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Catherine Reynolds

April 3rd, 2023

PhD Alumni Panel: common themes in doctoral careers

0 comments | 5 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Catherine Reynolds

April 3rd, 2023

PhD Alumni Panel: common themes in doctoral careers

0 comments | 5 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

In our most recent PhD alumni panel, we were joined by an excellent group of PhD alumni including Dr Jonathan Bashi, Dr Magdalena C. Delgado, Dr Lamia Irfan and Dr Nahid Kamal.

Here Catherine Reynolds summarises some career themes…


Second choice is not second best

Your career is a process of learning and adapting. Career ideas change and as our speakers all reminded us, their current role is not one they imagined when they were studying for their PhD. It is also not their first job after their PhD. And most importantly, they are very satisfied in their work now.


Flexibility is the key to success

Flexible career thinking enables you to leave one culture and discover another. Finding job satisfaction might mean leaving academia and stepping away from the known into the unknown and living with uncertainty for a while. It’s been described as leaving ‘the cult’, in that you lose the contacts, connections, and psychological certainties of a place where you have invested, time, energy, and significant effort.

The enculturation experienced through the years of PhD and years of prior study is hard to shift and some people experience feelings of anger, loss, and uncertainty. Finding a new alternative direction is not easy but, as our recent speakers all say, they do not regret making the effort to leave and move on. That means coping with risk and being secure enough to face possible rejection (just like being in academia).


Relationships support your future career development

Maybe falling out of love with academia does not mean leaving completely. There are examples of people beyond their PhD continuing to work part-time roles in higher education that are still providing satisfaction, such as teaching, collaborations, or research work.

These portfolio activities can be combined with other roles, but they take time to create. Laying pathways and forging connections through the PhD and beyond are common features amongst our alumni speakers. It’s worth asking yourself: Who are you getting to know? What experiences are you building? What will you continue to value after the PhD?


Career building activity is transferrable

Taking on some additional activity during your PhD (such as building experience of teaching, research projects, using specific skills, internships, and paid work) will maintain a bridge between where you are now and future workplaces. Such experiences are not wasted in other fields and can provide evidence to future employers of your ability, commitment, and motivation to use those experiences in their setting. These activities can be embedded in your PhD time and will ensure a smoother transition after your degree – not a cliff edge but a gentler shift from the known to the unknown.


Career progression involves trial and error

Adapting to living further outside academia is not a breeze for many people and our speakers give testimony to the lows as well as the highs, especially at the start of the new phase when the risks are bigger and the sense of loss stronger. However, they each have reached a point where they are satisfied with their work and other life roles. Values such as stability, financial security, time for family life, and other interests are no longer pushed into second place.

Learning is always a mixture of thinking and doing. Taking steps to find occupations and employers that suit you can be an active and a contemplative process. Add to your knowledge and understanding by:

  • Searching vacancy sites
  • Talking to other people about their roles
  • Reading about organisations and jobs
  • Reviewing what you’re learning considering what you already know about yourself

All the above can then lead to a list of follow up actions. You have made changes before, you can do it again, and you can keep seeking interesting opportunities and job satisfaction.


Common early destinations for LSE PhD graduates include:

  • Teaching and research in higher education (roles such as: Lecturer; Associate Professor; Assistant Professor; Postdoctoral Researcher; Research Assistant; Research Officer)
  • Other roles in higher education or related fields (for example: education developer; educational technologist; research manager; grants manager; Librarian; Careers Consultant; academic publishing)
  • Research outside higher education (for example in organisations: working in public policy, like the NHS; in development, like development consultancies or international organisations; in user experience in the commercial sector; in social, economic, or political research; or as a Freelance researcher)
  • Other roles outside higher education (job titles such as: Policy advisor; Consultant; Civil Servant; Freelancer; Writer; Website developer or editor; Analyst; Data Specialist etc. Organisations such as: the Civil Service; OECD; UN Agencies; financial institutions; regulators; political parties; tech companies)


Final advice from Catherine…

PhD alumni panels are hosted several times a year by LSE Careers; employers are invited to campus too. These are centrally organised events to help you learn about your possible futures and how to manage the transitions. The events offer breadth that may not be available in your department. You can also arrange these yourselves or co-create with my assistance.

Tell me who you want to hear from, what you want to learn about, and we can plan some more events to support your career development. I’m here to help you learn.


LSE Careers is here to help…


About the author

Catherine Reynolds

Posted In: Alumni | Careers Advice | LSE Careers | PhD | Postgraduate study

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