Signup date: 20 Nov 2006 at 12:14pm
Last login: 06 Nov 2020 at 11:23am
Post count: 138
I would strongly advise you to consider what else you would do either:
Instead of doing a PhD (particularly if self-funding; CVs with funded PhDs always look better than those that are self-funded insofar as already-paperthin academic employment opportunities go).
Instead of being a lecturer in the event of securing a PhD.
Could you consider investing instead in training to become something like an Occupational Psychologist? Personally I'd suggest that is going to open a lot more direct career routes than a PhD is. I still don't think the Research Councils and the academic profession have much idea about the value of a PhD beyond academia, even now despite numerous studies.
They're not academic jobs, they're mostly market research, but I would be looking at this, if onyl to understand what else you could do beyond academia. Speaking as someone who had 2 postdoc positions, publications in top journals and attended all the major conferences in my field and was never interviewed for any lectureships (well over 100 applications).
My PhD was purely academic too, though. There aren't many opportunities out there in the "real world" to keep researching anti-globalisation protest movements. Few PhDs are ever going to be in a position to apply their research subject directly to the workplace. Indeed, given the way academic funding streams are going, I don't think too many academics even have that chance much nowadays (the pressure of the REF is leading some departments to prescribe journal titles that they expect their academics to publish in, which has enormous implications for the subject matter, paradigm, methodologies for research, etc). You don't get to "research what you want" in academia nowadays anyway; the PhD actually gives a bit of a false impression of academic realities.
But there was no "practitioner" option for me either. To become a practitioner doesn't entail having an intimate knowledge of the subject in question. If you end up working as a private sector research consultant like I do you can be asked to research pretty much anything. The "practitioner" aspect refers specifically to being able to meet the much tighter timescales and different demands of business clients vis-a-vis the glacial rate of academic research, it doesn't mean you have to have an intimate knowledge of any subject in particular. No one who works in market research or business consultancy went in at an entry level with any knowledge of the things they later become niche experts in. Some of the posts in the forum do give the impression that PhDs have a habit of talking themselves out of the huge range of things that they can realistically transfer into (if they're willing to accept going in at a normal graduate level, with the low pay and low status this intially entails). I used to be like that. I know my housemate, who recently finished a Tourism Studies PhD sees himself as unemployable. A lot of this is just psychological, the real barriers notwithstanding.
I don't see what there is to gain by concealing it, though. Stating "I was a Research Assistant" is hardly going to gain you a load more gold stars than "I completed a PhD". When I started applying outside of the academic world I was advised by one potential employer (who did interview me, along with 6 or 7 others) that the main challenge I would face would be to convince people that I could successfully make the transition from academic to practitioner work. I think that's about the nub of it but it's not an insurmountable problem, even in current circumstances.
Five years "real world" experience pre-PhD isn't going to make any difference at all, it's simply going to look to an employer as though you're just trying to get back to something you left behind in favour of academia if you're just going back into the same thing. I'm very much of the view that you have to put the PhD on there, otherwise it looks like you're hiding something, which in turn then makes it look as though you might have disgraced yourself in some way in the academic world and are simply looking for a refuge, any refuge. If you just start going for the same type of work you did pre-PhD it also makes it look like you learned nothing in the interim, which then suggests absence of ambition to an employer.
An employer is going to look for a convincing narrative - fine, you undertook a PhD, now you want to move to x; you then need to be able to explain why that is and how the PhD is relevant. It can be done because I've done it.
PhDs in the UK could do a lot worse than using www.researchjobfinder.com. Every single one of the jobs advertised there requires research skills.
I mean, as things are I would categorically advise someone thinking of studying an academically-focused PhD simply not to bother and go and get some kind of vocational-leaning MA/MSc instead (Marketing, Human Resource Management, Business, whatever).
The types of job that those who have already enrolled in academically-focused PhDs and are too far down the road to really change and do something else are really the graduate schemes for the most part. The ones where the application questions are geared towards people who don't have much work experience but potential. And that's about as good as it's going to get, frankly.
I would also very strongly urge anyone doing an academic PhD to complete a 3-month internship or work experience placement during the PhD (especially if you're a funded student) - and if necessary to do that instead of departmental seminar teaching, the latter of which is a mug's game (it allows the full-time academics to get out of teaching whilst doing absolutely nothing for your career prospects - if academic staff want seminars to be run for their students then they can teach those themselves, quite frankly).
What a diabolical state of affairs that people feel a need to hide or else apologize for their PhDs. You spend years of your life working under very stressful conditions for next to no money to gain a PhD in the first place. You should always feel proud of having it on a CV. The challenge is to communicate its relevancy. But it's a massive exercise in project and budgetary and time management, if you have to do any fieldwork then you are demonstrating your ability to be a team player (in the horrible jargon of HR) and you have shown massive initiative. If you've done any teaching then you are showing leadership potential, gained in a massive and higly regarded educational organisation. You will have presented work at conferences, which greatly refines your communication skills.
