Twitter Chat Summary - How to Secure a Job After Your PhD

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On May 13th, 2014, hosted a twitter chat, you can read a summary below:

View the event here

Today’s exciting Twitter Chat (see #jobsQ) saw a variety of questions from those trying to forge a career after the PhD inside or outside of academia.

Perhaps the most prominent concern among those hoping for valuable advice from Chris Humphrey, an expert on post-doctoral careers outside of the academy, was how to gain industry experience and how to showcase their years of doctoral study as a set of valuable, applicable professional skills and knowledge. The problem, according to Humphrey, is that doctoral and post-doctoral researchers often forget they are “not [just] a graduate, but […] an experienced professional researcher”, and that the time they spend as a doctoral student can and should be included in their “career history” on their CV.

In short, the skill is to dispel the myth – both for some employers and for doctoral candidates themselves – that their research does not count as “proper” or “valuable” work and experience. Doctoral and post-doctoral research, like other jobs, are professional activities that equip you with sought-after communication, project management, analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as specialist knowledge in your field, and you need to present these attributes as such when applying for positions that do not lie within the academy, Humphrey suggests.

This is not to say, however, that experience outside a university setting is not important when seeking employment outside of academia. Humphrey pointed out that, in some cases, those who struggle for industry connections can act as consultants or make connections with the charity and voluntary sector. Ioanna Iordanou, who has worked both in industry and in the academy, issued the important reminder that for industry experience, as for connections within academia, networking is key and forms an important part of doctoral and post-doctoral life.

But, she says, networking is too often mistaken as an impersonal and selfish exchange of business cards. Fruitful networking that will yield valuable and potentially career-shaping connections has to be engaged and defined by an enthusiasm for others’ work as well as how your skills and knowledge can contribute to that work: show “how exciting and valuable your research can be”.

For those hoping to make a career within academia, mostly as researchers and lecturers, the pressing questions revolved around what kind of CV it takes to be shortlisted for an interview, and when to begin applying for jobs. And here, too, networking came out near the top of the list of activities that are likely to land you an academic position (be it a post-doc, research assistantship, or a lectureship) after your PhD.

When it comes to a “shortlistable” CV, however, many still forget that, with 100+ applications for each position, meeting simply the essential criteria is not going to get you very far. Grant applications and ample teaching and administration experience – next to quality research outputs that can be submitted to the next Research Excellence Framework – are often the lines on a CV that mark candidates out as potentially excellent researchers and lecturers, and hence as shortlistable candidates. But even with all these attributes you are not guaranteed the job, or even an interview, as competition is fierce and jobs are scarce in comparison to the number of highly qualified candidates who apply for them. 

While academics tend to be divided on the subject of when to begin applying for positions, I stand by my advice that academic job applications are something that needs refining and practicing, and is not something you want to do for the first time when the pressure is on you after your viva voce. Don’t expect to be shortlisted before your PhD has been examined, but if you see an advert for a job whose criteria you fit then you should consider applying to gain some experience and to refine your CV and covering letter or personal statement.

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