Career management aims to put you in control of your career. All too often there can be a feeling that you make a move not because it's the one you want, but because you feel you have no choice but to do it. The typical example of this would be the researcher who is becoming increasingly disillusioned with their current role but waits until 2-3 months before the end of their contract to think about their next step. They then find they don't have time to properly prepare for it and opt for another contract in research, quite possibly in a second-choice area, because they have to keep the money coming in.
What is career management?
You wouldn't think about starting a major experiment without thinking about the desired outcomes/possible outcomes/conclusions/next steps. Career management takes the same steps you would in planning a research project and applies them to your career. This means taking an active part in your career, not just drifting into another job without taking time to decide if it is what you want. You need to find out about the job you think you want, consider what skills you need and make sure you go out and get them.
Why should you do it?
Because being in control is a good thing! You will feel more fulfilled and more able to move purposefully to achieve your goal, rather than arriving at a point where you realise that you will never achieve what you thought you would (colloquially termed the 'Oh shit' moment!)
When should you do it?
Ideally, as soon as you have settled into your current contract, normally around 6 months in. You should always review your career planning at least 6 months before the end of a contract, particularly if you have been feeling ambivalent about your career direction. The first time you do this it could take a while and feel quite awkward but it gets easier each time, as you have a reference point. If you are on a permanent contract, gear your career planning aound project grants - do it 6 months into a grant and also 12 months before the end.
If you are hearing a nagging voice saying 'Is this what you want to do for the rest of your life?', then that is a wake-up call to sit down and re-evaulate. You'll either reaffirm your choice, having weighed up everything, or you will have an idea what else you might do and how to start making the change.
How do you do it?
One way to start is to go through a career planning cycle. However, if the idea of doing this completely on your own is a little bit offputting, then why not come to a career management workshop? These are run regularly and offer an informal opportunity to learn about and practice career management techniques in the company of your colleagues.
A really useful aid to career management, particularly for those wishing to remain in research, is the research portfolio. This is basically an expanded version of your CV containing details of your research, publications, conferences, teaching and training.
For additional resources to help you get started, please visit the career management links and resources page.