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The Black Hole

Career considerations during lockdown

Use this time to think about your career trajectory and what aspects of your work are important to you.


Just about everything we are reading these days is related to COVID-19 and working from home. My own blogging efforts have been no different with a plea last month for us to consider how we build physical travel into our future scientific interactions. Scientists across the world have faced canceled conferences, meetings, etc and at least one major 10,000+ person conference in my field has announced a virtual Congress in June and I will be very curious to see what transpires. We are all adjusting to the new normal.

What gets considerably less attention is how the change of pace that isolation imposes on us will impact our own life choices. Some scientists (clinicians and virologists in particular) will find themselves even busier, others have childcare struggles and are managing shift work with their partners, and still others find themselves with less to do as they have just started a new position or are in a critical period of hands-on experiments that cannot now be completed. Just about everyone has been and will continue to be impacted in some way and being pulled from day-to-day routine will drive many to consider their current and future career plans.

This can be a good process with many of us spending more time speaking with friends and family during the lockdown period – even if sometimes we simply realize just how hard it is to be so far away. Excellent outcomes can be achieved during this period if sufficient time is spent to weigh the pros and cons of a potential career move. I would predict quite a lot of researcher movement in the months that follow the COVID-19 lockdown and people should be encouraged to think broadly about their skill sets and their career options – especially those who are in transition stages of their clinical and/or academic training.  Removing day-to-day distraction can be a powerful ally.

In my own reflections (in between diaper changes and meal prep!), I cannot emphasize how lucky I feel to have transitioned to the University of York. Unlike our previous positions in Cambridge, we have two permanent jobs, a garden for the kids, and the science we are undertaking has not changed dramatically (thanks to an excellent lab group and wonderful collaborators). Having not made this move, I’d be in the final year of an externally funded award with hiring freezes imposed on numerous institutions and a great deal of uncertainty due to COVID-19 and financial market strain. Needless to say, I did not even realize at the time of making the decision that these aspects would be so valuable, yet here we are. Obviously everyone’s situation is different, but if it’s appropriate for you, use this time to think about what you would really value in a future career move and cast your net a little more widely to try and find it – you might be surprised what’s out there!

David Kent
Dr. David Kent is a principal investigator at the York Biomedical Research Institute at the University of York, York, UK. He trained at Western University and the University of British Columbia before spending 10 years at the University of Cambridge, UK where he ran his research group until 2019. His laboratory's research focuses on the fundamental biology of blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. David has a long history of public engagement and outreach including the creation of The Black Hole in 2009.
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