Career in Research: Pros and Cons

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Career advice






Career advice

This article was featured in the INOMICS Handbook 2017, a new career guide for Economists. Download it here.

Upon completion of a masters degree or PhD, the big question arises: what next? Although it seems a natural progression to continue with further research, there are many other careers open to academics: in business, in education, or in communication and journalism, for example. So how do you know if research is the right career choice for you? Today we'll be discussing some of the advantages and disadvantages of a research career to help you decide on your next role.

Travel and relocation

One big difference between a career in research and in most other fields, is in the expectation of relocation. The first step for a masters or PhD who wants a career in research is to find a PhD or postdoc position, for which they must be willing to relocate. It is typical for researchers to move to a new city or country every few years, particularly when pursuing postdoc positions. The high rate of movement does have its advantages - it is a unique opportunity to travel to new places and to experience life in different countries and cultures. However, arranging international relocations is a lot of work, and it can be hard to make new friends and create a social circle in a new city. Particularly for those with families, relocation may be very demanding - your partner may also need a job in your new city and new schools need to be found for children, which can be a challenge. If your partner is also in research, some institutions offer dual career programs which help to find research positions for both members of a couple.

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Independence and interest

One great advantage of a career in research is the interest of the work that is performed, and the independence accorded to individual researchers. Particularly if you are able to secure third-party funding (that is, funding awarded directly to the researcher as opposed to a university or department), you may organize your own working schedule and priorities, and choose the topics of research which are of most pressing interest to you. Within many research institutions there is the possibility of flexible working hours, which can be especially advantageous to those with young children.

Security and career prospects

One particularly difficult aspect of a research career is in the lack of job security. Postdocs are typically employed on short-term contracts for two years, and at the end of this period they must find another position. For the ambitious and determined researcher, this can be an opportunity for fast career progression and the chance to work in a variety of labs. However, this insecurity can also be a source of stress for many researchers as there is no guarantee of long-term stable employment. Progressing from a postdoctoral position to a professorship can be extremely competitive, and in many countries the number of professor positions are being reduced due to budget cuts. Overall, many more PhDs and postdocs are working than there are professorships available, so you must be extremely determined to follow this path.

Transferable skills

Although the competition for academic positions is so fierce that a career in research may seem risky, in fact the skills one acquires in the performance of research can be transferred to many other fields. Aside from the skills of critical thinking which are highly trained in researchers, there are specific skills which can be adapted to other career paths. Researchers may acquire expertise in mathematics or statistics, in written communication, or in poster and oral presentation. All of these skills can be put to use in other jobs, so if a research position is not available, then you still have other career options open to you.

A career in research is highly demanding and not for everyone, but for those who are drawn to it, it offers a unique intellectual challenge. To see some of the latest and most exciting research positions available in your area, check out our website.

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