Blog by our PhD Careers Consultant Catherine Reynolds:

Is there really a binary divide between the employment worlds of academia and other sectors? As a PhD student or a worker on a temporary contract in Higher Education your long term future might involve both. Putting aside tricky questions about finding vacancies, making applications and succeeding at interview, where will you find job and personal satisfaction? Might you spend time in both? There are certainly pros and cons in each employment sector.

Working in academia

A common complaint from those working in academia is around the volume of work and multiple pressures. You might have seen the THES article about academic life titled: A Workload Survival Guide for Academics. A range of academics reported lessons and practical tips drawn from their personal experience. This produced some great advice about professional priorities and finding focus so that work and home lives are both enjoyed. When learning to decline interesting opportunities and to say no more often, try this advice: ‘All baby opportunities are cute. Imagine this opportunity as a teenager.’

But academia is a kind of cult and leaving it behind can be complicated, particularly whilst you are still part of it. Websites, blogs and books share the strains of academic life and offer advice on alternatives. I like: Escape the Ivory Tower, Jobs on Toast and the ‘It’s Ok to Quit’ pages of ‘The Professor is In’.  LSE Careers actively supports your career progression whether you intend to work inside or outside academia or even both.

Research roles

Last week at one of our PhD careers events, Dr Alex Free (LSE, Media 2015) spoke about his current role as a Communications and Research Officer working on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Professional Services Division here at LSE. He enjoys still being part of the higher education community, having access to University resources and continuing to publish academic articles, whilst earning a regular income, in a city he wants to live in and having a stimulating work role. He learned through  selection processes to present himself as a professional researcher rather than as a PhD graduate. Research degrees are preparation for being a researcher of many topics – you won’t undertake the same project again and recruiters need to know you can transfer your skills and motivation to their setting.

Learning and using the language of the recruiting organisation was a key message from Alex; presenting yourself precisely for the new role means analysing the job description very closely and finding connections between your experiences and their requirements. Having a PhD and working in higher education in an ‘alternative academic role’ is not uncommon and staff in many professional service departments are qualified at PhD level, just like staff in the Civil Service, NGOs and international organisations. Some people will move into academic positions later, if they can continue to build relevant experience – that’s research, publications and teaching.

Academic and non-academic work

So how realistic is the possibility to be both? Careers do not need to be conducted in straight lines. In an article about academic careers Dr Julia Horn of the Oxford Learning Institute describes careers as ‘Odyssean’ Homeric style meanderings as well as ‘onward and upward’  trajectories. She says:

Cycling in a career means moving in and out of different realms of activity, changes of employment, industry, occupation and location, examples include changing the job itself, moving between projects, moving between full-time and part-time work, moving between work commitments and family commitments. This may be more rewarding: many of the academics who at the end of their careers appear the most accomplished, are those who behave in maverick ways, straying into fields which were not originally their own.

Making the most of your time

Building a portfolio of experience during your PhD can provide a rich resource to draw from later. On Wednesday 9 March two LSE PhD Alumni, now researchers representing each side of the binary divide, explain how they used their time effectively and then connected this with their progression after the PhD. Book your place now for using your time effectively as a PhD student! You’ll hear from:

  • Simon Beard (PhD Philosophy, 2016) now post doc researcher at the University of Oxford where he works on population ethics in the Future of Humanity Institute.
  • Amelia Sharman (PhD Geography, 2015) now Principle Researcher at Amec Foster Wheeler (AFW) working in the Environmental Policy and Economics team where she is responsible for providing policy, technical and economic advice.

PhD students are constantly making decisions about how best to use their time. This seminar will help you to understand the range of skills and experience you can gain while doing your PhD, and help prepare for your career after LSE. There will also be tea and cake provided by the PhD Academy!

Careers appointments

Confidential one-to-one careers consultations are also available every week. Book an appointment with me now!