Finding My Community; Discovering My Future 

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

Finding My Community; Discovering My Future 

Dr. Sarah Cook, Postdoc Scholar

 

Two years ago I was going through a bit of a rough spot. Over 2.5 years into a postdoc with no first-author papers, working long weekday hours and weekends, I felt physically and mentally exhausted. My career plan of staying in academia and being a PI was slowly eroding away. 

It’s in this state that I attended a career fair that was organized by the Postdoctoral Scholar Association. A speaker gushed about a professional development training program she had been a part of here at UC Davis, called FUTURE. “It showed me options outside academiaI managed to increase my networkI had the confidence to apply to alternative jobs.” I was sold, as I really needed to assess my options! 

I was accepted into the program, a 10-week course, 2.5 hours per week, starting the next Spring. In that first session, a question was asked: “How do you feel about your future?” That was when the stories started: 

“I have no work-life balance!” 

“I want to start a family but can’t afford it!” 

“I feel physical and mentally drained!” 

“I need to start earning enough money to support myself and my family!” 

I had never been in a situation where complete strangers had encapsulated everything I was thinking, so succinctly. Relief swept over me – I’m not the only one!  

And so the program coordinators got to work. Each week was based around a different topic: negotiating, networking, interview skills, the benefits of social media and LinkedIn, informational interviews, and resume building, to name a few. They talked one-on-one with us about our career goals, and put us in contact with their network of Ph.D. professionals so we could learn from their experience in different sectors 

With each session, my confidence in myself, my skills, and my long-term future grew. 

Beyond the end of the workshop series, the program resources and community of researchers have remained available to me. Since then, I have had a one-to-one resume review, taken professional photographs, and been matched with a mentor. It is because of this persistent support that I have shouted from the rooftops to any Postdoc and Grad Student that will listen that they should apply to the FUTURE program. The support, information, and skills they provide, for free, is incredible. 

At a minimum, look at the supports your university offers, and find yourself a community of people who are doing the same career exploration work, or who have done it already. You are not alone, and there are tools and techniques to make the work easier…. Or at least more effective. 

So where am I now? Well, I don’t want my opening paragraph to be reflective of my entire postdoc experience. It’s 2 years since I completed FUTURE and I’m still in the same Postdoc, still with no first-author publications. However, I love my supervisor and my lab, and my project is soon to be written up. I decided I needed to reduce my work hours, for both my physical and mental wellbeing and my productivity has not been affected.  

After going over my resume during the FUTURE program, I have found the skills that were lacking and have tackled them head-onIn the past 18 months, I have established a monthly newsletter for my department and applied to multiple jobs both inside and outside academia with a resume I am incredibly proud of 

My social media presence has also grown, and I feel confident to use it as a networking tool. Before becoming a FUTURE member, I would never have had the confidence to put myself “out there” the way I have, including writing this blog post!  

I have gained a mentor through FUTURE, who contacts me at least once a month to give me help and advice during my ongoing job hunt. And although I have had no luck on the job market yet, I am confident in the knowledge that I have the training and skills necessary to succeed when my time comes. I will keep recommending FUTURE and other career exploration programs to Postdocs and Grad students, and I cannot wait to be a partner for the program once my time as a Postdoc comes to an end. 

 

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