Guest post: Preparing for life after the PhD – re-train your brain

In this guest post for PhD Talk, I explain the importance of changing your mindset in the last few months of your PhD. In order to embrace the full range of career opportunities open to you, both inside and outside of academia, you need to shift your mindset from ‘making do’ to ‘making a living’.

Read Preparing for life after the PhD over at PhD Talk.

Further reading – getting started

Why you need to start thinking about a career outside academia – today! by Chris
Use my Career Roadmap to kick-start your career planning, by Chris
Get organised – create a Career Planner, by Chris
Deciding when to quit the academic job search, Part 1, by Chris
Deciding when to quit the academic job search, Part 2, by Chris

Use my Career Roadmap to kick-start your career planning

In my experience the main challenge that PhD students face when it comes to exploring their non-academic career options is knowing where to actually start! Having spent many years in university, it can be daunting to think of working in industry or in public service. PhDs typically ask themselves: what sort of job am I good for, having spent so long studying? Where are mainstream jobs advertised? How do I successfully put myself across at interview?

While the answers to these questions will vary from person to person, I believe that all PhDs will benefit from following a clear roadmap to get their career search started. The Career Roadmap set out below is based on my own experience and reflects the steps I took when starting to look for work outside of academia:

1. In the first step of the Roadmap, Discover your potential, the purpose is to explore your dreams and personal goals, and find out what motivates you in life.
2. In the second step, Choose your profession, the purpose is to identify a non-academic career area that fits with the passions, ambitions and goals you have identified.
3. In the third step, Market yourself, the purpose is to develop the materials and the network you’ll need for applications in your chosen profession(s).
4. In the fourth step, Get an offer, the purpose is to apply for advertised and unadvertised roles, to secure one or more job offers.

This approach will help you to overcome the difficulty of knowing where to start, and it provides you with structure and direction for managing your non-academic career planning and job search. In future posts I’ll map out each of the 4 steps of the Career Roadmap in more detail, sharing my experiences and linking to helpful resources.

Take action now: Have you created your personal Career Planner yet? See my post on getting organised to find out why you need one!

 

Why you need to start thinking about a career outside academia – today!

Why you need to start thinking about a career outside academia - today!

Ask a first or second year PhD student what they want to do after completing, and you can bet that most will answer that they want to get an academic job. A certain proportion of all PhDs will indeed go on to secure academic posts. But how many?

In fact, a 2008 UK study showed that only 44% of doctoral graduate respondents were working in higher education 3 years after graduating, and only 22% of respondents were actually employed in H.E. teaching and lecturing roles (What do researchers do? Vitae, 2010, pages 4 and 15 – only accessible to registered users).

This statistic comes as a shock to many researchers – only 44%?! What happened to the rest? If you are currently a PhD student who is more than halfway to completion, it makes you realise that you need to put some serious time and effort into thinking about your non-academic career options! This is because:

  1. You may not get a permanent academic job, however hard you try, so it makes sense to have a Plan B;
  2. You may already know that you don’t want to follow an academic career path, so you need to consider your options for a mainstream career;
  3. You may want to review all of the options and decide which career route is right for you – academic or non-academic.

The flip side to the 44% statistic is that many PhD students don’t appreciate that the skills they have developed during their studies are very attractive to employers, including big hi-tech names like IBM and Google (click names to search job openings). The challenges and rewards of getting out into the world and putting your ideas into practice can be fantastic!

So actually you should give a career in industry or in public service some serious consideration, and not just treat it as a fallback position. You can read the career profiles of researchers who’ve made such a transition on websites such as The Versatile PhD and From PhD to Life (for North American profiles), and the Think Ahead Blog (use the hashtag #sheffvista) and Vitae (for UK profiles).

In summary, while it will depend upon your own career goals as to whether a non-academic route is your Plan A or Plan B, it makes good sense to set some time aside to develop such a plan. If you don’t have at least a Plan B, you may find yourself unemployed or having to take low-paid work if you’re unable to secure a permanent lectureship or research position after you complete your PhD.

To make it easy for you to develop your personal plan, you can follow a five step researcher career transition model, courtesy of Jobs on Toast. My blog post the majority of PhDs are switching into careers outside academia introduces the model, and all posts on this site are categorised according to which step of the model they fall into.

Take action now: Take some time out from your studies to read the career profiles at the links given above. Who inspires you the most?