The benefit of work experience

New Picture (122)There has been a lot of talk lately about the benefit of researchers gaining some experience outside of academic research during their PhD.  Vitae, the national organisation supporting the career development of research students and staff, published a short report on placements/internships outside academia a couple of years back so I thought it may be timely to give a reminder of some of the findings.

The report describes the experiences of 8 PhD students (mainly in arts and social sciences) who carried out a short period of work outside academia alongside their PhD studies. 

Students stressed the benefit of work experience including:

  • the chance to use their research skills in a different way, more action and results-led, with shorter timescales
  • experiencing a different working environment
  • learning to write in a way more appropriate for the commercial world
  • extending a professional network
  • a renewed focus and energy for their PhD studies
  • developing more effective time management through balancing PhD studies, work and other commitments
  • exploring career opportunities outside academia

When I go to work in the Planning Office I am focusing on something completely different from my PhD.  I find that I return to my research with a fresh perspective and renewed enthusiasm. (PhD student, University of Bristol)

When the employers were asked their views on employing a PhD student they came up with the researchers ability to:

  • work independently
  • act on their own initiative
  • be flexible (with time)
  • see things differently and challenge the way things are done
  • contribute new ideas

(The above list is useful to keep in mind when writing your CV or marketing yourself to an employer in other ways!)

While many of you may not have the opportunity to do a formal internship as part of your PhD there are many ways in which you can find part-time jobs.  A good place to start is our vacancy database, SAGE, which advertises a wide range of part-time jobs.  You need to check it on a regular basis to ensure you don’t miss those ‘juicy jobs’ which come up.  You could also try:

  • the University of Edinburgh jobs pages where you often see short-term or part-time jobs which may be suitable for researchers (but not just research roles)
  • Vitae has a list of some organisations which offer internships (including formal ones through a Research Council)
  • contacting charities or other organisations who either have links with your subject or could benefit from your research skills (charities and small businesses in particular may value the ability to take on a temporary employee for a short-term project)
  • using your network to ask if anyone knows of organisations where your skill set may be valued

If you are worried about how your PhD supervisor may view you gaining some work experience outside academia see the quote below.

There is a culture change under way.  Increasingly, academics welcome and support the opportunity for their students to generate impact and demonstrate the relevance of research topic to a wider audience. (Arts Graduate Centre Manager, University of Nottingham)

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