Caught between academia and industry, how do I avoid appearing flaky?

With positions scarce in both sectors, I’m applying for jobs and post-doctoral funding but worry I might appear unreliable

On Friday and Monday we publish the problems that will feature in a forthcoming Dear Jeremy advice column in the Guardian Money supplement, so readers can offer their own advice and suggestions. We then print the best of your comments alongside Jeremy’s own insights. Here is the latest dilemma – what are your thoughts?

I have just defended my PhD thesis and, in principle, am about to enter the job market. I am a theoretical biologist and while I have a variety of transferable skills I am not in a position to apply for many jobs beyond those which provide graduate training schemes, as some pharmaceutical companies do. I am also trying to arrange a post-doctoral position as I have missed the deadlines for a lot of the industry graduate programmes.

But I don’t know if I should apply for a job and then withdraw if I suceed in getting post-doctoral funding. I am worried that if I give research a shot and find I don’t like it, I will have burnt my bridges with certain companies if I apply for a job, go for interview but then withdraw. Do I then risk appearing flaky if I apply again in a year?

I guess the issue is that I am unsure what I want to do, and I don’t want employers to detect as much and think I won’t make an effort at a company. I would certainly give any job I’d be lucky enough to get my all; I just worry I’ll look like a risky choice if I change my mind this once.

I can’t afford to put all my eggs in one basket (academic or industry) at the moment as positions are scarce in both, and I’m worried I won’t appear reliable or dedicated. My somewhat esoteric skills also worry me, as I will be older and less suited than students coming straight out of college with a degree exactly specialised in industry areas – so overall I might appear both unsuitable and unreliable.

Can you advise me how to avoid this appearance? Should I avoid applying for jobs?

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