Adapting Your PhD For A Professional Career

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With the increasing recognition that the number of doctoral students graduating outnumbers the postdocs and lectureships available, early career scholars are often faced with the decision of whether to adapt their skills from the PhD for a professional career, or try to remain within academia. Claire Jones has looked at the various opportunities available to postdocs in ‘Non-Academic Career Options After your PhD’, from jobs within an industry, university administration and management posts, to graduate entry roles. While it is clear that a PhD qualification can open doors outside of academia, how exactly do postdocs make this transition?

Assess your skills

First and foremost, if you are thinking about transitioning into a professional market, you must spend time recognising the transferable skills that you possess from your doctoral training. This might sound like an obvious point, but you need to think beyond the stereotypical areas of research, critical thinking, communication, and time management that are associated with a PhD. A good place to start is the Vitae Research Development Framework. This is a programme dedicated to developing skills recognition amongst researchers and is sponsored by the UK Research Councils. The Vitae Research Development Framework separates research skills into four ‘domain areas’: knowledge and intellectual abilities; personal effectiveness; research governance and organisation; and engagement, influence and impact. This terminology may not be familiar to a non-academic market, so you need to make these terms more accessible.

At a most basic level, your PhD has equipped you with the following skills:

  • Perseverance, persuasiveness and networking are very attractive personal attributes to a prospective employer.
  • You should not underestimate the confidence needed to present your research at seminars and conferences to what can often be a critical and competitive audience.
  • If you have taught undergraduate students, you can draw upon your experience of working as part of a teaching team and the administrative processes involved with that post.
  • The ability to engage with others to exchange ideas, defend points of view and reflect upon outcomes is a key transferable attribute.
  • If you have filled out financial applications for research, or managed a doctoral stipend, you have some of experience of bid writing and financial project management.

Do you need to develop your professional CV?

Once you have decided upon an alternative career path, you may find that you lack direct experience in that industry. Do not let this put you off transferring professions, but rather be realistic about what is necessary to get to interview stage. You may need an additional qualification, or merely work experience. Volunteering in a sector is a valuable way of gaining an overview of an industry. This doesn’t have to be for a long period of time, but merely enough to enhance your CV.

Today, a strategic approach to your professional development and recognising the value that you would bring to a post are essential if you are considering remaining in or outside of academia.

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