Over the past couple of years you have produced some good research results, and thesis completion is in sight. It’s time to think about the next steps – in academia or elsewhere.
So how can you use those research results? Are you looking for fame, money, happiness or perhaps all three? Here are some things to think about:
Write a book?
After three years you should know more about your research than anyone else – with the possible exception of your supervisor. If you have a handful of conference papers and/or journal articles already published, or submitted for publication, turning these into a book may be possible.
But don’t expect to make lots of money. Academic textbooks normally sell few copies, so the aim should be to establish your reputation in the field. Indirect financial rewards may come from making your CV more attractive to potential academic employers.
Apply for a patent?
If you have invented something during your research, consider applying for a patent. This will enhance your reputation, and may enable you to sell or license the rights to make or use the invention in return for royalty payments.
It is important to note that if you invent something, be sure to apply for a patent before publishing any details.
Most universities will help academics and research students to apply for patents if they believe the invention has the potential to make money. So ask around in your department to find out how help is provided.
It may also be possible to generate royalties without a patent, for example through licensing software or by registering the rights to new designs. Again, ask for advice within your university. More details are on the UK government website http://www.ipo.gov.uk/
Get a job? Or create a job?
We all know that jobs are often obtained by responding to advertised vacancies. There are also ways to create a new job. Creating a job not only gives scope to design the job in the way you want, but also reduces the competition from other applicants.
Seek more research funding?
Perhaps the most common way to create a job is for your supervisor to apply for funding for a research post for a follow-on research project. If you are lucky enough for the funding to arrive just as you finish your Ph.D. – and you have made a good impression during your Ph.D. – the job opportunity may be ‘lined up’ for you.
If your supervisor hasn’t got anything ‘lined up’, then let them know of your interest at least six months before your thesis submission date. This allows time for possible funding applications and approval.
Do be aware that Human Resources (HR) departments often feel that ‘lining up’ jobs for specific people is unacceptable. So if you discuss this option with people in HR, it may be better to say that you would ‘hope to be a very strong candidate’.
Set up a Knowledge Transfer Partnership?
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) between universities and businesses are another good way to use research expertise. Other organisations such as charities are also eligible to participate in KTPs.
An effective way to create a job which uses your research is to ask your supervisor to set up a KTP with a company, and have you apply for the vacancy once the KTP has been approved.
Start the process about six months before completion of your thesis. Most universities have a designated person to help set up KTPs, so do ask around.
More details, and a few job vacancies, are on the KTP website http://www.ktponline.org.uk/
Start your own business?
More graduates than ever are starting their own businesses based on their research or on other ideas. Advice, help, and occasionally money is available from several schemes to promote graduate enterprise.
One of the best aspects of these schemes is the chance to meet other people going through the same process – and to get direct advice from those who started their own businesses a few years ago.
Rules for the various schemes do vary, and it can be frustrating finding out what is available. Most universities have someone to help, often in the careers service or in the research support office or similar department. Ask around – or google ‘student enterprise’ plus the name of your university – to find out more.
Many, perhaps most, graduate enterprise schemes are open to graduates from any university. So if you live, or want to live, away from the university where you did your research, do contact your local university as well.
For general business start-up advice, see for example http://www.bgateway.com/ and http://business.wales.gov.uk/ Please note that specific grants mentioned on these sites are only available in Scotland or Wales respectively.
If you do want to start a business, most of the official advice will tell you to write a business plan. This is fine – but do remember that a great business plan will not help you if you don’t have any customers.
So before you spend too much time planning, do find at least two or three customers, to give you confidence that you can build a business.
There are many ways to use your research results. Choose the way – or the combination of ways – that best suits your ambitions and your temperament.