Building Careers That Fit: Development Choices for University Scientists and Engineers

Have you done it? Made (and broken?!) your new millennium resolution? If you haven't, here's one you might consider (making, not breaking)--writing a personal career development plan. No matter if your response is "I don't really know what I want to do," or "I already have a plan--my own lab and a Nobel prize by the age of 33 and 3/4," the Institute of Physics has produced a pack entitled, "Building Careers That Fit," which will inspire you to get started--and keep going.

The key to good career planning according to the package is that it should last well beyond Twelfth Night. Returning to your plan and reviewing your progress is at least as important as writing the thing in the first place.

"Building Careers" is aimed at scientists and engineers who want to develop their careers within U.K. universities. The booklet begins with an overview of the changes that have taken place in higher education during the past 10 years. In an easily digestible format, this chapter describes the implications for academics, and would-be academics, of changes such as the growth of the sector and increased competition between institutions.

The first chapter makes it clear that, under the terms of the Research Careers Initiative, universities have an increasing responsibility to help postdocs develop their careers. The accompanying 13-minute video gives concrete examples of programs devised by university careers services specifically for their postdoctoral researchers. However, chapter two of the booklet points out that, although help may be available, ultimate responsibility rests with YOU, the person who wants to have a career.

Being told that letting things drift is not an option can be a bit scary, particularly if you're not that sure just where you want to go in your career. But, fortunately, the rest of the booklet is there to gently hold your hand as it helps you define your "personal values" and "career anchors," work out pathways to achieving your career objectives, manage your current performance to fit with your long-term goals, and take advantage of all the sources of information and advice open to you.

The final chapter gets down to he nitty gritty of writing your own personal development plan (PDP). And, just in case you're feeling this could be the time to sneak off to the pub, there's a nice, photocopiable PDP template to take with you. Having a chat with some mates is probably a very good way to work out what aspects of professional life are most important to you, but the notes for filling in the section "determining where you are now" do stress the importance of recording an honest account of your skills, so it's perhaps best to do this early in the evening. ...

Throughout the booklet and on the video are case studies showing how scientists in universities have taken hold of their career development: by expanding the teaching aspect of their job, making a move into industry, or taking part in a mentoring scheme.

Although produced by the Institute of Physics, this pack is applicable to scientists of all persuasions. It is a companion to an earlier pack of the same name, which was aimed at scientists in industry, and should be a fixture in every university careers library.

So, why not make this the century you take your career by the scruff of the neck--go on, what have you got to lose?

"Building Careers That Fit" is available from Industrial Affairs, The Institute of Physics, 76 Portland Place, London W1N 3D; Tel: 020 470 4800; E-mail: ; cost is £20 or £10 for IOP members.

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