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Returning to STEM
Returning to STEM

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2.1 Your career lifeline

A useful technique to help you with this kind of reflection is to draw a ‘lifeline’ representing the ups and downs and key events that have influenced your career. It will help you to gather insights that can influence your future career choices, and help you start to think about things that you might want to develop or change. Janet, a scientist who returned to her career after a ten-year gap, found the lifeline really helpful, when she was thinking about what to do next:

The lifeline exercise was very powerful for me as I was at the start of the return to work process, it guided me into thinking about what I did and didn't like about previous jobs and why they had been successful/unsuccessful.

Janet’s lifeline
Figure 2 Janet’s lifeline

Activity 1 My lifeline

Timing: Allow approximately 45 minutes

Try producing a lifeline for yourself. You can do this either by downloading the lifeline chart [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   or, if you prefer, draw it by hand on a piece of paper or in your notebook. Do whatever you find easier. Be as creative as you like with this activity – it may take a few drafts before you are happy with how it looks.

If you found the lifeline activity interesting and want to know more about this subject, you may wish to read this article by Herminia Ibarra (2004). This research explores how people manage and negotiate transitions such as career changes. During the early stages there is a phase of imagining, exploring options and ‘trying out’ potential new identities. The transition phase often entails conflicting feelings and a sense of being in-between different identities, and this is also true for those returning from career breaks. Part of the process is creating new narratives that help to establish new identities.