Unemployed :(

posted
19-Jul-15, 19:20
Avatar for kathryn15
posted about 4 years ago
Worked hard to complete masters degree and PhD in Computing, and worked for two years between degrees, doing everything from bar work to IT-related jobs. Published several papers including collaborations with other universities, was a student volunteer at conferences, taught at my university for four years and also completed a teaching qualification.

Four years after completing my PhD I'm still unemployed.

I support myself as a supply teacher covering A-levels. Work is unreliable, salary is barely more than minimum wage once you factor in the marking, students are disinterested, and I'm not entitled to any benefits such as sickness or holiday pay.

I've applied for numerous postdocs and lectureships without success. Perhaps they already had someone in mind for the job but were required to advertise it anyway. Perhaps there was an over-supply of qualified candidates so they were able to hire someone with significantly more experience. Perhaps they wanted to enhance their multi-cultural staff and I wasn't foreign or exotic enough. I've been told several times that only the cream of the crop will land a lectureship nowadays so I might as well give up. My published papers are now out of date and I have no opportunity to produce more. I've been out of academia so long that I have no chance of returning.

Applying for commercial jobs hasn't yielded success either. I've been repeatedly told I'm overqualified and not suited to work in the real world, or they won't hire someone more qualified than the boss, or I lack commercial experience, or I come across as too studious and not bubbly enough. I've also been turned down for "menial" jobs because I don't really want the job, wouldn't be happy, wouldn't stick around, wouldn't fit in with the other staff, etc.

I feel like I'm out of options and have no future. My PhD was a total waste of my life and I don't know what else to do.
posted
20-Jul-15, 16:21
by Dunham
Avatar for Dunham
posted about 4 years ago
Sorry to hear that you struggle so much. Your situation is especially difficult as it's been so long that you finished your PhD without working in relevant fields in the meantime. Someone posted here that approximately 5% of the post docs will get a position as a lecturer. I think it is not multicultural staff, it's more that there are so many people that there is almost always someone "better". That's why I see it a bit critical that many people focus on teaching so much. Nice for academic positions, but qualifies for almost nothing else.

Your best chances are definitely in industry, even though it is hard in your situation. I am not sure what your PhD was exactly about but have you considered working as a freelancer to get back into business? Maybe that could be a way to get into a company later.

I think a lot of people can relate to your last statement. There are only a few fields were you really need a PhD outside of academia :/ Especially in humanities it is often more difficult to get into a company if you hold a PhD...
posted
20-Jul-15, 20:56
Avatar for Montanita
posted about 4 years ago
I was wondering if you have tried to apply for jobs in other countries? all the people i know with postdocs have gone to other countries particualry in Africa.
posted
20-Jul-15, 21:39
edited about 19 seconds later
Avatar for kathryn15
posted about 4 years ago
One professor actually told me (off the record) that they already had enough lecturers with local accents and it was damaging their image as a multi-cultural institution which attracts talented staff from around the world. There were undoubtedly other reasons for them not employing me, but that one seemed particularly unfair as it's out of my control.

I've applied for numerous jobs in industry - my skills have value but it appears that my personality puts employers off. One employer said they were impressed by the quality of my past work but they felt that I wasn't personable enough, I was too withdrawn and not "bubbly", and they felt my personality was a better fit for the academic environment I had worked in previously. I already know this, but there are no jobs in academia! I'm aware that I'm quiet and teacher-ish, but I can't make myself be "bubbly" no matter how much I want a job! Add this to my lack of recent commercial experience and I have no chance.

The difficulty with freelancing is that it's hard to advertise yourself as a freelance consultant with zero past experience, in competition with large established consultancies. I'm not good at selling myself and not outgoing enough to convince a company to hire me. I've tried applying for consultant jobs but apparently I'm not "bubbly" enough to work with clients. This doesn't bode well for me getting any freelance work, and indeed I have been unsuccessful thus far. Not that there are many freelance opportunities in my field anyway.

