In a year or so, I will have to decide where to go next. I never like to be in a rush, especially when it comes to my future. Hence, it is time to think about it.
Employment or self-employment
Let’s break down the options. Employment or self-employment. I guess, I will go for employment: retirement salary, health insurance, unemployment guarantees have all their share, here. I might arguably earn more as employee, now-a-day, than as self-employed. Should I start my own business, it will probably be something like wedding photographer: yes, cool, but maybe I should practice more!
Private vs public sector
Private sector means industry, possibly a large scale multinational industry in the global energy business. I am exploring this direction, still it is a path I know less and I am not familiar with. The feeling is that industry is looking more for engineers rather than scientists. I may well be wrong.
Public sector has a wider variety of possible employers: universities, research centres, national authorities, governmental agencies and departments, international organizations. You name them. Not necessarily, public sector means more freedom of research than private sector. Not even in universities, so dependent they are from external funding.
The easiest choice, for those with a PhD. At least if you exclude a brave (and idealistic) friend of mine, who is looking for a career as high school teacher, despite his doctoral degree.
University means a sequence of postdocs here and there, until the lucky day you get in a tenure track. Not that this guarantees a professorship in the same university. Most of the times, moving from one country to the next is still a necessary duty.
The salary in universities is not really appealing, however working hours might be flexible, and there is less pressure than in other organizations. A good choice if you want to have children, if you enjoy teaching and if you like some freedom in research. Not the right place, if you still dream to change the world, or at least to make a difference.
On a final note, famous university professors include Indiana Jones and Raymond “Ray” Stantz. Two good reasons to pursue a career in the academia.
The most famous of them being CERN, in Switzerland. But I am thinking also about RIKEN, in Japan, LANL, in New Mexico, Brookhaven National Laboratory, in New York, or the future European Spallation Source, in Sweden — just to name few of them.
Research centres offer frontier research at the edge of our knowledge. Exciting, isn’t it? These are the right places if I want to win a second Nobel Prize, this time for physics. The work and effort required are somehow more relevant that in universities, and there is no teaching involved — in the good and in the bad of it.
Salaries tend to be competitive, as well as benefits — if you exclude paid vacations. In Japan, you get Saturdays and Sundays, not much more in the US. The environment however is of high level, and you might love spending time at work. Maybe not the right places to have children.
And yes, research centres tend to be located in the middle of nowhere, far away from civilization, either in some desert region or on top of some volcano.
National authorities and governmental posts
These positions offer usually some good security. The job has a decent pay, the benefits are typical of public employment. In general it is not easy to access such positions, but it is worth trying.
Do not really expect to do any cutting edge research activity, here. Regulatory authorities privilege reliability over brilliant and revolutionary ideas. Still there is space for — well defined and justified — innovation. The work however has an impact on everyday life of millions of people. If it is well done, the impact is positive, and may give some satisfaction.
National authorities, though, offer limited mobility. Moreover, you never know who is going to be elected next, and one day you might be undoing something you did the day before.
Here it is where I am now. And I love it. The working environment is extremely positive and diversity is valued — it is not always so, when a specific nationality is dominant, i.e. in universities or national authorities.
International organizations include the United Nations and the European Commission, but also the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian entities. Here what you do has a wider impact on our world that any other possible activity, still sometimes your personal contribution may go unnoticed to the public.
And yes, working for one of these organizations sounds quite cool. Just names as “CERN” might compete with “IAEA” or “European Union“, on your Facebook page. “University of Canicattì”, sorry to say, does not make the same impression.