So now, after all you had to go through during your PhD, very intensive periods of writing, emotional distress, and in my case, being far away from the loved ones and facing cultural differences, one has to face the new challenge of a post-PhD life. I prefer to call it post-PhD life instead of post-PhD career because not only professional aspects are involved in the further decisions you have to make, but also other questions start to arise, such as: Do I really want to move to that place? Can my family move with me to the new location? Do I have to learn a new language? Is it too cold/hot? In my opinion, it is a fallacy to think we can separate personal and professional life, so all aspects count equally for the decision of where we are heading in the future.
That being said, the first question that can come up is: Do I really want to keep doing this kind of job I am doing now or should I risk a career change? I had the wonderful opportunity to start a postdoc immediately after I had finished my PhD and now I will start my second postdoc in July working for a very respectable research institute. I consider myself lucky on one side, as getting a postdoc these days doesn’t seem to be straightforward, although I am also sure I have worked hard for that. Nevertheless, questions keep arising and I have found out that the best way to deal with them is to be prepared and grab the right chance at the right moment. But now you could ask me what do you need to do to be prepared for a job you wish to apply for when the right opportunity comes. In my opinion, although the publication record is one of the most relevant aspects considered in a job, more and more attention is given to what goes beyond that. I would think the most appropriate word in this situation would be DIVERSIFICATION. Together with a good publication record, which can often show how respectable as a scientist you are, other sets of skills will reveal other aspects of you that might interest your employer, such as networking, team work, international experience, public outreach, and supervision of undergraduate students. Furthermore, an extended publication record as a co-author can give an indication of widespread networking, as well as showing how much you are open to help others, either in your field or in a completely different area of research. I was quite fortunate that I got to work with many researchers and in various subjects, from meiofauna to megafauna, from abyssal plains to shelf breaks, from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere, etc. Also due to my collaborations I have learned more about completely different topics than only what my research thesis concerns.
Moreover, during my PhD I also had the chance to learn many different techniques which can be applied to various organisms, such as fatty acids, stable isotopes, barcoding, and metabarcoding. I have also been many times at sea, either for my own research or as a volunteer to help other researchers in my working group. In this sense, I must say that these experiences were fundamental to develop a broad CV, in case I decide to choose either Academia or another path in the future. Moreover, a broad CV might inform your employer in an indirect way about other characteristics which might be important to make you stand out of the crowd. For example, being able to work in a team and in an international environment are considered to be very important assets in a working group. It shows you are open to new ideas and it has even been proved scientifically that new ideas are better developed in a group environment. Guiding students and giving lectures can also be very important, as well as communicating your research to the general public. I have recently developed an animation movie together with the TED Education program about the deep sea and which creatures live down deep. I was positively surprised by the number of people interested about the deep sea, we had more than 400,000 views. Because I have strongly considered to find a job in scientific communication in the future, public outreach in my CV can be definitely a plus.
Next to the professional skills one has to develop, one aspect that I find very important and that is often neglected, especially by scientists, is the emotional intelligence part. I have seen many top researchers with splendid CVs being rejected after job interviews just because they were not able to “sell themselves” in an appealing way. How can you handle stressful situations? How far does your self-awareness go? Smart employers do not only want robot scientists, a manuscript factory. They don’t want you to have a burnout, something commonly happening nowadays among scientists. Most employees want a safe working environment, where people are productive and where their work is being valued. In my opinion, I have noticed that being aware of oneself can help in opening many doors in both professional and personal ways, as well as in maintaining a balance between work and yourself.
As an adventurer, I consider the motto “go with the flow” very appropriate in my case and my currently temporary postdoc position. I find it very important to do what I love and at the same time to develop the necessary skills to reach my goals. On top of that, doing science for me is learning new things and developing new ideas all the time. However, as fixed positions in Academia are very rare, one has to understand that temporarily working on a project will probably be what you will have to do most of your life, and finding joy with this situation can be a big challenge. Again, you should have the right mind set for accepting and enjoying the postdoc dynamics. In conclusion, I find that one’s mind set can be a powerful tool which leads to a successful career and a fulfilling post-PhD life. There are many smart persons out there, with a very long list of publications and outstanding skills. Finding your way through can be difficult: sometimes it involves thinking and acting differently from what is expected from you, but changing your mind set and being open to new opportunities that might come in the future can be as important and relevant to successful life after PhD.