Whether you’re worried about having a temporary contract, applying for long-term academic jobs or making the leap out of academia, having a good supply of mental toughness to cope with the career uncertainties of postdoc life is essential.
But how can you build resilience?
We were really taken by some recent examples of former postdocs who demonstrated the much- prized ability to ‘bounce back’ in real-life situations and even surprised themselves how resilient they were.
When exploring the subject of building resilience, it’s good to draw inspiration from Stoic philosophy – a central principle of which is that we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our reactions. Or as Seneca succinctly put it: “It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.”
Resilience in action
Take former postdoc Stacey Jamieson, a speaker at our recent ‘Careers in R&D in biotech and pharma’ event . Stacey didn’t have the ideal circumstances to land her first choice job. In her video she describes how, due to her immigration status, she had to think around the issue of getting a job where a company would sponsor her. Unfortunately, the companies that offered this sponsorship were in technical/scientific roles and not in Stacey’s preferred area of Medical Scientific Liaison, (MSL).
By being resilient – researching her options and being open to opportunities where she could use her skillset – Stacey was able to ‘bridge the gap’ between academia and industry for a year in a technical role until she got permanent residency status in the UK.
Things have worked out well for Stacey who is now in MSL, a role ‘where her heart lies.’
At the same event, Winnie Yeung urges you to be brave and apply for industry positions even if you have the challenge of not having all the skills listed on the job description.
You’ll have to be resilient to handle the inevitable rejections, but by highlighting your transferrable skills you may also get the job. As Winnie says: ‘usually the company will see how your skills will fit with the role.’
Sometimes the resilience-building technique of ‘reframing,’ (a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives – Wikipedia), is needed to check if a perceived challenge or difficulty can be turned to an advantage.
José Teles, a speaker at the event, worried that his diverse background in academia would hamper his chances of moving into industry – a concern that wasn’t borne out in reality. As José explains in this video, his wide-ranging experience ‘…. turned out to be an advantage in my current role.’
José’s story highlights the importance of ‘reframing’ – seeing your situation from all angles, to build your resilience. What you might think of as a disadvantage in your career history, may actually be seen by employer as a benefit.
Seneca said that ‘we suffer more often in imagination that in reality.’ By deploying resilience to interrogate challenges -moving problems from the imagination and into the cold light of reality -positive, creative ways of moving-on can be devised.
Have a good supply of resilience is essential to overcoming life’s inevitable hurdles as a postdoc.
If you are looking to increase your resilience, the Researcher Development Programme at Cambridge University run workshops which focus on building mental toughness by developing coping strategies to overcome challenges.
Come for an appointment at the Postdoc Careers Service if you feel that the rollercoaster of job hunting and career decision making is depleting your resilience.