All I wanted for Christmas was to press pause, reload and then move on

Day 22 in our Christmas Calendar 2019
Food: Food for Thought

Last year, when I wrote the post Leaving Academia, now what? I was having a break or a career development pause. A few weeks before I finished my postdoc contract I decided to have this pause to help me prepare for my next step in my career. I never thought that this pause was going to take 20 months, 150 job applications or expression of interest and 10 interviews. Not what many people want to hear but this is my story and I promised last year to tell you more about it. So, let me tell you a couple of things about having a career development pause.

Why a career development pause? Why not? Some years ago people were afraid to have a gap in their CV’s but recently it is becoming more acceptable for professionals to have a pause and pursue their passions, care for others, volunteer, travel or consider a career transition. People are talking nowadays about how beneficial it can be to press that pause button, reload and then move on. The problem is that we are so cough up  in what we do that it is terrifying to just think about it. And like many people, I was afraid of what others might think and I got many different reactions when I talked about it. One of them that surprised me the most was with a hiring manager. During one of my first interviews, the hiring manager asked me why I have a gap in my CV. I told him that I wanted to have a career pause, he only said OK, and then we continued with the interview. After that, I felt confident that I was doing the right thing. I took full advantage of the opportunity to have a pause in my career.

Care for others and self-care. I believe that this opportunity to have this pause came at the right moment. I have 2 small kids (3 and 6 years old), and during the 20 months that I was in pause mode I had to take care of them many times when they were sick, or school was closed. And not only that. Most of the time I got sick with them and it was a crazy cycle of one by one getting sick. Sometimes I would only sleep for a maximum of 4 hours per night. To make things more complicated my mind was behaving like a spoiled brat. I was depressed and I was having nightmares and flashbacks about things that happened in the past and I couldn’t understand why. But I got a lot of support from my family, friends and I went to therapy. So, I got much better. And I learned a lot about self-awareness and how to take things easy.

Strengthen skills or develop new ones. This period also allowed me to strengthen some key skills. One of them is resilience. My therapist told me that I am a resilient person. I have to admit that when she told me I was sceptical. So, I decided to learn more about resilience. I went to seminars, read books, listened to podcasts and watched many Ted Talks. And the really important thing  I found out is that you can always be more resilient, and you can learn to be resilient. From resilience and my time in therapy, I also learned about mindfulness. Which I wrote about in my previous blog Mindful Christmas. For my career, I went to all the seminars that Trygghetsstiftelsen offered me and other seminars and workshops that picked my interest. I already knew about Pharmacovgillance, Good Clinical Practices and Good Clinical Laboratory practices and still, I took online courses at Whitehall Training to get the certificates. And of course, I took Swedish language courses because at most of the jobs the requirement was to be fluent in Swedish. But I also learned fun stuff, I took courses on how to cycle, silversmithing and public speaking. I actually spent a lot of time working in my public speaking skills. I have no problem talking in front of a crowd but I was looking for people to give me good feedback. Loki-Toastmasters have been a great place for it.  I couldn’t be more grateful. Thanks to the opportunities that I got to speak and get feedback it gave me the courage to give seminars to the Karolinska Institutet MTC students association and to the Professional Women’s Network Stockholm. And of course, writing here for you was also a completely new territory. But so far, with the support of the bloggers, KI Career Service crew and our amazing coach, it’s been a great experience. 

Time for a change. Well, let me tell you that I am not new to transitions. I have changed from academia to public health, and then back to academia and now back to public health. Crazy? Maybe. Recently, I participated in a survey in which one of the questions was if I would prefer to have a permanent position. My answer was yes but I hesitated. I once held a permanent position at the National University of Honduras. It was a tough decision to quit to get established here in Sweden. I wonder what would have had happened if I still had that position. Would I be happy to be in the same place? By the end of my postdoc at Karolinska Institutet, I felt the need to change my career path. But at the time I didn’t know where I was going. During these months and with the help of my therapist, coaches, friends and many people that I talked to I found my top three options for my next step. During one of the seminars I attended the general advice was to have top options for job applications, companies and similar things. It took me some time but I defined my top 3 options for job applications and companies. 

If only this was an easy journey. It was bumpy, with many disappointments, rejections, tears, setbacks and panic attacks. It is no joke that 150 applications and their respective rejections can give you a hard time. It takes a lot of effort to customize a CV and a cover letter and then have letters of rejection or no communication at all. I had problems with language, years of experience, or CV in the wrong format and a couple of times I was even overqualified. The last month before I finally got a job offer I had a panic attack and my mind was trying to sabotage all the work I had been doing. But it was during those crazy last days that I understood how important is to be resilient. Because by the time I went to the last interview my plan was to do my best and hope for the best result. It was quite interesting that in the final same weeks I went to three interviews about my top three job positions. When I got the call with the offer I couldn’t  have been more grateful. I had my career development pause and I finally transitioned out from academia. Now I am working as a Junior Expert at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). 

It was a long pause, a bit longer than I expected but it was worth it. It has already been a month since I started my new position and there is a lot that I learned already. I am doing something similar and at the same time quite different. Similar to molecular biology but using different methods, different organisms and a different approach. For a few days I couldn’t believe that I finally managed to get a job in one of my top options. I was a bit surprised that they choose me but one of the things that they let me know is that during the interview I convinced them that I could do the job. Let’s see how it goes.

What about you? What do you think about having a career development pause? 


Irina Jovel-Dalmau, PhD, KI Alumni
Junior Expert at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

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