In a previous post Dr Alice Eden outlined some benefits of public engagement including enhancing an academic CV. In this post she considers further potential benefits for employability. While centred on personal experience of organising the Enchanted Community project, the post speaks to important employability issues experienced widely post-PhD and Dr Eden describes key learning points including self-development and beneficial transferable skills…
Enchanted Community was a collaborative art project in 2017 which reached up to 39,032 people. The project comprised a series of events, workshops and outreach sessions in schools.
Building an academic ‘tool-box’
It was not until I actually embarked on the project and designed public engagement activities that I thought seriously about good practise as an academic rather than a PhD student. There was a transition in my understandings of responsibility and accountability which was galvanised by this work.
In terms of my academic CV, I increased my knowledge of research funding, embedding impact statements into applications and I began to develop a valuable profile in the area of public engagement. The work provided evidence of initiative, resourcefulness, gaining funding and designing educational materials. I co-designed and delivered a series of events, much like a scheme of research or a taught course. I developed teaching resources and schedules and delivered events to the public. These have been useful features for my academic CV and for discussing in interviews.
However, the project also reached beyond the University and I developed professionalism, contacts and many other areas of experience.
Enhancing your Employability
Universities are becoming more concerned with employability and offering added-value activities for students, particularly at the postgraduate level. Added-value activities can include employability workshops and training in areas such as blogging, maintaining a profile online or CV writing. In the Arts and Humanities, an academic CV will prioritise publications, crucial to academic advancement. However, there are many other elements which should also feature to showcase to potential employers who you are as a person. These skills will develop you for academia and other forms of employment.
My project was founded on inter-disciplinary and collaborative working. This demonstrated team-working and managing relationships with people – a key skill for many industries. Employers will look for personality and that you are the right ‘fit’ for the team. Important qualities can include tact, being personable and a team player. I could discuss the project in interviews detailing a breadth of skills and activities.
Being able to reflect on your performance, take criticism and continually develop are important qualities for employment and team-work. Reflection was an important component in our inter-disciplinary methodologies during the project. Following the first event we created a form to record these thoughts and best capture points of learning and development. There were challenges, such as time constraints, that were overcome and we had to accept events that did not go as well as others.
Take a look at this list – just some of the skills I could demonstrate to a potential employer through this work:
- Written communication: social media, writing for different audiences, adverts, blogging
- Verbal communication: Public speaking and presentations
- Administration, organisation, financial management
- People management, team work, reconciling differences in aims and approaches, mentoring through change
- IT skills, websites
- Project management, managing time pressure and deadlines
- Personality: leadership and innovation, conscientiousness, commitment, responsibility and accountability, resilience
National commissioned research in graduate employability by the government of Australia, to cite just one example, describes communication as one of several ‘superskills’ you can develop through extra-curricular activities. Other key skills are leadership and using initiative. These can all be demonstrated through public engagement.
Public engagement activities offer opportunities to build your portfolio, network and reputation. Take advantage of funding possibilities. I found internal funding through The Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick. Seek out forms of funding, even smaller ones, that will allow you to create and deliver projects. Witnessing the huge amount of time any outreach or public engagement activity takes to organise, I would recommend you start small, with an achievable event. Preferably you should build on pre-existing contacts or communication channels.
Every interaction with an external institution can lead to something in the future, whether it is a research project, outreach activity, a recommendation, reference, knowledge or insight, a job or voluntary work. Absorb everything you can from these experiences, including alternative perspectives and needs which differ from those you have been accustomed to as a scholar. Most importantly, develop projects you believe in and are passionate about! These will best showcase your talents and provide personal development.
Have you organised a public engagement project? What are the most valuable skills you feel you gained from the experience? Tweet us @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Alice Eden is an Early Career academic and Associate Tutor in the History of Art department, University of Warwick. In 2016-2017 Alice was an Early Career Fellow at the IAS, University of Warwick. Her primary interest is modern British cultural history, spiritualties and feminisms, with expertise in Victorian and Edwardian art history. She has a background in administration, education and management. Alice can be contacted via email and followed on twitter at @Alice_Eden4.