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How do I ensure irrelevant office jobs never come back to haunt me? watch

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    I am doing a cognitive neuroscience degree. Ideally, I would like to do research, but I'm not sure how realistic it is that I will get there through the usual institutional channels (I'm in my mid 40's).

    One of the first things I am going to do when I start uni is ask for some careers advice, but this is the thing. As educational opportunities have up to this point in life eluded me, I have done a succession of pay-the-bills jobs over the years, most of them office based. I only ended up there initially because I had good MS Office skills and an extremely fast typing speed, but I hate office work and the idea of ending up there again because I can't find something appropriate fills me with dread.

    I have encountered the college careers advisor before, and I know they probably think they're only trying to help, but I've had some real stinkers in terms of suggestions in the past and I want to go prepared to deflect suggestions along the lines of, "I see you have a lot of office experience, perhaps with your degree you might consider being a medical secretary?" No. I can't emphasise how much I hate office jobs, or being any kind of support staff. To put it more simply, I want to have an assistant, not be someone's assistant. I've put in my dues doing grunt jobs for the last 30 years since leaving school. I'm not a kid that could use some humility learning the ropes. I've done all that, thank you very much.

    For once in my life I've got the chance to study a subject I'm really keen on, and I don't want to end up back at square one. I'm even leaning toward self-employment rather than find myself back in an office processing some city bigwig's expenses, but I have no marketing and selling skills.
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    (Original post by mrsbloggs)
    I am doing a cognitive neuroscience degree. Ideally, I would like to do research, but I'm not sure how realistic it is that I will get there through the usual institutional channels (I'm in my mid 40's).

    One of the first things I am going to do when I start uni is ask for some careers advice, but this is the thing. As educational opportunities have up to this point in life eluded me, I have done a succession of pay-the-bills jobs over the years, most of them office based. I only ended up there initially because I had good MS Office skills and an extremely fast typing speed, but I hate office work and the idea of ending up there again because I can't find something appropriate fills me with dread.

    I have encountered the college careers advisor before, and I know they probably think they're only trying to help, but I've had some real stinkers in terms of suggestions in the past and I want to go prepared to deflect suggestions along the lines of, "I see you have a lot of office experience, perhaps with your degree you might consider being a medical secretary?" No. I can't emphasise how much I hate office jobs, or being any kind of support staff. To put it more simply, I want to have an assistant, not be someone's assistant. I've put in my dues doing grunt jobs for the last 30 years since leaving school. I'm not a kid that could use some humility learning the ropes. I've done all that, thank you very much.

    For once in my life I've got the chance to study a subject I'm really keen on, and I don't want to end up back at square one. I'm even leaning toward self-employment rather than find myself back in an office processing some city bigwig's expenses, but I have no marketing and selling skills.
    Nobody is forcing you to do office jobs though. Careers advice at university is normally very generic; I've found it useless. Just aim to for research if that's what you want, forget about what university careers people say.

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    Nobody is forcing you to take those jobs. At the end of the day, you have to go out and get the job that you want yourself...
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    Your path into academic research will involve at least six years of learning the ropes - 3 years of undergrad and 3 years of PhD. Possibly more if you need to do a Masters, or you spend more than 3 years on the PhD. After that, you will still be considered a junior or "early career" post-doctoral researcher and - as with any other job - you will have to work your way up to a senior role where you have an assistant rather than being one. It's worth bearing in mind that there are many more people gaining PhDs each year, than there are roles which require a PhD.

    Your previous career/jobs will have little bearing on your new career, other than demonstrating transferrable skills. You are starting at square one and you now need to pay your dues in your new field. Like it or not, you are a grunt again, and will remain so for some years. I've done an undergrad degree, a Masters and two years of a PhD; I started getting Research Assistant contracts after four years of study.

    You will need to do the donkey work of finding suitable jobs. As has been said above, uni careers offices tend to be too generic to be of much use once you start specialising. I studied archaeology at uni and there was no point going to the careers services of my undergrad or Masters unis. The way you land jobs is generally through networking. Things like attending conferences and getting your name/research out there, and getting involved in staff research projects so that you're exposed to a range of research styles and can thus develop your own.

    There are no shortcuts into a career in research. You will need a PhD to be considered for the job/status you've set your heart on. The process will take years.
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    Just to add to my post above:

    (Original post by mrsbloggs)
    I'm not a kid that could use some humility learning the ropes. I've done all that, thank you very much.
    You might need to adjust your mindset a little. The university staff aren't going to see a worldy-wise professonally experienced mature person when they look at you. They're going to see a first year undergraduate. In my experience, they won't interact with you any differently than they do the 18 year old school leavers around you. My lecturers only started speaking to me in what I would consider a relaxed peer-to-peer way, once I graduated. We don't get additional respect just because we're older. It's a level playing field which I found quite isolating at times. But it's really only fair.

    For once in my life I've got the chance to study a subject I'm really keen on, and I don't want to end up back at square one. I'm even leaning toward self-employment rather than find myself back in an office processing some city bigwig's expenses, but I have no marketing and selling skills.
    There are many more types of job than office assistant, markeing or selling. If you can find something to do which pays the bills, that's your first win these days. I'm interspersing research assistant work (I spent 20+ years in my last job "in charge" and it was a PITA, so I'm happy being a grunt!), short entry-level contracts in my uni subject field and shifts in a supermarket. You have to find the style which works for you, but that might mean broadening your horizons. There's nothing at all wrong with chasing your dream - to some extent that's why we all do this at our advanced ages! - but you'll probably have to make compromises in order to pay the bills along the way.
 
 
 
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