We live in tempestuous times and even the best made plans can feel like they are falling apart when what’s around the corner is beyond our control.
During most students’ research journey, they will encounter stumbling blocks they hadn’t anticipated. For some, these can be of great personal significance: a bereavement, illness, divorce, or upheaval. Or they might be to do with your research: a supervisor leaving, an experiment failing, a global pandemic meaning you have to adapt your research design. Make sure you seek the support out there to manage these changes and challenges – there is never any weakness in asking for help.
Change is a part of life, even if we don’t always like it (of course some people thrive on change – if that’s you then factor that into your assessment of your values and aspirations when choosing a career path). We live in what has been referred to as a “VUCA World”. This stands for: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.
An important thing to remember is that much of this VUCA context applies to us all: we are all navigating the same global forces. That means that it only puts you at a disadvantage if you aren’t prepared for it. That doesn’t mean becoming a magician and anticipating global markets crashing, the next highly contagious plague, or taking a gamble on a promising digital start-up. What it does mean is knowing that there are some things we can all anticipate:
- the changing landscape of Higher Education
- the reality of climate emergency
- growing awareness of the need for everyone to take responsibility for social justice issues, such as race and gender inequality.
Some of these changes are progressive (making the world a better place) and can also provide opportunities for you to increase your desirability to future employers by demonstrating your commitment to a sustainable and just workforce. Some are urgent and unavoidable (the planet is a finite resource we all need to take care of) and we all need to take ownership of the reality of them. Change is constant. Some changes are happening more swiftly than others.
You can also think about how you want to “be the change you want to see”. Want academia to be a more inclusive compassionate place? Make sure your actions embody those values. As an early career academic, you will be the next phase of scholars who shape future teaching and scholarship. Or, if you move out of academia, know which values you wish to uphold in any workplace, and live by them.
When the world around you is in a constant state of change, your values and sense of self can be a rock to stand firm on.