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Catherine Reynolds

Dr Maria-Christina Vogkli

LJ Silverman

January 15th, 2024

Bridging the gap: the 2023 LSE SPRING retreat

0 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Catherine Reynolds

Dr Maria-Christina Vogkli

LJ Silverman

January 15th, 2024

Bridging the gap: the 2023 LSE SPRING retreat

0 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

LJ Silverman (Head of LSE Generate), Maria-Christina Vogkli (Research Officer in Business Outreach and SPRING Manager at the PhD Academy) and Catherine Reynolds (LSE Careers Consultant dedicated to PhD students and Research Staff) share what attendees got up to at the 2023 LSE SPRING retreat for PhD candidates.

On the surface, the worlds of ‘academia and PhD research’ and ‘non-academic organisations’ (private companies, start-ups, local authorities, and consulting) can feel miles apart. In reality, there is plenty of similarity between working inside and outside of academia – from self-management, to deep subject expertise, to preparing oneself for what is ultimately a long slog!

With this in mind, at the end of June we accompanied individuals from both camps on a captivating journey, a retreat if you like, where we collaborated to bridge the gap between academic excellence and real-world impact. Who’s we, you ask? Aimed exclusively at forward-thinking PhD candidates open to assessing and shaping their career trajectory, this SPRING retreat was co-designed and led by LSE Generate, LSE Careers and the PhD Academy.

Over the course of the two days, we invited the attending students to shed their traditional notions of academia and explore a world beyond the hallowed halls, considering what different professional pathways might look like. Here’s a peek into what this gathering of LSE pioneers got up to at the Birch Community:

Catherine Reynolds from LSE Careers first engaged the students in a dynamic sociodrama exercise, focussing on the factors that can influence a professional career and the immense value that each person’s research holds – not just within the academic realm, but also in shaping industries, driving innovation and making a tangible difference in society. This self-reflective but also deeply bonding session set the tone for the retreat and opened the gateway to further investigation!

For subsequent sessions, we were joined by senior employers who hold PhDs but are currently working in non-academic organisations. They shared stories around their own transition from academia to industry as well as their experiences of hiring PhDs, such as what they look out for in a PhD student, standout qualities and powerful ways to market your PhD. With the questions a-flowing, students had a chance to gain invaluable insights into job searching with a PhD, something which can often feel intimidating, particularly for those looking to venture outside of academia post-PhD.

In these discussions, the employers highlighted the value and skills PhD students gain during their studies. They explained that PhD students often function as intellectual entrepreneurs; they network with others, seek and manage their funding, teach and deliver presentations, use communication skills and disseminate their research to diverse audiences, manage projects, use analytical skills, understand the complexity of problems and are eager to find solutions to various challenges.

The four speakers also underlined how you can prepare for your next steps, whether that’s a transition to outside of academia or working across academia and related sectors. They highlighted examples including preparing publications, becoming familiar with new methodological approaches (see what’s offered by the Department of Methodology), doing more applied work through internships (check out the LSE SPRING Micro-Internships as well as other opportunities advertised on CareerHub), striving to bring about impact through one’s research, following the political developments and understanding the current socio-political context.

When applying for a job, the employers emphasised that it’s important to know the value a PhD brings to different roles and organisations, including the specific skills you bring. They suggested having both an academic and a non-academic CV, specifically highlighting the benefits for each sector (you can get support with this by booking a careers discussion appointment). Skills continually develop, and PhD students often gain more people management, relationship management and strategic skills after leaving academia – employers will recruit on potential as well as prior experience.

To further instil confidence in students and holistically support them during and after their PhDs, Hayley Pedrick, ran a session around leading the self through and beyond the PhD. Hayley offered up techniques around time management, assertiveness, maintaining optimum states of physical and mental health during challenges, self-care, and perspective building. Hayley also offered one-to-one nature walks during which students delved deeper into their specific needs and got tailored advice as part of power coaching sessions.

This retreat was a prime opportunity to unlock a treasure trove of entrepreneurial opportunities that could await students in the world of business. It was a pleasure to welcome back Rachel Middlemass from Zinc, who introduced the concept of applying your research for the betterment of society with some great examples of bringing PhD students into the successful venture builder.

It goes without saying that any potential step outside academia can at times feel daunting, and Jason Wright from Number 42 facilitated a brave discussion around the hurdles and hindrances that might emerge along the way. Sharing concerns and fears with the rest of the group made the whole experience feel a little less isolating and, actually, a lot more possible.

But hey, it wasn’t all work and no play! The group engaged in some vibrant discussions over home-made meals and the odd glass of prosecco, forging hopefully lasting connections during leisurely strolls in picturesque surroundings, and finding inspiration in the breath-taking beauty (and lido beach bar!) that surrounded the retreat location.

It is our hope that the retreat created and nurtured a new, vibrant community of innovators that fostered collaboration, creativity, and mutual support and that, whatever direction the students eventually decide to take, they leave better equipped and energised to face their exciting future!

Explore more PhD: Beyond academia blog posts.

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About the author

Catherine Reynolds

Dr Maria-Christina Vogkli

Dr Maria-Christina Vogkli manages the SPRING programme at LSE's PhD Academy.

LJ Silverman

LJ Silverman is the Head of LSE Generate, the School's entrepreneurship hub.

Posted In: Careers skill | Entrepreneurship | PhD | PhD: Beyond academia

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