Choose the right work environment for your personality
There are many reasons why we have chosen not to work as a scientist in a lab. For me, one of them was that I realised a lab was not the right work environment for my personality. Often when we apply for jobs, we don’t take our place of work and the effect on our job satisfaction into account. A lab is a very specific environment suited to people with specific personality traits and characteristics. A lot of the work may be independent and self-driven even if you are part of a wider team. The environment may feel more clinical, although you may also spend some time in an office.
When looking for the right work environment, you may think the only alternative is to work in an office environment. The options are more varied and it’s important to look at several factors when deciding on the right work environment. Here are a few of the options you could consider along with what you should think about for each one:
We often see an office setting or corporate environment as the default alternative to working in a lab. You may have different perceptions of what this looks like depending on your exposure through work experience, stories from family members and friends, or what you see on TV. The culture of corporate companies actually varies depending on their size, leadership and values. Some large corporations may expect employees to dress smartly from top-to-toe and have quite a formal environment day-to-day. Others may have a more relaxed dress code, with a more informal, social atmosphere, with some formalities expected in certain situations e.g. having an important meeting. One company may have an open plan office space which encourages collaboration and communication between teams. Others may have cubicles where you have a set desk and your own space. Think of the formalities of working in a large bank compared to a tech company like Google with their sleep pods!
With a science background, educating the next generation with your knowledge may be your calling. Being in a classroom and a school setting is a totally different experience. You are interacting with different generations more than with peers closer to your own age or level of experience. Within the classroom, you may feel like you have a level of control over your work environment. You may be able to customise your desk or displays to suit the subject you are teaching. Once you step outside the classroom, it's likely that students and other staff members surround you wherever you go. Unlike in an office environment, there may be very little time for quiet space and reflection.
Institutions such as museums can make for an interesting surrounding as your day-to-day work environment. You can experience a mixture of being in a quiet office and stepping out into what can feel like another world, surrounded by members of the public. Since museums are public places, this is something that you would be constantly exposed to even if you work in more of a behind-the-scenes role. What is unique about working at a museum is seeing the impact your work is having all around you. You realise that you are contributing to the running of an institution that people visit everyday.
Working for a start-up is often more informal that being in a corporate setting. This is a popular reason for many career transitions out of a large corporation into small enterprises. The entrepreneurial spirit can create a culture of innovation and creativity. Although because it’s all hands on deck, the work can be even more intense than a corporate job. They can balance this out by the informality of socialising at work, relaxed dress codes and the close team spirit. It can be the right environment if you enjoy forming close bonds with others and working in a smaller space.
Perhaps your desire to work outside the lab has made you wonder about other scientific environments that you can work in. These may include more clinical settings which could offer interaction with patients and closer involvement with scientists and lab work. This type of environment could offer a compromise between working in a lab 24/7 and making a complete jump to a corporate office job.
Overall, one of the main distinctions between working in an office environment and one of the alternatives mentioned above is that you witness the impact of your work upfront. In an office environment, you can often feel distant to the ultimate impact your work is having. In a classroom, museum or healthcare setting, you are directly in the environment and around the people you are impacting on a day-to-day basis.
It’s important to consider your personality and core characteristics when deciding what the right work environment is for you. More introverted personalities may thrive in smaller companies where you form close bonds with fewer team members, or equally in a large corporate company where you get your own desk and space. Those who want to interact with different age groups would enjoy a place where various members of the public are around, including schools, museums and hospitals. Volunteering, work experience and just general self-assessment in your early career stages can help you to figure out what the right work environment is for you – it may take some trial and error!
If you are ready to take your career outside the lab and want to know how to start, book a Beyond the Lab Breakthrough Session here.