary has been funded from a government grant that my team and I won almost four years ago.

We have been working with informal settlements and enabling actors in the South Pacific to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene according to the priorities of communities themselves. It has seen me spend a large proportion of my time overseas conducting fieldwork.

But when that grant runs out, so does my current job. Read more of this post

Why the hell am I doing a PhD?

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No entry, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Did I mention that I’ve enrolled in a Masters by Research, looking at crowdfunding? No? It must’ve slipped my mind.

Actually, I’m a bit shy about talking about it. I don’t want to jinx it.

I want to upgrade to a PhD, if all goes well. But I’m scared it won’t go well. All my hopes and fears sit within it. I want it to go well, and I believe that I can do it, but I’m still scared.

I’m scared for a lot of reasons. I watched my partner take five years to do her PhD. Five years! She spent a whole year on one chapter. It almost broke her. A lot of my friends have done PhDs and only one of them had a good time. Everybody else hated it, and some of them never finished. So, I swore that I’d never do one.

From past experience, I know that I am, at best, an average student. I love the idea of studying; I just don’t like doing the work. It took me five years to struggle through my undergraduate degree. Too much time playing, not enough time studying! Having no clue why I was there didn’t help either!

My previous efforts to get a PhD didn’t get past the ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I had a PhD?’ burst of enthusiasm.

Oh yes, I’ve been down this road before. More than once, actually. I work in a university. I work with researchers every single day. There seemed to be a million reasons why I should do a PhD.

Nowadays, not so much. There seem to be a million reasons not to do a PhD. Read more of this post

On leaving home and growing up

caitlinnunn-smDr Caitlin Nunn is a researcher in refugee studies. Her work focuses on refugee settlement, including in relation to youth; identity and belonging; cultural production and media representation; and generational change and intergenerational relations. Much of her research is participatory and arts-based.

Caitlin is currently an International Junior Research Fellow in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University.

Her fellowship project uses a participatory arts-based approach to explore experiences of local belonging among young forced migrants in North East England and Central Victoria, Australia. 


Photo by Deniz Altindas | unsplash.com

Photo by Deniz Altindas | unsplash.com

I won’t pretend it was what I planned.

It’s hard to ‘plan’ anything as a precariously-employed early career researcher, but I was looking for a position closer to home.

Like the university fifteen minutes from my house.

Nor will I pretend it was easy.

Moving across the world with a partner and toddler in tow to establish oneself in a new university, city, and country certainly has its challenges.

But here I am in the UK on a two-year research fellowship.

I will spend this time conducting an ambitious research project, chipping away at my ‘guilt’ folder of works-in-progress, and preparing to pursue my next, yet-to-be-imagined, academic adventure.

Most days, when I enter my office, it is as though I haven’t travelled at all. The globalised nature of academia means that everything is pretty much the same. The same email program and library search engine. The same bibliographic and data analysis software. And the deeply familiar bureaucracy.

Beyond this, however, something has changed: how I relate to colleagues, potential project partners, my work, and my academic identity. Read more of this post

Choosing academia

corrie-williams-smallCorrie Williams is a doctoral candidate in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University, Gold Coast (Qld).

Prior to this, she worked in the justice system as a frontline case manager.

Her research interests include the developmental antecedents of offending and individual and community level social support in the prevention of offending.

Corrie completed an undergraduate degree in psychology in 2006, and a Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice in 2014.


My attention has been recently drawn to academic quit lit.

I was not aware that it was such a prolific practice that it carries its own moniker.

Since making the decision many years ago to commence postgraduate studies, I have been very fortunate to have some wonderful mentors who have encouraged me to use my writing and research skills to pursue a career in academia.

As I approached the end of my coursework and honours journey in 2014, I also had to make a decision of whether or not to undertake my PhD. This was a huge decision, not because it is something I did not dream, strangely enough ever since I was a little girl I was obsessed with universities. The decision was huge because it meant that I had to deprioritise my public service career.

Looking for some kind of validation that this was the right thing to do, I searched the Internet to see if I could find like-minded people.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric regarding academic careers is largely negative. Not only in the quit lit via blog posts but across social media in general.

As a particularly skilled procrastinator, I have a thriving Pinterest account full of not only craft I will never attempt let alone successfully complete, but also all kinds of funny academia related memes and Buzz Feed lists. It was a combination of these lighthearted tools of procrastination and the comments (like this one) that almost made me want to quit before I started.

Read more of this post

When you can’t always get what you need

mayngoMay Ngo is a recent PhD graduate in Anthropology from the Swinburne Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology.

Her thesis examined the role of religion in humanitarianism within the context of irregular migration in Morocco. Her research interests include religion, migration, development, theology, and fiction.

She is also developing her father’s memoirs of his time with the Vietnamese communist army as a collection of short stories.

May has a blog at The Violent Bear it Away, and tweets at @mayngo2.


This is a post in response to two blog posts on post-PhD graduate careers (How to construct a DIY scholarly career and 21st Century Scholar) that reflect a growing trend of what each post has termed a ‘DIY scholarly career’ and an ‘entrepreneurial 21st century scholar’, respectively.

Photo by Sebastian Boguszewicz | unsplash.com

Photo by Sebastian Boguszewicz | unsplash.com

In response to the increasing casualisation and scarcity of academic jobs, and instead of just waiting around to get an academic position post-PhD, these posts exhort graduates to make themselves more competitive by engaging in various academic activities (research, attending conferences, networking) without the support of a university position.

This would run parallel with what they are already doing job-wise, supposedly. Inevitably, all of this is self-funded, and includes an investment of time and energy outside of one’s regular job.

I found it interesting that both bloggers who advocate this have been able to get work in universities, in non-academic jobs. This implies a minimum level of working conditions and job security.

I work in a casualised, low pay, no-paid-holidays job. I do this out of necessity. I come home physically tired, cranky and, most of the time, not in a capacity to think – let alone write – academically.

What I push myself to do in terms of trying to get a foot in the door of academia are postdoc applications, which always involve writing well-thought out and well-written research proposals that take a lot of time and energy.

Apparently, this is not enough. Imagine my jaw dropping when I read one of the blog posts advocating that research could be done during lunch-breaks, at night, and on weekends. And, furthermore, that the research trips and conferences she attended were self-funded and used annual leave from her job. I thought, “This is a particular world where there are paid holidays and job security, but it’s not currently mine”.

Read more of this post

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