Life as a writer outside the boundaries of academia

Alex Goldberg is a scientific writer and social media manager for GA International.

He has a PhD in biology and previously worked as a postdoc in toxicology and medicine, having studied chronological lifespan in yeast, anti-neoplastic small molecules, and the biology of lymphangioleiomyomatosis

You can find Alex on LinkedIn.

 


Photo by Filip Kominik | unsplash.com

Photo by Filip Kominik | unsplash.com

No one who aspires to a fancy job as a tenured research professor in the life sciences should read this article.

For those who wish to follow this career path, I can give only one piece of advice: make sure it’s EXACTLY what you want out of life.

Life as an Academic

I started out relatively modestly as a graduate student in the fall of 2004. I wasn’t sure if I wanted a career in film production or biology, and because going into film meant repeating classes and working at Starbucks simultaneously, I opted into a Master’s degree, which paid a bit of money and allowed me some flexibility to learn about something I loved and to figure out the rest of my career later on.

My project was fresh and interesting, and I was given every opportunity to make my own way, reaching out to collaborators and carving out a small niche for myself in neuroscience and cancer. I was supported immensely by my Principal Investigator, who encouraged me to do my own thing and publish what I was interested in.

After seven years of grad studies, I was sure that I wanted to become a professor like my Principal Investigator. There were things I wanted to do differently, topics I didn’t have funding for that I wanted to get into. I even had my choice of postdoctoral positions lined up for me when I graduated, and I took the job where I’d get the most flexibility to create new projects for myself. I built up a smorgasbord of results, characterized around fifteen different compounds, published in some respectable journals, then figured I’d go and apply for professor positions by the end of my second year.

Up until then, I was enthusiastic about staying in academia. I was sure someone would notice my work and get back to me, if only for an interview. Read more of this post

When you choose to re-locate

Dr Donna Weeks is an international relations academic specialising in Japan-Australia relations, Japanese and Australian politics and society and related areas. 

In April 2016, Donna relocated to Tokyo to take up a position in the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Law at Musashino University. 

She blogs at Psephy’s ~ologies and tweets from @psephy. Donna is also on Instagram as @psephyspix, where she documents everyday #tokyolyf.


"Walking to work" | Photo by Donna Weeks

“Walking to work” | Photo by Donna Weeks

When your first degree was in Asian Studies and your first overseas trip was as an undergraduate exchange student to Japan, in some ways it shouldn’t be surprising that you end up in a teaching / research position in a university in Tokyo.

But when people here learn that the lecturer in Japanese politics and security is in fact an Anglo / Australian and the course will be taught in Japanese (with an occasional English flourish), there is inevitably a little bit of explaining to do.

This post addresses a question I’m often asked: What factors contributed to a mid-to-late career decision to leave your home city, family, community, friends and the familiar and take up a position overseas?

It speaks to the question of how mobile should we be expected to be in pursuing our careers in academia.

While the weighing up of the factors in any decision ‘to go’ will be many and varied, at the other end, the decision ‘to return’ might be equally vexing. In my case, the opportunity to pursue my research in a way not afforded to me in Australia was, in the first instance, my main motivator in ‘returning’ to Japan to work. But as I enter my fifth year here, with a visa requiring renewal, I find myself setting a different set of parameters that have more to do with questions about ‘What next?’.

There are several reasons why I chose this stage of my career to move to Japan, not the least being the current political environment in Japan and Australia (that’s not a political comment – that is my field of research). Read more of this post

Once more unto the breach

Image from pasukaru76 on Flickr | Public Domain

Image from pasukaru76 on Flickr | Public Domain

I am a researcher developer in an academic role.

In my field in Australia, this situation of being an academic appointment in a research education/development role is not that common. In my unit, all four of the research educators are academic appointments and we are all active researchers. This is rare.

Many research education and development units are staffed with professional roles, often with academic collaboration and input. It is a field where staff come from a very diverse range of disciplines, and often show up conceiving of it as an “accidental career pathway”. I first realised how prevalent this feeling was when reading my colleague Jeanette Fyffe’s 2018 paper on becoming an academic developer (yes, I’m pushing academic developer and researcher developer into the same bucket and I realise I may well be cursed for life…). Many who are in the researcher development field are PhD-qualified. For some professional staff in these roles, the researcher identity is one that becomes increasingly a remembered or historical one. For academic staff in these roles, the researcher identity is ongoing and always freshly fraught.

This post isn’t to set one against the other as superior (however and whichever way you may think they might be superior), but to talk about how it feels right now to be an academic in a researcher development role. I’m discussing this with the background of having been consecutively in roles there were research-only >>professional >>teaching/research.

Being an academic in researcher development feels like I sit partway between a more standard discipline academic role and a professional one. Across all the jobs I’m talking about for this post, I have stayed in the university sector but felt the pressures around it in differentiated ways. Read more of this post

Forging your post-PhD, during your PhD

Dr Wade Kelly is the Senior Coordinator, Research Impact, at La Trobe University, in Melbourne, Australia.

Wade’s PhD research focused on how and why universities and academics engage with communities.

This is Wade’s personal website and he tweets from @wadekelly.


Photo by Wade Kelly – used with permission

I am, perhaps, a unique creature in academia, an avowed extrovert.

Being around others recharges me and gives me energy.

That said, the prospect of cold-contacting people has never been a thrilling proposition. I once had a survival job working at a call centre that conducted surveys. I realised very quickly how little I liked cold calls. At the end of each call another number would appear on the screen then auto-dial. As I heard the tones through my headset another lump would emerge in my throat — over and over.

