Black and minority ethnic early career researcher conference

Black Minority and Ethnic Early Career Researchers (ECRs) are grossly underrepresented in academia. ECRs find themselves conducting many postdoctoral positions, and end up leaving research as they are unable to make the transition to a lectureship. This may be due to lack of skills, support and knowledge required to stay in academia.

This conference aims to empower researchers with the skills to remain in academia, such as having a good mentor, guidance on applying and writing fellowships, tips on networking, and finally a good work/career life balance.

There will be a diverse range of academics sharing their experiences on the day.

Refreshments and lunch will be provided.

Click here for the booking page.

From PhD to PI: Sarah Bohndiek, Group Leader Department of Physics, University of Cambridge and Cancer Research UK, Cambridge Institute.

U2FsdHlJbWFnZU5hbWUxMzgwODIyNzQz-g3ySNzctaW1hZ2U=Sarah has a joint appointment in which she initially develops and validates new imaging technologies. She then combines these new techniques with research into cancer therapy, with the aim of achieving a better understanding of cancer therapy response and drug resistance.

PhD students and post-doctoral staff often worry about the insecurity and competitiveness of their early careers but Sarah regards this as a positive thing. She believes the opportunities should be embraced and is a strong advocate of the ability to quickly understand and get to grips with a new discipline that a PhD provides.  Reassuringly, she says, after switching between disciplines, she has been supported in her learning by her advisers and not been put under pressure to produce immediate results.

However, she does have a clear idea of what motivates her (which is the desire to develop clinical applications to improve the health of cancer patients) and this is the thread that joins up all the different parts of her career so far. Alongside this she is driven by her strong curiosity which has frequently led her to doing things she never thought she would. Research into the careers of PIs shows that this strong sense of purpose and self-awareness is significant factor in succeeding in the role (see here: http://www.topik.ie/)

The recruitment process for a post-doctoral position in her lab is very thorough. It starts with extremely wide advertising through formal and informal channels (social media, email and so on). She values ResearchGate as a particularly effective tool. She will ask for a CV and cover letter and stresses the importance of clear, grammatically correct and perfectly spelled applications with an attractive, easy to read layout. This helps spot people who are committed, enthusiastic, have an eye for detail and can communicate effectively in writing.

She will normally long-list about ten candidates who are invited to a thirty minute Skype discussion. Half of this will be the candidate’s presentation (with slides) and then a brief discussion about the presentation. Sarah sticks to time and looks out for candidates who follow her brief carefully and who provide attractive, easy to follow presentations. She also very much appreciates candidates who provide the slides in advance and offer alternative means of contact in case Skype or the internet aren’t working well.  Doing this reinforces the impression of commitment, attention to detail, communication and thoughtfulness that are essential to collaborative research careers.

She will then invite three of the candidates to a full day of selection processes. This consists of a thirty minute lecture followed by a one hour discussion of the lecture, a tour of the lab and one-to-one sessions with lab colleagues. The day is completed by a one hour interview with Sarah and a social, informal dinner. The whole process requires an overnight stay, usually.

When she’s recruiting for her team Sarah is most impressed by candidates who ask more questions than they are asked and who have obviously done their research and preparation. She particularly looks for PhDs who have at least one first author paper, who have been engaged in outreach and who have participated in committees as well as gained technical skills in their research. It can be helpful if you have won awards but it isn’t essential.

Asked for her single top-tip, Sarah says that demonstrable attention to detail is what matters most to her.

I also had the chance to speak to Michal Tomaszewski a PhD student and Joanna Brunker and Jonghee Yoon, post-doctoral researchers at the lab.  They agreed that a full understanding of the organisation you are applying for is essential and that it is necessary to send a tailored application that shows how you have understood it. This understanding needs to be demonstrated throughout the interview process as well. The work of the lab is strongly interdisciplinary and all have brought good experience from other fields to their current research (including some time in banking and finance in the case of Michal). They’ve also showed how their careers so far align with the requirements of their current research.All stressed the importance of adaptability and flexibility and the benefits of studying in many fields.

Joanna entered the lab by an alternative route, having gained a fellowship which gave her a degree of choice over where she carried out her research and chose the CRUK lab because of the research it was conducting and the shared experience (with Sarah) of researching at University College London. Joanna also stressed how important it is to take the advice of supervisors while studying for your PhD, to help avoid being distracted by issues that may not be important to your future.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Sarah Bohndiek, Michal Tomaszewski, Joanna Brunker and Jonghee Yoon for their time and generosity in talking to me and sharing so much helpful information.

