As a PhD supervisor, it’s likely that your role is as much about pastoral advice and guidance as it is about academic development, innovation and excellence. You may find it a difficult challenge: if your background is in mechanical engineering and they want to know about careers for PhD students in management consultancies, you may feel apprehensive about giving advice for a sector you know little to nothing about.
So, what can you do when your student stumps you with a careers question?
1. Careers Service – the obvious choice, but some Services have Careers Advisers who specifically work with PhD students. It’s worth seeing if there’s anyone with this remit in the department. There’s a general trend toward promoting more PhD specific website content and careers events as well, so keep an eye on any news of upcoming fairs or employer presentations.
2. Other Support Services – some institutions have teams who deliver wider professional development sessions for PhD students. A couple of examples are the Institute of Academic Development at the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Manchester’s Library which has an online skills development resource available for UoM students. University alumni services can also provide useful contacts.
3. Networks – academics are often asked to share their professional networks with students, especially if they include non-academic contacts. Sharing’s an option, but it’s fine to be reticent to do this. It’s your network, after all, not theirs. But you can discuss with your PhD student how you developed those ties: where you met people, how you found common ground, even why you bothered talking to that person in the first place, are all good bits of info for them to take on board. They’ll need to learn to network for themselves anyway.
4. Research tips – most will look at a company website and leave their research there. This is like to trying to convince you they understand your research interests from your bio on the department website. The first suggestion I give students? ‘Try looking for the company via Google News rather than a general web search.’ It never occurs to most applicants. Nor does looking for a recruitment manager at the company to see if they’ve been interviewed about what they want to see in applicants. It can be hit and miss, but it’ll get your student/s familiar with the idea that they need to try to go further than the competition.
5. Social media – following employer social media accounts for work opportunities is becoming more commonplace, but it’s important to follow the right ones. PhDs may be welcome to apply for graduate recruitment programmes at one company, but only for experienced roles at others – there may well be separate accounts for these audiences, so they need to find the right one.
Perhaps as important as any of these is the old chestnut of being honest. If you have no idea how to help your PhD student, then there’s no shame in admitting that. You can always help them by trying to find someone who will know more, and it’ll save you a few long, awkward careers conversations that go nowhere.