When it’s time to renew your relationship with your work

When it's time to renew your relationship with your work

Companies helpfully write to us when it’s time to renew our relationship with them – asking us to commit to another 12 months of gym membership or resubscribe to their anti-virus software. But how do we know when it’s time for us to renew our relationship with our own work? In my experience this feeling doesn’t show up like an email or a letter in the post – it’s more complicated and nuanced than that.

Sometimes you just get get a low-level feeling that things aren’t quite right. Looking back, I felt this way (although I didn’t quite appreciate it at the time) while I was doing my post-doctoral fellowship. I felt that I was logically on the right career track, given everything that I’d done previously (my Master’s and PhD). And yet something didn’t sit well with me about the academic job search.

At the time I interpreted my unsettled feelings as the insecurity that comes from not having a permanent position. Reasonably enough, I was looking for clarity about the next step for me and my family. On the other hand, looking back now, I can interpret my feelings as a desire for a deeper change – in fact, a whole career change.

How do you know when it’s time to refresh your employment situation, to find work that’s more fulfilling and better aligned with your personal sense of purpose? And which more fully rewards you for your skills and experience?

Have a look at this list of symptoms and see if one or more sound familiar to you:

1. You experience a day-to-day heaviness or tiredness. You feel restless without an obvious direct cause. Nothing is actually wrong, and yet somehow nothing feels quite right. This can be very frustrating to those close to you, like your partner! In my experience these can all be physical and mental symptoms that it’s time for you to make a change. Not just a logical change perhaps, but something more fundamental – which for researchers, can mean leaving academia for another career path.

2. You get distracted by ‘non-core’ activities. During my post-doc I was busy reading business magazines, listening to radio shows about business and technology, and embracing new ways of doing things, like moving my banking online. My attention was telling me the way to look, the direction to follow, not just in my spare time but in my life more generally. This formed the kernel of my Plan B, which eventually became my Plan A, when I came to the end of my academic job search in the final year of my post-doc.

3. Activities that once energised you, now drain and exhaust you. Tasks that you once found effortless, like reading and research, start to become really hard work. You used to be able to read and reflect for hours – and now you’re feeling sleepy after the first page! These are all signs that you need a revival, a break from the routine you’ve established. You need to get a sense of novelty and wonder back into your life – which may come from a change career.

4. Any process that you need to follow seems a total drag, and you can’t help being conscious of every single step along the way. On the other hand you really notice it when you ‘get into the flow’ on something. You realise how much you’ve missed that sense of losing yourself in the moment, and how good it feels to be in the zone again.

So take some time out to listen for these symptoms in your own life. Are these feelings telling you to make minor adjustments to your working life, to improve your self-care for instance, or take some quality me-time? Or are you actually craving full-scale career renewal and rejuvenation? Don’t be shy of embracing it if you do. I did, and I’ve never looked back.

Take action now: Send yourself an email, requesting that you renew your current employment position! Type ‘Annual renewal notice -‘ in the subject line and after the dash, put your present job e.g Doctoral Researcher, Post-Doctoral Researcher, or Professor. If you’re on a temporary teaching contract, you’ll already be familiar with this situation, as your teaching gigs will expire and you’ll be seeking the next one.

As you would with any other renewal invitation, take some time to reflect on your relationship with your current work situation, and where it’s going. And consider carefully what the alternatives are.

Top 5 careers podcasts for researchers

Top 5 careers podcasts for researchers

I love listening to researchers tell their career stories, and hearing experts relay great advice on job-hunting and self-care. Here are my top 5 shows supporting researchers with finding careers outside academia:

1. Recovering Academic

What I like about the Recovering Academic podcast is that it’s just three researchers talking about the ups and downs of getting a job outside of academia. That’s it. It feels 100% genuine with no sales, no agenda, no preaching, no fake enthusiasm, no pretence that transitioning is going to be easy.

The real value for the listener comes from learning about the personal successes and failures of the hosts: what’s working for them, what hasn’t worked, what else they’re trying. The more episodes you listen to, the closer you feel to Amanda, Cleyde and Ian. They may as well be sitting across the table in the coffee shop or bar, generously sharing their experiences with you!

In Series 1 the presenters really hit their stride with a sequence of shows covering key topics like Telling your transition storyOvercoming the fear of failure and Twitter for the Recovering Academic. In Series 2 our trio switch it up with an excellent series of interviews with researchers who’ve pursued careers outside of academia (including me!).

Head over to their website to find out more and subscribe to the Recovering Academic podcast.

2. Academics Mean Business

An increasing number of academics are quitting their university jobs in favour of setting up their own businesses. In this podcast series Lindsay Padilla interviews academics-turned-entrepreneurs and finds out about what motivated them to make the switch.

A new feature is for guest lecturers to join the show and share their expert knowledge with listeners. Find out more and subscribe to the Academics Mean Business podcast on Lindsay’s website.

3. Cheeky Scientist Radio

This podcast series feature experts who cover topical subjects like networking, personal branding and conducting informational interviews. While the focus is on jobs in sectors like pharma and biotech, the information is beneficial for any researcher who’s making a career change.

I found the episode on informational interviews to be especially informative and I recommend it to my private clients who I support on this topic. Here’s the link for you to subscribe to the Cheeky Scientist Radio podcast on iTunes.

4. PhD Career Stories

This podcast has a great mix of personal stories along with hints and tips for your career search. If you only listen to one episode, listen to Episode 1 by the podcast’s founder Tina Persson – an energetic and inspiring story of a scientist who’s changed careers and become a recruiter.

Find out more and subscribe to the PhD Career Stories podcast.

5. 15 minutes to develop your research career

An occasional series of short podcasts from Vitae. Episode 2 explores the alternative career paths of PhDs and is definitely worth listening to for advice and inspiration.

Find out more and subscribe to the 15 minutes to develop your research career podcast.


There are of course other careers podcasts available, but these are the ones I listen to regularly. By all means share your favourites in the comments section below. Happy listening!

The caterpillar and the inquisitive bug (a story)

The caterpillar and the inquisitive bug

One day a caterpillar met an inquisitive bug. The bug, who’d never seen a caterpillar before, asked ‘What sort of creature are you? What special powers do you have?’

The caterpillar reflected and said ‘Well, I’m good at crawling and I can eat a lot of leaves.’ This particular caterpillar was only thinking about its recent experience – what do I usually do? What have I done previously?

But we know that a caterpillar is capable of much, much more than just munching leaves.

We know that a caterpillar has the capacity to become a beautiful, gracious butterfly one day. Encoded in its DNA is the ability to metamorphose into something new and wonderful.

So don’t get too hung up on who or what you are today. This is just your most recent incarnation. Do spend time thinking about what can you become in the future. If I can do it – from a PhD in Medieval Studies to a project manager in banking – you can do it!