Is working outside academia for you and how do you make it happen?

LSE PhD alumni work in a wide range of sectors outside academia and find career success all over the world. A panel of PhD graduates (biographies below) who are now working in government, finance and two different types of consultancy discussed working outside academia. Some of the issues we discussed are summarised in this blog.

Whatever type of future you’re considering, LSE Careers is here for you. Our services are completely confidential. You can use our one-to-one career appointments to prepare for your future and attend our PhD focused events to learn about labour markets and successful applications.

Sectors where you can work

These are varied and depend on your interests, skills and motivations. Some of our speakers were unsure as they came to the end of their PhD about their future direction and made applications to a number of different organisations for a variety of different roles. This in itself helped them to focus and learn more about the labour market. Their advice included signing up to some vacancy sites early and checking job descriptions during the middle phase of your PhD so there are fewer surprises as you come towards the end.

Career progression

You’re not stuck in your first role! One of the speakers had moved sector and had several roles in the four years since graduating with  PhD in social policy. She had worked in a charity in a research position before moving to the National Audit Office. She explained the pros and cons of each type of organisation. Other speakers in more commercial organisations were looking to build their experience over the next few years before branching out into more specialist consultancies, in one case, starting their own enterprise. The key message was: there’s still a lot of career time ahead of you, think about it flexibility and enjoy it!

Leaving academia

This topic caused some concern with some of our audience. What’s the transition like? How do I know I’ve made the right decision? What will my supervisor think? Will I be blacklisted in my department? Reassurance was offered by the speakers; they have made the transition and have survived. Some supervisors are very realistic about the academic labour market and wish you the best, supporting you whatever direction you choose. You can keep all your options open for a long time yet, not needing to tell your supervisor your decision until you need a reference. When you do, think about how you tell them and present your case assertively. It’s your life!

What’s my identity now?

Questions were asked about how panel felt about themselves as professionals with a PhD. All the speakers said they were not the only person in their office or department to have a PhD and that they were supported by other PhD colleagues. Their offices all included people at different ages and stages of their career and their colleagues were used working in  diverse groups. You are judged on the work you deliver, rather than your past education. It might take some time to adjust to your new environment but that’s more about how you feel rather than how others see you. Know what you can bring to a team; perhaps your speed of work, ability to form good questions and decision making skills so you can present these to employers. A career is both objective and subjective and navigating transition phases is challenging. The reassurance that our speakers thrive in their new organisations provide some positive cases for reference.

Relevant experience

Lack of confidence can be common in PhD students. You are used to being criticised and having to take some harsh feedback. We discussed the transferability of your experience and ways to show you have relevant skills, competencies and strengths by adopting the vernacular of the new sector. Developing relationships with contacts and getting to know other people working in the sector will help. Some short periods of work experience, shadowing or simply talking with people in the relevant sectors can help you feel you have a more comfortable fit in their world. So if this is an issue for you, try to get some or look at leveraging the experience you do have. One of the panel had no previous experience and used the work of the PhD as evidence of relevant experience for roles in research in the charity sector.

Am I too old?

There was concern that age matters and organisations would discriminate against older applicants. Our panel re-assured the audience that this had not been an issue for them entering the labour market as more mature applicants. However, age bias does happen and if you are a significantly older applicant you might like to talk through your approach with other older PhD graduates. We will organise an event to address this issue next term if this is relevant to you, please get in touch with Catherine Reynolds, our PhD careers consultant, to let her know more about what help you need.

So what’s the value of my PhD?

Or in other words, you may be thinking: why did I bother? It’s a huge achievement and you should be very proud of your PhD. The process has changed you, challenging you to think harder, ask more questions and understand concepts at a much deeper level. The value of this at a personal and a professional level will be with you forever but it does not need to tie you to an academic career. None of our panel regretted having become a PhD; they are all enjoying their careers outside academia and are looking forward to promotion and career progression.

Whatever your career concerns, LSE Careers can help you make progress. There will be another outside academia event next year; please let Catherine know if you have requests, ideas for speakers or would like to help organise this.

Speaker biographies

Many thanks to our recent speakers who were:

Sarah Taylor, Senior Analyst, National Audit Office

Sarah gained her undergraduate and master’s degrees at LSE: first Social Policy and Government (2002-2005) then Gender (Research) in 2006. She gained a DPhil in 2010 from Oxford University’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention, on the topic of child poverty in the UK. She worked for two years as an in-house evaluator and researcher at a large charity, the NCT (National Childbirth Trust), then joined the public spending watchdog the National Audit Office in 2012. During her time at the NAO she has spent a year on secondment to the House of Commons (2014-2015), as an inquiry manager for the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. NAO is the independent Parliamentary body responsible for certifying the accounts of all Government Departments and a number of other public sector organisations.

Amelia Sharman, Principal Climate Mitigation Consultant, Amec Foster Wheeler (AFW)

Amelia has a BA in Geography and French (2000-2002), and an MA (Hons) in Geography (2003-2004) from The University of Auckland. After three years as a Policy Analyst, then Senior Policy Analyst at the New Zealand Ministry of Economic Development (MED) working on evaluations of business assistance programmes, and sector development and national innovation policy, she obtained an MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Policy (2008-2009) from Oxford University. She briefly returned to New Zealand to her role at MED, then worked for a year as a Sustainability Specialist at the International Hydropower Association before starting her PhD in Environmental Policy and Development at LSE in 2011. Having just submitted her PhD examining the impacts on science and policy of controversy about climate change, she is now working in the Environmental Policy and Economics team at AFW where she is responsible for providing policy, technical and economic advice on the development and implementation of environmental policy, and business response to policy at a strategic level.

Fabio Pinna, Associate, Deutsche Bank

Fabio completed his PhD in Economics at LSE in 2014. He works as an Associate in a team managing €14 billion of assets globally; he uses coding and computing of big data as well as human assessment of risks and opportunities. During his PhD Fabio gained a range of experience and earned some useful income working part time as a research assistant, a teaching assistant and in a commercial setting at LP Group, Asset Management. He also published articles in business journals as well as contributing to academic articles. All this meant managing time carefully, setting priorities and being well organised and put him in a very good position to apply for permanent roles in the Banking sector towards the end of the PhD. Fabio’s research investigated banking, credit and consumer behaviour and contributed to the understanding of consumer decision making.

Zhong Chen, Strategy Consultant , Monitor Deloitte

Zhong completed his PhD in International History at LSE in 2014. He works as a Strategy Consultant at Monitor Deloitte, in the United Arab Emirates. He gained a range of experience during his PhD including working as a visiting scholar in China and Germany. He has had internships at Oliver Wyman and the Canadian Embassy and Zhong has also published in academic journals.