A romantic picture of myself contemplating infinity from a sand dune (Photo credits: Galvano Pizzol)

How do you see yourself in five years?

Driving a nice car with a hot girlfriend. Answered a friend of mine at an interview. He got the job. At a car leasing company.

These days I think a lot about this question. I wonder about my future career plans.

Maybe I read too much bullshit on LinkedIn. Why are all these awful how to survive interviews click-bait posts popping-up in my feed? Maybe it’s because I am writing a series of project applications with a long time frame, where I have to elaborate on the long-term impact of the project on my career development. Like the project was a meteorite.

Anyway, I am asking myself quite often the question of how do I see myself…? And I have three dystopian scenarios for that.

Nobel Prize Or Nothing (NOPE) scenario

It’s good to set ambitious objectives. It’s also good to understand when it’s time to quit. Probably, if in ten years from now I haven’t got any major grant, nor I have produced any real scientific breakthrough, or at least some paper with tons of citation or a major role in a collaborative international project, then…what the heck am I still doing at University? Ok easy now. This is the scenario about insecurity, when you feel like you are not good enough if you are not overachieving. This is especially the feeling when I write project applications and have to polish and boost my CV and the project impact description, etc. So much self-promotion that it becomes toxic. Or when I spend too much time on social media and there everybody seems so great. It’s virtual reality.

Back to REalITy (BRExIT) scenario

This is the scenario about exit strategies.

  1. I changed field of research and I am now working in something that is not postnormal science, just normal science. Gosh I really hope for this every single day.
  2. I went into consultancy or corporate, maybe I have recycled myself in a data analyst or management position. The former is fun now, but maybe boring in 10 years. The latter is boring now, but maybe fun in 10 years. Who knows.
  3. I moved to work for government or NGOs and I am now making a real difference to help the environment and other people. That would be really a good thing.

The reason for this scenario is that sometimes I find it hard to see the true societal value of my research, beyond the academic value. Who cares about uncertainties in consequential life cycle inventories? Is this research going to change the world? Is this going to change anything at all? Is anybody interested in this besides 5-10 academics? It’s worth asking these questions. Academic work is prestigious, but is it valuable? A colleague of mine quit industrial ecology and started a new education to become a nurse. Maybe she has understood something I haven’t understood yet?

Business As Usual And Bored (BAUAB) scenario

What if I will just get things get by as good as usual? I think it would be pretty feasible to get along at University by doing the required teaching and publishing the required papers every year1. This is also the scenario where I think about people who stayed in academia for a lifetime. Will I be able to do something like that? These were other generations. Things are not as stable anymore, and I since I mostly had temporary positions so far I can hardly imagine something like that in detail.

What if I become disillusioned with my field of research, or research in general, or lose faith in humanity? I am quite close to that some days. If people can spend a billion dollar budget for a crappy Hollywood movie instead of environmental protection there is not much to hope for.

Let’s talk about feelings2

No surprises, probably the truth is in the middle. The future will be a mix of the three scenarios. Some things will be successful, some will be abandoned along the way, some will get boring. In the end, this is a post to talk about feelings in research: insecurity, competition, meaning, relevance, interest, ambition, grit, motivation…and the lack of these. They all play a role as in any other job, I guess. I haven’t tried many other jobs. That’s why I have a research blog.

A buddhist monk would probably tell me: focus on the present. That’s quite right. Focus on doing NOW some research that is of high quality, has societal relevance and impact, and is intellectually stimulating. If these conditions are satisfied, there shall be no need for any of the above scenarios.

  1. If you are my employer and reading this, please remember this is an hypothetical scenario. 

  2. Great Lagwagon album