When it comes to climbing the career ladder, you don't have to go it alone. The writers in this Next Wave UK minifeature are great examples of just how many people want to help boost you up to the next rung, and many of them are surprisingly close at hand. In fact, your university is positively heaving with people whose job it is to smooth out the bumps on your career path.
Of course your supervisor, or the PI on your grant, carries the primary responsibility, as your line manager, for your career development. But sometimes she or he might not be the best person to talk to. I know it's hard to believe, but some supervisors have been known to be less than happy when a research student announces that their future lies outside the lab. They can take it as a personal insult--well you are rejecting their own career choice! Equally, they might not, dare I say it, always be completely in touch with the reality of today's job market. Serial short-term contracts, for example, were almost unheard of when many current supervisors began their careers. Now, they are more the rule than the exception.
But never fear. If you venture a short distance outside of your department, you're likely to stumble upon several people who can help guide you through today's science job market. The people you want to find go by many names, such as Careers Advisor or Staff Development Officer. The titles vary from institution to institution, but a look at your university's Web site should help you locate them--try a peak under 'support services' or something of the like. And before you start moaning that it's all very well, but none of these things are available to postgrads or contract researchers, I have good news for you: times have moved on. You'll probably find quite a few courses and services tailored to your needs if you have a little look. A random trawl through a few university Web pages recently turned up dedicated Contract Research Staff Web pages run by the Personnel Department at the University of Bristol, the Staff and Departmental Development Unit at the University of Leeds, and the Institute for the Advancement of University Learning at the University of Oxford.
Even more amazing, some of the people in these roles will know exactly where you're coming from because they've been there themselves. Yes, research scientists get everywhere. We asked a few of them to tell us about it. Careers adviser Sally Todd works at King's College London, but she used to be a plant breeder. Find out how nurturing plants led to nurturing people, and a thoroughly satisfying career path. Sarah Blackford also moved from research into careers advising, via a spell in publishing. She now works for the Society for Experimental Biology and finds that her careers advising background comes in very handy for helping members of the society, as well as students at Lancaster University where she's based. As a postdoc, Ray Kent wrote plenty of grant applications, which stood him in good stead for his current role. He explains the job of a research-funding adviser and how people like him can help you fulfil your career ambitions.
So, go on--give it a try. Talking to a few of the support staff at your university could change your career in ways you never thought possible.