It is a recognised part of a postdoc's role to develop themselves and plan their own career. To facilitate this, all researchers at Queen's are entitled 10 days per year to engage with career development activities not directly related to their project. Since Queen's is a signatory of the Researcher Development Concordat, it is even an obligation!
Postdoc and research assistant positions are almost entirely funded by research grants, and as a result are limited to a few years. These positions are meant to deliver the research of course, but also to provide the opportunity for the researcher to develop specific and transferable skills so that they can step into another stage in their career.
It is also important to recognise that career development is not limited to staff employed on fixed-term contracts. The majority of people do not stay happy when remaining in the same role or institution for too long and take on new challenges periodically in the course of their working lives.
This section includes:
- Our pledge and your role
- Career planning
- Exploring options and learning from others
- Applying for jobs
You may also be interested in:
Career progression means something different to each and everyone of us. Whatever you are looking to build technical and transferable skills whilst remaining in a similar position, apply for a more senior role, move to a different sector or take a leap outside of research, the PDC is here to support you in your journey. We have no incentives for you to remain working at Queen's or in academia; our goal is to support you with what is best for you. Developing your career takes time and effort. We are here to help but can't do it for you. We can't tell you which path to follow or take any career decision for you either; you are in the driver's seat!
Efficient career planning starts on your first day; ideally even before that!
Career planning usually involves self-reflecting on your values, what you like and need to be happy in your life, as well as your skills and experience, in order to identify potential options that would suit you. It then includes finding the requirements of positions of interest and potential gaps in skills and experience that you need to fill, before even starting applying for a role.
A postdoc is a very versatile position that allows you to take on many "side" activities to build your experience and track-record, so the sooner you know what you want and need, the better prepared you will be when the time to apply for your next job comes.
Making a career plan or Individual Development Plan (IDP) is a great place to start.
Relevant training and resources:
- Developing Your Research Career (programme of workshops)
- Lectureships: Ready, Set, Go! (planning for a lectureship post)
- myIDP (free online IDP development tool from Science Careers)
- Vitae Career Management Resources (as Queen's staff, you have access to Vitae resources for free)
- Enhance your career and employability skills (online MOOC course)
- Elsevier Researcher Academy career path resources (includes planning, guidance and job search)
Approach your career like you do your research; you wouldn't start a brand new project without searching the existing literature and hearing what experts have to say, would you?
Roles and careers are so diverse that it's impossible to get a full picture of all the positions that exist now, even less the ones that will be available in the future. A great way to identify potential career options is to see what other people in similar situations have done with their lives... And remain open to all opportunities!
Talking to people do not only provide insight into their roles but also how they got there, which can prove invaluable and demystify the process; if they did it and are happy, why not you?
- Career Exploration Interviews: these monthly 1h online interviews include two former postdocs or PhD students discussing their careers in or out of academia (succesfully run in the MHLS Faculty in 2020-21; plan to resume across Faculties in 2022)
- Postdoc Group Mentoring
- The Theory of the Postdoc Evolution: PDC Podcast featuring mainly career interviews
- "Networking for researchers" online course on Nature Masterclasses
Don't hesitate to contact people in roles you are interested in and ask them for a chat; people are usually happy to help, especially online.
You can even be creative with how you use your 10 career development days and shadow someone in their work to see what their role and company actually are like.
Once you've explored your options and know what you want, it's time to actually find opportunities and apply for them.
Each job application needs to be uniquely tailored to the role. This requires time and effort, especially at the start. After a few applications, you will get faster and be able to pick and choose parts of previous ones to build a new adapted one. Try to realy understand the profile of person the employer wants to hire and what they want to achieve to be able to present yourself as the ideal candidate. Do your homework and be concise and relevant to increase your chances!
The job market is tough and for each position, there is one successful applicant and dozens of unsuccessful ones. It's likely that you'll be one of them sometimes, however good and suited to the role you are. Understand that this is normal, try to learn from it and try again, doing your best every time. Resilience will eventually pay off, and to avoid feeling too much under pressure, take "failure" into account in your job application timeline and don't wait until the end of your contract to start applying for jobs.
Relevant training and resources:
- Developing Your Research Career (the programme of workshops includes sessions on CVs, cover letters and interviews)
- Lectureships: Ready, set, go!
- Additional CV, cover letters, interview skills, transitioning beyond academia will be explored for 2021-22
- Postdoc HelpDoc: CVs
- Finding jobs: QUB vacancies (Research jobs at Queen's, Academic positions at Queen's, KTP positions at Queen's), jobs.ac.uk, NI jobs, LinkedIn, Reed, Twitter (especially @PostDocJobsNI), Euraxess, recruitment agencies in your field and geographical area of interest, company/employer websites...
- Recruitment advice videos from Recruiter Ricky (example: Learning from rejection)
The PDC offers one-to-one meetings and personal support tailored to your own situation.
- Providing feedback on application documents you've prepared for a specific job (CV...)
- Help preparing for interview
- Mock interviews for a specific role, with a panel of postdoc volunteers
- Discussing a career decision or plan