New Year Goals: Reverse-Engineering Your Academic Career

Updated: Jan 6, 2020

A new decade is upon us and as we turn over a new leaf in January (or try our best to) how are you setting yourself up for 2020 and beyond? 'Reverse engineering' seems to be the flavour du jour when it comes to goal setting and career planning this new year. Here is how I am bringing it into focus this January.


It's quite a funny month January isn't it? For a start it's when my local gym is packed every evening - lots of new joiners including me (again), who are all eager to do the whole 'new year: new you' or 'no carbs before Marbs' thing. But as the months pass by I know normal service will resume. As life gets in the way the toss up between hitting the treadmill and a gin and tonic slowly defaults to gin for me at least! As regards my career and with a new decade in our midst I am taking a more conscious approach to my goal setting. Reading and listening around the topic is a January habit of mine, I like to see the big picture and lately there has been a lot of talk around reverse-engineering your career.


1 . What does your end game look like?

Reverse engineering in a careers sense is simply about thinking about your end career goal. Ultimately what do you want to achieve in your academic career and what does that look like for you? Do you want to become a tenured professor or simply move up to the next rung of the career ladder or get that first chapter published. How will you know when you've 'made it' professionally? Now being the sceptic that I am, this can all sound like waffle but actually I think we're getting onto something here. Let's face it, if you've spent a lot of time grafting towards a PhD or the latest academic promotion and are reading this then you are most likely wanting that next star on your academic 'McDonalds' badge, am I right? Nothing wrong with a bit of ambition but it is what you do with it that counts.


Take a moment to sit and think about your career end game and think in detail about what exactly that looks like for you. Let's get down to the details. Try finishing the sentence "I've 'made it' in my career when....


2. Peel away the layers of your goal

How exactly are you going to go about achieving these distant goals. This is where what you want to do gets real. Let's make those goals a reality - how you will achieve each of those items. So this could be saving a copy of a job advertisement for your ideal role to identify what you need and also what skills you are missing so that you can plug those gaps. If it's something like a venture then it's time to create some space and think what exactly does this venture look like. Do you need contacts, do you need to do some testing of the concept to see if it it works? What skills do you have, need or want?


Try this: "To achieve each of those things I need to: be able to/have/know/go to/be:


3. What can you do in 2020?

Then, for each of these bigs goals and layers you then identify the key things you want to achieve this year, in 2020. What is looking realistic with what you have on at the moment? How can you make sure you are a little step closer to your reaching goals by the time my 2021 new year's goals blog post comes around?


Based on the above what are you going to do this year to get you a little closer to your goals?


4. It's all about the small steps

So now break them down into quarterly goals and monthly goals if you wish. It's all about the small steps and now that you have a bit of rough plan you will find making decisions much easier - knowing when to commit to projects and when to politely decline. So tomorrow or this afternoon or any other day this year all you need to think about is the next small step. Yes, just the next small step - not the big picture you got that all sorted already or at least have a decent idea. What is simply next thing you need to move the needle on your career goals. This means stepping out of your comfort zone - making that first contact with that person, brand or organisation, academic or going for coffee with that colleague in the other office, or simply carving out a little hour today to focus on your personal priorities. What's the worst that can happen?


My blog curates my viewpoint on fashion retailing and consumer decision-making

for fellow academics, industry professionals and researchers. I also post about working smart in academia. You can find out more by visiting the drsamlynch.co.uk homepage or reach out via twitter @drsamlynch


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