My very good friend Ruth recently posted on her blog about the dreaded question “where do you want to be in five years?”, and wondered why “anywhere with good biscuits” was not an appropriate answer. She is an all round excellent person, and you should go and read her writing. When I saw her post I felt a little smug within myself that I don’t have to answer the “five years” question, or so I thought.
Academic planning is an important thing, otherwise we risk becoming stagnant, and not doing the things we want/need to. But as well, it means considering what we want to be doing in five years time. A form I recently had to fill in had exactly this question on it. Other than researching stuff, teaching stuff, and wearing snazzy jumpers, I had no idea of what to say. I’m currently an Early Career Researcher (ECR), and only 6 months in to my current job, which to me means I’m still figuring things out and trying to decide where I fit into the academic system as a whole.
But the form would not relent, and the question remained; what are my research plans for the next five years? So I had to think on it and work out some stuff that I wanted to do. I know that the big daydream style plans of winning a Nobel Prize probably aren’t going to happen (at least not in the next five years); I’m not even sure if there is a Nobel Prize for social science. So what else would I like to do? Write a book, present a BBC4 documentary about justice, spill things less. One of those seems possible, so onto the form it went. It was the book. I’m doomed to a life of spilled drinks.
In terms of specific research projects, I was a little stumped. I’d been so wrapped up in my thesis for a long time that I couldn’t really see other possible projects. But there were some questions that my thesis didn’t answer, so I wrote those down too. There were some other things that I’m interested in as well, but hadn’t really acted on either, which I realised I now could, even if they seemed a little silly. Yes, I’m shoehorning ways to shout about Superman into my job. It’s entirely fine and very grown-up.
The idea of planning out five years was daunting and seemed far too big at first. Now I’ve committed myself to doing a whole bunch of stuff within that time frame, I’m not sure it’s enough. But “where do you want to be in five years time” is definitely not a fun question still. I understanding the need to put time lines to things, but we might get a better response from people if instead we asked what their goals were, or what things they wanted to achieve overall in their work. I couldn’t answer the question without thinking about what I’m interested in, and how I could act on those things, so to me those are more useful approaches of helping people figure out what they want to do.