Some think career changes are made based on burnout and emotional decisions, like a librarian quitting and turning into a home renovator for the excitement, or a construction worker becoming a furniture designer to express his creativity, or a home chef becoming an information technology specialist for the money.
Contrary to emotion-based career ideas, the best path to choosing a new career is reached through planning.
Douglas Boyd, with a Ph.D. in biological sciences, decided to transfer after 27 years at a well-known Houston cancer research center in a university setting to a field not commonly associated with academia — aviation. To ensure his career change would be successful, he planned extensively every step of the way.
Boyd said, “I would not have switched careers to one where I had no prior knowledge or experience.”
Boyd moved from Britain to Houston, Texas, and began as a researcher for the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He became accomplished in this field and continued his career for 27 years under seven-year renewable contracts.
In his final seven-year contract, he gradually realized his lack of enthusiasm for the discipline despite National Institute of Health funding and some 89 publications in peer-reviewed journals such as Cancer Research.
“I had loved aviation since childhood, but I didn’t start part-time studying and pilot training until my mid-to-late 30s,” he said.
As a part-time student pilot, Boyd’s courses and training occurred on weekends and did not interfere with his work obligations, other than to take off one week to pass his certifications for flying jets and multi-engine airplanes. He found learning about the new field and turning knowledge into flying experience exhilarating.
Flying in and out of a major airport with restricted visibility was beyond an exciting challenge, and this renewed his childhood passion. He earned five different sets of flying certifications although “(he) could fly with the lowest certification.”
On the business side, “I got a eureka moment in attending an Aerospace Medical Association conference where ‘fear of flying’ was being discussed. This inspired me to think of establishing this sector as a business in Houston after finding the nearest comparable program to be in Phoenix.”
Boyd holds two to three workshops a year and several one-on-ones for clients of his Fear of Flying business who experience anxiety. He also used his research training in academia to publish his first aviation-related article in 2011 on cancer in pilots, transitioning his research focus to the causes of general aviation accidents.
Once he left the cancer center in 2017, he gained a noncompensated appointment with a global aeronautical university, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, to continue this academic pursuit.
Boyd developed his idea for his fear-of-flying business in the first year of his last contract. He then used the last two to three years of his final seven-year contract to set up for his new life, all on a part-time basis.
He didn’t have to quit his job; he was engaged in cancer research to the end of his contract, and by that time he was financially independent and prepared to move into his own business full time.
This was a smooth career transition of the sort everyone wishes for (when the steps are well planned, there are few if no missteps to threaten success).
For those seeking to move into new careers in unknown fields, seek a business coach to ensure the planning is logical and more than a pipe dream. Moving into the unknown can be done but connecting the dots of previous knowledge and experience will ease the pain of the rocks and blocks that may lie ahead.