As I draw to the close of my PhD program, my thoughts have increasingly focused on my career. While I am fortunate enough to be doing my PhD within an active research unit, I’m still feeling unprepared for my next career step. I feel that I’m expected to go take what offers and opportunities ever come my way. But all the signs point further contraction of viable positions in academia. As romantic as being a struggling academic may seem to some people, I would like to NOT have to spend the rest of my adult life perpetually pursuing various nominal research grants to keep food in my fridge.

In the human and social sciences, there are a plethora of research groups based within think tanks and universities; although a lot of work is done is silos. So how do I prepare for my own eventual career? Getting academic information is easy; but career information? There is a lot of fumbling around in the dark on your own.

In my field of study, there are four traditional research career paths you can follow: academia; non-governmental think tanks and advocacy groups; working for the government; and doing political risk analysis for the corporate sector. Each path has different output expectations and ways to prepare; a doctorate is only necessary for academia. I have come across a few successful social scientists who move comfortably between the different sectors. All these people have the same thing in common — networks.

Networks are important, but I believe that they can be more useful if they are  structured and intentional like “mastermind groups.”

Napoleon Hill conceptualized the idea of a mastermind group in his 1937 book “Think and Grow Rich.” He describes this group as being a union of people who will support each other in pursuing their goals. My goals are to produce high quality output and have money in my bank account. Both goals need support and some mentorship from those who have gone ahead.

I’m toying with the idea of creating a mastermind group for several reasons- the main one being my daughter, now in first grade. I witnessed her move to new heights in her academic abilities by working in groups. Her reading in particular has benefited from paired and group reading exercises. I figured if that achieved with a child why won’t it work for professors?

In her Forbes article, 7 Reasons to Join a Mastermind Group, Stephanie Burns breaks down the pros of group mentorship:

  1. “Exclusivity”
  2. More potential advisors
  3. More potential collaborators
  4. Access to a wider network
  5. The opportunity to learn new things
  6. The potential for “cross promotion”
  7. Stretching the limits of your thinking.

To me, it looks like the possibilities are endless. And you are not a lonely academic struggling for funds on your own.

But I have no idea how to start such a mastermind group. Do I go online? Do I just fall in with a larger research agenda? Do I go “sell” myself at conference?

If anyone has any experience of using a mastermind group to succeed in their post-PhD careers please share in the comment section below. Is it worthwhile to join a group or it is better to be a lone cowboy? How did you do it?

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