Managing your career in the second year of your doctorate
Usually at this time of year I write a blog post on how to get started with planning your career in the first year of your PhD. This year I thought I’d do something different and write something on steps you can take to move towards your post-PhD path if you’re going into the second year of your doctorate.
I remember hearing about some research that suggested the second year is when most doctoral students start thinking seriously about their career, and you might find that having passed your confirmation and moved into a new year provides an ideal time to pause, reflect and start to plan your next steps. Here’s a few practical steps you can take to make career thinking a little bit easier as you progress into the next stage of your doctorate.
A year into your doctorate – when hopefully you’ve started to clarify the direction of your research and get involved in a range of research-related and other activities – is a good time to take stock of what you’ve achieved in the past year and where you need to make progress. What are you proud of? What can you do now that you couldn’t a year ago? This could be one-off things like getting to grips with a new technique or technology, expanding your knowledge into a new field or success in an extracurricular activity, or broader things like starting a PhD during a pandemic, moving your research online or adapting to a new team. Think about the things you have enjoyed and the things you’ve done well. This might be harder to do when things have been far from normal, so can I encourage you to start from now to notice – and ideally write down – the things you do in a typical working day and week and which aspects of your work you enjoy and are good at. Thinking forwards to your post-PhD career, which bits of ‘now’ might you want to take into the future?
In encouraging you to pay attention to how you feel about where you are now, I’m really encouraging you to explore yourself and what matters to you. Few of us take the time to do this but it’s actually really hard to start to make decisions about next steps without some sense of what’s important to you. Other ways to do this include thinking through your values and what sort of person you are – you can do this through using the Careers Service’s Find your Future tool and MyProfessionalDevelopment.
The other thing to start exploring is potential career options. It can be tricky to know where to start with this; you could start by exploring a few sectors you might be interested in, or watch this short video which outlines career options for researchers. If you want to stay close to your research or subject area (and I know lots of you do), check out the Faculty-specific careers information on our website and the Prospects ‘What can I do with my degree’ pages. Reading the career stories of other doctoral graduates can also give you some useful insights into where others have gone and the steps they took to get there; we have some of our own on our blog, and link to many others from our Get Started Guide for Researchers. Have a look at job descriptions for roles you might be interested in; you can find these through our vacancy sites for researchers and this list of vacancy sites for different sectors.
People are very often the best source of career information and opportunities, so it’s vital to start connecting with people in sectors and roles that interest you. Start by mapping out all the networks you’re part of – research groups inside and outside of Bath, contacts from previous professional experience, external partners and collaborators, as well as personal networks (friends, family, out-of-work interests). Think about all of the people who could potentially help you with your career, and remember that this is never ‘using’ people – networking is a two-way process so also think about how you could help others.
Be curious about what others do – book them for a chat about their current job and how they got there – questions like ‘what does a typical day look like’, ‘what are the best and worst things about your job’ and ‘what advice’ would you give to me’ can help you work out whether you would want to take a similar path.
Bath PhD graduates can be invaluable sources of careers information and advice – connect with them through LinkedIn and Bath Connection; your supervisor or other academics may also be able to put you in touch. And yes, we have another handy little video on career networking as a researcher.
Once you’ve taken time to think about yourself and what’s important to you in your career, and started to do some research into possible career paths, this should put you in a good position to plan some steps that will help you get to where you want to be. Planning next steps and development needs will be something you do anyway as part of working out what you need to do to complete your research, and the two things are interconnected. As well as thinking about the technical and research skills you need to complete your doctorate, think about skills and activities that may be related to but separate from your research, such as teaching, public engagement, communicating your research to wider audiences through activities like Three Minute Thesis, peer mentoring, enterprise and research commercialisation. Develop your experience of working on short term projects through taking part in I Keep or the Vertically Integrated projects, boost your skills through online courses or consider some short-term work experience or an internship. If you have even vague thoughts of working in sectors other than academia, experience of working with other groups (including voluntary experience) and in other settings will always add value.
If you’re considering a career in academia, this information page has some thoughts on areas you need to be taking action on, such as getting a sense of your future research direction, building collaborations internally and externally, getting some teaching experience and planning publications.
If you’re unsure of your career direction, often the best advice is to take opportunities whenever they come up – this will broaden your network and can lead to some unexpected places.
Finally, remember you can talk things through in a careers appointment whether you have clear ideas on your future career path or no idea at all.