I’d be lying if I said that the turn of this year hasn’t been marked by a lingering disappointment that for now and the forseeable future I will not be make a living from research and teaching. Although I am happy with my current job and have spent my career weaving between commercial, charitable sector and academic roles, I loved the freedom, possibility and challenge of research work and had, perhaps naively, hoped to make that my mainstay for the years following the completion of my PhD.
Over the last few weeks I have been recruiting for an early-career role in the team and as I sifted through the astonishingly strong field of candidate CVs. Seeing their hope laid out on paper caused me to reflect a little on my career ambitions over the long term. The desire to be a researcher has certainly been with me for a good chunk of my adult life, starting when I was a undergraduate, with the niggling feeling that all in all research was was pretty fun and that I might be quite good at it. But out of that decade or so, only in the last few years has the focus narrowed to a particular career stream. Even during my PhD, I wasn’t fixated on being an academic per say, although I loved research and teaching. The desire to stay in academia only really crystallised in the final year of my doctoral studies and although undoubtedly a powerful desire, that makes it a suckling in comparison, at just three years old.
Compare this to my ambition to be an archaeologist (the seeds of which were sown more than two decades ago) or when I set my heart on being the partner-in-crime-for-life of a certain Mr Bennett (c.12 years and counting) and the desire that seemed so strong and important begins to look a little more faddish. It certainly wasn’t all I ever wanted to do, and if you’d have asked my recently-graduated, early-career archaeologist self it might not even have made the top five.
Aspirations are important for personalities like me. They give us purpose, the drive to achieve and markers by which to judge our own success. I have perpetually itchy feet, always eager and on the look out for the next challenge. I am only just beginning to appreciate that aspirations are more fluid in nature; they certainly can’t always be forseen and on refection appear more transient than in the instant. Some will shout loudly, demanding attention for short periods of time, but do these always deserve the most attention and how do you prioritise sharp, immediate, or potentially short-term aspirations against those that clearly have more permanence?