I have absolutely no idea what to do. Retrain in another field? Difficult if you can't afford another degree, and feels like such a waste. I read these news articles about unemployed PhDs committing suicide and I totally understand why. You're probably one of the brightest students of your cohort, hence why you went on to do a PhD, you've been top of the class your whole life, and now you're totally worthless.
posted
20-Jul-15, 21:53
edited about 21 seconds later
Avatar for kathryn15
posted about 4 years ago
Quote From Montanita:
I was wondering if you have tried to apply for jobs in other countries? .


This has been suggested to me before - as a British PhD I would have more value in other countries such as China, Africa and the Middle East. But why should I have to leave my country to get a job? Non-PhDs don't have to leave their country to find work. There are many qualified professionals working right here - dentists, lawyers, headmasters, bankers, computer programmers - why should I have to leave my country just because I have a PhD? I find it bizarre that other professions want to come to this country for job opportunities but PhDs need to leave the country for job opportunities. Why can't there be sufficient opportunities for educated people here? Do we value PhDs so little in the UK?

To answer the question - no, I haven't applied for jobs in other countries as I have a mortgage on a house, a child in school and a husband who has a job here, and no desire to leave my home country.
posted
21-Jul-15, 11:09
Avatar for HazyJane
posted about 4 years ago
Quote From kathryn15:


I've applied for numerous jobs in industry - my skills have value but it appears that my personality puts employers off. One employer said they were impressed by the quality of my past work but they felt that I wasn't personable enough, I was too withdrawn and not "bubbly".

I'm not good at selling myself and not outgoing enough to convince a company to hire me. I've tried applying for consultant jobs but apparently I'm not "bubbly" enough to work with clients.


If an interviewer (or several) said to you "You have many attributes that our sector would value but we can't hire you because you don't have [technical skill X]" would you sit there and accept it or would you consider developing that skill, be it a programming language or whatever? If you would consider developing a technical skill to improve your prospects, then why not a soft skill?

Different sectors require different combinations of overlapping skillsets. Some will rate the interpersonal skills side of things higher than others. Arguably these skills are easier (or less time consuming) to acquire than the high level technical competance. You have done the hard part already with your years of study. These companies aren't going to hire a 'bubbly' person who doesn't have the technical skills and knowledge.

You don't have to change your core personality, but you can consider changing how your present your professional persona to employers and clients.

It's unclear whether you actually want to work in industry or are just viewing it as a disappointing second choice. If you have a genuine interest in industry/consultancy work I'd recommend spending some time and effort developing the soft skills that are being specifically asked of you. Many of the people who have those skills were not born with them and have actively developed them over the years. Consider whether it might benefit you to do the same.
posted
21-Jul-15, 12:16
by AOE26
Avatar for AOE26
posted about 4 years ago
Hi Kathryn,

I am senior in the IT industry so could offer my opinion if you gave more information on the type of roles you are applying for. Like most industries no experience = starting at the very bottom (even with a PhD), I hope you don't think that is beneath you. But you clearly have the ability for a high level of commitment and could/should rise quickly.
When hiring if the role is junior the mantra is - hire the attitude train the skill. That might be the bubbly personality they are looking for.
It's only an interview.. practice it.. nail it. If you can do a PhD I have no doubt you can learn how to ace an interview.
posted
21-Jul-15, 12:28
edited about 18 seconds later
by Dunham
Avatar for Dunham
posted about 4 years ago
Quote From kathryn15:
Quote From Montanita:
I was wondering if you have tried to apply for jobs in other countries? .


This has been suggested to me before - as a British PhD I would have more value in other countries such as China, Africa and the Middle East. But why should I have to leave my country to get a job? Non-PhDs don't have to leave their country to find work. There are many qualified professionals working right here - dentists, lawyers, headmasters, bankers, computer programmers - why should I have to leave my country just because I have a PhD? I find it bizarre that other professions want to come to this country for job opportunities but PhDs need to leave the country for job opportunities. Why can't there be sufficient opportunities for educated people here? Do we value PhDs so little in the UK?

