Every career probably has a tipping point. Twenty-seven years after embarking on my PhD, a period riddled with false starts, uncertainties, twists and turns, I sense the shifting of weight beneath me and momentum gathering as I start to swing to some bright but unknown Other Side.
Nothing has materially changed about my job description or status. I’m still in the same place, running a small group at UCL. I’m somewhere around the Senior Lecturer/Reader mark in terms of on-paper rank, although being on the research ladder instead of the academic path muddies the water. And I’m still on open-ended funding, meaning that my position is moderately less secure than that of an academic (though to be honest, in the current climate nobody is truly safe).
But recent events have conspired to consolidate my position. I feel like a tree whose roots have grown in complexity until they have finally knitted into the community around me. The connections are formed of research collaborations, shared experiences, collegial friendships, teaching interactions, an increase in responsibility and visibility, the imminent translation of my work from lab abstraction to clinical trial. I have also managed to secure enough funding to both shore up my position and expand my group size this year; soon, I’ll be advertising for three new positions.
I feel a bit of stage fright at the thought of a bigger lab. Obviously it will be amazing to finally have enough hands to make real progress in my research area. But the flip side is the realization that each new person in the group will require a successful research project to thrive in their own right, and that ultimately it is me who has to ensure that this happens. I have to consciously realign my thinking from the point of view of a few individual research strands to the larger, coherent and synergistic whole – a whole only possible when a lab reaches a critical mass of people.
I am looking forward to taking stock, working together with my team to create a detailed and concrete vision for the group and its future direction. But at the moment, on this last day home before my holiday ends, I’m enjoying the sense that it is all before me, still unformed, but soon to take flight under my guiding hands.