This blog post is aimed at anyone who is going into, or currently in, the final year of their PhD. As the final few months of a PhD can be intense with the demands of completing a thesis alongside beginning to think about next steps, we wanted to make things easier with a few practical steps you can take towards your future career in the final few months of a doctorate.
- Clarify career direction
If you haven't given much thought to this as yet it isn't too late. If you're feeling very unsure about which direction to pursue after the doctorate, start by asking yourself how you've found doing a PhD and the other things you've done alongside it, and which types of activities you have enjoyed the most. This will give you insights into which bits of 'now' you want to take into the future and can open up ideas for career areas to explore. For example, if you've really enjoyed communicating your research to a variety of audiences, you might be interested in careers in public engagement or science communication. If you've enjoyed analysing large, complex datasets, then careers in data science or data analytics might be worth exploring. Ask yourself how close you want to stay to your current research. Do you want to do a postdoc but switch fields? Continue in research but work in another sector, such as industry, government or the charity sector? Apply some of your technical skills in related roles such as being a technician, facilities manager or technical sales specialist? Continue working in higher education but in a non-research role? Apply project management management and communication skills in areas like consulting? Make yourself a 'shopping list' of factors that are important in your career. This might include: day-to-day work activities, work-life balance, needing to work in the South West or making a difference as part of your career. Explore possible career options using the resources on our website and the Get Started Guide for researchers. Career stories of other PhD students can give useful inspiration; the Get Started guide links to some of our favourites.
2. Take small steps
As noted above, the final stages of a PhD can come with varying demands on your time. Taking small steps towards your next career move can help you to feel less overwhelmed and more in control. This could include: researching one career option, applying for a job or two to test the waters, attending job application webinars as part of the Doctoral Skills programme or connecting with someone working in a career area that interests you; Linkedin and Bath Connection will help here.. Plan thinking about your career around your other demands. You might find it helpful to set aside a short amount of time each day or each week, or focus your career planning time around times when your thesis is making slightly fewer demands.
3.. Plan regular time for job searching.
Be aware of timelines for organisations you may be interested in. Larger organisations with graduate schemes recruit in the Autumn to start in the following Autumn. If you’re applying for postdocs or one-off jobs in smaller companies, you should be applying 2-3 months before you’re able to start work. Identify the best ways and places to job for jobs in your chosen fields; check out our video on job-hunting and networking for researchers, the Search for Work Get Started Guide and the information page on vacancy sources for researchers.
4. Connect with employers
Connecting with employers is a great way to get insider information on what they're looking for and insights into roles and organisations you're considering. Come along to the October Careers Fair and sign up for employer presentations through Myfuture events. If you're interested in a career in academia, connect with potential future postdoc supervisors through conferences and academic social media such as ResearchGate. See our How to get a postdoc video for more tips on this. If your aim is to move into industry, look for events and conferences that bring together people from industry and academia.
5. Get up to speed with CVs and interviews
A different approach to CVs will be needed depending on whether or not you're applying for academic jobs. Check out the resources in our Get Started Guides on interviews and Applications, CVs and cover letters. We also have some lovely short videos just for you on CVs and statements for academic jobs, CVs and cover letters for outside of academia and academic job interviews. Use our CV and Applications Advice appointments to get feedback on a CV or application.
6. When is the end anyway?
Planning your career in the final stages of your PhD is challenging precisely because the end of a PhD can be a fluctuating and unclear entity. It can be hard to know whether you'll be able to start full-time work immediately after submitting or whether it's best to wait until after your viva. Speak to your supervisor about how many corrections you're likely to have, and remember it may be possible to negotiate with employers on start dates or start a job part-time initially. If you need something short-term or part-time alongside doing corrections or in the first few months after finishing, you could consider asking your Department about part-time teaching or casual research approaches (approaching academics directly can work well here) or doing some remote work or freelance research or data analysis; check out Upwork or Kolabtree for opportunities.
Wherever you're at in your career thinking and whatever option you have in mind, you can talk things through in a careers appointment at any time.