Take a tour round a careers fair, read the paper, and consult your peers before you plan your next move, advises Caroline Tolond

Take a tour round a careers fair, read the paper, and consult your peers before you plan your next move, advises Caroline Tolond


Caroline Tolond is the RSC’s careers adviser.

Q I am currently doing my first postdoc, but I have no idea what to do next and don’t know where to start. My manager wants me to apply for further funding but I really do not know whether it is right for me. I would happily postdoc forever but I know this is not a possible scenario - can you give me some advice? 

A Often those considering a career change feel limited as they are only aware of a fraction of the potential roles available. Knowing more about the wider job market will allow you to make a fully informed decision about your next career step and so I suggest that you start by finding out what the alternatives are to another postdoc. 
Where can you find this information? Well, the career profiles in Chemistry World   and science careers Website are a good place to begin and there is a host of careers information on prospects.ac.uk. Looking at job adverts in both scientific and non-scientific publications will also provide some insights as there are non-scientific careers where a scientific background is an advantage. You can sometimes find these advertised in national newspapers, such as  The Guardian  , as well as in specialist sector publications.  
Save copies of any vacancies you see that look interesting - don’t think about whether or not it is realistic at this stage, focus on what you’re interested in - and use them to build up a picture of interesting career ideas.  
Finding out where other postdocs have moved on to can also be helpful, so speak to others in your department and consider attending careers fairs, such as ChemCareers. Careers or job fairs are not exclusively for undergraduates and can provide a useful insight into different companies, allowing you to speak informally to those potential employers.  
If you are stuck for ideas you could try Prospects Planner, which is a computer programme that matches your skills and interests to different careers, again you can find this on the Prospects website. I suspect you will get scientist listed as one of your suggested careers, but there may be others that you don’t expect. 
Another dimension worth considering is how involved in science you want to be in your next and future career steps. Most of the career paths you identify will be possible within a scientific environment in one way or another, but the further out of any technical area you go the more challenging it can be to return - not impossible, just more difficult. Consider if you want to be working: 

  • In a ’hands-on’ scientific role (eg a lab position) 
  • Involved in science but not applying the science (eg scientific publishing)   
  • Completely outside science, but using your transferable skills (eg accountancy) 

Narrowing down your options  
Over a few weeks or months your collection of career options should build up. At this point you can start to make comparisons between different jobs and narrow down your choices. Your next steps should include researching two or three careers in more detail and putting together an action plan to help you work towards these goals - networking, courses and work shadowing can all help here. 

Making the most of a fair

  • Plan your day-   look at the list of companies who are exhibiting and identify who you’d like to speak to. 
  • Do some research-   read up on each company by looking through their website. Make a list of questions you’d like to ask company representatives. Good topics to ask about include details about the organisation, the job responsibilties and long term prospects   
  • On the day-   dress smartly and treat it as an interview situation. Take the name or business card of anyone you speak to who has been helpful, they might be a useful contact in the future.