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I helped my PhD supervisor to secure a funding for an 18-month project in 2019. My supervisor got the grant in April 2020 and she asked me to consider doing a postdoc under the project. I was not very keen to continue doing lab research activity, yet I still agreed to take up the postdoc because of the uncertain job market during the pandemic. Since then I started to work on the postdoc project planning and budgetary control while preparing for my viva.

I successfully submitted my final thesis in September 2020 and the postdoc contract officially started in November 2020. The offer letter stated the contract is valid for 6 months, renewable until the end of project. This condition is regulated by the university.

As my 6-month postdoc contract is nearing its end, my supervisor asked me to liaise with the HR on extension. I hesitated to extend my postdoc because I lost the interest in doing lab research any longer. I also stumbled on a few job openings for research grant management elsewhere, which I am interested in applying.

The foundations of most of my postdoc research activities has been laid out/completed by now because I started the project before I passed my viva, e.g. communications between the project stakeholders, organizing workshops, pilot reactor design & procurement. The tasks left are mainly the reactor operation and data collection.

Should I let my supervisor know that I would like to move on to a different career path, since the 6-month contract is nearing its expiry? Or am I obliged to extend the contract so that the project does not get stuck in the middle? I feel the guilt because I had the experience of having to take over other postgraduate student's work because they left.

I would appreciate advise from postdoc/project PI who experienced similar issue. Thank you in advance!

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    Research admin with 11 years experience here -- have you researched the field of research administration? Do you have a plan to get into the position? Most people get exposure slowly over many years and don't just jump into grants management. Even people with background from the central office of sponsored programs have a hard time learning how to manage a portfolio. The work is very specific and requires a long time to get up and running. Just curious about this exit strategy, because it sounds a bit risky to me, or at least, maybe not as glorious as you may expect. Commented Feb 13, 2021 at 23:14
  • @yourfriendlyresearchadmin Thank you for your comments. I have joined a workshop during my PhD on grant management by my institution, mainly to expose the researchers to the entire grant cycle from grant calls, to application/pitching, budgetary control, progress report prep and project closure. My PI also asked me to liaise with the research management center (RMC) regularly to manage finance issues or virement, and of course to draft mid-term/final reports to funders. I am thinking to join RMC to facilitate grant portfolio management. Appreciate your views/experience on my transition. Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 7:10
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    If you can work out shadowing someone for a bit I think it would be well worth it. The job is very stressful. I mean don't get me wrong, I haven't left the profession, but there is research specifically on stress for the field. You can read the work of Jennifer Shambrook. One of the biggest issues is that most people have to self-train while on deadline. While resourceful people can do it most of the time, it's really a draining process. If you get in over your head out of the gate, it can be way too much and the risk for the PI/institution is on your shoulders costing folks a lot of $$$. Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 22:19

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Or am I obliged to extend the contract so that the project does not get stuck in the middle?

Let's start with the easy question -- you are not obliged to extend the contract. A post-doc is inherently a time-limited position; both your funding agency and your university are (or should be) well aware that you could leave at any time. Your case is even more clear cut, in that the university deliberately structured your contract in such a way that they could cut you loose at any time. This flexibility cuts both ways.

I feel the guilt because I had the experience of having to take over other postgraduate student's work because they left.

This shouldn't induce guilt; rather, you have created a new project that can be used to give a new opportunity to someone else. Sure, this might not happen and the work might be instead forced onto an already-overworked student, but that is not your concern.

Should I let my supervisor know that I would like to move on to a different career path

Well, there are competing norms here. One (mostly in business) is that you should never express any thoughts about leaving until you have accepted another job. Another (mostly in universities) is that you should give as much notice as possible so that your advisor can make plans. Which of these you opt for will depend on your supervisor's personality. You should also check your contract to see what the provisions for leaving are -- renewing your contract for six months might not mean that you have to stay for the full six months.

I also stumbled on a few job openings for research grant management elsewhere, which I am interested in applying.

The way you have written this makes it sound like you have only the vaguest idea about what this career path entails. If this is the case, I would caution you against becoming unemployed too soon; your job search may take some time. I'm not sure which position you are referring to, but "contract administrator" positions are usually bookkeeping positions that are not a natural fit for an academic, while "program manager" positions are generally rather competitive and might not be something you would be certain to easily get hired for directly after a post-doc.

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    This is spot on! Commented Feb 13, 2021 at 15:49
  • @cag51 Many thanks for the point-to-point response! Definitely helped to clear my doubts on how to approach this problem with my PI. Guess for now I should start "soft" by first discussing the project closure (research report preparation, publications etc.) as the grant will tentatively end soon (November 2021). Looking for jobs in parallel and let my PI know about my transition. Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 7:24
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First, to be honest, I've never been in your precise situation. But I do have a 40 year career in academia behind me. I've been in good situations and bad situations. I stayed in a bad situation for too long once and it was a mistake. I had options that I didn't recognize at the time, to my dismay.

I you have options that seem better to you than what you have now, then take advantage of it. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200. Go directly to your best option.

There is little worse in your single life than wasting it doing something you'd rather not be doing unless there are no other options.

You are at a natural point to change your direction. Just tell your PI that you now need to move on. If they can't understand the value of it then it is their problem.

You only have one life to live. Live it fully. Live it happily.

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