This is last of three blogs I wrote for the Bristol Doctoral College’s ‘Year in the Life of a PhD’ series, which you can find here.
I dotted the last ‘i’ and crossed the last ‘t’ on my PhD seven months ago; it seems like aeons ago. It’s developed into a platonic thing now where our time together is infrequent. I’m afraid we simply grew apart. The attraction that emerged after initially circling each other cautiously was followed by a period of intense and all-consuming passion, a long stretch of easy cohabitation, then increasingly frequent rows and finally, heartbreak. What remains is respect and a shared history, but the viva was a counselling session when my examiners highlighted what I already suspected: the writing was on the wall. No hard feelings; I’m a better person than I was before and am very grateful for that. For a time this was the centre of the universe, and then there was the sudden realisation that the orbits had shifted, leaving a (mostly) fond memory and a reference in my bibliography. I haven’t got space for that kind of relationship any more. I’m just juggling too many different things nowadays.
My last blog in this series looked at what you need to do to boost your post-PhD employability. I was doing well enough back then, and three months later, I’m pleased to report further progress. I’m working part-time as an RA on a project that looks at maths teaching and widening participation (WP). We’re currently analysing data from group discussions with the teachers who participated in our study. It’s complex, challenging and interesting, and is clocking more miles on the research tachometer. We’ve had a symposium with some other WP projects accepted at a big national education conference in September. I’m also giving a paper of my own at the same conference – this way the project pays for me to go and I get to fly my own flag, too. I’ve had the same paper admitted at a European conference, and have been awarded funding to attend that. This one is particularly handy because it’s profile building, networking, and a small tick against the ‘garners funding’ box. Oh, and it’s in Budapest!! I’ve also drafted an application for money to put together a seminar series on graduate employability, and this is about the only other type of funding I can apply for as a part-time, fixed term researcher. It’s a slow burner, though, because the person I need to help me polish it up for submission is simply too swamped with other stuff to be able to help for the time being.
What else…I’m supervising a Master’s student, which is great. My supervisee is, thankfully, engaged, energetic, and receptive to advice. Helping others develop their projects is rewarding and helps me realise how much of the research process is second nature now. My blog is attracting a steady level of traffic, and I’ve been out in schools delivering a workshop I put together on the nature and results of educational research. I submitted my first paper in February, and I’m expecting to hear back from the editors in about June. They say that your first review is a bit of a (painful) rite of passage. Provided they accept it, I’m braced to have quite a bit of work to do before resubmitting it. Then it gets read again, further changes recommended, back and forth, until it’s finally done. I’ve got another paper I’m looking to submit in June, and again this’ll be subject the same prolonged period of negotiation. I might have two of my own publications by Christmas. I also work part-time for GW4, coordinating academic staff development projects across the four universities. Working with people in four different organisations, all in separate geographical locations, is challenging, but it’s providing an inside view of academic careers, collaborative projects, and doctoral training, as well as an education into how universities function behind – or alongside – the academic work. This is all really useful as much of it taps into things that I’ll be expected to have experience of in the future.
Something that’s struck me over the last few months is how incomplete my understanding of the academic job market was. Most of my knowledge has been picked up piecemeal, from conversations, CPD sessions, and staff developers. Particularly since the introduction of tuition fees, student satisfaction, and employability ratings on the league tables, there’s an enormous emphasis on undergrad career support. In comparison, postgrads get a raw deal in my view. We are supposed to be more independent and seek things out ourselves, but some structured, clearly available support wouldn’t go amiss. For example:
- What is an academic CV supposed to look like? You could possibly hunt down some of the examples buried in the Vitae website, but did you know that our own HR pages have useful information on this? I found out about this from a mentoring circle. It’s intended for internal promotions, but gives a really good template of what needs to be on there.
- Where do you look for jobs? I knew about jobs.ac.uk, which should cover the UK, but only last week a friend mentioned Euraxess, which has positions all over Europe. AcademicKeys might be of interest: it’s mostly US-focused, but also has jobs around the world.
- How do you put an application together? Some of it is simply filling in boxes, but the personal statement is an art form that a friend of mine recently talked me through. You have to be absolutely explicit about how you satisfy all of the essential criteria (what’s on the last blog, and probably more), and hopefully a good proportion of the desirable ones. You also need to look at the teaching/research profile of your potential employer and make it very clear how you would fit within this.
Seven months out, post-PhD life is more or less on track. All I‘ll need is time, elbow grease, and the planetary alignment of a job whose requirements I meet more than the competition. Don’t ask me what the interview might look like or what I’m expected to wear, though, I’ve no idea. Answers on a postcard, please…