Posted by: jleventon | July 25, 2011

A Bit of Self-Definition

I am surprised by the extent to which my current post-PhD job search is causing self reflection and critique.  During my PhD I did a fair amount of career planning, including skills training, aptitude tests, research on working environments and career trajectories, etc.  But its one thing to plan a career theoretically, and quite another thing to actually apply for jobs.  Its possible to have a career trajectory in mind, to know the steps for getting there and to be trained in skills for the job and skills for getting the job… but then you actually have to find and apply for an isolated position that forms a single part of that career trajectory.  It is down to the individual to figure out how this fixed term position or grant fits into their wider goals.  Which means that for me, moving from the theoretical to the real-world in my job search has meant thinking very carefully about how I fit into a given role, and how that role fits with me.

I theoretically planned that I would look anywhere in the world for work; but I have learned that I need to feel a little bit more settled in my location (at least for the moment).  I have spent the last few years moving around and dealing with the associated upheaval to both work and personal life. As a result I am not really tied to anywhere as I have not had the chance to put down deep roots.  My nomadic lifestyle has many positive points, not least that I like to travel, I have learned to adapt quickly and I have a range of contacts in various countries.  However, I have run out of steam a little bit.  I would like to be able to work without first learning a whole new culture and language.  I would like to be able to keep the friends I already have, and I am certainly not willing to go back to a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend!   So instead of taking an ‘anywhere in the world’ approach, I am taking the time to think about the longer term career implications of countries, and of how well I feel I can fit into the working environment and build up a life outside of work.

My theoretical career plan places my research trajectory within issues of environmental governance, particularly around explaining failures to create or act on policies; but when faced with actual job applications I have to be more specific.  Jobs usually do not only pertain to governance issues, but also to the specific environmental process (or set of processes) or to specific forms of governance system.  The types of problem that I work on now, or the governance contexts that I work within, could influence the type of researcher I am perceived as in the future, and therefore ongoing, future career opportunities.  I am therefore trying to understand how advertised jobs would fit in with my widest research goals.  Which means that I have had to think about what these are and articulate them (so much easier said than done), then I had to consider how previous work fits into this.  Now I am in a position to visualise how specific advertised jobs fit into this schema and can see for myself how they build upon the foundations I have already laid and which route they take towards my widest research goals.

Its just over a month since I finished my PhD, and in that space of time, my approach to job searching has greatly evolved into something very focussed.  In the same way that the advertising organisations have lists of essential and desirable attributes for their future employee, I now have a set of essential and desirable attributes for future employers.  I am very flexible, but I have come to learn that there are some criteria that I need to meet in order to be happy and to work (and live) well.  I realise that the choices of a recent PhD graduate in today’s economic climate are fairly limited, and that I will have to work hard to get any job.  But I think that makes it more important that I channel my energies into those positions that I actually really want, and that I will be dedicated to, rather than applying for everything indiscriminately in the hope that something sticks.  Fortunately, I am able to tide myself over while I take a bit of time to write papers and conduct my targeted job search… so I am not going hungry (yet).



  1. Would love to hear what sort of criteria you’ve come up with for future employers…?! Colleagues and I have got 5 proposals going in over next few months, quite a few of which have environmental governance type jobs in them. Should be a few coming up with new BESS and ESPA programmes incesting in a heap of projects starting this year and next if you want to be based in the UK…

  2. Very glad I am not the only one feeling this and I really do understand coming from a similar discipline

  3. Thank you for the comments!

    Mark, thank you for the heads-up… certainly a (very) desirable criteria is that the position be based in the UK or the Czech Republic. Fortunately, my personal circumstances give me two very good options with regard to location! So I am closely watching emerging positions in the UK, both via and individual institution websites, and will be looking out for how your proposals have gone.

    As I hint at in the post, my criteria are based around both professional and personal considerations. Here is a snapshot:

    Professional: Opportunities to work with other interdisciplinary people, and/or the opportunity to interact with both physical and social scientists. I would like the opportunity to pursue stakeholder engagement. I like teaching and so would ideally find a position with teaching/supervision opportunities or the chance to participate in skills training for teaching.

    Personal: Fairly easy access to nice countryside. Places to run.

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