For many months I went round in circles. I swung back and forth between throwing myself into the possibility of an academic career and preparing for the probability of something else. I spent hours, days, and weeks wondering what that something else might be. But for the past few months I have been adjusting to my new reality. I have accepted a non-academic job.
There are many reasons why it has taken me so long to blog about this. When I first got the job offer back in October, I didn’t want to announce it here before my family, colleagues, and collaborators had heard the news. The process from application to job offer also happened extremely quickly, leaving me wondering whether it might somehow be withdrawn just as quickly, so I couldn’t say anything until I was certain that it was a firm offer. Then I needed to consider the social media rules and etiquette of my new employer, which I will need to clarify when I start work next week, so there won’t be any specific details of my new job until then.
So, why blog now? Well, I needed to get something down about the last few months before I face the inevitable information influx of settling into a new job. And it has been an extremely busy and complicated few months (another reason for the recent blog-silence).
Almost immediately after I got the job offer, I set off for two back-to-back conferences in the US. That was a difficult time. As well as coming to terms with my decision to take a non-academic job, I had to enthusiastically present my research to others from my field, many of whom I knew professionally, at least by reputation. The feedback from the first conference was brilliant; lots of helpful suggestions of how to take the research forward. I probably came away with enough ideas for a five year research program. It was everything I could have wanted from a conference, except that I already knew I didn’t even have five months left to wrap up the research I had already started, never mind following up on all the new ideas. It left me very conflicted for a while.
The second of the two conferences was the big conference of my field. At a conference of this size (30,000 delegates), it is much easier to swim in the sea of anonymity and let the whole thing wash over you. I had time to ponder the realities of not attending this conference next year. The likelihood is that I won’t have the opportunity or inclination to follow up on any of the research I saw there. It is difficult to say whether this is the reason that I didn’t throw myself into the scientific program with my usual level of energy. It could have equally been that I was drained from the previous conference. But I wonder whether it was actually a sign that I had already mentally withdrawn from the field some time ago. I was feeling slightly more positive about my own research after presenting it, but I had known for quite some time that my enthusiasm and engagement with my research had been low. I can never say for sure how the adjustment happened; whether my overall lack of enthusiasm led to me seeking non-academic opportunities or whether having a non-academic job offer caused me to become less enthusiastic about my field. All I can say is that by the time I came home from the conferences I felt more comfortable with my decision to try something new.
So, where does that leave me now? Having had three months to get used to the idea of not being an academic anymore, I am excited about starting a brand new job for the first time in about seven years, I am curious about what the future holds, and I am ready to take on new challenges. I don’t know what the future holds—for my new job, for my life, or for this blog—but for the first time in a long time, the uncertainty is welcome. It feels different to the uncertainty and insecurity of being a postdoc because (whether it is an illusion or not) I feel more in control of where I go from here.