By the end of two years after your Ph.D. you should have decided whether you want to develop your career in or outside academia. Here, opinions differ. Just before graduation, around 47% of economists and 56% of humanities and social scientists strive for an academic career (SBFI 2014) – despite the fact that chances of a permanent employment are not too high. In Germany, less than 20% of the postdocs have a chance of a permanent position in academia (Jahn 2013). That figure is likely to be similar for Switzerland.
The career goal question becomes a little easier if you split it into two:
- 1. Is science my best skill?
- 2. Is science what I want to keep doing?
Let the scientific community be the judge of your academic talent. After all, they are the ones who will assess you when it comes to applications for third-party funding, publications and job applications. What kind of feedback do you get from your Ph.D. supervisor, from the expert audiences, from review panels, and on your postdoc job applications? You can use all of this as a yardstick for your academic performance.
In terms of whether to carry on or not, you have to decide for yourself. You have spent the last few years discovering how the academic world works. You know what is required in the academic context and in your personal life. Do these requirements match your individual strengths, needs and values?
The following questions can be helpful in the decision-making process (based on Müller, 2014):
- What does my academic track record look like?
- Are there experienced academics who are willing to support me?
- Have I managed to find a place within the scientific community where I feel comfortable and where I am recognised?
- Are there other topics in research I’m passionate about?
- Am I willing to commit to a few more years in temporary employment?
- Can I imagine moving multiple times for work in the next few years?
- What other career options might be attractive?
Will I have these options in 10 years’ time?
How much time am I willing to give myself to make decisions about my career path?
Jahn, R. (2013): Postdocs – A Neglected Group in the German Academic System. Postdoctoral Career Paths 2.0: The Golden Triangle of Competitive Junior Investigators, Adequate Academic Systems, and Successful Careers. Proceedings of the 7th Forum on the Internationalization of Sciences and Humanities. November 15–16, 2013. Berlin.
Müller, M. (2014): Promotion – Postdoc – Professur. Karriereplanung in der Wissenschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Campus.
Staatssekretariat für Bildung, Forschung und Innovation (SBFI) (2014): Massnahmen zur Förderung des wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchses in der Schweiz. Bericht des Bundesrats in Erfüllung des Postulats WBK-SR (12.3343).