Making career decisions; lessons from PhD graduates

It was our PhD Horizons Careers Conference last week.  We had 33 speakers talking about their career journey after their PhD and demonstrating how many career areas could be possible once you complete your PhD.  I chaired 5 out of the 10 panels and I was struck by how so many of the speakers, despite working in varied career areas, shared similar messages.  A few of these were:

Your PhD is valued by lots of different types of employers but it’s often the SKILLS you’ve developed that interest them rather than the subject of your PhD.

Even if you go into an organisation at the same level as new graduates, you WILL progress more quickly because of your PhD experience.

TALK to people to understand more about career areas that vaguely interest you; call them up or e-mail them to ask for some of their time.  People are usually very happy to talk about themselves!  And as job titles can be obtuse, talking to someone doing a similar job can help you to understand what it’s actually all about.

It’s ok if you don’t think an academic career is for you.  There are many other jobs out there which PhD graduates find CHALLENGING and fulfilling.

Do have CONFIDENCE that you have developed many of the skills and shown many of the attributes employers value.  Doing a PhD can have low points that can dent your confidence but don’t lose sight of all the great experience you have gained – that can be transferred to many other career areas.

Below is a quote from one of our speakers (now working in the Civil Service), talking about the question she’d asked herself when considering a move from an academic research career.

Wouldn’t it be better if I could be this ambitious, make a real difference, but still get to go home in the evening?

That’s all I wanted to share for now.  Some of my colleagues are currently writing up notes from the sessions which we’ll share when they’re ready so you can learn more about the varied and interesting career paths other PhD graduates have taken.

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Find out more about publishing

We’ve been notified of an event on publishing at the end of June that you may be interested in.  There are free places available for PhD students.  Have a look at the details below if you think you may be interested.

Publishing & scholarly communication for early career researchers: immortalisation, recognition and metrics

  • Date: Friday 30th June 2017, 0930-1700
  • Venue: Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, Edinburgh (near Old College)
  • Registration & programme: https://reconevent.com/programme/
  • Twitter: #ReCon_17   @ReConEvent

>> Apply for a free place (for PhD students): https://goo.gl/forms/N9xk4QbZTKWdkGqz1

Discount code for earlybird tickets (=£25): ReConB4

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WHO ARE THE SPEAKERS?

Speakers from major publishers such as Elsevier, Springer Nature/ Digital Science, Wellcome Open Research and Altmetric, in addition to academics and experts will share their experience. The conference is a unique opportunity to learn about the publishing process, raising your research profile and how to enhance your research career.

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FREE PLACES

PhD students – apply for a free place:

There is also an opportunity for PhD students and early career researchers (with less than 1 year of postdoc experience) to apply for a free place at the conference via this application form: https://goo.gl/forms/N9xk4QbZTKWdkGqz1. If you would like a place apply now and we will review your application and get back to you in one week.

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Using Careers Service Events Effectively

I met a PhD student recently who had been at a Careers Service event last month on ‘Working in Policy’.  The student said it was one of the best things she’d been to at the university.  Obviously that’s nice feedback to get to pass on to the colleagues who’d organised that event, but what struck me was how that student had used the event in a way that had helped her get greatest benefit from it.  So I thought I’d pass on a few thoughts.

This event was not directed at PhD students specifically.  It was open to students studying at any level who were interested in working in policy.  So don’t just go to things that have the ‘PhD student’ label as you may miss out on something that will genuinely interest you.

Do your research before you go.  The list of speakers was available before the event.  The student identified that there was going to be someone speaking who worked in a role that really excited her.  But she was also open to hearing from others as you never know when you’ll hear something interesting from an unexpected quarter.

Take the networking opportunities offered.  There was time for informal networking between students and speakers after the event.  The student made sure she had a conversation with the speaker she was interested in.  She demonstrated her enthusiasm and got across some of her own relevant experience and skills.  She learned more about the role and made a great contact.

Follow up afterwards.  As a result of the first contact she made at the policy event, she was arranging to meet with the speaker again to discuss the possibility of some work shadowing.  If you meet and connect with someone at an event, do consider following up with them to get further information or even experience.

