That looming question.

No matter what stage you are at in your career as a scientist in academia, there comes a time when you ask yourself: is it possible for me to explore this avenue, even if its not a linear extrapolation of what I have been doing so far? If I want to eventually succeed in academia, is it a risk to stray from the path of a stream-lined career?

Especially in this day and age, with competition becoming tougher at every level, many will argue that, yes, ideally your CV should be as linear (some might say focused) as possible. In fact, before putting together this article, I may have concurred with this notion.

But then I started to think: a tutor during my undergrad had just returned from the industry to do his PhD at the University (and was punished immediately by having to put up with me), my PhD supervisor had been an air force pilot before becoming a Professor, my PostDoc advisor had been a semi-professional road racer before exchanging handle bars against pipettors, and finally, at my hiring committee, there were no less than three individuals that had been in very lucrative industry positions before returning to academia! And let me stress this: although these examples span four countries on three continents, they are – of course – by no means representative. But they are real.

And like with all good things in science, there are outliers: a Professor I had worked with on a couple of projects as a PhD student had actually done both his undergrad and PhD at proper ‘Ivy League’ schools, only to directly become a tenured Professor at another high-profile University after high PhD…clearly an example of a hyper-linear career path. But worry not, somewhere between these rather extreme examples lies enough room for you and your plans to explore some non-linear options along the way – don´t be shy, try them out!