The BSI runs a number of schemes, including our newly launched Early Careers Day for postdocs, to support our members at all career stages. Here, BSI Trustee Sheena Cruickshank discusses how attending a similar event earlier in her career changed her outlook and gave her confidence to take the next step on the career ladder.
I loved being a postdoctoral fellow. I enjoyed the lab work, planning experiments, the highs and lows of getting results, working with my colleagues and the relative autonomy over my time. However, there was one thing that really impeded my love of lab work. The contracts. The stress of being uncertain about what my next contract would be was increasingly getting me down. I had done a one-year contract, a secondment away and one three-year contract when the grant we expected to be funded was rejected. Fortunately, I found a one-year contract role, but I knew my days as a postdoctoral fellow were numbered.
As a new mother, I was also very concerned that I needed more stability for my family, and although my husband had a good job and was supportive, it didn’t feel right to me to be so reliant on one steady income. I had started to write my own grants with my supervisor (including the one that was rejected) and was hopeful that a career in academia beckoned. However, I was riddled with self- doubt. How long could I be a postdoc for and was I really good enough to get a position as a lecturer or independent research fellow? I also realised that I had never truly considered my options outside of academia.
Fortunately for me, the BSI Congress was imminent. I decided to use this conference to help shape my decision. I took two strategic routes. One was to seek informal feedback from more senior colleagues from outside my own institution about my likely fit for academia. It was good to get advice from someone other than my supervisor. My supervisor was supportive but it was helpful to have a new set of eyes on my cv and impartial advice as to what I could do to enhance my employability, or what skills to bring out in the cv. It also made me think more about the challenges of academia and what I might say if I were interviewed.
My second route was to sign up for the career session at the Congress meeting. Both were enormously helpful to me. It was daunting to ask for feedback and advice and I felt hugely vulnerable doing so. However, the colleagues I spoke with were very supportive and offered really constructive views and suggestions. For me, the session on career options was the biggest eye opener – there was the opportunity to find out about a variety of careers that would use my immunology. I realised how many jobs would enable me to use my lab skills, my analytical and planning skills or my communication skills. I came out feeling that were many possibilities outside academia including research in industry, clinical science, clinical trials management, science communication and writing, all of which held some appeal. It was such an eye opener and I felt really positive about my future.
I gave myself a year to pursue my original dream of finding a lectureship but knew there were options I could aim for besides academia that I could also find rewarding. As it happened, I did get a lectureship but I am not sure I would have had the confidence to apply or persist through that crucial year if I hadn’t sought mentorship from colleagues at the Congress and I hadn’t had the opportunity to find out about other career options.
I am so delighted to see that the BSI has really expanded the opportunities for career support and guidance now. The BSI offers its own mentoring programme. In addition, the BSI is looking to run career events across the UK, focusing on the skills that postdocs need to give them the confidence to progress their careers. Registration for the first of these events, which is being held in London on Monday 10 December, is now open. Please do take up these amazing opportunities for support and advice – I know they helped me along my career path.
BSI Trustee and Professor of Public Engagement & Biomedical Science at The University of Manchester
The first BSI Early Careers Day is taking place in London on Monday 10 December. It has been designed specifically for postdocs to allow you to gain valuable insight into vital skills that are essential to building a scientific career. Some of the UK's leading immunologists will guide delegates through the training sessions, drawing from the wealth of experience gained over the course of their own careers, and provide advice for how delegates can take the next step on the career ladder. If you're a postdoc looking to progress your career in immunology, this is the event for you! Registration is now open.