Five years ago I did a course in leadership and learning at the University of Canterbury, as part of their Graduate Diploma in Management. The course included completing a range of different psychological tests to help assess our different strengths, weaknesses and preferences.

One such assessment was the Careers Anchor Self-Assessment, which attempts to identify “your unique combination of perceived career competence, motives and values“. Understanding career anchors can help an individual assess what sort of career options might be most suitable for him/her.

I know some scientists can be dismissive of psychological testing (and of psychology as a whole) but I find this a fascinating area of study, which if applied appropriately can help us better understand, for example, what careers we might find most satisfying.

Here at sciblogs, different options for PhD graduates have been discussed from time to time – academia, consultancy, entrepreneurial pathways, teaching etc.  Indeed, the last couple of years there has been a lot of talk in scientific circles about developing more entrepreneurs in science.  Elf Eldridge just this week quoted Phil O’Reilly as saying ”When many see the commercialization of science as a potential alternative to the academic career, we should also be clear that this will not be the case for everyone, and we need to cater to the needs of ALL our emerging scientists”

It seems to me that PhD students should be encouraged quite early on, to not only consider the different career options a PhD graduate might have, but to also reflect on which careers might suit them best. Tools to stimulate such reflection could include a Careers Anchor Assessment. This way they may be able to best prepare themselves for two or three career options which are most likely to suit their personality, motivations and desires.

The Careers Anchor Assessment can be carried out online for $40 (ouch), but can also be done using the book Career Anchors Self-Assessment, which many libraries will hopefully have, but which can also be bought at amazon for less than $12 in kindle format or from fishpond for under $20.

By answering and scoring a series of questions the self assessment attempts to identify your strongest career anchors. The list of career anchors includes:

Technical competence – preference for opportunities that allow you to apply and develop your technical skills

Managerial competence – enjoy managing a team

Autonomy/Independence – want to define your own work in your own way

Security/Stability – prefer job security/tenure

Entrepreneurial Creativity – - desire to create enterprise/opportunities of your own

Service/Dedication to a cause – pursuit of work that serves a cause/makes the world a better place

Pure Challenge – opportunity to solve problems

Lifestyle – desire to balance and integrate your personal, family and career needs.


Career Anchors Self-Assessment by Edgar H. Schein, 3rd edition, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.