Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. Winston Churchill
I’ve been thinking about resilience lately. It’s cropped up in things I’ve been reading and in some conversations so I thought I’d share a few reflections.
When asked what personal qualities were needed for success in an academic career, Professor Cathy Abbott, from the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, chose being robust. It’s something you hear quite commonly, how the flip side of your own academic training in critically evaluating the work of others means that your own work is also commonly subject to criticism and rejection. It can be hard not to take this personally even when you know it isn’t but it’s one of the things you’ll have to adjust to if you want an academic career. Watch what Cathy says below.
But resilience is also important if you are thinking of pursuing a non-academic career at the end of your PhD. Students often tell me that they experience feelings of failure, worry that their PhD was a waste of time, are unsure about what else they can do with their PhD if not an academic job, and worry about how they will be perceived by others in the academic world.
So how do you manage this? Sometimes acknowledging how you are feeling is a good first step. Career Coach and author of ‘Secrets of Resilient People’, John Lees, lists a number of questions in his book to help you identify your base-line reliance. I’ve copied a few below. Score yourself on the scale 1= low, Uncertain=3, High=5 to identify areas of risk and vulnerability (1 & 2), or areas of strength.
- How confident are you in your ability to acquire new skills and knowledge?
- How strong is your self-esteem most of the time?
- How far are you able to remain calm when under moderate pressure?
- How strong is your ability to persevere with a task when things aren’t going well?
- How optimistic are you even when things are difficult?
- How good are you at getting on with your work after experiencing rejection or personal criticism?
- How far do you feel valued in your work?
Extract from ‘Secrets of Resilient People’ by John Lees. Hodders and Stoughton 2014*
If you are scoring low on a number of questions above then consider some of the approaches below.
Focus on what you can change. The competition for research funding, the shortage of academic jobs compared to the number of PhD graduates, the difficulty of getting published in ‘high impact’ journals – these are all things you can’t change (at least not quickly). But you can focus on how you make yourself as competitive as possible by gaining relevant experience, or on making a positive decision to consider other career options.
Reframe negative experiences. It’s all too easy to obsess about things that haven’t gone well in work. But instead, think about what you’ve learned from the experience and use this to move forward.
Spend time looking after yourself. Take a break from work, do something that calms or recharges you, whether that’s baking a cake, going for a run, watching a film. Create the space in your head to think about things differently.
Find your supporters. Who will remind you of your strengths, encourage you, give you honest feedback?
If you’d like to discuss any of this with a careers consultant please book an appointment on MyCareerHub.
* Available for reference in the Careers Service resource centre in the Main Library Building, George Square and the Weir Building, King’s Buildings.