All 7 entries tagged Careers
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October 28, 2013
This post originated in a reflection on Thomas Bray’s excellent PhD Hub blog post on the values of getting involved in campus life. This evoked a mixed response in me, being in the second year of a fulltime PhD, yet – for a variety of reasons – living over 90 miles away from campus in North London.
I manage this 90-mile displacement with a variety of techniques and networks I refer to (in the quietness of my own mind!) as my ‘virtual campus’ – and far from being a poor compensation for the benefits of full-time Warwick life, I’ve come to think of it as a distinct advantage. So I want to introduce you to my virtual campus, and invite you to create your own, regardless of whether you live in Coventry, halls of residence or even further afield than me.
So WHERE is this virtual campus of mine? Apart from trips to Warwick for training, supervisions, and resources, I have to carve out a study space elsewhere. Mostly the libraries and buildings of other universities. Now I’d admit I’m spoilt for choice here, with the big smoke on my doorstep, but armed with nothing but a SCONUL card I’m able to regularly make use of my favourite study spots:
- City University – The ‘everyday’ space; closest to home, accessible and friendly, with the wicked CoffeeWorks Project nearby!
- The British Library - Feels like the academic equivalent of a spa day; check everything in your locker apart from books, papers and a pencil and indulge in some old school scholarship
- Goldsmith’s College - Satisfyingly arty campus and close to many of my South London friends and work commitments
I get the advantage of accessing books that might not be easily available in Warwick (many universities will let SCONUL card holders you check out a small number of books) and get wind of a variety of seminars and events which have enriched my research and which I never would have come across otherwise.
Visiting these other universities allows me to also make links with academics in my field (theatre education) across London. I feel this network is vital in developing a robust career, and I know not being able to knock on my supervisor’s door each day has made me much bolder about approaching other relevant academics in London and beyond. In my experience they are usually only too happy to help.
So, apart from this motley crew of professors, WHO is my virtual campus populated with? Other students! I’ll admit that I have a stroke of luck here: one of my closest friends started a PhD in London the same time I started at Warwick. So we regularly meet for study days, and she’s put me in touch with another group of London students (at a different university again to hers) and we run reading groups and attend events together.
There are also my Warwick colleagues – several of which I’ve become firm friends with though the necessity of having to beg a sofa to crash on in times of multiple Warwick commitments. But the other fellow students in my virtual campus are also more ‘virtual’ in nature, through twitter and social media channels (recent posts on the PG Hub blog here and here cover where to find these) Yes, there’s the general chat and sharing of links you’d expect, but what’s surprised me is how ready people are to provide detailed, practical and sometimes very subject-specific advice. Via judiciously-tagged twitter requests I’ve been advised on audio and video equipment for field research, had texts recommend for everything from ethnomethodology to social theory, and attended conferences I never would have heard of if relying on Warwick networks alone
I’m not going to lie, being a 2 hour commute from campus is tough sometimes, with a definite element of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out – don’tcha know). But ultimately, the necessity of having to carve out this independent and inter-dependent world for myself has made me develop as a researcher. I’ve often heard academics describe the process of making a contribution to knowledge as like that of joining a conversation – and I think it’s eminently worth remembering that conversation is not just happening at Warwick.
Are you based off campus? Do you have an equivalent ‘virtual campus’? If so I’d love to hear from you!
June 10, 2013
March 15, 2013
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 Warwick Business School. She tweets (@IoannaIordanou) and blogs (Ioanna's Employ-Ability Blog).
In my previous two blog posts I underlined the urgency of turning one’s attention inwards in order to understand who they are and what they wish to pursue, while also identifying their strengths, needs and drives and building a robust skillset. Now it's time for action!
In this blog post, I will focus on action towards academic routes. We know for a fact that academic jobs at the moment are as effortless to find as a Hobbit under your bed! No surprise there! Yet, it’s easy bemoan the competition and toss the responsibility there. The question is, what do YOU do about it? What can YOU control in the process? And, trust me, there is a lot!
The 10 Commandments of the Academic in the Making
What you have done or are currently working on is not enough. What are your future research plans? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? Don’t take this light-heartedly. The PhD experience has been uncertain enough! The traineeship is over! You’re a professional now and if you’re serious about your career, you’ll have to be a strategist. The more conscious you are of your research plan, the more clearly and coherently you can articulate it, the more convincing you will be about your reliability as future expert in your field.