The work was soul sucking. I only lasted two weeks. There are jobs you do to pay the bills and hope that you never have to do again, and that was one. It turns out, however, that the skills I acquired during my brief stint in a call centre would come in handy down the road over a decade later!

This post is about how I built skills during my PhD for the post-PhD job search.

In late 2014, I gave up my permanent position as an instructional designer at the University of Alberta to start a PhD in Australia. I was back to square one at the bottom of the hierarchical heap. I left the security of a job, home, family, and friends and found myself in regional New South Wales, Australia, in a town called Wagga Wagga. There, I quickly found that if you wanted something done, it was easiest to pick up the phone. People would sometimes take weeks and even months (six months for one memorable email) to respond by email, but phones were answered immediately. Learning to pick up the phone again was but one of the strategies I identified and employed early in my PhD and throughout.

Early in my PhD program my supervisor encouraged me to insisted that I complete a 3-year plan. It was the first week of my PhD and I didn’t know where to start, but her eye was already on graduation and beyond. She knew that in order to get the most out of the PhD beyond your time as a PhD student, you had to make the most of your time as a PhD student. My plan included stuff about writing the thesis, outreach and engagement, teaching, committee work, post-PhD job-searching, and much more. Read more of this post

Going freelance

Dr Dean Chan is a research development consultant based in Perth, Western Australia. He has been working as a freelance consultant on a full-time basis since 2014.

Prior to this, Dean had worked as a teaching and research academic in the Australian higher education sector for almost 20 years, including appointments as Senior Lecturer in Visualisation Technologies and Digital Media at Curtin University (2013-2014), Senior Lecturer in Digital Communication at University of Wollongong (2011-2013), Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Asian Digital Media at Edith Cowan University (2004-2007), and Lecturer in Art Theory and Visual Culture at Edith Cowan University (1999-2011).


Photo by Dean Chan | All rights reserved.

I happily resigned from a continuing academic position five years ago.

After almost twenty years in various teaching and research positions within the humanities and creative arts, I needed a change. I had enjoyed a great career, exceeded all my research and publication goals, and taught thousands of students. It seemed churlish to continue hogging a seat at the table when I no longer wished to be there. It was time for me to go.

But not completely away. Read more of this post

Being seen

Photo by Aaron Burden | unsplash.com

Photo by Aaron Burden | unsplash.com

Looking for another role can be an exciting and/or daunting state. It could mean that you’re finishing your PhD, coming to the end of your contract (still waiting to hear if your contract will be renewed…), or wanting to move on from where you are. There is work to do, however, before you are actually on that market. It is important work that needs to be started before you’re looking.

Let me start with two examples of what I mean:

  1. I was sitting next to a fabulous, proactive PhD researcher at ‘Shut up and write’ recently – let’s call her Nikeisha because that’s her name. Nikeisha was talking about the various things she’d done to position herself well and boost her chances of finding a position after completing the doctorate. These things included having her CV with her at a big conference where she had a poster and could immediately hand it over to interested lab heads or recruiting colleagues, applying to be part of an internship program (post-thesis submission) and specifying exactly the organisation they want to work in, and having a succinct and effective website. She’s a molecular biologist who worked with squid slime so I’m assuming she’ll get a role in no time – who could resist such a thing?
  2. I was cold-called by a PhD researcher who was almost submitting his thesis. Let’s call him Wade. I agreed to meet with Wade because a good friend had suggested me to him and he had flagged this in his email, as well as giving me the context of why he and my friend thought I’d be useful to talk to. While I may have still met him without the friend’s recommendation, I would not have approached the meeting with the same predisposed-to-like-him manner. In addition, he was very clear about why he wanted to meet with me and introduced himself via a courteous email and very slick and professional CV. Overall, I was dead impressed with Wade’s forthright approach, his clarity about his job-search context, and his considerate manner. He’s now a colleague of mine at the same institution.

The critical thread through Nikeisha’s and Wade’s pre-job search activities is that of positioning themselves to be seen. This is most important before you are actually on the market as, once you have to start applying around, the task of standing out in a stack of applications is that much harder.  Read more of this post

How having kids made me a better academic

Sarah Hayes is an urban archaeologist and material culture researcher who focuses on the role possessions play in quality of life and social mobility. Her current research traces the material life trajectories of individuals and families during Victoria’s gold rush.

She is a current holder of a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) and Senior Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University.

Sarah has written for The Conversation and tweets from @SarahHResearch.


Photo by Sarah Hayes | All rights reserved.

Photo by Sarah Hayes | All rights reserved.

I suffered a serious lack of academic mojo when I came back to work after maternity leave for my second daughter.

I’d had to start her in childcare two months before my maternity leave ended so we wouldn’t miss out on a spot and, as is inevitable when a small kid starts childcare, she was constantly sick for about four months. Throw in her asthma, and you can imagine what a stressful time it was. The snowballing of head colds meant she weaned herself overnight at ten months (it might sound silly, but this was to be my last baby and the sudden loss of that closeness with her hit me hard). Though she had been a good sleeper, all the illness meant I was back to an average of three hours’ sleep a night.

The demands of modern academia are complex and at times frustrating. I found myself heartily questioning the purpose of my research and whether I wanted to be an academic. Archaeology wasn’t going to save any lives, so why exactly was I putting my daughter through all this childcare-induced illness? Read more of this post