This blog post is written by Stephanie Bonson, a postgraduate career counsellor at QUT, with a Masters in Organisational Psychology. She is starting her PhD in Creative Industries researching creative career success and identity, and has been involved in the creative arts (whether advising, researching, or creating) for about 20 years now.
When was the last time you stopped to take stock of where your career is heading? That uncomfortable Christmas dinner with Auntie Muriel? That inspiring workshop last week?
In the complex juggling act of research, work, publications and life, it can be easy to lose direction and motivation, to put off planning for the long term in favour of finishing your chapter right now. Often, we don’t really think about where our career is heading until something external prompts us to do so. However, it’s always worth taking a few minutes to consider what you want out of your career and how you can get there, no matter what stage you’re at in your studies.
Based on my extensive research (internet bludging), I have determined that today’s media consumers (you guys) prefer their information in easy to read, bite size pieces that can easily fit into today’s hectic multitasking lifestyle (buzzfeed is 90% list articles and they’re doing ok). So without further ado, let’s look at 4 ways to take stock of your career direction
- Reflect on where you want to go
This sounds obvious, but when was the last time you sat down and really thought about what you want to do with your career? So often we can pick a career pathway and set off without taking time to reflect on where we’re going and what we want. Whether you’re aiming for academia or planning to leave the university in your dust, it’s always a good idea to reflect on your goals and directions. Beyond academic vs non-academic careers, take some time to reflect on what you want in your career, and more broadly, your life.
- What have you enjoyed most about past jobs? What have you enjoyed least?
- What sort of lifestyle do you want to have and how does that fit in with your career goals?
- What environment do you prefer to work in? How much autonomy do you like? Do you prefer to work alone or collaboratively?
- How do all these things fit in with the career you’re interested in?
For example, if you want a low stress 9-to-5 job with enough flexibility to pick your kids up from school when your babysitter cancels at the last minute, then hostage negotiation is probably not for you.
- Reflect on your skills
This may be uncomfortable, but it’s well worth doing. Reflecting on your skills allows you to take stock of where you’re at, identify areas for improvement, and acknowledge and celebrate your strengths. QUT has helpfully provided a skills audit to guide you along. More generally, consider:
- What do you feel that you’re good at (often overlaps with what you enjoy doing)?
- What do colleagues/your supervisor/your boss say you’re good at?
- What feedback have you received about your skills and abilities?
- What do you feel you struggle with (be kind to yourself here)?
- How do your skillsets match up with the skills needed in the careers you’re interested in? What areas are you doing well in and what areas could you improve?
Protip: If reflecting on your personal skills gets too uncomfortable (this is a very common experience), pretend you’re considering the skills of a ‘generic CI Masters/Doctorate/PhD’. Creating a bit of distance can help you look at things more objectively. Asking a positive yet honest friend can also help.
- Look for pathways into your desired career
Now you have an idea of your career direction and your skillset, it’s time to go researching! By seeing the pathways that other people have taken you can start to build a picture of the possible ways to get into the career you are interested in. Whether you use these pathways as a guide or make your own path, it is always useful to see what your market is like. LinkedIn is excellent for exploring the possible pathways into your desired career:
Who is in the roles that you want, and how did they get there? Where are they working? Could you research their company and see if you would like working there?
What skills is everyone in that role using the most? How does your skillset fit with the skills used?
What is the usual career progression into these roles (e.g. does everyone have a PostDoc? What is a common first step into industry)?
What companies/associations/groups/conferences are relevant to your career?
Being in Creative Industries, many relevant career pathways won’t necessarily be on LinkedIn. However, you can still identify key people in your field and do some internet sleuthing. Research key academics in your field, creatives in your discipline that you really admire, or even the competition in your industry. Look for opportunities to see other peoples’ work and speak to professionals and practitioners in your field.
- Make the most of available resources
The university can be a treasure trove of free help, but, like all treasure, you may need to go digging for it. While you may get lucky and have it dropped in your inbox (why yes, I would like to attend a free workshop on structural equation modelling, thanks very much), you often need to do a bit of searching first. Are there any student associations relevant to your interests and your career, either as a postgrad or through your discipline? Are there any events or useful workshops coming up? Does the university itself offer any services you might find useful in planning your career or building your skill base?
Spoiler alert: yes. Yes it does. A quick stroll through the QUT services and facilities page can show a number of departments that could help you with your thesis, your finances, your skillset and your career:
- Personal counselling;
- Career counselling (hello!);
- Equity support;
- Research support;
- The QUT guild (which runs the student rights hub);
and much more. Most if not all of these services are free to you as students.
People can sometimes be a resource too (yes, I mean networking). Talk to your supervisors, postdocs, colleagues, linkedin connections. Are they aware of any opportunities, can they give you feedback on your work, do they know anyone you could talk to? The other side of getting help is giving help – you would be amazed how much you can learn yourself from helping others.
Taking some time to reflect on your career direction can not only help you affirm why you’re pursuing research and give you some extra motivation, but is also an important step in progressing your career. Thinking about where you want to go, ways to get there, and options to get some help is a good practice for any stage of your career.