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 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 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

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