To answer the question - no, I haven't applied for jobs in other countries as I have a mortgage on a house, a child in school and a husband who has a job here, and no desire to leave my home country.


I think it is reasonable that you want to stay in UK in your situation (especially if the options are china, africa or middle east... :D ), but to be honest, leaving the country is something that you have to expect if you want a position in academia. Flexibility is THE success factor in terms of academic positions, which is of course not easy if you want to have a family. Some are lucky and find something in their country, others not. It has been like that for ages. I guess for most people it is a question of "how bad do you want it?". It does not necessarily mean that you have to leave forever but at least a Post Doc abroad seems to be expected today.

There probably can't be a sufficient amount of positions for educated people as there is no need for so many educated people. Truth is, we educate too many PhD students. There was a nature article once where professors claimed you could cut up to 70% of PhD position and there would still be an oversupply. Out of academia you have not so many opportunities with a PhD (except in chemistry and biology, where it is often mandatory to have a PhD). I don't think that it is not valued but what to do with all those highly educated people if you simply don't need their know how? Who needs all these astrophysicists, geologists, virologists etc. outside of universities? With a PhD in computing you have at least something more applied and probably a chance to still find something attractive.

I would also suggest to work on soft skills or at least to learn how to act in job interviews so that people don't immediately assume that you are more an academic person. It is of course hard, but we all do it to a certain extent during an application.
posted
21-Jul-15, 12:43
edited about 27 seconds later
Avatar for chickpea
posted about 4 years ago
I agree with others about practising before each interview, preferably with someone you trust to give you honest feedback. Left to my own devices, I tend to answer questions in a measured way which can sound a bit flat and unenthusiastic, and my partner has managed to train me to enthuse a lot more!
posted
21-Jul-15, 13:23
edited about 29 seconds later
Avatar for kathryn15
posted about 4 years ago
I'm not popular and never have been, even at school. I smile, shake hands, make eye contact, make small talk, but I still come across as withdrawn and not bubbly, whether I'm at an interview or a party. I don't see what else I can do - I'm a natural introvert and with the best will in the world I can't make myself into a social butterfly, nor do I have any desire to be one. I know many people who are not universally beloved (in fact in some cases their staff hate them) but they still have jobs. I understand that people like to work with a pleasant colleague, but I am pleasant and apparently that isn't enough - and it should be, because ultimately I'm there to work not to chat!

One of the major problems is that it would have been much more feasible to start at the bottom in my 20s. In my 30s I've advanced beyond the life stage where I could survive on an entry level salary and have the motivation to work my way up. Also - and I realise this sounds entitled but I do have a lot of resentment - what was the point of the PhD if I still have to start at the bottom? I might as well have skipped the PhD and started at the bottom several years ago, and I'd have worked my way up by now! I'm extremely angry about what a total waste of time and money the PhD was.

