Career planning as a research project (Jason Brown)

Photo by Stefan Stefancik |
I have a confession to make.

I am a career development manager and a doctoral researcher, and I don’t know what I’ll be doing when people start calling me Dr Brown.

I do hope to find the ideal job where I can continue my research, do some teaching, present at international conferences, and perhaps in a faraway place people might start calling me Professor Brown. But I’m realistic enough to recognise that this may not ever happen.

Hey, right now, I’m making a big assumption that I’ll be able to sustain a full-time managerial job, family life and part-time study for another 4 or 5 years!

Given my dream of being a professor of career development, the traditional or deductive way for me to develop a career plan would be to identify all the steps I need to take from where I currently am to get to a professor.

But we know that life doesn’t play out in an orderly, linear path. Stuff happens along the way.

So, how do you go about planning a career where the path to the destination is not completely known?

My recommendation on how to plan your career is to think like a researcher. I know you can do this! Here are the steps I’d recommend:

Identify your career problem

What real world problems are you wanting to help solve? How do you see yourself contributing to society?

Set the research questions

What questions do you need to ask to address your career problem? Examples might include: What skills do I need to develop to tackle this problem? What resources will I need? Who do I need to collaborate with? Where am I best placed to be to work towards solving this problem or contributing to society?

Design your research method, and start collecting the data

Aim towards an inductive process to enable the opening up of your thinking to different possibilities.

Start with collecting data about yourself (values, interests, knowledge, skills). At the workshop Professional Pathways: Preparing for life after the thesis, we’ll work through some activities on this. A workbook will be available after the workshop if you are unable to attend.

Next, interview people working in a range of settings and sectors that interest you (alternatively, come along to the great sessions during Graduate Researchers Careers Week, like the “Employer Panel: Who hires graduate researchers and why?”). Gaining insight into particular roles and organisations is all extremely valuable for shaping your judgement of what’s a desirable potential career pathway.

Use keywords to search for job advertisements inside and outside academia. Which jobs look interesting? What are the skills, knowledge and attributes employers are seeking in those job advertisements? A key part of this process is practicing the talent of ‘translating’ what you’ve done into the language of the broader workplace. For example, when you’re browsing a job-seeking site:

Try typing in the words ‘analyst’ or ‘advisor’ to see jobs that utilise your research methods skills. Terms like ‘stake holder engagement’ describe the complex set of relationship-building skills that you have had to develop to manage your relationships with supervisors. ‘Communications’ is a catch all phrase that many employers use to find people who can write and talk to an audience. (Inger Mewburn, Career planning for PhD students)

Analyse the data

Once you have collected this data, examine the emergent themes. What do you notice? What surprises you? Does it confirm that you are already on the right track? What further research do you need to do? What actions can you now take? Do you need to talk this over with someone? This is when the Career Ready team can help! Drop in at the Bundoora campus between 12 noon and 4pm Monday to Friday (Career Ready, Level 2, Agora); or contact to arrange an appointment if you are based at a different campus.

Publish the results

Seriously. Your social media (LinkedIn, Research Gate, Twitter, etc) should reflect the forward-looking direction you want to take in your career, not present a backward-looking list of achievements. Will your social media strategy help you build your networks and establish your credentials as an expert in the field you want? Make sure you update your CV to have a consistent message and tell your career story. Another conversation with the fabulous careers advisers at Career Ready may be helpful here.

In short, get out and talk to people! It’s amazing what can happen when you share your dream with others.

Career planning is an iterative process that works best if you keep your mind open to opportunities rather than being fixated on a single career goal (you’ve seen the messy lives of Olympic gold medallists, right?).

By starting to think now about where you are going, you’ll be able to develop skills and experiences that complement your research, as well as build your network (which will pay dividends when you have submitted your thesis). It will also save you time finding a job when you are ready to take that step!


Find out what else is on during Graduate Researchers' Careers Week


Jason Brown is a career development practitioner with 18 years’ experience specialising in developing and managing employment and career development programs, including supporting career development through eLearning and ePortfolios solutions. 

He has worked in a number of industry sectors, including higher education, employment services, and community/not-for-profit. He has also dabbled in running an e-commerce business for a few years.

Jason tweets from @onejasonbrown and is on LinkedIn: