Remember Furaha’s post on acquiring work experience as a PhD student? It is hard to prevent yourself from being immersed in your PhD, but Furaha offers some ideas on how to improve your professional prospects.
One year ago I wrote this think piece bemoaning the fact that whilst I’d invested so many years of my life into my education, I hardly had any work experience. In the PhD work climate we are all trying to simultaneously fulfil our research obligations whilst readying ourselves for what comes next. This in itself can cause much anxiety.
I am no job guru, but one year later (and hopefully wiser), I’ve come up with a list of ten ways the PhD student can improve their CV without jeopardising the attention/time they are obligated to give to their research. This will include making moves to strategically gain experience in those areas where we see ourselves headed to post-PhD. Here goes:
- Don’t sell yourself short: After failing to get some positions I’d applied for, I began to rethink the structure of my CV. There were some experiences which I decided to add in (tutoring work which I’d previously left out of my CV because it involved tutoring family friends, and work at my aunt’s nursery school during my gap year). In applying for tutoring positions last year, I realised that I could actually draw on this previous experience. I also had the advantage that my past work meant I’d had experience with teaching children (2-5 year olds) and also teenagers (thus, different age groups). Think about everything you could include on your CV. Don’t discount anything (yet). Write it down as a list, then filter. Perhaps your university even offers workshops on proper CV writing. This brings us to:
- Workshops and training seminars: Find out if your department/students union hosts seminars/free workshops where you could learn new valuable skills which could further boost your CV. These could be anything from workshops teaching you how to be an effective presenter, to those teaching how to engage in inter-disciplinary work. There could be loads out there!
- Join a society: This could be your postgrad society, or any other society you fancy. This could give you good experience in team work, and other fields depending on which post you hold. It could also give you opportunities to plan meetings, host seminars etc, and could link you up with volunteering opportunities. Furthermore, societies can be loads of fun and give you a forum to make new friends. Societies don’t always have to be about the freshers. You may be surprised to find a couple that are of interest to your personal development (or just your hobbies) with activities that fit into your schedule.
- Volunteering: Your students union should usually have opportunities available where student help is really needed. This is also the ideal way to give back to the community.
- Public outreach and extracurricular activities: Find out if you can communicate your work to the general public by looking out for any public outreach possibilities. This could include university festivals and open day programmes. The academic community has the responsibility to effectively communicating its work to the general public. If you can, why not engage in this and enhance your CV? There may also be some competitions you could enter ( YES, Engineering YES, Environment YES etc) which will give you industrial experience. Take some time to actively search for some of these online.
- Your network: Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in your network who may be able to help you out (keep it appropriate obviously). These could be friends, mentors or colleagues who can signpost you to opportunities right up your alley, or other people who may be able to help out on your quest for an enhanced CV. You’ll never know if you don’t ask. Your supervisors or members of your research group may be a good place to start. Also have a chat with your university careers service, or your postgrad/early career research support team, who may be able to give you further valuable advice.
- Departmental opportunities: Could you be a tutor or lab. demonstrator in your department? Or perhaps another department which does work relevant to your studies? There could be some opportunities available for co-supervising short-term or placement students. Also, you could sign up for peer mentoring. Being a departmental peer mentor gives you the chance to encourage incoming PhD students with regards to settling into the PhD life. If you do end up tutoring or supporting learning, find out the appropriate route to take in your university to gain recognition from the UK higher education academy. This is transferrable and will come in handy if teaching/lecturing is the way you want to go in the future. Another idea is to find out if you could help out with planning any symposiums or bitesize sessions within the department. No bite size sessions being organised? Why not start them up yourself (or any other program)? – This shows great initiative.
- Blogging: Do not underestimate the power held within the blogosphere. Do you have a hobby which you could share with others? Fashion, cooking, growing your bacteria in weird and wonderful shapes? Having discussions about the current situation of higher education fees? Have you considered blogging about it or writing for a website? It is very important to maintain a good work-life balance, and you may be surprised that you can spin your hobbies to suit particular jobs you are applying for. This brings us to another very important point:
- Linking up all your experience (aka selling yourself in the right context): In my case, even though I’d tutored in an informal setting, I’d still gotten valid experience which I’ve now included in my CV. As a PhD candidate you are probably required to present your data at meetings, or journal articles at journal club in front of groups of people. This may mean you have experience with PowerPoint or Prezzi. Perhaps also with excel and other statistics software, and proofreading skills. Spin these in selling yourself as being a confident worker capable of representing yourself/your employers in front of others. Required to do loads of writing work at the job you’re applying for? Well you do have experience writing for your food blog. Required to present/teach? Well, you have shared your work with secondary school kids during public outreach programs, and have video proof on YouTube of explaining how you were able to grow your bacteria in the shape of a Christmas tree! Presented in the right context, these experiences or any others could boost your CV.
- Your PhD: Don’t forget that your PhD itself is already work experience. This is where you learn to be a good team worker and colleague along with a host of other skills.
Use every opportunity you can to not only enhance your CV, but to fulfil the Vitae researcher development framework. After all, the PhD process is not just about the research but personal development as well.
What about do, how do you work on your professional development? Any advice, tips or challenges you have faced? Let us know it the comments! 🙂
If you are a Warwick student, for more information on professional development for researchers, please visit Graduate School Portal.
Furaha Florence Asani is a third year PhD student at Sheffield University’s Medical School, in the field of Infection and Immunity. She enjoys writing think pieces on topical issues in her spare time. Furaha contributes on stylishacademic.com and other platforms.