Leaving Academia? Now what?

(Mood: anxious)

Now what? This is the question that came up when my contract as a postdoc was about to finish. It was exactly the same question when I was about to finish my PhD and I can even go back to the time when I finished my university degree. And every time I got the question I had the same anxious feeling and always struggle how to answer. It is after all a touchy subject every time. My friends, colleagues, family and even strangers had different reactions depending on the answer I provided.

When people have a plan for you

The same day I got my certificate from my Bachelor’s degree, one of my family members said that I should find a husband and have kids 😩.  My father wanted me to go abroad, get a Master’s degree and see the world. And one of my teachers told me and my classmates: “first the master and then the mister, girls” 😉. I was happy then since I already had a job and my career was just starting. It was looking promising.

When you have a clear plan in your career

My supervisors were happy that I manage to finish my Licentiate at KI. Still, the same question came back. Now what? I had a permanent faculty position (a lifetime position) at the National University of Honduras 🇭🇳. So, my plan was to continue to the PhD and if possible a postdoc. I couldn’t think further than that. I tried to keep it simple. So far, people didn’t have any problems with my plan. It didn’t take long until I managed to register for the second half of the PhD. My career was moving just as I planned.

When you don’t have a plan

Now, when I was about to finish my PhD, people started to see me with anxious eyes. Or probably I was getting anxious about my career 😰. At this point my answer was that I had no idea what was about to happen. My anxiety increased when a stranger told me that I should always have a plan. But seriously, I was really happy that I came this far, considering that I struggled a lot with depression and anxiety. And, I was going to take one of my biggest decisions in my career. I was going to quit the permanent position that I had in Honduras 🇭🇳 and move to live in Sweden 🇸🇪. Many said that I was lucky when I got a postdoc position at the same lab here at KI. Recently, I heard that it was not strategic to stay in the same lab if I wanted to continue in academia in Sweden. I was happy, because I knew the people (people that I really liked) and I knew what I was going to do.

When you have a plan but not what everybody was expecting

I was at the end of my second year as a postdoc when my mental health started to deteriorate. Things were not looking so bright, funding was about to finish and I had to start to plan what to do next. But when my mind was behaving like a spoiled brat, planning the next step in a career was actually a nightmare 🙄. Then, I took a couple of decisions that for better or for worse made sense at the time. First, I contacted a career coach to help me with the transition and second I took care of my mental health. Just one month before the end of my contract it came clear that what I needed was a break. So, I am taking a break or as my coach might probably say a “career development pause”. And yes and yes, I am taking care of myself and I am defining what will be my next step on my career. In the future I will tell you more about having a “career development pause”.

Now, let me ask you this:  Why do you want to know what I am going to do next? Some of my family and friends say that they are just concern about me. A colleague just told me a few days ago that he is planning to leave academia and that he is just curious about how I did it and how I am doing this transition. Oh, and I am also curious about you. What will you do next? Do you have a plan or do you want to tell me what should I do next 😁?


Irina Jovel-Dalmau,

PhD in Malaria

KI Alumni


One thought on “Leaving Academia? Now what?

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