Two Inspiring Stories and some useful lessons

Posted in: Alumni Case Study - Researchers, For PhDs, inspire

I shared in a recent post how impressed I was with the ESRC SWDTC student-led conference, and how it reminded me how useful organising a conference can be for developing transferable skills such as project management, problem-solving and communication. Today I want to collate some of the key messages I gleaned from two former researchers who shared their career paths as part of one of the workshop sessions.

First up was Kelly Preece, a Researcher Development Manager at the University of Exeter. Kelly has generously summarised her career journey, which has taken her from wanting to be Queen, to musical theatre, to developing and supporting researchers, on Twitter. I won't repeat the main points of Kelly's career story because she tells it better, but here are a few of the main messages and learning points from her story:

  1. Even if you're unhappy in what you're doing now, is there anything about it you do find satisfying?

Kelly highlighted that achieving your 'dream job' isn't always what it's cracked up to be; our plans and dreams can change as we change and develop. Having obtained her dream job as a lecturer, Kelly found that the long hours and being away from her family didn't sit well with her values. Having taken the decision to leave her job, Kelly spoke to her best friend and realised that she did enjoy teaching and helping others. When trying to work out your next steps, it can be really helpful to reflect as broadly as you can about everything you're doing at the moment and have done in the recent past, and ask yourself: which bits of 'now' do I want to take into the future? As you map out your career history so far, possibly identifying some notable highlights and challenges, you might be able to spot some themes and patterns. Are there any environments you seem to thrive in? Activities that stimulate you? Groups of people you enjoy working with?

2. Discover what you're good at through having a go

Often career ideas and opportunities arise as we get involved with things, pursue our interests and take opportunities as they come along. Our Doctoral College have a list of the kinds of development opportunities you could be getting involved in throughout your doctorate.

3. Completing doctoral research gives you a broad range of skills you can take further

Kelly pointed out that the skills developed during doctoral research, including project management and engaging with multiple stakeholders, are applicable in a wide range of settings. The same is true of teaching; Kelly honed her negotiation skills through working on team-taught modules. To map out the skills you're gaining as a researcher, check out the Researcher Development Framework.

4. Sign up for job alerts for sectors that interest you

Kelly mentioned signing up for email alerts to give her some idea of the non-academic jobs that come up in Higher Education. Email alerts are low-stress ways to get a quick sense of the types of jobs coming up in sectors that interest you. I regularly get email alerts from Civil Service Jobs, Nature Jobs and the Guardian. For more ideas on time-efficient job-search strategies, check out a previous post on low-stress career planning in the final stages of your doctorate.

5. Self awareness is really important. 

What interests you? What motivates you? What are your abilities and aptitudes? You can find these out through reflecting on where you are now as highlighted above. Another tip Kelly mentioned is to have a go at the Profiling for Success Questionnaires, which help give you insights into your work-related personality and values, and suggest areas of work you might want to consider.

6. Broaden your options

As Kelly's story shows, even if you are committed to a particular career path, plans can change, so stay flexible and build your awareness of the range of options available. Take a look at our careers web pages for researchers, use Bath Connection to speak to Bath graduates, and use the Vitae Career wise researcher booklet.

The second speaker was Dr Abigail Dymond, a Lecturer in Criminology and ESRC Future Research Leaders Scholar at the University of Exeter. Abi worked in the charity sector before embarking on a PhD, further highlighting how careers can change and evolve over time. Abi researched the use of tazers by police forces in England and Wales. Her advice for developing an academic research career included:

  • find a research topic you are motivated and passionate about
  • engage with policymakers at an early stage in your research
  • start to apply for funding during your PhD; there are lots of small pots of funding around, including travel funding for conferences; check out Research Professional, a searchable, international database of small and large funding sources. Get to know the research funding landscape and who would be likely to fund your research.
  • develop a clear strategy for research and publications - develop knowledge of the Research Excellence Framework.
  • learn how to handle rejections and criticism well - this is part and parcel of academic work
  • having a clear idea of why you're doing what you're doing can really help with criticism and setbacks.


Posted in: Alumni Case Study - Researchers, For PhDs, inspire


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