‘Gis a job, I can do that’: finding work after the PhD

A skill you might not imagine practicing as part of a PhD is writing your CV and a cover letter or personal statement… once, twice, ten, twenty, a hundred times. For many PGRs, the final year of thesis is a balance between completing the writing-up and finding a new post.

By Pierre Botcherby.

Cards on the table, this blog post is late. The last few weeks of work have been so busy, I’ve found myself pushing this back and further back in my diary. The same thing can happen with job hunting. PGRs are often juggling the search for the next step with the pressures of writing up and once their funding has run out. Or the hunt takes place post-submission, squished into five free minutes here and there between multiple part-time roles, making it hard to think seriously about a decent post-doc idea. 

My job-hunting journey began about six months before I submitted. A good starting point are in-house post-doctoral schemes, such as the IAS Early Career Fellowship at Warwick. These are often short posts, between six and twelve months, which give you the chance to develop further outputs from the thesis and to think with a bit more clarity and time about subsequent post-doc ideas. The catch – at Warwick at least – is the relatively low rate of pay.

A group of scrabble letters spelling out the word application
Image Credit: geralt /24058 images

I didn’t get one of these… so I started looking for teaching fellowships and for research assistant roles on other people’s projects. These roles also tend to be quite short-term, maybe a year or two, but again you don’t need a fully-formed research idea in mind (which can be hard to come up with alongside finishing a thesis). Of course, the problem is that many candidates will be more experienced than you so it can be hard, without a finished PhD, to standout from the crowd. This is probably the only sector where for every job, each candidate will have (or nearly have) a PhD.

Having not got very far with these options, I started looking into university administration, and this is where I found my current roles in Warwick’s Doctoral College and Community Values Education Programme. I started with quite a small number of hours (about 15 a week between the two), and have gradually increased these across the year, albeit keeping one day a week for thesis/research-related activities. This breather from research has been quite nice after four years hunched over the thesis and has given me a lot of new experiences.

Despite a pause during the autumn and winter, the hunt hasn’t stopped, and the merry-go-round of adverts-CVs-cover letters-rejections is beginning again, as I start thinking about what next year will bring. I’m aware this hasn’t been a very upbeat post, certainly in comparison to my previous ones, but job hunting can be quite a tiring and dispiriting task. The trick is to keep going. If you keep looking, you will find something. It may not be exactly what you imagine – my current roles certainly aren’t – but it can still be a good experience.

So, where can a PGR go for helping with job hunting?

For adverts and vacancies, jobs.ac.uk is the standard starting point, especially for posts in the UK. For a more Europe-wide reach, euraxess.ec.europa.eu is useful. For admin, try Unitemps. If you want guidance with things like CVs and cover letters, the university’s Researcher Development programme offers workshops about this. Targeted careers guidance can also be sought from the university’s Careers service, including your department’s careers advisor. Resources like The Professor is In and Beyond the Professoriate can also be helpful, albeit with quite an American slant.

If you’d like to read more on job-hunting and careers, take a look at our bloggers’ experiences of academic and non-academic careers.

Are you currently job hunting? What would you like to do after your PhD? What advice would you give to others? Leave a comment below, tweet us @researchex or send us an email at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk

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