My Prosper Journey

Posted on: 26 November 2021 in Blog posts

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Alex James, a chemistry postdoc and a member of our first Prosper cohort based at the University of Liverpool, has just landed a new job at a new materials start-up company called Puraffinity. In his blog he talks about his experience of Prosper and how it helped him prepare for and ultimately land his job.

My Entire Outlook Shifted

A big part of the Prosper project focuses on journaling as a way to track your journey through the pilot study. As I sit here today, looking back over my entries in preparation for writing this blog post, something very striking occurred to me – I was extremely pessimistic. My first few months of entries, were all worded in such a negative and dismissive way. I was cynical when discussing my career prospects, unenthusiastic when listing my skills and in general, my outlook for my future was gloomy. Fast forward a few months later and my journal posts were now worded in a much more positive manner. Discussions about my career was now littered with optimism, I now have key skills and dare I say an employer may even find me employable, or even, lucky to have me in their company. I think this change in me is the most striking thing about the Prosper pilot and is the reason I have managed to find a job beyond academia.

Why Prosper?

The age-old question of “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is one you can answer in either 5 seconds or 5 years. For me it was certainly the latter and that was my reasoning for applying to the Prosper pilot study. I had been in my postdoc role, one tainted by the pandemic, for just over a year when I saw the advert to apply for Prosper. At that time my thinking, like most postdocs I dare say, was I am going to be an academic and fully commit to the researcher life. And why wouldn’t I? I had dedicated my adult life to research reading for my undergraduate, masters and PhD all culminating in me obtaining a postdoc position. The natural next step was to be a fully blown academic. We aren’t told any different and are surrounded by people on a daily basis who have all done the same. The path may wind in different directions but they all come to the same end. So, when I saw this opportunity which offered a different voice and said that it would give an insight into life outside of academia I had to apply and be part of it. I wanted to hear from the people who did leave, what did they go onto do? Why did they leave? Why couldn’t they “make it” in academia? Most of all, I wanted reassurance that postdocs can be more than academics and that we are valued and appreciated elsewhere, we do have desirable skills that employers want and will pay good money for! Prosper seemed to offer insight into this and delivered on it.

My Journey

I started on the very first Prosper pilot as a postdoc who was unsure of what he wanted to do after his postdoc ended. The “obvious” next step was another postdoc followed by fellowship followed by tenure track fellowship and then lecturer at any university who would take me. The only issue was, I don’t think I wanted that. In the first month of the Proper pilot, we were asked to self-reflect and take stock of ourselves. Look inwards and tell me who are you, what skills do you have, what type of person are you. This was more than just doing another personality test, are you an introvert or extrovert, what type of worker are you etc… Self-reflection from a career perspective really allowed me to figure out what I enjoyed in a job and what I was good at which, in turn, allowed me to narrow down what types of jobs I wanted to do and the sectors I wanted to work in. It was during this period where my negativity was replaced by positivity in my journal and I could finally see that maybe academia wasn’t for me and that was OK.

To my surprise, I discovered other cohort members also felt the same way and had the same initial worries and fears I had too. It turns out most people worry about their career but are just too scared to talk about it with their peers. Prosper not only gave us all a safe space to do that very thing but encouraged us to do it! Being surrounded by a group like-minded people gave me confidence to ask the difficult inward questions but also the strength to ask others for help and advice along the way. Group coaching circles were hugely beneficial for this as well as giving us insight into how we perceive ourselves, our careers and one another.

My Job Offer

Prosper played a pivotal role in not only my job offer but also me actually even applying for the role. A month into the pilot and Prosper began putting on seminars with external speakers on “how to write a CV”, “how to network” and “getting started with LinkedIn”. At that time, I had not used LinkedIn and had no profile on there. After attending the session, I set aside a few hours to create my LinkedIn profile armed with all the information from the seminar. It was enjoyable to create my profile and, as all social media inevitably is, quite addictive especially initially when you begin adding people to your network. I made a conscious effort to ensure that my profile would immediately draw attention to my skills, background and experience. This is the key information recruiters are looking for on LinkedIn and displaying this right at the front makes it easier for them and allows you to be noticed quicker. It turns out I didn’t do a half bad job because a few weeks later I was contacted by a recruiter with an interesting job proposal.

Initially I was very taken aback and even a little suspicious of being approached by a recruiter but my doubt was soon replaced by surprise and I applied for the role. My main reason for applying was mainly to get experience of the job application process beyond academia. I discussed this with my career coach and they agreed that this was the right decision as, worst-case scenario, I am rejected outright and best case I manage to get some experience and feedback. Due to the fast turnaround I had to write my non-academic CV essentially overnight which was a challenge though also quite fun. The seminar on writing a CV and the feedback from my career coach was invaluable here. About a week later I was told that I would have an interview with a senior manager at the company. The last time I had an interview was for my postdoc position, which was now close to two years ago AND was not over zoom so naturally I felt a little anxious. The session on networking I had just attended was useful in helping me calm my nerves and gave me the tools to overcome that initial anxiety. It went well and I was offered another interview, this time with the CEO of the company, after which I was finally offered the job!

To Summarise

I initially joined Prosper because I wanted to understand and gain experience in applying for jobs in sectors beyond academia. Self-reflection in the initial stages allowed me to understand myself more and realise what aspects of my job I like and would like to take forward in my future career. Through Prosper, I attended various seminars which drove me on to create a LinkedIn account and inspired me to write a new CV. Ultimately these decisions pushed me to apply for the job role I was eventually offered. Working with my coaching group and career coach really helped me prepare for the various interviews and I felt more confident going into these interviews than at any other time in my life. I would 100% recommend anyone to engage with Prosper as it is a unique development offering which speaks to postdocs who want to explore the full range of opportunities open to them within and beyond academia, a voice which is quite often diminished at most universities.

About Alex James: I am currently working as a postdoctoral researcher out of the Materials Innovation Factory, designing porous materials for gas capture and separation applications. From the start of December, I will be moving to London to work at a new materials start-up company Puraffinity who are designing bespoke sorbent materials to treat water contaminated with Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS).