Academia is just one of many job opportunities for PhDs

Featured image for article: 'Academia is just one of many job opportunities for PhDs'

There’s an old saying – ‘when one door closes, another one opens’. I always saw academia as first and foremost a big opportunity – particularly for someone like me, being the first person in my family to go to university. Higher study offered me the chance to learn more, to develop my knowledge and skills, while at the same time doing good work (teaching and research). After my Master’s degree, I took the opportunity to do a PhD and a post-doctoral fellowship, both funded by British Academy grants.

From the perspective of a post-doc researcher, a permanent academic job obviously looks like a good opportunity to take. In my own case, I was well-qualified and I had a strong track record in the profession already. So over the course of my post-doc I applied for many lecturing posts, and was interviewed five times at UK universities. Each time I was unfortunately unsuccessful and the post went to another candidate. As I neared the end of my post-doc, academic employment began to look less and less like a good opportunity for me, and more and more like a dead end.

In response, I began to look elsewhere for options, and private companies in the newly-emerging field of e-learning caught my eye. Here was another whole field of opportunity – offering not just job security, but also a much higher salary and the chance to join an innovative industry. After my fifth academic interview rejection, I embraced my newly-found opportunity, and I left academia to work for an e-learning company, building web-based training courses. This initial switch led on to my subsequent career as a people manager, project manager and consultant.

Reflecting on all this, I feel that it’s healthier to approach your career planning in terms of relative opportunities, rather than as your single-minded passion or vocation (as we’re often encouraged to do). I appreciate that employers want you to display your passion for, and commitment to, their line of work. That said, it’s important that your commitment doesn’t slide over into self-sacrifice and exploitation, causing you to end up working for less than you’re really worth.

That’s to my mind where I personally drew the line – I refused to take up part-time teaching in order to stay in the academic game. I recognised that what we might call the ‘centre of gravity’ of opportunity had shifted in my life, following those five unsuccessful interviews. Realistically, with some previously open doors now closed shut, academia no longer held the same level of opportunity as it once did for me.

So I encourage you to reflect on where your present career opportunities lie – has the boat sailed on academia for you too? That can be hard to acknowledge at first, I know. But it’s in your best interests to take a step back and review the balance of opportunities as they’re panning out.

And maybe you’ll conclude that you need to switch your job search to look at roles outside of academia too. If you do, we’re here for you – a whole community of doctoral graduates working in fulfilling careers, and who are sharing their guidance and experience with you. Do check out my resources page for more details of all the books, websites and podcasts that are available to support your transition into a new career.

Interview with Lisa Qian, Data Scientist at Airbnb

Interview with Lisa Qian, Data Scientist

In this month’s post we catch up with Lisa Qian, a Data Scientist at Airbnb, to find out what it’s like to work as a data scientist. Read on to learn about the impact data science has on Airbnb’s success, the programming languages they use on the job, and what researchers need to know in order to succeed in a corporate role.


A: Things happen very quickly and data scientists have a big impact (see answer to next question). At Airbnb, there are so many interesting problems to work on and so much interesting data to play with. The culture of the company also encourages us to work on lots of different things. I have been at Airbnb for less than two years and I have already worked on three completely different product teams. There’s really never a dull moment. This can also be a “con” of the job. Because there are so many interesting things to work on, I often wish that I had more time to go more in depth on a project. I’m often juggling multiple projects at once, and when I’m 90% done with one of them, I’ll just move on to something else. Coming from academia where one spends years and years on one project without leaving a single rock unturned (I did a PhD in physics), this has been a delightful, but sometimes frustrating, cultural transition.


A: A ton! As a data scientist, I’m involved in every step of a product’s life cycle. For example, right now I am part of the Search team. I am heavily involved in research and strategizing where I use data to identify areas that we should invest in and come up with concrete product ideas to solve these problems. From there, if the solution is to come up with a data product, I might work with engineers to develop the product. I then design experiments to quantify the effect and impact of the product, and then run and analyze the experiment. Finally, I will take what I learned and provide insights and suggestions for the next product iteration. Every product team at Airbnb has engineers, designers, product managers, and one or more data scientists. You can imagine the impact data scientists have on the company!


A: At Airbnb, we all use Hive (which is similar to SQL) to query data and build derived tables. I use R to do analysis and build models. I use Hive and R every day of the job. A lot of data scientists use Python instead of R – it’s just a matter of what we were familiar with when we came in. There have also been recent efforts to use Spark to build large-scale machine learning models. I haven’t gotten a chance to try it out yet, but plan on doing so in the near future. It seems very powerful.


A: Successful data scientists have a strong technical background, but the best data scientists also have great intuition about data. Rather than throwing every feature possible into a black box machine learning model and seeing what comes out, one should first think about if the data makes sense. Are the features meaningful, and do they reflect what you think they should mean? Given the way your data is distributed, which model should you be using? What does it mean if a value is missing, and what should you do with it? The answers to these questions differ depending on the problem you are solving, the way the data was logged, etc., and the best data scientists look for and adapt to these different scenarios.The best data scientists are also great at communicating, both to other data scientists and non-technical people. In order to be effective at Airbnb, our analyses have to be both technically rigorous and presented in a clear and actionable way to other members of the company.


