Where do people get career inspiration?

Sometimes in my conversations with researchers, we get to a point where it turns out that the researcher, expert in their own field, needs a hand with figuring out what other careers there actually are in the world.  Here are some ways that I think you can find inspiration:

1) Talk to family and friends

Friends of mine, at Christmas, spend five minutes or so asking their family members what they actually do in their daily working lives.  (It reminds me that I’ve never really known what my own family does, beyond my teacher parents!).  You can extend that conversation by asking who their colleagues are and what those people’s job roles are.  Ask what they like about it, what makes them feel good, what they would change.

2) Read job adverts

Adverts are a great source of information.  Not only do they tell you about the specific job on offer, but they give you job titles (that you can then search for in different organisations); they give you salaries and benefits (always handy to know); they give you organisation names (that you can then search for vacancies other than the one on offer).  People in the careers business call this ‘Labour Market Information’; you could call it inspiration.

3) Listen to other people’s stories

If you don’t think your own family and friends have provided enough inspiration, take a look at www.icould.com and specifically these videos, based on the stories of PhDs and post-docs.  You might not like the editorial style (it’s a bit jumpy for me) but I like to hear about what people’s jobs actually involve and how they got into them.  Again, these people don’t necessarily have the same backgrounds and experiences as you, but they show what it is possible to achieve and what factors influence decision-making.

4)  Be curious

It’s becoming a dreadful habit for me, but whenever I see something interesting (a poster, a beautiful fabric, an exhibition), I start to think through all the different roles involved in getting that ‘thing’ produced.  Designers; people that commission design; people that research markets or exhibitions or pricing or packaging; manufacturers that create things and their marketing teams that get the thing in front of the public; journalists and PR teams that make sure the public knows about the thing; transport planners and logistics managers that allow the public to get in front of the thing; software designers that ensure the public can tell their friends about the thing.  And on it goes.  Where in the chain of that process can you see yourself?  What do you find yourself being curious about?

5) Decide which bit of what you know about already you want to stick with

So, you’re a researcher, in a university.  If you wanted to (and if there were the right job available), you could stay in the university as a lecturer or other researcher.  Or, you could think about the university as an environment in which to work – ie what other sorts of jobs are available in them?  You’d be surprised how many PhDs and ECRs work in universities in administrative capacities.  Or look at those organisations intimately connected with the university, such as grant-giving bodies (or REF co-ordinators?).

Rather than focusing on the environment, you could focus on your knowledge.  Who else is interested in your knowledge?  Is there an associated charity, think tank, industry research organisation, museum or learned society that would like to use it?  Or is time to transmit that knowledge to others by teaching?

Rather than focusing on your knowledge, focus on your research skill.  Where else can you turn this skill to good use?  Think tanks, policy organisations, market research, industry research, government or journalism might all use research in one form or another.

Rather than any of these reasonably well-known (to you) factors, think totally out of the box.  Use www.prospects.ac.uk to find out information about other jobs (use the ‘Related Jobs’ link to help you diversify from one job title you might have thought about); or use industry tags such as ‘policy’ at www.careerstagged.co.uk.  Or, work for yourself – search this blog using the Entrepreneurship tag for help.

(With thanks to Tracy Bussoli for the logic behind this suggestion!)

I bet there are more ways to be inspired: what can you come up with?

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