Be specific about the journals you wish to disseminate your research in; the publishers you wish to target; the conferences you wish to speak at.
It’s all about the money and you know it. Any successful funding bids so far? Which funding bodies are you planning to approach? Have you thought of research projects that can attract funding? Time to start planning!
- Media/Press Engagement
- Policy input/Workshops for practitioners
- Input to Industry
Now, except rather vague guidelines, there is no specific way of measuring the actual impact of one’s research. This is the farcical irony of the whole affair. Still, the more impactful your research is, the more likely it is to attact interest (and get you that promotion!) Consider how your work can have a tangible influence, implement an institutional change, or alter the way people think or act in a demonstrable way.
Can you create collaboration links with institutions within and outside your country of work? Where are you pointing your antennas towards? The key here is proactive networking!
What’s your teaching experience? What elements does it entail? Have you got the potential to design and deliver an original/innovative module that pertains the tradition of the institution you wish to apply for? How do you render your teaching more engaging and experiential for students? In a climate where students pay yearly salaries for their education, the bar of expectations has been raised dramatically and rightly so! (Note to all: students are rarely interested in an academic’s research outputs!) Moreover, have you pursued formal teaching qualifications? Many institutions are asking for professional qualifications now.
Bet you haven’t thought of that one, right? How do you plan to use technology to enhance your research prospects? Do you blog? Podcast? Prezi? Think 5 years ahead... If, at the moment, we are shopping online, socialising online, researching online, even dating online, what does this mean for academia? More cites and quotations will most probably entail more technological involvement! Be proactive, things are bound to transmogrify!
It’s a dirty little secret that connections are key in the current job market and beyond! It’s not what you know, it’s who you know and how you utilise such connections for your progression. So get involved!
Every young professional could benefit from a good mentor, someone who can share the secrets of the trade, whether this involves navigating publication landscapes, exploring funding opportunities, or sharing their leadership experience. A mentor can be an enormous source of support (and at times more benefits), so don't underestimate their usefulness.
10. Finally, can you talk the talk?! If you want to be part of the academic elite (and by this I mean obtaining a permanent academic job) you will have to learn, and convincingly regurgitate, the contested and, more often than not, sensationalist academic jargon that will consolidate your credibility amongst your peers and superiors. So come on, repeat after me:
Yes, sophistry and self-image are increasingly going hand-in-hand in the current academic entry climate and beyond!
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…
July 11, 2012
Writing about web page /researcherlife/entry/live_qa_early/
Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view
Our sister blog, Researcher Life, will be holding a live Q&A session next Wednesday on the Research Excellence Framework, aka REF 2014. All are welcome to 'attend' virtually by going to the Researcher Life homepage.
The Q&A will be really useful if you have questions on how your publications list will be assessed by potential employers. They will also cover impact, which is another key upcoming issue for emerging scholars.
In these tough economic times it's important to plan ahead for advancing your academic career. This session will be very useful if you're at a stage where you're starting to worry about getting a job after you submit!
June 13, 2012
Dear Aunt Rex,
I’m a third-year PhD student, and as submission looms ever closer, I’m finding the thought of the academic career for which I have been training less and less appealing.
My problem seems like a really silly one, but the truth is that I’m scared that I don’t want what I thought I wanted.
I look at my colleagues, established lecturers in my department, and the pressure they are under, the juggling of priorities and the individualism and competitiveness, and I can feel myself physically shrink. I feel alienated from academic culture. I have increasingly little tolerance for academese and jargon – sometimes I just want to jump out of my seat and scream at people to just say what they mean. I feel like everyone around me is their research, and defines themselves through their academic position, and basically lives to work. I just don’t feel like that at all. I feel passionate about lots of things, but my research is just one of them.
And, as I watch my peers, whom I respect and love, tackle admirably the quest of the early career researcher and that difficult period between the viva and that elusive first full-time lectureship, I just picture myself being crushed and worn down by the insecurity and stress – all for something that I’m not even sure would make me happy.
What’s weird is that I enjoy all the elements of academic life – I get such a buzz from teaching, and I love the research process and seeing the results. I don’t even mind the admin so much! But I increasingly feel like I don’t ‘fit’ here, and that academia isn’t the warm, stable, flexible career I once thought it might be.
I’m also thinking about starting a family, but the status of PhD students and the uncertain prospects of the early career research stage has made me feel like my life has yet to begin. I can’t see any kind of stability in the near future – maternity leave isn’t really an option if you don’t have a 'proper' job to speak of.
