NEWAVE Career Development Workshop: Preparing to jump into the next career step

December 22, 2023

Approaching the end of their PhDs, early-stage researchers often face the struggles of jumping into their next career step. For this reason, NEWAVE and the 15 Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) organised a Career Development Workshop on the 16th of November 2023. The workshop was intended as a space for the ESRs to reflect on their next career goals, share their concerns and uncertainties about the future and hear the life experiences of researchers and experts in the water sector, as well as consider how NEWAVE is positioned to support them in this transition.

We started with breakup rooms where ESRs had the opportunity to exchange with invited senior professionals. After this, the group reconvened in break-up rooms were senior professionals shared their experiences and early-stage researchers were invited to pose questions and concerns about their career development. During the second part of the workshop, we were honoured to welcome the participation of Josh Newton, founder of the renowned platform Josh’s Water Jobs.

Photography 1: Participants during the plenary session.

"A PhD is often seen as the first stage of an academic life but, in my case, it was during my postdoc when I really understood what I wanted to do. Fieldwork research in particular allowed me to see more clearly my professional priorities". With this reflection, Dr Jampel Dell'Angelo, Principal Investigator and Coordinator of the NEWAVE Network, addressed some of the concerns of early-stage researchers who are now completing their first step as researchers in the water field. In this sense, Dr Sofia de la Rosa, advisor at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), expressed that “even if I am very happy where I am now, I would not have known where I wanted to be without doing other things I did not like or enjoy. It is important to understand that failing is also part of the process of figuring things out, despite it can be frustrating at the moment”. At the same time, Prof. François Molle, Directeur de Recherche at the IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, France), remarked that, in some cases, life gets in the middle of your professional career. Having children, creating a family or having personal issues can be situations one is confronted with. “Academia is about passion, if you are passionate about what you do research is limitless, which is good but it can also overstretch yourself and make it difficult to find a limit”.

The group reflections concluded with a masterclass by Dr Josh Newton, creator of the job portal Josh's Water Jobs, a place where most water scholars have sought for employment at some point in their careers. “There are no wrong decisions here. Any pressures you may feel about what to do or where you would like to be change throughout your life depending on your priorities at the moment. What you are doing at the moment does not necessarily determine your next step”. He also stressed out that “it is a matter of translating the skills you have into something that would be understood in another context. Every move gets you closer to where you want to be, and by little incremental changes you will get closer to the ideal job”.

The session was highly valued by its attendees, who stated that they had not only found some comfort in the revelations of the session's experts but had also found inspiration to continue their professional careers.

As Dr Sofia de la Rosa stressed, confidence was key to finding new appointments, so her recommendation for early-stage researchers was “to trust the process”. Another interesting point was made by Dr Nuria Hernández Mora, consultant and senior water policy expert, where she shared that starting to trust herself was a big milestone in her career and that it is only now with some years of experience that she calls herself proudly a “senior water expert” and is confident saying that. Especially for women, insecurities and self-doubting can be a big obstacle on the way to personal success. Dr Julia Martinez-Fernandez, executive director of FNCA (Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua), also reminded the early-stage researchers about the uncertainty that life in academia has, and not to feel pressured by the initial decisions they take in their professional careers: “The initial decisions are not crucial, see where life takes you. There are plenty of opportunities that do not depend on where you are or what position you are in at the time”.

Early-stage researchers had an excellent opportunity to brainstorm their next steps in their careers through the workshop, with professional advice and experience providing insight on both possible paths inside and outside of academia. ESRs will soon be available for their future positions, and it will undoubtedly include some positive things about them and their experience with NEWAVE. It's critical that this community supports and links them throughout this crucial decision, as they get ready for the closing conference.

We look forward to inviting you to the NEWAVE Closing Conference next year in April (date TBC), during which the early-stage researcher’s work will be in the spotlight. Soon. In the meantime, we stay connected on our social media account and subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive the latest updates!