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In the idealized career path, a scientist goes straight from earning an undergraduate degree to graduate school, and then on to a postdoc and eventual employment, without breaks between positions. For various reasons, however, not all scientists’ career paths are nearly so linear. Although the most common reason scientists might leave the work force is to care for their own children, others might leave to care for family members, including spouses or parents, or because they had difficulty finding employment after their partner accepted a position requiring relocation. Some scientists also may find themselves in a career break due to funding cuts or layoffs. Here are some strategies for finding a new position regardless of the reasons for the hiatus.
Advice for Returning after a Career Break
Network, network, network. Networking is a critical component of every job search. Particularly after you’ve been away from the work force, networking can help you learn more about current trends in your field of interest and can introduce you to individuals who may know of appropriate job openings.
Search broadly. Considering different kinds of positions not only allows you to learn about multiple career options, but also increases the number of positions available. Wells notes that she may not have been able to re-enter the work force so easily if she hadn’t expanded her research focus. She says, “You can be flexible. Going beyond what I’d previously done opened opportunities. I looked at what interests me and what I could use my expertise to learn. If you’ve been trained in one area or one technique, you can then learn new things.”
Consider compromising. MIT’s Levenson notes, “When you go back to work, you can’t have everything. You have to prioritize and figure out what’s important to you.” Levenson likes the iRelaunch model that suggests prioritizing what you’re looking for in a job in terms of content, compensation, and control.
Look at internships, postdocs, and part-time work. Levenson notes that students in the MIT program are better positioned for finding internships because “these are not your traditional intern; they are very knowledgeable people who are very mature.” An internship can help individuals update their resume, network, and find their next position.