How I made my 5 year career plan

I posted recently that I was making an updated 5-year career plan and several people asked if I could share my process, so today I am doing just that, and reflecting on how I feel after making one!

There are a lot of resources out there that say having a long term career plan is helpful. A couple of links really inspired me: first, I always follow the NCFDD advice to create a “semester plan” and they sent a motivating email last week inviting us to really reflect on what changes our plans might require now that we’re halfway through the semester. And I realized that what needed rethinking is that I have no idea what I’m doing this semester or how it fits into broader projects I need to get done.

The Professor is In also suggests a 5 year plan with specific projects and deadlines for completion. She also provides an example of her plan.

I originally took this advice and made a 5 year plan when I started my job. But that was 3 years ago, and then COVID happened, and all our plans went out the window! It felt overwhelming, but ultimately good, to revisit my plan. Here is part of mine so you can see how I formatted it:

Will I accomplish all these things? Probably not. Ideas change and projects change direction! But at least I have an idea that I can move forward on!

What should I keep track of? I suggest creating columns that help you with what you’re trying to accomplish. Here are mine:

  1. Project name
  2. Next action step
  3. Status (Under review, data collection, etc)
  4. Targeted journal (when applicable)
  5. Additional notes (here I kept track of how my tenure timeline compares to that semester).
  6. I color coded by semester for a bit of organization

I thought it would be helpful to see what stage the project is at (this also helped me to be realistic about giving stages of projects enough time) and what the future deadline might be for the project (I use conference submission deadlines as a way to hold myself accountable to finish things).

The first couple semesters were easy enough to fill out. But then I got to 2024, and I was like “of course I have no idea what’s happening in 2024!!!” But then I took a deep breath, and told myself “just take a guess.”

This was the most important part of 5-year planning. I don’t know about you, but I don’t look up from the project in front of me very often. I’m afraid I won’t know what to do next or I’ll run out of ideas, so I hurry from one project to the next. But that doesn’t give me a lot of time to think bigger. So I challenged myself to put things on the schedule that would be really exciting to work on, even if they feel like dreams right now.

Here’s what I ultimately learned:

  1. I give myself too much to do in a single semester.
  2. I am not out of ideas.
  3. My plans will change, but committing to taking the next step is important. There is not right next step, there is only moving forward.

That’s it! I definitely suggest making one, especially on a day you’re feeling a bit tired/unmotivated on projects. It pairs very well with fun pop music and sitting in a nice coffee shop!

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2 thoughts on “How I made my 5 year career plan”

  1. I go to “planning your career” sessions regularly but still think it is hard to predict what will happen in the future. I have a publication plan and I keep my resume up to date. I am planning 1-2 grants ahead and that is about it. No tenure here in Australia for research only academics, so glad I do not have that pressure!


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