Monday, 6 October 2014

55 applications later...

After countless alterations to my CV and a shameless outpouring of enthusiasm into numerous cover letters, I am finally about to start the next step of my career.

In my search for the perfect career move I sent out 55 applications in total. Many of these were actually for industry positions that I thought, "well I can do that, it would be ok and is kind of my skill set", and so I was not too surprised when I didn't get the job. But I was always optimistic and therefore always disappointed. I really wanted that perfect research position of five years to really develop a new idea that I was totally specialised for. But yeah, that doesn't actually happen.

In the meantime I began volunteering at a University. They were more than happy to have me work for free, which was very kind of them. In this time I did manage to get a couple small grants to help with the work and also to send me to talk at a conference. I did gain some great experience and some very helpful contacts. However, I learnt during this time that not having a stable, secure job is not something I would particularly recommend.

Out of all my 55 applications, I was invited six times for interviews. Three of which, much like the proverbial buses, came along at the same time. In the end I was in the most fortunate position of having a choice of where to go next and actually went to my final interview with an offer already in my pocket. I had been offered a position in industry (still in R&D), which was with a very exciting company and perfect for my expertise. My final interview was at a University and for a one year postdoc position. The research ideas were fantastic, the facilities amazing but the prospects and possibilities for the future were just that, prospects and possibilities.

After moving country a year ago and previously moving nine times in my eight years at University, I was ready to stay put for a change. I would love to continue research in a University atmosphere but not in the way that the traditional career path dictates or how the funding situation obliges people to continually move on after short projects. Therefore I said thank you very much, but no thank you to the academic path and willingly moved into industry.

I had already thought for a while that the long term academic plan was not what I wanted. I love research, I love exploring new ideas, discovering new things. But there are other options than the academic track. I like writing (obviously) and so publishing, editing and science communication is still something for future Tom to consider. But right now I still want to be part the doing science community not just the reporting about it part. So industry it is.

My final thoughts on the matter are on the similar difficulties facing other freshly graduated PhDs. In Holland, where I'm based, the funding situation in universities is not in good shape and industries are not doing much better either. I do feel that if I was able (and willing) to travel anywhere in the world, then I would have been much more likely to land something close to my dream job much more quickly. But the restrictions that come with staying put make things more difficult.

If you (like me) are intent on not moving then you better keep writing those applications and in the meantime improvise with what you do have, volunteer and ask for help. This last point being the most important. I wouldn't have got this far without a lot of support from friends and old colleagues.

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