Have you reached ‘peak academia’?

Have you reached 'peak academia'?

Many people believe there’s a correlation between the length of time spent studying and the job market – so that the longer you study for, the more your employability improves. I’ve heard this equation repeated by several researchers I’ve spoken to.

Unfortunately it’s only true up to a point.

Speaking from the perspective of an employer outside of academia, I’m interested in hearing about your relevant work experience, as well as about your qualifications. And the longer you’re in academia, the less direct work experience you’ll have, by definition.

That doesn’t mean you have *no* relevant experience, it’s just that you have less experience in my industry, and more experience of working in universities. Which means that both you and I have to work harder to determine how your qualifications and experience are relevant to the vacancy I’m seeking to fill.

So the (correct) assumption you had while you were in high school – that getting a first degree will improve your employability overall – doesn’t necessarily hold for subsequent degrees.

It’s better to think in terms of ‘peak academia’, when you have about the right balance of qualifications and work experience (e.g. part-time jobs and internships), for many graduate-level jobs. Go past that – in my opinion past Masters degree level – and there are diminishing returns for your employability outside of academia (for many subjects, at least).

That’s not to say that researchers aren’t eminently employable, as of course they are – but in my opinion the ‘halo’ effects of education start to diminish, the longer you’re in it (and many employers do see a PhD as education rather than as a job).

Think about the other candidates who’re applying for the same jobs as you, who are in their mid-to-late twenties or older – they’re going to have a nice track record of responsibilities and achievements in that industry. Which proves to the hiring manager that they can already do the job well. It’s this relative lack of direct work experience that starts to count against researchers, the longer they stay in academia – and qualifications don’t make up the deficit.

So let go of the idea that more degrees means improved employability. If you’re doing a PhD or post-doc, you need to start investing time and effort in a wider range of activities, to build up your employability. This can involve:

– Getting relevant work experience;

– Conducting informational interviews to understand more about your target industry; and

– Networking with the right people in that industry.

Check out my five-step process for finding a job outside of academia, for more details about the steps you should take.

From PhD to PMP: training and support in Ireland


In our latest guest post, Meadhbh Hand explains how researchers can get access to training courses, support services and hands-on experience in Ireland – very helpful when making your transition out of academia. Meadhbh runs a Dublin-based meetup group for doctoral graduates seeking non-academic jobs.

After completing my PhD I decided to return to the career I had before I began it, namely project management. I soon discovered that the job market had changed a lot in the intervening four years and employers, in Ireland at least, seem hung up on certifications like PRINCE2 and PMP (Project Management Professional). Fortunately the Irish government has a number of free courses available for jobseekers through skillnets.ie. Funded by the National Training Fund through the Department of Education and Skills they offer a variety of courses to jobseekers and employers. They fund groups of training networks for shared sectors and regions to subsidise training courses for employers and eligible unemployed people.

Through Skillnets over the past two years I have accessed a number of short-term courses including PMP Exam preparation, Digital Marketing Skills, Scrum Master and Train the Trainer. Because the courses are offered to employers as well jobseekers it is an opportunity to network with non-academic employees. This can lead to slightly surreal moments like being in a room full of vets for the Train the Trainer course – I learned almost as much about equine vaccination schedules and how to test cattle for mastitis as I did about training. Occasionally places for courses become available to jobseekers at short notice. I attended a half-day’s training on Creative Problem Solving (for the Aviation and Aerospace Training Network) after finding out about it the day before. I try not to think about the fact that no one from the Aviation industry turned up for the course when I’m on a plane waiting to take off at Dublin Airport.

Most of the Skillnets courses are short, from a half-day to three or four days in total although the Digital Marketing Skills course was longer at two nights a week for 12 weeks. There are a huge variety of courses available throughout Ireland including Presentation Skills, Lean Sigma, Advanced Excel and Animation. In most cases you can book directly onto the course without contacting your social welfare office, but check the website first just in case. If you do decide to go for the PMP exam you should be aware that you will have to pay the exam fee, at $555 for non-members of the Project Management Institute it’s not cheap.

In addition to the Skillnets courses, there are plenty of courses available through Solas (previously known as Fás). Some of these are available online, for example the European Computer Driving Licence course, while others are offered in training centres with other jobseekers. I took the PRINCE2 Practitioner course, one day per week over five weeks, with the foundation level exam in week 3 and practitioner exam on the final day. Both of the exams are multiple choice, the practitioner one is an open book exam. I didn’t find them too tough although some of the people on the course failed the exam. You are given another chance to take the exam if you do fail it first time. The Solas website is not as easy to navigate as the Skillnets one and you need to get referred by your local social welfare office to access the courses.

If you want to use some of your transferable skills in a positive way while job-seeking, then putting a profile on Boardmatchireland.ie is worthwhile. The website is a matchmaking service for non-profits and charities seeking new board members. And while the board roles are unpaid they will give you a chance to network and to contribute your talents to a deserving cause. You can search for an opportunity based on your interests, location and the expertise you have to offer. The time commitment varies depending on the organisation, more established charities tend have board meetings less frequently. Through Boardmatch I joined a non-profit which is in a start up phase with monthly board meetings. I’ve applied my project management training to develop project plans for the organisation and I’m enjoying getting to know the other board members who have very different professional backgrounds to mine.

