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Whether you are planning to pursue your career in academia or are looking at other options or are still unsure, it is important to prioritise some time for self-reflection.  Some key activities can help you to determine if there is an alignment of your strengths and interests with the kinds of work you are looking for. 

Your plans may change over time and you will find this is not a linear process.  You may start to research and pursue a particular path and find you need to return to consider further your skills and strengths to properly interrogate if it is a path that works for you or if it has opportunities where and when you need them.  




Four ways to figure out what career might suit you

You are suited to more careers that you think.  But it’s hard to narrow your options down when you start to look at the broad job market. One of the most effective ways to figure out suitable paths is to do some introspection and reflection as a first step.  Here are 4 different ways to get insights. Try one for starters and see what it tells you.

What choices have you made?  Map your career story
There is logic to your career story and to how you came to be a researcher at the University of Cambridge. To understand the trends and themes that have motivated your choices to date, draw a visual map of your career and at each point of change, identify what was the driving force for your decision.  Use this to reflect on the questions in this document.
How this helps: Understanding what you have being drawn to in the past, how you decided on it and what have you learned can offer valuable insights for future decisions.

What is important to you?  What do you value?
Spend a bit of time naming your priority work values and what is important for you in your work environment. This will help you to evaluate if the direction you are taking is meaningful to you. 
How this helps: Understanding your priorities offers clarity on what’s ‘nice to have’ and what’s non-negotiable in your next role.

What gives you a buzz?  - Define your strengths
Identifying your key strengths can help you decide direction. The things you are naturally good at – what are you doing when you are at your best or when you feel that time is passing quickly? What do other people say are your strengths? Use this tool to identify your strengths.
How this helps: If something gives you a buzz, it’s probably using some of your strengths. You are more likely to succeed and enjoy jobs which leverage your strengths.

What are you skilled at?  - Identify yours!
What are the skills you have developed as a researcher that differentiate you in the labour market? This may be your research specialism but will also be those professional competencies you have gained through your research - e.g. your capacity to understand; your critical decision-making; your resilience. An analysis and clear articulation of your knowledge, skills and abilities will be key to defining your match with particular roles. Your reflection on which skills you most enjoy using will also help in deciding your direction.
How this helps: Research is a complex undertaking which means you have many skills. Researchers’ skills are as broad as they are deep and are more nuanced and rarer on the job market than you might think.

Some of these tools will help you to practise being proactive about connecting your strengths, skills and priorities with the roles you are seeking and to evaluate your current pathway. Using these tools actively can help you articulate to the labour market what your offer is.

Additional resources:

Personality questionnaire - Types Dynamic Indicator - Personality profiling tool provided by Profiling for Success and accessible free to users of the Careers Service. Online questtionnaire generates a personalised report.

My IDP - Developed for STEM PhDs by Science/AAAS, provides self-assessment tools to help evaluate your skills, interests, and values, and compare these against a wide diversity of careers that value a STEM PhD.

Imagine PhD - Developed specifically for humanities and social sciences PhDs, this career exploration and planning resource provides comprehensive assessment tools to evaluate your interests, skills and values.


Exploring options and finding inspiration

Once you have started to identify a framework of what is important to you, what you are good at, what you are interested in and what skills you have to offer, you need to explore sectors, roles and organisations. This is an active research process and starting this process as soon as possible will help you to develop further your self-assessment framework as well as to begin to specify where your profile fits best.

Start to explore sectors, roles and organisations
Get ideas of which sectors to explore by looking at the Postdoc Careers Service pages on Research in Industry and Careers Beyond Research, as well as the Careers Service sector webpages to get started. At this stage, you are just generating ideas and don't have to commit just by looking! Sign up to relevant jobs boards, explore vacancies on Handshake and keep a portfolio of roles that look interesting to you. Look at the career stories of previous Cambridge postdocs to see how they navigated their time as a postdoc and onward. Over time you may see a pattern start to emerge and you will be more strategic in your browsing.

Find out what jobs are really like
Think about strategies to work out what jobs are really like. With a critical eye, you can find a lot out from organisational websites and Linked-in! Yet more can be discovered by talking to people in an organisation or in a role of interest to you. Think about your current contacts and activate your dormant networks to see if you can discover more. Find Cambridge alumni who may be working in an area or organisiation of interest and speak to them to further your research.

Additional resources:

On-demand training: "Generate Ideas and Find Opportunities for your Next Career Step"

iBiology - careers exploration resource for biologists

Imagine PhD - Developed specifically for humanities and social sciences PhDs, contains excellent information on a wide diversity of job families that value a PhD

Where Historians Work - An interactive, online database that catalogues the career outcomes of the 8,523 historians who earned PhDs at US universities.

Developing and implementing an action plan

Once you have started to specify your direction, you will come to the stage of developing and implementing an action plan. At this stage, you will be articulating your value (your skills and strengths) in the context of the labour market and matching your value to a particular sector, role, organisation. This process takes place in social or unplanned conversations, planned informational interviews, on LinkedIn, and in job applications.