In addition, I think perhaps my lack of enthusiasm for most jobs comes across to employers. In most cases I applied because I need a paycheck and I'm capable of doing the job. Most people don't love their jobs! Why isn't it enough to be qualified and willing to work extremely hard? I don't see why I have to be excited about a job to work hard at it. I'm selling my labour, not my soul.
posted
21-Jul-15, 13:44
Avatar for TreeofLife
posted about 4 years ago
As the others have said, you are going to have to change your approach to interviews if you want a job. When I don't know people, I would rather spend all day not talking to anyone, not smiling at anyone, not making small talk with anyone, but that is not the way of world. If I can act differently in an interview, and in a work environment, then so can you. Choose to fake it and get a job, or choose not to, and stay unemployed. It's up to you.
posted
21-Jul-15, 14:09
Avatar for windowsill
posted about 4 years ago
i can understand kathryn, at some point in your life you reach a stage where you'd had enough of kissing ass, even the elaborate forms as faking a job interview. you start getting interested in some quality of life, like mortgage and permanent contracts and not wanting to display 'flexibility' i.e. moving country on some arbitrary person's whim just for the sake for a job. you'd just want to be a normal person doing a normal job alined to your qualifications and getting an ok compensation without going through all the additional brainfuck. that's it. why should you have to put up with all the additional hassle. and i agree with her that plenty people sail through life like that. what of all the oxbridge ponces getting it all served on a plate despite some being distinctly mediocre. somehow no one gives them advice on how to be more 'bubbly'. there's selling your soul and there's wanting to have some dignity. those who are inclined to the latter will continue to get told they have to kiss ass/be bubbly because this is the way to do it, apparently, and it's us having the wrong 'attitude'.
in addition, the uk is fairly anti-intellectual. also something one shouldn't say too loud. hence the suspicion towards phds; it being a low-wage economy doesn't help. the british don't know what to do with their educated people, it's not that it's too many with them. there's a lack of phantasy and political will to find employment possibilities for higher educated folks. look at all the wonderful quality of life that could come out of that. but no, can't have that.
however, being a foreigner, i will 'bugger off' to my own country where you still can get a lousy job without having to have 3 references and a criminal record check. i mean really. there are alternatives. i have had no problems finding very good jobs in other continental countries with my 'attitude'. here: zero.
posted
21-Jul-15, 14:11
edited about 16 minutes later
Avatar for HazyJane
posted about 4 years ago
Surely an entry level job in an industry where there was room to progress would be preferable to the current instability of supply teaching work?

You do not need to become a social butterfly in order to interact appropriately with interviewers and clients (in fact 'social butterflies' can be quite irritating in particular contexts). But you may need to recognise that your current approach is insufficient to convince people that you have adequate skills in that area, and be prepared to do something structured about improving that. Being an introvert does not preclude from this. See what relevant advice you can glean from books, courses, YouTube etc. Make the distinction between professional and personal identities and try to understand that the two do not need to be identical.

It does not sound to me that you are out of options. Rather it seems like your preferred option is very difficult to achieve (as it is for any PhD graduate - the academic job market is terrible) and you are not sufficiently enamoured with the alternatives to go for them wholeheartedly. Coming up with a plan B that you can fully commit to is likely to be of help here. It doesn't have to be a job that you will 100% love but you have to be engaged enough in the prospect to do what is required to secure a post.

*If* you want an industry job then there are things you can do to improve your chances if you are willing. But you should try to figure out if you really want one or else it's a waste of yours and the interviewers' time.
posted
21-Jul-15, 14:18
edited about 2 seconds later
Avatar for HazyJane
posted about 4 years ago
Quote From windowsill:
i can understand kathryn, at some point in your life you reach a stage where you'd had enough of kissing ass, even the elaborate forms as faking a job interview.


I do not think this is about sucking up or faking it. I think it is important to recognise that different roles and industries require different mixes of soft and technical skills and that excelling in one of those areas does not entitle one to neglect the requirements of the other.

If one wants to work in an industry where soft skills for client interaction work are required, then one has the choice of developing them, or not bothering to but acknowledging that the lack thereof is likely to be a barrier to entry into that profession.
posted
21-Jul-15, 14:46
edited about 16 seconds later
by AOE26
Avatar for AOE26
posted about 4 years ago
In addition, I think perhaps my lack of enthusiasm for most jobs comes across to employers. In most cases I applied because I need a paycheck and I'm capable of doing the job. Most people don't love their jobs! Why isn't it enough to be qualified and willing to work extremely hard? I don't see why I have to be excited about a job to work hard at it. I'm selling my labour, not my soul.


Sorry to sound harsh but you spent a lot of time, energy and money studying for a PhD in something you don't sound in the slightest bit interested in. I, as an employer, want people who WANT the job. It's a huge part of your life - work - pick something you want to do.

A PhD is not a waste, but it will be valuable when you are senior and getting anywhere takes hardwork, attitude and enthusiasm.

If IT does not excite you, find something that does. Life is too short.

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