Psychologically, there is a real need for PhD students to be better trained in understanding the continuities between the PhD and postdoctoral experiences and a non academic career route. Yes, the subject matter will be different, as will the organisational culture, but you will be using things developed during the PhD. I would urge anyone with a PhD never to leave it off a CV or else you're selling the experience short. We also need better skills in selling the skills and experiences gained from a PhD outside the academy, and Vitae (which is meant to take a lead on this) isn't doing a very good job of this.
I know of one RA post at a very good UK university that attracted 110 applicants, all of whom were qualified for the position. A similar post in the same department in 2007 attracted 33 applicants. This tells you everything you need to know about the current state of academia in the UK.
The Vitae figures are misleading as they relate (I believe) to first positions post-PhD - 50%+ end up outside academia. What this does not tell you about is the currently unknown level of "churn" further up the tree (i.e. those who, like myself, complete a couple of postdocs and then find the trail goes "cold" and are forced into finding non-academic career paths having spent the previous three to four years dedicated to academic pursuits and having no real clue about the non-academic world, or how to find out about it - which is even more disadvantageous position than being just out of a PhD as you have to more or less take any job that comes along whether you want to or not).
Also note that having a PhD does not make you immune to such things as workfare and patronising and demeaning "helping you find work" schemes run by this disgusting shitstorm of a government.
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At this point in time, you are better off doing something like an MA in Marketing than a PhD in anything at all, quite frankly - but as others have said, we just have to make the most of them - but academia is a dead end nowadays and few people will develop directly relevant careers from their PhD any more.
Incidentally, the way to develop an academic career is basically to have a supervisor/mentor who is well known, who is willing to put the hours in to help you write papers, introduce you to influential people elsewhere and almost act like a recruitment consultant for you. All of the people I know who managed to secure lectureships with surprisingly under-developed CVs had access to that.
Write a 1-page summary of each of your chapters and revise the key points.
Write a summary of every conceivable way that your thesis contributes to knowledge - and compartmentalise this (in my case, it was opening a dialogue between branches of political thoery that had never been attempted, plus bringing pyshcoanalytiocal theory in to the study of contemporary global politics, plus basing my research around case studies that did not exist in the current literature and which shed a new light on the phenomena in question, which in my case was protest movements associated with the spectre of global civil society).
Understand that your viva is not going to be a horrific, Kafka-esque trial. No one wants you to fail, and neither examiner wants to trip you up. The external should lead 75%-ish of the viva, with the internal tending to ask follow-on questions, and once you get through the initial questions (one of which will absoltuely be about how your work contributes to knowledge in an original fashion) then it should become more like a conversation than an exam.
You're doing exceptionally well to be getting interviews at all - you should take pride from that, huge numbers of us don't even get that far. In any line of work (academic or otherwise) it is very unusual to win a job offer from the first two or three interviews you have in a context in which only one job is available. It's only really in the world of the blue chips, where 10 or more people might be taken on at once, that you might have more of a realistic expectation of getting a job more or less straight away.
If you are getting useful feedback then you will be able to learn more about the peculiar art of succeeding in interviews.
The main problem with the "transition" period is finding a way of surviving economically during it. And academics are singularly useless at offering meaningful advice on that front.
It is very easy for people who won full time jobs 15 years ago, when getting an academic job was much easier than it is today (despite what they might say about it always having been hard etc.), to say "keep plugging away" when plugging away doesn't bring in any income...
It's exceptionally tough. You need to be an instinctive self marketer (something I've never been). But some people do make it through so it's certainly possible.
I don't think anyone really understands exactly what gets you through into academia, though. A significant proportion of it is random chance because for every young academic who gets a lectureship there will be many others with equally good CVs who never do. So a back up idea is an absolute must; if I had my way, I'd make PhD applicants explain their back up idea before they were even allowed on the PhD in the first place.
Speaking of the devil, here I am!
The more you publish, the better.
But in this day and age, I would be sure to have a "back up" plan that involves working outside academia. I couldn't get anywhere near an interview despite two single authored publications in top journals, lots of UG and PG teaching experience, 2 postdocs (one Esrc funded). You can, as Bewildered correctly notes, find my story elsewhere on here so I'm not going to repeat it. But be prepared for a much tougher ride in the job market than you might dare to expect.
I bailed out of it in the end as I was horribly burned out and ill and utterly sick of applying for job after job and getting nowhere. I don't much like the market research job I'm now in, but I'm hoping the research experience in the "real" worked will prove very useful for my eventual shift into political think tank ot third sector research jobs in the hopefully near future.
ESRC Postdoc Fellowship funding was slashed partly because the scheme wasn't really improving its Fellows' job prospects on the academic job market. With fewer of them around, those who do get the Fellowships might fare better. But it's not a passport to an academic position as I know all too well.
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