So here I am: racing towards my submission date, frantically trying to publish, publish, publish, so that I can make a name for myself, sat secretly dreaming of job security, full-time hours in the office, a structured career path, a guaranteed income, and being able to leave it all at my desk at the end of the day.
I don’t know how to tell those around me – my peers, my mum and dad, my supervisor! I’m worried that people will think I’m a failure, a quitter and that I’ve wasted three years of my life.
I’m so confused about my future, and I just don’t know who to turn to. What should I do? Please help me, Aunt Rex!
You have my full sympathy – Aunt Rex herself knows what a tricky time the transition from submission to ‘first job’ can be. PhD students, Aunt Rex would imagine, present a particular challenge to careers advisors – after all, some of us are surely only here because we have been dodging the question of ‘what are you going to do with your life?’ since we were 15. (Aunt Rex, however, has always known her true calling was to help out research students in need of guidance. It’s a vocation.)
The first thing to remember, dear Secret, is that you are not alone. In fact, 60% of individuals with a PhD go on to work outside academia. And, for the large majority, this is through choice, not because they weren’t good enough to make the cut, or they ‘gave up’ on the thing that they wanted. Academia can be ‘exhausting’, ‘horrifying’ and 'cutthroat', to use just a few phrases Aunt Rex has overheard in the past few months.
In fact, studies have recently been published that demonstrate this very trend – as students progress in the PhD (perhaps as they start to get a glimpse of what academic life really holds), academia as a career becomes less appealing. A recent survey of science PhDs in a top US research universityfound that as students progressed towards the end of their research degrees, the proposition of a faculty research post became increasingly less desirable.
This seems to hold particularly true of women in academia, as this recent report from a longitudinal study of chemisty PhDs in the UK uncovered. By their final year of study, just 12% of women expressed an interest in a career in academic research. As the analysis in The Guardian points out,
This is not the number of PhD students who in fact do go to academia; it's the number who want to. 88% of the women don't even want academic careers, nor do 79% of the men!
Women were more likely than men to see academic careers as all-consuming, solitary and as unnecessarily competitive. The successful female role models available to them were often childless. All these factors and more seemed to make academia an unappealing prospect for these women.
So there are lots of reasons why an academic career might not be for you, and you absolutely need not feel like a ‘failure’ for wanting to jump ship. If it feels like ‘giving up’, then this might not be the right move for you, but if you actively want a shift in direction there is absolutely no call for any shame.
Rather than having ‘wasted three years’, your PhD and the skills you have learnt during it will be a tremendous benefit in both the application/interview process and in any career that you take up after. You’ve just spent the last 3 years independently managing a large-scale project, delivered on time. You’ve attended conferences, speaking publicly about your work and networking with a wide variety of people. You’ve arranged meetings, seminars and/or conferences yourself, managing people and budgets. You might have participated in impact/engagement activities and been involved in translating complex research to different audiences. You’ve taught. And all of this before Aunt Rex even starts to think about the raft of other, non-academic involvements of many of you PhD students.
Employers are hungry for people with these high-level skills. However, the expected career trajectories and advice for different subjects can play a large part in students’ familiarity with the thirst for PhDs in non-academic job markets. Within the sciences, transitions to industry, commercial operations and NGOs are a little more established and expected, and humanities students may have had little information or insight into the opportunities available to them – but they are definitely out there. The alt-academy website, although US-biased, is a great starting place for ideas and stories of working 'off the beaten tenure track': http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/alt-ac/
Finally, SecretNineToFiver, Aunt Rex must urge you not to be afraid to talk about your feelings, fears and dreams to the people around you – both those inside and outside the academy. They will know all the pressures that you’re under, and will empathise with the reasons that you want out. Who knows, they may even feel the same way! Aunt Rex will always remember her colleague, who took up a job in an NGO after finishing his PhD, and was terribly anxious about his parents’ reaction. Expecting disappointment, my colleague was shocked by his mother’s massive sense of relief on hearing the news:
I was worried that you’d led yourself down a path that wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I think this will be a real turning point for you.
After agony aunts, mums know best. Remember, this is a scary and confusing time, but it is an exciting one, too.
Aunt Rex is handing over to you now, PhDLifers! What is your advice for our SecretNineToFiver? Have you already made the switch to a non-academic role? Are you 100% sure that academia is the career for you? Or have you perhaps found yourself in the same position as Secret?
You can ask Aunt Rex a question here.