Do You Really Need a Plan B?

Navigating the uncertainties of professional life often raises a pivotal question: do we need a Plan B? The truth is, no matter how well we plan, there are moments when things don’t proceed as expected. That’s where a contingency plan or a Plan B can be a real lifeline.

I’ve traditionally been on Team “Plan A.” I believe in investing all my efforts into my primary goals, adopting an optimistic approach and assuming things will turn out well. There’s a Dutch phrase, “het komt goed,” which translates to “it’ll be fine.” This is pretty much my mantra.

Sometimes, it doesn’t work well – as I could experience it during my academic career.

For my postdoc that I wanted to do abroad, I applied for a fellowship to support my stay in the Netherlands. It was my first grant application, I had roughly no idea what I was doing – surprise surprise, I didn’t get it (being ranked at the position just after the threshold). The timing was not ideal: I received the bad news in December, while everything was ready for me to relocate in January.

Some might assume that this time, I had a backup plan, but that wasn’t the case. My conviction in the quality of my proposal made the rejection quite a shock.

In a scramble to find a solution, I was fortunate that my institute provided interim support. With more preparation and insight, I secured the grant on my second attempt. But this learning experience came at a significant financial cost.

Fast forward to the end of my postdoc, that I wanted to further extend. Two more grant applications resulted in two rejections. Despite my diverse applications to both academic and corporate sectors, the outcomes weren’t favorable. Feedback varied: I was too experienced, not experienced enough, too applied, too fundamental, etc.

The stress levels surged again. Without savings to fall back on, I faced tough times. Thankfully, my institute once again stepped in, bridging the gap until I found my next opportunity.

From these experiences, I’ve learnt the following:

💡 In academia, there are two transitions that are hugely challenging: from PhD to postdoc and from postdoc to next step. It’s a funnel – many called but few chosen. It’s essential to recognize this competitive landscape.

💡 Proactivity is crucial. Anticipating future moves and planning ahead can make all the difference.

💡 Whether you’re eyeing academic or non-academic roles, seek guidance. Getting feedback on applications and Resume/CVs is invaluable.

💡 And for those who feel more secure with one, consider formulating a Plan B

While I remain a staunch “Plan A” supporter, these experiences have shaped my approach. Today, I’m better equipped, both mentally and financially, for unexpected challenges. In the end, it’s about striking a balance that aligns with your personal and professional journey.


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