As part of an article on debunking the myth of a linear educational and career trajectory, the SPSPotlight co-editors surveyed the SPSP community to learn more about the gaps individuals have taken during their academic journeys.
In this survey, we also asked respondents to reflect on advice they have for those who are also experiencing or anticipating a gap in the near future. Here is what they said:
“Any person worth their salt won't judge you for taking some time off if you need it. Your well-being is more important than societal expectations for your education.”
“Even if it seems like you might be pushed off course, consider your circumstances wisely. In hindsight the time is often felt as a blessing—a time for healing, relaxation, self-care, money-making, etc.”
It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do
“No one is supposed to have their entire career trajectory mapped out in their third year of college…Many times, students feel as though they're a failure if they don't go straight from college into a Ph.D. program. This might be due to some sort of social or family pressure (even if it's not explicit) …The college-to-Ph.D. pathway doesn't always happen, even for the students with the best GPAs. It's far more common to take some time off, or go to a Master’s program, or work as a lab manager, or any combination of things before finding a doctoral program that fits.” – Dr. Jim Fryer, Associate Professor in the Psychology department at SUNY Potsdam.
Make the most of your time
“Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from whatever you end up doing. Academic advancement (whether that is getting into grad school or getting an academic job) is really hard, and many talented people are not successful the first time. Take the time to reflect and grow; craft a story about how whatever you are doing is beneficial and use it to make your application better the next time around.” – Dr. Amy Brown, Associate Professor and Department Head in Psychology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette
You can give yourself permission to re-evaluate your path
“One of the liabilities to being bright is that you know you could do a number of things well, and you also know you don't have enough information to know what it would be like to do any of those things. You will always be making those kinds of choices without complete information so allow yourself to admit that a choice you made isn't working out and give yourself permission to make a different choice.”
Think about the big picture
“My main advice is to stay open to the many ways you can use your brilliance and your skillset to contribute to the world - we need more people trained in scientific thinking across the domains of our society, and although there are reasons we are so passionate about our fields of study, there are often unexpected perks to other career paths as well.”
“You are still contributing even if you find yourself unemployed or underemployed. You are still of value…As much as possible, try to live your life in a multifaceted way. Try to nurture all aspects of who you are, and don't desert these when you do achieve your goals regarding work and/or school.”
“No one will ever tell you that the extra experiences they gained in life made them less competitive or less certain about what they wanted to do. All we have is time in this life. Use it to better yourself or your community and use it to be certain that this is what you want to do."
Responses have been edited for clarity and grammar. Identified, direct quotes were printed with permission. Thank you to all who completed the post-degree transitions survey, and in particular, thank you to those who allowed us to follow up with them and provided more information to us about their experiences.