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January 14, 2013
In my previous blog-post entitled Guide to Employability: Step 1. Be Original – Know Thyself I claimed that it is paramount for doctoral researchers to turn their intellectual inquisitiveness inwards and ascertain their needs, wishes, and aspirations. Throughout my PhD years and beyond, I have kept focusing on the following salient point: what is it about a PhD process that makes one avert their attention from themselves so profusely? Seriously, what is it? Am I the only one who asks this formidable question?
The staggering reality
Have you noticed that, while undergraduates are grossly encouraged to engage in a plethora of extra-curricular activities, get actively involved in teams, pursue internships, and sentiently reflect on their experiences, PhDs are only geared towards their research project, as if it’s a one way street with no way out?! Have you noticed that the most prestigious and sought after employers come to campus to meet bright, educated, and articulate individuals, yet, PhDs very rarely return the favour? And to state the acrimonious obvious, have you noticed how undergraduates are more successful in their entry level career pursuits compared to PhDs? If you think that’s because there are inherently better prospects and more career opportunities for undergraduates, this is simply an indolent and ‘easy-way-out’ excuse! Undergraduates have more options simply because they actively pursue opportunities to explore and develop themselves!
But where do I start?!
I’d say start from the basics! To speak your language, in your research project the theory is secondary, it’s the evidence that renders it worthwhile! The only way to explore your options is to understand your strengths and talents, alongside your studies. This will be achieved by means of active exploration (= research) of your potential, involvement (= data collection) in various activities and opportunities, and reflection (= critical analysis) of yourself following such pursuits. Is the process reminiscent of something familiar?
Let’s start from the basics then!
Explore, Participate, Reflect! Isn’t this what you do as a professional researcher? So, research yourself. Go ahead, get involved in various activities and explore yourself, what drives you, what energises, what motivates you, what makes you get out of bed in the morning! Ultimately, where your strengths and talents lie! If you think that reading and writing are the sole and sacred duties during your PhD experience, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment! Ultimately, even as an academic in the making, you should consider training yourself in active networking, public engagement, consultancy, and effective collaborations with non-academic stakeholders (think impact and outreach here!).
Warwick University provides a plethora of options for you to get involved with various activities, develop abilities and, not only render yourself employable in the process, but mainly uncover your strengths while building new skills and enhancing existing ones. And if you don’t know where to start, here’s a brilliant tool created especially for you:
Warwick Portfolio: an online platform where you can find all the training and development opportunities Warwick can offer you. It allows you to develop skills in 8 areas (Communication, Leadership, Networking, Language, Practical, Critical Thinking, Ethics and Research Skills, and Enterprise), record them, reflect on them, and communicate them to yourself and others!
Guide to Employability: Step 2: Identify your Strengths and Talents
In a frantic recession-shaped era, where we are bombarded with the paradox of endless options and the ostensible lack of them, more is better than less. You might think you don’t need to develop further skills; your research and data analysis is time-consuming enough. It’s also very confining! Looking for potential academic or non-academic paths is not the right avenue to start your journey from! There is a myriad of post-PhD options at your disposal, I assure you! But just like in every worthwhile pursuit, it’s the journey that makes the destination. The latter will remain unexplored until you get there, but the route, the richer in experiences, the wealthier it can render you, if not in funds, definitely in potential!
To be continued…
November 12, 2012
Ioanna Iordanou is a Job-Search Adviser and Postgraduate Researcher Enterprise Skills Tutor at the University of Warwick. She also works as a Postdoctoral Researcher for WBS. She tweets (@IoannaIordanou) and blogs (Ioanna's Employ-Ability Blog).
On 16th December 2010, an article of The Economist entitled Doctoral Degrees: The Disposable Academic, caused much controversy by claiming that disgruntling doctoral experiences and brutalising career prospects render a PhD highly unnecessary and a ‘waste of time.’ The author maintained that universities take advantage of PhD students and use them as ‘cheap, highly motivated and disposable labour’ that will ‘do more research, and […] more teaching, with less money’ to conclude that ‘the interests of academics and universities on the one hand and PhD students on the other are not well aligned.’
Don't believe everything you hear: You make your PhD, it does NOT make you!
It is not in the scope of this blog entry to agree or disagree with the Economist’s piece, although I know quite a few PhD students and graduates who would report similar experiences. In fact, as a PhD graduate, I could be the first to point my finger to an inept academic system that, I felt, failed me. What my gruesome yet invaluable post-PhD experience has taught me, however, is that systems don’t change unless mentalities do, and futures don’t alter unless presents transform. As professional researcher myself, then, I would like to begin by looking at you in the eyes and ask:
What’s your research in?
If I had a penny for the number of times I’ve been asked this question as a PhD candidate…! As doctoral researchers, I am sure you have built a well-oiled questioning machine, equipped with your inquisitiveness and intellectual curiosity. Research must run in your veins by now! But have you turned your questioning machine inwards? Have you really asked yourself what you wish to get out of your PhD? What’s the plan A? What’s the Plan B? (Yes, two options are better than one!) These are by no means trick questions nor provocative ones.
When students write applications for graduate schemes in the corporate world, one of the main criteria is to show commitment towards a certain career aspiration and specify how a three year graduate programme will contribute towards their career development plan. Just like a training programme in a large corporation, your PhD is your apprenticeship for your future career. Make no mistake here, a PhD does not have to be the means to an academic end only! Have you decided what you wish to do post-submission and how your doctorate will help you get there? Did you and your supervisor ask this question from the very kick-off of your PhD? Do you keep asking throughout? I fear, more than I know, that most frequently the answer is ‘no’.
Who are you? What are you?
As a Job-Search Adviser and Postgraduate Researcher Enterprise Skills Tutor, I work with PhD students who, more often than not, dismiss the above mentioned questions as too daunting, putting off their career decision plans for the post-submission stage. I have classified the hitherto most widespread tendencies in three main categories:
1. The Whatever-ers: those who have no idea of what’s out there for them and vast reluctance to find out.
2. The No Way-ers: those who have ruled out the prospect of an academic career as a result of, more often than not, poor doctoral experiences and, at some point, will consider their options.
3. The Default-ers: those who, moulded in the droning shelter of a PhD, got so desensitised by the intellectual process of proving something original, that lose sight of the wider picture, and inevitably follow the only – in their minds – route available to them, academia.
I have yet to meet the fervently steadfast PhD candidate who forcefully marches their way towards a predetermined goal via the doctoral route! This, I hope, is my loss rather than the norm!
Guide Employability: Be Original – Know Thyself
As a professional in the making, you’re better off researching yourself, your dreams, your needs and your aspirations. Identify what you want and start building your professional background in the same way that you are constructing your thesis, with passion, commitment, and, most of all, originality. Your PhD fate does not need to be as acrimonious as the Economist correspondent proclaimed. You don’t need to be one of the many! You don’t need to be dispirited, lost, and steered. Conditioning can be as dangerous as conformity and doctoral environments can be, ironically, prone to both! So take charge of the present NOW and steer it towards your desired future. It’s only when you know yourself and your needs that you’ll be able to make the best decisions for yourself and market yourself effectively.
To be continued…