Blog by LSE PhD careers consultant, Catherine Reynolds:

Multiple factors influence career development and for PhD students the interaction between external circumstances and personal priorities make every individual story unique. On Wednesday evening last week we heard three different versions of progression into roles in international organisations and think tanks. An engaged audience of 30 or so current PhD students and recent graduates attended and I was thrilled to be able to introduce it.

The session wasn’t recorded but I’ve captured ten of the key messages in this blog. Essentially, the speakers were all positive about their roles and the transitions they had made. They said

There are lots of jobs out there. Make sure you don’t miss opportunities!

Speakers

Nahid Kamal

Nahid has been a Research Associate with MEASURE Evaluation, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill since 2011. She is on secondment to International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research in Bangladesh where she works on population surveys and impact evaluation of USAID funded health projects. Prior to joining MEASURE Evaluation, she worked for the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Geneva, Marie Stopes International in London and Population Council in Dhaka. She holds a BSc in Economics, and an MSc and PhD in Demography. Her current role involves project management and primary/secondary analysis of national survey data on maternal mortality and urban health. Nahid writes up her reports for her organisation and also publishes in peer reviewed academic journals in International Development on topics ranging from child marriage, equity in health to reproductive health policy. To develop her expertise in Global Health, Nahid will take some courses in Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine later this year.

Emma De Angelis

Emma is the Editor of the RUSI Journal and the Director of Publications at RUSI, a leading independent think tank on defence and security. She completed her PhD in International History at the LSE in 2011 and worked for the department as editor of the Cold War History Journal during some of that time. Her skills and experience related directly to the job description required by RUSI when they were shifting the focus of their journal to compete more directly with those from academia. Emma appreciates similarities between the responsibilities she has for public engagement, impact and publishing at this think tank and academic life, but acknowledges that this would not be the case in all think tanks. Interestingly, Emma has additional interests in arts management and is looking for ways to present security, defence and global affairs issues through artistic performance, and she is undertaking an MA relating to this topic to support her interests too.

Cecile McGrath

Cecile is a Senior Research Manager in Ecorys, a leading European public policy consultancy. She specialises in education and social affairs. Cecile is also a research affiliate at the University of Maastricht and the University of California Berkeley where she was a postdoctoral student. Cecile graduated from a PhD in Government at LSE in 2010 and, after two academic contracts, moved to RAND, a large US think tank in Cambridge, UK. She has built her specialism in education and continues to enjoy academic affiliations with Berkeley and Maastricht enabling her to publish in academic journals on topics of her choice. She manages the work of other researchers and is currently employed part time (0.6 fte) while her son is young.

Searching for jobs

So, how to be active in your job search and pitch yourself appropriately? Here’s their view:

  1. Be kind to yourself. Don’t panic; careers evolve and work themselves out. Our speakers all agreed that it takes time to work out what you really want to do after completing your PhD, and it also takes time to release yourself from the expectations of others and discover where you will really thrive.
  2. Getting the first job after the PhD is the hardest. Timing your application process around your submission and Viva means starting looking in earnest at vacancies early in your final year, but you might not start applying until later in that year.
  3. The things you do and the networks you make whilst studying at LSE will influence your future career. Contacts with people inside organisations have been integral to the career opportunities of all the speakers.
  4. Organisations change and this affects the skill sets and areas of expertise required. Use your network and friends to help you keep up to date with the labour market that is specifically relevant to you. Contacts provided access to many of the opportunities in which our speakers were successful, specifically as sources of information about the expertise being sought.
  5. Do your research about organisations as they are very different. Cultures vary and sources of funding shape the type and flow of work available. Research roles vary too; some involve lots of time looking at budgets and project plans, others involve more hands on research.
  6. It is possible to maintain academic affiliation and to continue to publish if you are in the right position outside academia. Continuing publishing means that jobs in academia are still open to you.
  7. Keeping on learning, undertaking additional training and courses was a common theme. The PhD is part of your learning – not the end.
  8. Be outward looking. Leaving your PhD behind is tough, and moving away from your academic discipline is expected but everyone acknowledged this as being hard. Thinking about your wider discipline area and the value of social science more generally was seen as important in making the transition to work.
  9. Personal lives develop too and partners and children become part of your decisions. We discussed how hard it is to combine work and parenting and the compromises and negotiations involved in managing dual careers.
  10. The speakers all recommended (based on their personal experience!) using LSE Careers to help you think about yourself, your priorities and what you have to offer; to shape and tailor your applications, covering letters and interviews.

Finally, later last week I attended an event at City University where social science researchers also told their career stories. Themes raised were similar to our event and do not need repeating, but you might find the list of roles and organisations interesting. The speakers are working:

in Government and Parliament as

  • Principal Researcher, Department for Communities and Local Government
  • Senior Research Analyst, House of Commons Library
  • Head of Performance and Intelligence, Corporate Resources and Services, West Sussex County Council
  • Parliamentary Researcher, working directly for a Member of Parliament
  • Director, People Places Lives, a small social research business

in Think Tanks and Social Research as

  • Policy Director, Centre for Social Justice
  • Consultant, ThinkYoung, a Brussels based think tank
  • Lecturer and Previous Research Director, NatCen
  • Labour Market Researcher, Learning & Work Institute

in Charities and Employee Research as

  • Impact and Evaluation Manager, the National Literacy Trust
  • Research Manager/ Insight Consultant, Employee Research, ORC
  • Senior Associate Director, Research, Evaluation and Impact, Teach First
  • Research and Evaluation Manager, City Year

How LSE Careers can help

A discussion with a Careers Consultant can help you to make sense of all this, your issues can be reviewed in complete confidentiality with me at whatever stage you are in your PhD studies or early research career. Confidential 30 minute one-to-one appointments are available every week, simply book on LSE CareerHub when you’re ready.

There are many different opportunities for social scientists. I hope this has provoked meaningful messages for your own career progression. Enjoy living your career and I look forward to meeting you to help with the next transition!