A: Beyond taking programming and statistics courses, I would recommend doing everything possible to get your hands dirty and work with real data. If you don’t have the time to do an internship, sign up to participate in hackathons or offer to help out a local startup by tackling a data problem they have. Courses and books are great for developing fundamental technical skills, but many data science skills can’t be properly developed in a classroom where data sets are well groomed.

This interview was first published on the website Master’s in Data Science; thanks to Josh Thompson for permission to reproduce it here.

Image Consulting – why it’s a rewarding career option for you

Here at Jobs on Toast our aim is to expand your employment horizons, and get you thinking about your wider work options beyond the academy. This month, we welcome a guest post by Suman Agarwal, who explains the benefits of Image Consulting as a career path. Enjoy!

Image Consulting is a fast-growing and sought-after industry, since it caters to the most common need in the 21st century – the ability to project an image that can impress. And this has created a need for professional Image Consultants who can help individuals develop impressive personalities. Whether you’re an engineer, a marketing professional, a student, or a business professional, you can join the image consulting workforce and lead change in yours and others’ life.

Before we find out why Image Consulting is a rewarding career option nowadays, let’s answer the most asked question – what is an Image Consultant?

An Image Consultant understands their clients and creates a roadmap to enhance their personalities and help them get an edge in this competitive world. They work with professionals and homemakers as mentors and trainers to help them get ahead in their professional and personal lives through grooming, styling, and other image management services. Image consultants help individuals convey the right messages via their clothing and behaviour for specific events, situations or goals.

Why Image Consulting?

Financial Security – The strong demand for image management has created brilliant work opportunities for Image Consultants who can enjoy one of the most desired benefits – financial security. For instance, in India Image Consultants can earn from INR 10,000 to INR 100,000 (USD 140 to USD 1,400) for a day of counselling (some even more). Image Consulting Business Institute-trained Image Consultants are living testimonials to it – Benaisha Kharas earned INR 100,000 (USD 1,400) for a day of training and presenting her story at TED Talks, and Sonika Shah earned INR 500,000 (USD 9,000) for a single styling and personal shopping assignment.

Work-Life Balance – While Image Consulting is a rewarding career option for anybody, it is especially a blessing for mothers and homemakers who are often forced to give up on their careers to nurture their families. Becoming an Image Consultant allows you to ditch the monotonous 9 to 5 jobs and be with your family while you work – without having to give up on your dreams. Here’s how:

●      You don’t need an office space since you can work from home and at the timings that best suit your schedule.

●      You can be your own boss and choose who to work with and what projects to undertake.

●      You can sign up for quirky and flexible work opportunities that do not require you to work all day every day.

No Specific Academic Qualification Required – Whether you quit your studies for personal reasons or have a qualification that has nothing to do with image consulting, you can always jump on the bandwagon and register for an image consulting course. All you need is the passion to train and transform lives. If you have these qualities, you can most certainly consider become an Image Consultant:

●      Effective communication skills

●      People-person skills

●      Sense of style and grooming

●      Good interpersonal skills

●      Confidence while speaking in public

Build Something of Your Own – Image Consulting allows you to take matters in your own hands by establishing your own Image Consulting firm. Certified professionals can work as part-time image consultants to build their portfolio as well as their clientele. And after that, they can set up their own image consulting business and be the boss!      

Ticket to Many Glam Careers – The biggest advantage of becoming an Image Consultant is that a single image consulting certificate unlocks many glam career opportunities for you. It allows you to don many hats and work with different industry professionals to help them enhance their images. All you need is the passion to remodel lives and a knack for networking to be able to build a vast and varied clientele. Here are a few career options that you can juggle after becoming an Image Consultant:

●      Personal Stylist

●      Wardrobe Consultant

●      Corporate Stylist

●      Celebrity Stylist

●      Grooming and Etiquette Coach

●      Confidence Coach

●      Personality Development Trainer, etc

Age is No Bar – What makes the Image Consultant course very opted for is that it doesn’t come with an age prerequisite. You can opt for both image consulting and soft skills training courses whether you’re 17 or 70. It’s your attitude and practice that will give you an edge over others.

If you’re ready to achieve the perfect work-life balance and empower others by conditioning personalities, choose a renowned image consulting institute based on reviews and its accreditations. Do your research so that you can take an informed decision.

Take control and play to your strengths to grow infinitely. Good luck!

Author Bio:

Suman Agarwal picture

An award-winning Image Management Professional, Suman Agarwal has helped students, home-makers, women on sabbatical as well as people seeking second career alternatives to explore Image Management and Soft Skill Training as a vibrant professional choice. She frequently writes blog posts about the urgent need of image consulting professionals and soft skill trainers in the 21st century and loves guiding people in exploring rewarding career options. You can email Suman to seek advanced career guidance, or view her profile on LinkedIn.