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Shall I do another postdoc? Shall I apply for a lectureship? Have I considered all my options as a postdoc?

In my work with postdocs I came across a framework whilst reading a really useful book.  We’re going to explore this framework a little bit in this blog as I think it’ll give you some tips and tricks for making those all important career decisions.   It’s called WRAP, it’s from a book called Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath, I’ve actually read several of their books and I’d recommend them especially if you like plenty of anecdotes and practical advice.

What’s do I do next?

This is the big decision facing most postdocs.  The first acronym of WRAP is W – widen your options. Quite often with postdocs, they come to me with a very linear question – for example Shall I do another postdoc? Yes or no? I work on widening those options. You have so many more choices the world is crying out for people who are literate, with good communication skills. If we then took a  look at your more specialised skills, again, there are a wealth of employers out there who are interested in those.

So, yes, one of those options going forward might absolutely be shall I do another postdoc but you also have other options and I would encourage a scan of those options, even if you’re fairly sure that fellowship is your next route. This is partly because nothing in this world is certain and also because getting a fellowship, as I’m sure you know, is hugely competitive. It never hurts to have a plan B, C or even D, just in case. Your ideal job might be hiding behind a job title that you didn’t understand. It’s important to see what else is out there otherwise you might be missing a career that gives you more work life balance, more intellectual freedom, all sorts of things might be out there and until you’ve investigated, you can’t know for sure. Widening your options is really, really important and something that I think we don’t do enough of as postdocs.

R is for reality checking your ideas

The next one, I love this is to reality check your ideas? I have very good colleagues whose favourite phrase is do you think that? Or do you know that?

Don’t automatically assume that what you’ve heard on the grapevine is true. Check your ideas. If you’re thinking of applying for a fellowship, how many fellowships are out there? What’s the success rate? Every fellowship pretty much puts their success rate on their web page. That way you know the odds. You understand the reality. Likewise, if you were thinking of craps game for leadership, how many lead ships in your discipline are advertised in the countries where you are interested in working? Do you have the skills required for the roles that you’re thinking of? Have you double checked? Are you assuming Oh, well, they’ll need a project management qualification, when actually the job description says that, that could be desirable, but it’s not essential. 

 Read the job descriptions, they’re often the source of so much information.  This is what they want and this is my experience.  I can match it in these ways.

 A is attain distance

I think this is kind of cheating because it probably should be D. By now we’re all really good at social distancing. Knowing what one or two meters looks like but we also need to apply that to our decisions.

 When we’ve made a decision you can feel all sorts of emotions, hot, cold, raw, all consuming.  Some decisions are easy, like what to have for lunch, what type of coffee to drink but for big decisions, they can feel like really weighty things. We need to attain some distance. 

There are several ways that we could do that. One that is suggested in the book is to think forward into different times and imagine what it might look like. For example, in 10 minutes time, probably when you get to the end of this blog. You’ve made the decision. How big a deal is that going to be? The next 10 is 10 months time, that’s going to be sometime next summer, end of next summer? How will it feel? Will it matter that much? We’ll come on to testing whether that was a good decision or not in a minute. The next 10 is the killer for me certainly because I’m approaching a big birthday in 10 years time, what impact will this decision have for me in 10 years time? These timings are here to give us some perspective, some distance on a decision that right now might be feeling rock and roll but actually in the grand scheme of things might not actually be that important. Other ways of attaining distance are to work with other people. Talk about your decision with a close friend, someone who will help you with that decision. Someone who will use open questions. How does that make you feel? What information have you got? Why have you decided to go down this route, or those sorts of things to help you clarify your decision, Just talking out loud can be hugely powerful.  Talk to people like myself, to coaches and trainers, perhaps research developers where you are based. Don’t forget your career service at your particular university or Institute because they can be really, really helpful when it comes to this as well. They’re trained to do this.

P – Prepare to be wrong

Which is quite scary, isn’t it? If you think I’ve got to actually think that I’m going to get this wrong. It’s not stating that you will get it wrong but it’s making sure that you have in place things that you can check in with, like is this still the right decision?

For example if you did take another postdoc, for instance and that started in December, when are you going to review that decision? When are you going to check that it was a sensible decision to make? It might be worth checking in a couple of months down the line. Is this job what I thought it was? Is it giving me the things that I need. This acknowledgement can be really helpful.

You made the decision with the best information that you had. You widened your options, you reality checked it, you retained some distance and all those things pointed to this being a correct decision. Now you’re living that reality, actually, it’s not right. No one is expecting you to, to stay there in a job that is wrong for you. You always have the option to move on to something else. There is a bigger, better and brighter role out there for you because you are super friggin highly literate, highly numerate problem solving project managing ninja, you can do anything you want.

 And that’s a WRAP, I do highly recommend the book as it is particularly useful for postdocs.

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