Boost your job prospects by attending campus careers events for PhDs

Since 2009 I’ve had the pleasure of getting out on the road, sharing the story of my own career change with audiences of researchers and academics. I’ve made a successful transition from a PhD in Medieval Studies, into a career in business, project management and consultancy. I love telling my story and helping PhDs with their own career thinking.

Let’s face it, it’s easy to get closeted away just doing your research, and not put parallel effort into your career planning during your PhD. But sometimes you need to get out of the library or the lab and take advantage of ‘hire education’ events on campus. What are some of the benefits of attending? To my mind they’re invaluable for:

  • Raising your awareness of careers paths outside of higher education
  • Showing you how it was done – bringing career change to life
  • Picking up tips on the individual steps of the career change process
  • Helping you discuss non-academic career options with your peers and supervisors

Remember, once you’ve graduated, you’ll have to pay for any further career support you need. So look out for speakers appearing on campus, and make the time to attend while they’re still accessible to you.

If you haven’t attended a live careers event before, read the 3 case studies below to learn more about what goes on. These examples are all taken from events I’ve spoken at this year (can you believe it, I’m wearing the same blue shirt in every picture?!). Please do drop me a note if you’re interested in booking me to speak to researchers at your university.

 1. A careers workshop organised by your graduate school

On 8 February I was the guest of the Graduate School at Brunel University London, running a morning careers workshop for a mixed audience of PhDs and post-docs. In this workshop on ‘Opportunities and tools for researchers wishing to work outside of academia’, I covered the following topics in depth:

  • Identifying your transferable skills
  • Having a clear focus for your career change
  • How to communicate your value to employers outside academia
  • Tools and resources for career changers

I got a lovely email the next day from the organiser, who said that she’d bumped into some of the attendees that morning and they were still talking about the workshop! So look out for careers events organised by your university careers service or graduate school.

2. A careers talk organised by your professional association



On 3 February I was the guest of the Irish Association of Professional Historians at the National Library in Dublin, speaking to an audience of historians about career paths outside of academia. Afterwards I held a careers clinic where I helped 12 of the attendees improve their CVs. I was so impressed by the calibre of these folks, many of whom were pursuing PhDs as well as having full time jobs elsewhere. If you belong to a professional association, why not ask them to put on a live careers event for members?

3. A careers conference organised by researchers

On 16 March I was a guest speaker at the Researching our Futures conference, which was organised by a group of researchers at the University of Newcastle. The organisers deserve huge credit for their initiative and the excellent line up of speakers they assembled. My talk was on ‘Promoting your skills as a researcher’, covering identifying the transferable skills you’re acquired as a researcher, and translating these skills into language employers can understand. We did some practical exercises based on these themes during my session.

If you’d like to get hold of the slides for my talk on ‘How to translate your skills into language employers can understand’, you can sign up for my email newsletter and I’ll send you a link to download the slide deck.

Listen to Chris on GradSquare Radio!

How did I go from a PhD in Medieval Studies, to a project manager in financial services? Find out in Episode 24 of GradSquare Radio, where Marco interviews me about my academic background and my transition into a business career.

GradSquare interview with Chris Humphrey

GradSquare Radio offers a range of fantastic interviews with former researchers and other professionals. The interview with recruiter Anne Hersh in Episode 3 is especially thought-provoking. Anne runs her own recruitment business in New York, specialising in financial services.

It’s refreshing to hear Anne’s views on a range of topics, especially since they contrast with opinions you may encounter within higher education! So for instance when asked how higher degree holders are perceived outside of academia, Anne says that ‘an advanced degree is viewed in a positive light.’ Remember that for the next time someone tells you that a PhD puts employers off!

And any Ivy Leaguers listening are in for a shock … Anne says that many firms don’t want to hire Ivy League candidates, perceiving them to be entitled, arrogant and conceited!

I really like Anne’s perspective on what a busy Human Resources person looks for in a résumé. Anne says that it needs to be logical that the candidate is applying for the job. This really chimes with my own advice to market yourself as a ‘fellow professional’ when applying for jobs outside academia.

Finally Anne has some great advice about the dreaded topic of networking. Get a list of alumni from your college or school and start contacting and talking to these people. This is the easiest way to build your network!

What’s your favourite episode or piece of advice on GradSquare Radio? Leave a comment below or drop me a note via Twitter or the Jobs on Toast Facebook page.

Further reading – marketing yourself

Applying for jobs outside academia – from PhD to fellow professional, by Chris
How to tell a great story about your transition out of academia, by Chris
How to recognise and overcome the failure story after your PhD, by Chris
Feeling like a failure? 4 strategies for beating the post-PhD blues, by Chris

Get your monthly slice of careers advice from Jobs on Toast!

Chris Humphrey BSSS Conference 2015

In case you missed it: the May edition of my email newsletter is out and includes a link to download the awesome e-book From Scholar to Dollar. Written by Dr Anna Harrison, this beautifully designed transition guide is hugely informative, great fun to read and it’s free! I also report back on the two conferences I attended in April, where I ran sessions on making the transition into careers outside academia.

You can subscribe to my newsletter here to get future editions automatically popping up in your inbox!

P.S. Grant Campbell snapped this picture of me in full flow at the British Society of Soil Science conference in York … thanks Grant!

Chris Humphrey BSSS Conference 2015