This was a great example of someone using one of our events in exactly the way we encourage students to.  So do explore what’s going on at the Careers Service.  We don’t like to e-mail you every time we run an event so you should get in the habit of looking on MyCareerhub where all of our events are advertised.

MyCareerhub

And look out for our PhD Horizons Careers Conference on Tuesday 6th June. You can hear from over 30 PhD graduates working in different career areas and there will be opportunities for networking with the speakers.

PhD Horizons Careers Conference

(Obviously we’re not the only service organising events that may be of interest to you so keep your eyes open for anything else happening across the University or beyond).

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Funding opportunity

See below for details of a very small pot of funding that is available for research through an organisation called Gradconsult.  It’s a new initiative and is aimed at helping researchers start to develop a track record of successful funding bids.

On behalf of the Gradconsult team, I am delighted to announce that our Microgrant scheme is now open for applications!

About our Microgrants:

We want to put our money where our mouth is – we see the great value that quality research adds to our Universities, and as an SME working in early careers, we want to support individuals starting their career in academia or research to get a foot in the door.

Our Microgrants are open to early-career academics who want to kick start their funding record. This can include:

  • PhD students
  • Post-doctoral researchers with less than three years’ experience
  • Academics/lecturers with less than three years’ experience

Applicants can work in any field – we’re as interested in chemists as we are in art historians – and should be looking to develop a funding track record to apply for larger grants in the future. The final criterion for eligibility is that, to date, they should not have received a research grant larger than £1,000.

You can learn more about our Microgrants (and apply for them) by following this link: http://bit.do/GCgrants

The deadline for applications is the 31st March 2017.

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Research careers outside academia (more humanities & social science focussed)

researchI went to an event recently on research careers outside academia.  There were 13 different speakers working in the Civil Service, local government, Think Tanks, parliament, commercial organisations, and the charity sector.  Some points of interest.

  • Only 3 out of the 13 speakers had a PhD (and another speaker was doing one).  So it wasn’t a requirement of many of the jobs but they were all conducting research and using skills that you’ll be developing in your PhD.
  • Many had a background in humanities but were working in social research roles.  Some had a social research element to their degree or Masters, but not all.  None of them had a science or technology background.
  • There seemed to be a lot of ‘impact and evaluation’ roles, in charities and public sector, to demonstrate value for money and show programmes were having the desired outcome.
  • Many stories of unpaid internships – in ThinkTanks, local government and charities – as the way to gain experience.  The Careers Service doesn’t promote unpaid internships (unless they’re in charities) but we are aware it’s a common route to gain experience.
  • Many of the speakers hadn’t started out wanting to work in social research.  Instead they were interested in a cause / doing something socially worthwhile and then saw research as a good way of contributing.
  • Speakers stressed the importance of signing up to the values of a Think Tank or charity as that will be a big element in recruitment.
  • Ability to communicate the impact of research (e.g. on policy) was key in many roles, often to persuade people to fund the research / programme.
  • They talked about the ‘feel’ of doing research in different organisations:
    • fast paced and delivering to tight deadlines (e.g. in NatCen),
    • more academic and often slow pace (e.g. House of Commons library),
    • not as rigorous as academic research due to the tight yearly cycle of doing the research and demonstrating impact for the following year (e.g. CityYear – a charity that works to raise attainment in school kids)
  • Variety of skills needed:
    • quantitative research skills (Stats, SPSS),
    • ability to communicate what data does and doesn’t tell us,
    • designing an effective way of evaluating programme,
    • communicating results / impact of research,
    • persuading people to fund research
    • being inquisitive
    • and more….

Finally, I wanted to share a few job titles and employer names so you can see the range of people who were speaking.

  • Data Insights and Intelligence Manager, West Sussex County Council
  • Senior Research Analyst, House of Commons Library
  • Policy Director, Centre for Social Justice
  • Impact and Evaluation Manager for the National Literacy Trust
  • Research Manager/ Insight Consultant, Employee Research, ORC International
  • Senior Associate Director, Research, Evaluation & Impact, Teach First

If you want to explore these types of opportunities, look at the relevant section on the occupations part of our website.

