Recently, I commented on a post made by another former postdoc describing why she left science and trying to come to terms with the low probability of making it through the years of contract posts to eventually achieve a tenured position.
Deciding to leave academic research rather than hunting down another postdoc job is a difficult decision that is clearly dependent on individual circumstances. One of the points discussed though did concern me: the thought that ‘you should leave unless you have the confidence to believe that you will make it to a professorship’.
That worries me as the stats clearly show that most of us won’t, so it must take a very self-assured person indeed to have that confidence. I didn’t. So I spent a couple of years out before realising that I shouldn’t have let that lack of confidence stop me from trying to take the next step along the path.
I do wonder though whether part of my lack of confidence was connected to the some of the issues surrounding the ‘leaky pipeline’ of retaining women as they move along the scientific research career path: perhaps the knowledge that fewer women will make it through this stage encouraged me to have little confidence that I could do so, so I dropped out and thereby perpetuated the problem. The same is true for any minority group where seeing few successful role models could impact an individual’s confidence in their own probability of success.
I’m not saying that the time doesn’t come for many postdocs when it is right to move on to pastures new but recognising that the probability of becoming a professor isn’t high shouldn’t alone be enough to put us off trying.
Later this week, I’ll be speaking at a careers event for grad students just finishing PhDs in Nanoscience. I’m sure there will be representatives there from many different great paths those students could now chose to pursue. It’s important to consider all the options but, as the students do so, I hope we can give a timely reminder that all the paths are possible.