Are you considering leaving academic research? If so, it is a good idea to have a clear idea of what you want to do next. This may need some serious thinking on your part to understand yourself better. Working out your personal values, strengths and passions will help you to define your purpose.

I have previously written about the difficulties faced by early career researchers in finding an permanent academic position. I have also discussed some of the transferable skills employers look for.

But before deciding to change career direction away from university research, it is helpful to think about what you might do next.

One thing that is likely to help you with this is to learn a little bit more about yourself. How might you do this?

There are three main things to think about: Values, Passions,  and Strengths. They all come together to help you to define your own individual Purpose in life.

Purpose is sometimes called ‘mission’. Once you have identified your purpose in life, you are likely to be in a better place to decide your best career options.


Your personal values are things that are important to you. They guide your decisions in life. For example, a good work-life balance is important to many people. This helps them to decide not to accept a job that requires long hours or a long commute. Other people care deeply about the natural environment. This may guide what they eat, how they travel, and also their career. Helping people guides other people in how they live their lives. They may choose to work in the caring professions or with disadvantaged groups in society.


Your passions are about what you enjoy doing. This might be one main thing. Something you will go out of your way to do. You will put a lot of energy into it, work hard at it and enjoy it. It might be something practical like playing an instrument. Or a sport. Or reading about a subject that grabs your imagination, like history. Your passions often becomes clear in childhood. So it can help to think back to what you enjoyed in your early years.


Your strengths are things that you are good at. As a researcher you probably have strengths in various areas. For example, making sense of lots of information. Or explaining complex ideas. Outside research you are probably aware of other strengths. These might include, for example, getting equipment or machines to work, always meeting deadlines, or having a great sense of humour.

There are lots of webpages listing example personal values and strengths. Do take a look.


Once you have worked out your own values, passions and strengths, you should be in a better place to start to draft your purpose in life. This in turn should help you to rule ‘in’ or ‘out’ certain career options. It should also help to inform a discussion with a careers advisor.

This post follows my previous posts First Class Postdoctoral Career Opportunities can embrace Different Sectors and Roles and How different is being Self-Employed from being a Contract Researcher? and Contract Researchers – Check Out your Transferable Skills and Helping PhD Students to get a Taste of a Career Outside Academia.

During a 25+ year career as an academic, Jenny Ames graduated ~25 PhD students and mentored ~25 contract researchers. Some have careers in academia while others work in different sectors. Since 2017 Jenny has been Director of Jenny Ames Consulting Ltd. She is available to give talks, run workshops, lead brainstorming sessions and provide mentoring for research students and contract researchers. Jenny can advise managers on strategy development and implementation regarding the professional development of researchers. She is also available to coach researchers and others undergoing career transition. Jenny holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring Practice from Oxford Brookes University. 


Author Jenny Ames

Working with Universities, Businesses and their Stakeholders to benefit Society.

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