Few of us dream of careers in research when we’re young. The medical researchers aren’t as glamorous as the doctors and nurses. The aviation research teams aren’t as cool as those that are up there flying the planes.
But then, as we get older and learn more about life and gain further experience of the world, we start to realize that it’s often these people behind the scenes, putting in the time and hard work, that are making a real difference.
These are the people that are finding cures and new methods. They are the people spotting problems with how things are done and finding ways to make things better. They are analyzing data in many industries to make things better for the public.
This kind of career can be appealing, and research often attracts intelligent, thoughtful people that want to help and make the world a better place, but don’t need all of the attention and admiration that comes with it in more public-facing roles.
But, while a career in research can be tempting, it’s certainly not an easy path. Here are some of the things that you should ask yourself if you are thinking about going into professional research.
Do You Love to Learn?
Learning is an essential part of the research. You’ll need to be open to a lifetime of learning new things, trying new methods and practicing things that you aren’t very good at.
You’ll need to be able to admit that you don’t know something and to find the tools and information that you need to increase your knowledge. Research isn’t as simple as reading data or books.
It’s understanding and knowing what to do with this information. If you hoped to stop learning when you left school, or you think that one day you’ll know everything about your chosen field, then a career in research might not be for you.
Are You Naturally Curious?
If you see something that you don’t understand or hear a vague report of an event, are you eager to find out more?
If you watch a film based on a true story, do you then spend hours Googling and reading about what really happened, to find out more? Are you obsessed with finding out how things work?
If you are passionate about gaining knowledge and understanding, and your curiosity drives you in all areas of your life, this could be a great career path for you to follow.
Are You Interested in Different Fields?
Medical research isn’t just about studying diseases. It’s also about learning about chemicals and ingredients — understanding chemistry and physics.
You might not have patient contact, but you will need to understand patients. How they think and feel, as well as how their bodies work and respond. Research isn’t just about one area of industry. It’s about all of the others that relate to it.
Can You Cope with Slow Results?
Let’s use medicine as an example again. It would be great to spend your days finding cures for diseases and coming up with new methods to help people. But, if it were all that simple, we’d probably have cured a common cold by now.
Life in research is often a slow one. There are massive discoveries and life-altering breakthroughs. But not every day. Not even every year.
You might go a whole decade where all of your findings are small, and your work changes very little. But, that doesn’t mean that these smaller things, like finding deuterium labelled compounds by C/D/N Isotopes won’t one day lead to something much bigger. If you can put up with things moving slowly, then you might do very well.
Do You Work Well Alone?
Researchers are often part of large teams. These teams might then be divided into smaller groups to take on specific projects. Then, you might be delegated tasks and smaller projects to work on independently.
The best researchers can stay motivated to work alone. They manage their time well and focus on the job in hand without constant reminders and check-ups.
Can You Be Part of a Team?
That said, there will also be times when you work as part of a busy team when you need to be one voice in many and get your views heard, and your work noticed.
In these situations, you’ll need to be able to inspire the group, drive things forward, and be a positive force for others.
Are You Looking for Flexible Hours?
Research often attracts people who need flexibility in their working hours.
If you’ve got kids and need to work set days and times, research can be more suitable than working in a more public facing role, which can be a lot more unpredictable.
Do You Problem Solve Well?
Things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes, there’ll be a massive hiccup in something that you’ve been working on for a long time.
Suddenly all of your work stops making sense, and the things that you believed yesterday are no longer true. The best researchers don’t let this stop them.
They apply critical thinking and excellent problem-solving skills to work out what has gone wrong and to get back on track. Great researchers know that things sometimes have to get worse before they start to look better.
Can You Manage Your Own Time?
Researchers work in labs and offices, they work from home, and sometimes from alternative remote working spaces. They must be skilled at working anywhere, without becoming distracted or losing focus.
Are You Prepared for Big Changes?
Whether you work in medicine, education, city planning, science, politics, business, or any other kind of research, the nature of your work means that you should expect significant change.
If you want a job where the methods never change, where your day to day tasks will be the same in twenty years, this isn’t it. The tools and technology available to researchers are changing all of the time.
As your knowledge grows and evolves, so will your job.
Are you thinking about a career in research?