This is a summary of a blog written by Charles Danforth, formerly a professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at University of Colorado (cdan4th) at the link below. Please visit his site for the full article.
I’m sure most PhD students set out with the ambition to – or assumption that they will – follow their dream to study space and get permanent research jobs. After a couple of years, we realise that there are more PhD students than there are postdoc openings and hear stories of people who have “left the field”. It is all too easy to see “leaving the field” as a failure: a failure to get a postdoc, a failure to win funding and so on.
In his blog post, cdan4th emphasises that it is ok to change your mind once you’ve begun an academic career. It does not mean you made the wrong decision to pursue an academic career or that you are forfeiting all the years of work you’ve put into your field. The years spent in academia were worth it because you (hopefully) enjoyed your research but now perhaps your interests and priorities have changed. Additionally, we should not underestimate the skills developed in a research career. cdan4th says “you are more marketable than you realise” and lists examples of such attributes that employers are looking for.
The message is that, yes, it is difficult to make a career change but if you are not happy in academia it is helpful to ask whether it might be better to look for something else and it is not a sign of weakness to do so. The longer one spends in a certain job, the harder it is to imagine doing anything different. There are other satisfying careers and, as priorities change, it might just be worth the time and effort of seeking them out.