Finally, if you are considering self-employment as a career option there is plenty of support available. Bank of Ireland Workbench branches (currently located in Trinity College, Grand Canal Dock, Montrose, Limerick and Galway) offer hot desks with free WiFi for start-ups. Depending on the branch they may also host events for your organisation and have a meeting room available for use, free of charge. Other practical support is also available through Local Enterprise Offices which regularly run information sessions and start your own business courses. They arrange mentoring to match newly self-employed people with established business people, there is a nominal charge for this service. If you are based in Ireland and would like to join a group of PhDs who are transitioning to non-academic jobs you can find us on meetup.com.

Meadhbh Hand holds a PhD from Trinity College Dublin and recently qualified as a PMP certified Project Manager.

5 ways an MBA can improve your employability

5 ways an MBA can improve your employability

Have you ever considered taking an MBA degree? Our guest post this month comes from Adam Maidment, who introduces the benefits of gaining an MBA qualification. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to find out what type of MBA is right for you.

In order to remain attractive in today’s competitive business industry, it’s important to find an edge over your fellow candidates. One of the best ways to make yourself stand out is to have a postgraduate qualification to your name – such as an MBA.

A Masters of Business Administration (MBA) is a degree designed to equip students with in-depth knowledge of business and management, and is typically studied by those looking to develop an already-existent career.

Having a MBA to your name may be just what you need to get the career you want, but it’s not an easy task and will require a lot of hard work and determination. If you’re considering studying for an MBA, here’s food for thought – a list of five ways in which an MBA course will help to improve your employability.

1. Transferable skills

Whichever path you choose to follow, the skills you inherit during your MBA studies will be relevant throughout the rest of your career.

MBA courses develop student’s ability to recognise excellence, appreciate customer value and human performance, and enhance their understanding of business strategy and implementation.

If you haven’t yet decided where to take your career, you can focus on the generalised phase first and then select your own modules during the second phase – giving you time to recognise what particular skills you want to learn and develop. Modules include business psychology, emerging technologies, supply chain planning or leading change and sustainability – whatever path you choose to follow, you will be able to tailor the course to bolster your arsenal with the exact skills you’ll need.

2. Better chances of career success

An MBA will show that you take your career seriously. Showcasing your determination and passion to progress your career, employers will see you as a serious candidate when it comes to job offers and promotions.

A recent study by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) found that only 12.8 per cent of students started their MBA course in a senior management position. In the months following graduation, a third of all students were working in senior management roles.

In some cases, an employer may choose to help fund an employee’s MBA studies with the hope of promoting them after graduation. With the additional knowledge and business understanding that comes with an MBA graduate, both employee and employer can reap the benefits.

As your understanding and expertise develop, you will also open yourself up to the likelihood of a better salary. According to Fortune, the expected median starting salary for recent MBA graduates in America in 2015 was around $100,000 (around £80,000).

3. A stronger understanding of business

An MBA will help to increase your existing bank of knowledge. Students will learn how to apply creative thinking to their work, and learn new processes that will help them down the line.

Throughout the duration of the course, students will be extensively taught about how business works on a global landscape. By undertaking subjects such as accounting, leadership and management, students will be held in good stead when progressing throughout their chosen career.

Those that already have a specific career path in mind may find that a specialised course is more suited to their needs and what they want to get out of their studies. On a specialist course, as well covering the essential parts of the general MBA, students will also be provided with a stronger focus on the sector they have chosen for a career. For example, a Financial Services MBA will include modules which focus on risk, regulation and failure avoidance as well as financial analysis management – essential subjects for a career in finance.

4. Connecting with the right people

With an MBA, you will be able to open doors to opportunities you may have previously been unable to. Throughout your course, you’ll be taught by professionals with heaps of experience and a number of different guest speakers who’ll offer the expertise and insight they’ve learnt during their careers.

You will also be studying alongside like-minded individuals in the same position as you. As an MBA is designed for people who already have some experience in business, it’s very possible that your fellow students will have connections that can prove valuable throughout your own career.

Most MBA programs will also involve an international study tour which will allow you to understand how business operates in another country. This experience will also enable you to build relationships with others from around the world.

5. A recognised qualification to your name

An MBA is a qualification that is recognised throughout the world. There are currently 237 AMBA-accredited MBA courses and similar programs in over 49 countries.

The majority of MBA courses (50 per cent) are based in Europe, whilst 33 per cent are in Latin America and Asia. Wherever it is that you decide to work, you can take comfort from knowing that your credentials are valued and recognised.

An MBA can improve your employability

If you’re looking to develop a career where you need an insightful understanding of how business works, an MBA may be for you. By crafting your course to your specific requirements, and by building solid business relationships, you’ll realise how effectively an MBA can improve your employability.

The Graduate Management Council (GMAC) found that 92 per cent of 2012 business school graduates worldwide had found employment within the three months of graduation. This not only shows the value that comes with an MBA, but also how it can have a positive effect on your career.

Adam Maidment is a writer for Manchester Metropolitan University, an institution that offers an MBA course with three specialisms; Financial Services, Digital Management, and Strategic Health and Social Care. If you want to learn further about how to choose the MBA course for you, take a look at their short quiz.