Book cover

Book review: ‘What Is out There for Me?’

A couple of months ago I was having my occasional freak out about what I’m doing with my life and what on earth I should be doing with myself after my PhD contract ends. It’s terrifying because academia just doens’t sound particularly appealing with all the bad press it’s getting these days; chances of making it as a woman in ecology feel slim to none. On the other hand, science is really fun. So while I was having my little freak out, I decided to sign up for the career days at the university I’m linked to (Utrecht University). I had to fill out my address to get a free gift, so I immediately did that – yay free gifts! Four weeks later I had completely forgotten about it but I found this book in the my mailbox: “What is out there for me? The landscape of post-PhD career tracks” by Natalia Bielczyk, PhD.

This books does exactly what is says: tell you what’s out there. I devoured it in two afternoons because it has so much good information! It lays out the Dutch professional landscape available to PhD’s in much useful detail. What I really like is that it doesn’t treat academia and ‘altac’ (alternative careers) as opposing career paths, but just lists academia as one of the many options that are possible. It is comprehensive, sprinkled with personals stories and sometimes a little messy, which makes it for a friendly read.

The book is split in three parts: I) How to Make the Decision, and Find Your Strengths; II) How to Spot and Land Your Dream Job and III) How to Further Develop Your Career.

The first chapter is about deciding whether to stay in academia or switch careers, which is a nice intro that helps you as the reader to think about arguments pro and against staying in academia. The second chapter lists a number of general skills that you gain from doing a PhD. I found this quite helpful, because there is a lot of talk about knowing your transferable skills as a PhD but you still have to figure them out. This chapter does part of the work for you.

I particularly liked chapters 3 and 4, which cover almost half of the book. These chapters provide an extensive overview of the types of careers you can have post-PhD, starting with chapter 3, that lists about 30 typical professions PhD’s might end up in, ranging from Software Developer to HR Officer to Copywriter and many more.

Chapter 4 then lists the different ‘tribes’: NGO’s & government, academic job swithout an academic career, corporate jobs, startup jobs, consulting, academia, freelancing, and entrepeunership. This chapter is an absolute gem because it not only lists what these different working environments look like, it also describes daily life, the good stuff (‘opportunities’) and the shitty stuff (‘what you will need to accept’) and how to get in. On top of that, it maps the personal freedom you get against the level of stability and benefits that these working environments generally provide.

Chapter 4 describes eight different working environment in useful detail. I particularly like that academia is listed like any other working environment.

When you figured out where you want to work, chapter 5 helfpully tells you how to land the job. It lists some of the stereotypes recruiters may have about PhD’s and common mistakes PhD’s make when applying for jobs, which are quite helpful to be aware of.

I didn’t like the last chapters so much. Chapter 6 is about self-discipline and I’m not sure why a book aimed at PhD’s needs a section on this. It contains some bad advice to push yourself hard and not to trust yourself when you need break. Perhaps the chapter is meant to be uplifting but I’m not the right audience for it. The last part of the book (chapters 7-9) are not so meaty and useful as the first half; they contain some life advice, general wisdom and reflections by the author on the future of the job market, but I did not find it useful and it was not so relevant to the immediate job search. Still, it might be interesting for others. Anyway, it doesn’t matter because the first half of the book is so good and so useful that I was happy to read all of it.

Should you buy it?

It’s good read and an impressive overview of jobs and working environment you can find at PhD-level. As far as I know it’s the only source that provides so much detailed and helpful information on the Dutch professional landscape for PhD’s. So if you’re not sure what’s out there, go buy it!

This books seems most relevant to science PhD’s in the Netherlands/Europe. Looking for a different perspective? Try checking out Roostervane, Papa PhD or Jobs on Toast.

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