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Thing 15: The Career Necessities

Updated: Jan 3

Our guides today are the incomparable Yvonne Gaut (Otago) and Rana Marrington (Surrey).

Three bears on some rocks

When career colleagues got together again to discuss the content of this year’s article, we acknowledged how unsettled times are. Changes are happening rapidly, in relation to health, economics and global politics, and movement around the globe is still somewhat restrictive. This led to a discussion of how we find that even in uncertain times the fundamentals of basic career models still hold true when deliberating on career planning strategies. We can clearly see where we have been as we “walk backwards into the future”. “Ka mua, ka muri” is a Māori proverb saying that we need to look to the past to help us to navigate the future.

What we have chosen to focus on this year is a return to a career model that takes us back to the basics, the SODA model (Figure 1) below, and suggest using it as a basis for reflective discussions.

The SODA acronym: Self-awareness, Option-awareness, Deciding and Acting and Planning
Figure 1

Starting with self-awareness this model suggests looking inward, reviewing who we are and what we enjoy. These insights can influence career choices and inform how we might describe ourselves to others in an application or a subsequent interview, for example. What can happen following the intense focus on a thesis, for example, and / or challenging research schedule, is that our sense of self can be lost if we do not take time to review our strengths and talents. We may recall who we were before we started a project but may neglect to spend enough time processing how the experience may have changed us. Using the questions in the diagram above, you may like to consider your answers and discuss them together in your pods. Have you developed new skills and confidence? Has your perspective changed following experiences this last year, or are you inclined to continue on your current track? Be mindful of how you share your ideas. Everyone sees things differently and not everyone explains their ideas in the same way. The use of active listening skills and being curious when helping others to think a little more deeply helps.

Discussing ideas across continents is an opportunity to explore and compare options to expand awareness. You may like to discuss what types of career pathways people are aware of and what meaningful work means to you. What previous experience have you had, and can you share insights into the labour market, both academic and beyond? How have people used training and development opportunities to support successful career transitions?

Missing from the framework above is mention of the importance of values in informing career decisions, which may require deeper reflection. You may find it interesting to try a values questionnaire, such as the one which can be found in the assessments section of this North American careers resource Welcome | ImaginePhD These personal priorities, which can change over time, influence our decisions as well our behaviour either consciously or unconsciously. They can also help us with finding a fit with an organisation.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Figure 2) is a theory of motivation, helpful in evaluating priorities and analysing what may be at the core of current needs, what is present, what is missing.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Figure 2

In challenging times our drivers may change depending on circumstances. If we have outstanding bills, or the desire to live somewhere in particular, we may choose or be compelled to compromise on what we want from a job, for example. On the other hand, feeling emotionally and materially secure can liberate us to be ambitious and aspirational.

There is a danger that career models such as the SODA model suggest that career planning happens in a logical, tidy, and linear way but it is an active, iterative and often emotional process. In practice career pathways can be messy and bumpy. It can help to have a written plan, but it is not essential. Some people visualise where they want to be and start to engage in activities and make decisions en route with a particular end goal in mind. Some people do not plan and rely upon serendipity, but chances are if you are in research, it is likely you have taken some strategic decisions to achieve your current role. If you are an ambitious academic, or seeking a competitive professional role, you will need to be strategic and plan longer term because some milestones, such as achieving recognition at international level or gaining appropriate qualifications, take time to achieve. Most of us use a variety of these approaches, a result of intellectual and emotional processes, head and heart, working together. Finding support on the journey can help ease the way.

A group of people in a desert sitting around a campfire under starry skies

Another Māori proverb referring to co-operation and the combination of resources to get ahead, says “Naku te rourou naut e rourou ka ora ai te iwi” – with your basket and my basket the people will live. Use this time now, and with the support of others, to find common ground. Imagine you are sitting around a fire under the stars. What advice will you give to those around you to take with them into the future? How can you support each other? Just as progress in research is founded on the work of others going beforehand, it is with the collective that we often find our way forward, sharing ideas and understanding commonalities. It is with this wisdom that we can establish connections and generate possibilities for the future.

The future reveals itself either as the break of dawn or the setting of the sun. It is one of the certainties that tomorrow will arrive.

What are your 'career necessities' that inform the choices you make? You may wish to reflect on how you got where you are with your pod - and where you're going next!

Further support

If you would like to explore a range of ideas related to your interests you may like to try the Prospects Career Planner here and browse resources such as 101 jobs that change the world – UKRI Career Search | Jobs, Career Profiles, Descriptions & Career Training

University of Otago

Online career guidance appointment bookings and career and employment events by email to or

Surrey University

PGRs can access individual careers guidance and coaching here:

ECRs please email to request a meeting.

University College Dublin

Graduate Researchers can book individual 1-1 Career Advice and Guidance sessions and workshops at: has a wealth of information relating to the PhD journey at UCD

Victoria University of Wellington

Online career guidance appointment bookings and career and employment events

Man with ukulele singing on a street corner
"Forget about your worries and your strife..."

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Unknown member
May 16, 2022

What am I good at?, what are my skills and interest? are two questions I find conflicting at times. I have started my research journey in Accounting however, my interest was and still is in computing (python). I hope to find some common ground between the two since my research in Accounting have nothing to do with computing.


Unknown member
May 06, 2022

The SODA model is quite interest and pragmatic. The Maslow hierarchy took me back some years ago to my bachelor's and diploma in education years! How important and inspiring this theory is!


Teresa Phipps
Teresa Phipps
May 05, 2022

I should have added this to the blog, but... If you're a Swansea PGR student, you can access information and support from the Swansea Employability Academy (SEA), including one to one meetings with careers consultants and accessing the online Career Development Course.


Unknown member
May 01, 2022


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