Where will I be in 2 years-title

I have no idea where I will be in two years

They always ask in job interviews, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I hear the same reply again and again… “I don’t even know where I see myself in 2 years.”

What can you do to get more clarity?

To improve the performance of our doctoral school, I interviewed many postdocs and asked them what they were struggling with. I had expected to hear that postdocs struggle with precarious working conditions, the insecurities of short-term contracts, and the lack of direction.

However, there was an unexpected insight.

I learned that there are two very distinct groups of postdocs.

Two types of postdocs!

Firstly, there are those who are getting closer to the end of their contract and have no idea where the next position will be. They suffer massively from job insecurity and are pessimistic about their current situation.

Scientist and labyrinth representing career confusion

But to my surprise, there is a second group: postdocs who are relaxed, love their work, and do not think much about their next position. They are optimistic, improve their CVs by publishing excellent papers, and build a network to hear about upcoming job openings.

What is the difference between these two groups of postdocs?

Postdoc Type 1: Keeping all doors open

The members of the first group keep all doors open

Open doors representing career indecsion

They spend their time looking into every possibility, such as an academic career, working in a company, becoming a teacher, or leaving science entirely and starting a business. They have not locked in a specific plan and constantly jump from one option to the next. 

If they gain additional qualifications, they do it with the expectation of keeping more doors open. For example, they enroll in a program to be eligible as teachers (which is possible in Belgium) just to have this alternative later, although they do not see becoming a teacher as a high priority. 

These types of postdocs jump from option to option, creating a lack of direction and focus.

Postdoc Type 2: Made a decision

The members of the second group are – on average – older. Often they are already on their second or third postdoc contract. The big difference compared to the first group is that they have made the decision to pursue an academic career

They are not looking for industry jobs anymore.

They are not following courses simply to qualify for alternative employment. As a result, they work with an intense focus on their career goals, such as publishing excellent papers, raising grant money, and building their network and community. 

They follow a strategy.

Hand drawing a complex plan

This does not mean that they are free of fears due to job insecurity. They are still in a system based on 2- to 4-year contracts. However, deciding on a specific career path leads to greater emotional stability and focus in contrast to “keeping all doors open.”

How to choose a career when you have no idea?

One of the biggest mistakes is to attempt to figure it out in your head. Clarity comes from engagement and action, not only from thinking. Thinking about potential career paths on your couch does not bring clarity. 

A half-hearted Google search only creates more disorientation. You have to invest time and energy to identify different realistic and ideal career paths, then get insights and guidance from people already doing these jobs.

You might think, “I have no idea what career I want”. If you have no clarity, the first step is to answer a few key questions: 

  • Did I reflect sufficiently on my career and write down a career plan?
  • Do I know which career path is right for me? 
  • Do I have the adequate qualifications for my chosen career?

In two other articles, I give you some ideas on what you might focus on to check whether you do enough for your scientific career and how to qualify for a professor position.

You might even realize that you can not reach your career goals in your current appointment and that you should quit your job and find a better position

Recommended reading

The following articles may also interest you:

  1. Is being a professor worth it?
  2. How to become a professor?
  3. Am I good enough for a career in science?
  4. Should I become a professor? Success rate 3 %!
  5. The 8 best tips to find your dream job in science
  6. The most intelligent strategy to get hired in science
  7. How to choose the best postdoc position?
  8. Should I quit my postdoc?
  9. Job interview outfits in science – what to wear?
  10. Assistant professor and associate professor – what is the difference?
  11. What is a Reader at a university?
  12. What is tenure?
  13. Why salary matters in science careers

One Comment

  1. I found my niche in regulatory science at a government agency where I initially did research. It’s good to explore options beyond academics.

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