Public services and policy work

Charity, international development, and aid work

Information, research, and culture

(I’ve got full notes from the event so if you want to view all the speakers biographies and read more about what they said just drop me an e-mail on sharon.maguire@ed.ac.uk)

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How I broke into the biotechnology sector

Just in case you missed this on our Careers Service blog, here’s a post from a PhD graduate on working in the biotechnology sector.

The Careers Service Blog

Adam Inche works for BioReliance, a firm that provides contract testing and manufacturing services to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. He recently had this to say on getting into the biotechnology sector.

“Since completing my PhD in Cancer Biology, I have been working for a couple of different companies in the biotechnology field.  I transitioned from a development scientist role into the commercial side during this time.  I have been in my current role in the marketing department at BioReliance for just under 2 years, and I am really enjoying how I am both being challenged as well as being allowed to challenge assumptions within the organisation.

The recruitment process was a little different from normal, as I was approached to apply for the role – however the selection and interview side of things was just like any other job you would see advertised on a job site, or…

View original post 696 more words

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Resilience in career management

Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.   Winston Churchill

I’ve been thinking about resilience lately.  It’s cropped up in things I’ve been reading and in some conversations so I thought I’d share a few reflections.

When asked what personal qualities were needed for success in an academic career, Professor Cathy Abbott, from the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, chose being robust.  It’s something you hear quite commonly, how the flip spersonal-qualities-needed-for-success-cathy-abbottide of your own academic training in critically evaluating the work of others means that your own work is also commonly subject to criticism and rejection.  It can be hard not to take this personally even when you know it isn’t but it’s one of the things you’ll have to adjust to if you want an academic career.  Watch what Cathy says below.

Cathy Abbott – being robust

But resilience is also important if you are thinking of pursuing a non-academic career at the end of your PhD.  Students often tell me that they experience feelings of failure, worry that their PhD was a waste of time, are unsure about what else they can do with their PhD if not an academic job, and worry about how they will be perceived by others in the academic world.

So how do you manage this?  Sometimes acknowledging how you are feeling is a good first step.  Career Coach and author of ‘Secrets of Resilient People’, John Lees, lists a number of questions in his book to help you identify your base-line reliance.  I’ve copied a few below.  Score yourself on the scale 1= low, Uncertain=3, High=5 to identify areas of risk and vulnerability (1 & 2), or areas of strength.

  • How confident are you in your ability to acquire new skills and knowledge?
  • How strong is your self-esteem most of the time?
  • How far are you able to remain calm when under moderate pressure?
  • How strong is your ability to persevere with a task when things aren’t going well?
  • How optimistic are you even when things are difficult?
  • How good are you at getting on with your work after experiencing rejection or personal criticism?
  • How far do you feel valued in your work?

Extract from ‘Secrets of Resilient People’ by John Lees. Hodders and Stoughton 2014*

If you are scoring low on a number of questions above then consider some of the approaches below.

Focus on what you can change.  The competition for research funding, the shortage of academic jobs compared to the number of PhD graduates, the difficulty of getting published in ‘high impact’ journals – these are all things you can’t change (at least not quickly).  But you can focus on how you make yourself as competitive as possible by gaining relevant experience, or on making a positive decision to consider other career options.

Reframe negative experiences.  It’s all too easy to obsess about things that haven’t gone well in work.  But instead, think about what you’ve learned from the experience and use this to move forward.

Spend time looking after yourself.  Take a break from work, do something that calms or recharges you, whether that’s baking a cake, going for a run, watching a film.   Create the space in your head to think about things differently.

Find your supporters.  Who will remind you of your strengths, encourage you, give you honest feedback?

If you’d like to discuss any of this with a careers consultant please book an appointment on MyCareerHub.

Book an appointment

* Available for reference in the Careers Service resource centre in the Main Library Building, George Square and the Weir Building, King’s Buildings.

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