Donald Lush, Careers Consultant for PhDs

 

Hacking the US job market – The Professor Was In at King’s last week

Karen at King'sDr Karen Kelsky from The Professor Is In delivered a talk on hacking the US academic job market last week and offered several insightful tips:

Stand out from the slush pile of applications

  • Most US academic jobs receive 200-900 applications. This means committee members decide within roughly 20 seconds whether to continue reading an application or to reject it. While that might sound discouraging, combining a strong record with well-crafted application materials and polished interview skills are likely to enhance your chances of success.
  • Know the timetable for US academic recruitment: adverts go live typically in August/September, with deadlines beginning November, first round interviews just into the New Year and campus visits in April/May.
  • Vacancies are usually found through the US learned society for your subject area (eg see here for National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine jobs board).

Build up a strong record

  • Major, refereed journal publications (write your dissertation with the aim of publishing some chapters), receiving national grants, participating in conferences, particularly US conferences, lecturing solely on at least one course, and developing a network of individuals within and outside your institution who can recommend you, will all contribute towards a strong record.

Write well-crafted applications and interview effectively

  • Keep job applications concise, limiting cover letters to 2 pages and teaching statements to 1 page. Ensure applications are fact-based and avoid using emotion-based language (eg I am passionate/fascinated/driven, etc). Show rather than tell, your interest and achievements in your field.
  • Prepare a brief but strong statement summarizing the contributions you can make to your field.
  • Demonstrate in applications and interviews that you are thinking ahead to obtaining tenure. Make a 5-year plan of what you plan to achieve and share it with the committee.
  • Prepare concise bullet point answers for potential interview questions, practice them comprehensively, and mould your experience to the job description in answers.
  • Approach applications and interviews with the mind set of a faculty peer, not a student! Display professionalism in your language and attire, and avoid taking a backpack to interviews (unless you’re an astronomer!).

All the best with your applications!

Blog post by Nudrat Siddiqui, Research Staff Development Officer

Photo by Donald Lush

Arts & Humanities PhD Case Studies: portfolio working

This interview, and the others published over the past and next few weeks, are with the employers represented at the recent King’s College London Arts & Humanities PhD careers event. They have been written by PhD candidate Valeria Valotto, to whom we are very grateful!

Full-time PhD, Portfolio career

Georgios Regkoukos

Current position: PhD student in History at KCL, Tutor and GTA at KCL, Tour Director at EF.

Starting point:

I am enrolled as a PhD student at KCL, writing a thesis on Politics, political thought and gentry liberalism in the era of Great Reforms in Russia.

End point:

When my sponsoring institution cut my funding I took a job as Tour Director at EF. I found the job advertised on jobonline, the UoL Career Group website. I liked the sound of it because I have always loved travelling and this way I am getting paid to do it! My duties consist of accompanying groups mainly consisting of students from the US and Canada throughout their tours of European countries, on-tour logistical support and organisation of activities, various educational responsibilities, such as giving walking tours of European city centres and coach commentaries.

How did you make it?

I had been working previously as tutor and really enjoyed it. My language and people skills definitely helped a lot. This is a part-time job which allows me to concentrate my travels in few stints over the year. As a result I have a lot of free time for my academic work and teaching at KCL.

Arts & Humanities PhD Case Studies: Ministry of Defence

This interview, and the others published over the past and next few weeks, are with the employers represented at the recent King’s College London Arts & Humanities PhD careers event. They have been written by PhD candidate Valeria Valotto, to whom we are very grateful!

From Politics and International Studies PhD to Defence and Security

Dr. Victoria Tuke

Current position: Victoria Tuke works in the Defence Strategy and Priorities team within the Ministry of Defence.

Starting point:

Between 2008 and 2011 I completed a PhD in Politics and International Studies, writing my thesis on Japanese foreign policy.

First turn – Daiwa Scholar

For many years I have been keen to enter public service but with a specific interest in Defence and Security issues. My PhD was a means to an end: a career in government, think tanks and NGO. Immediately after finishing the PhD in 2011 I was lucky enough to get a two-years long Daiwa Scholarship (Daiwa is an Anglo-Japanese Foundation). The scholarship allowed me to hone my Japanese language skills while working ‘hands-on’, this time, for the British Embassy and a Japanese politician, in addition to continuing my own research.

Second turn – Civil Service Fast Stream

Upon returning to the UK in 2013 I secured a job as part of the Civil Service Fast Stream. I had the chance to work in a range of departments including Cabinet Office, Ministry of Justice and on a short secondment to BAE Systems. In April 2015 I eventually landed my current position at the Ministry of Defence.

How did you make it?

The move from academia to government has been challenging and quite an adjustment. If you are keen on a specific sector or industry my advice is to get your foot in the door first, and only then work your way to your ‘dream job’. Because I did my PhD with the transition in mind I put extra effort in securing a number of internships (editorial, research) in Government and Think Tanks alongside my PhD.

What is the next move?

After developing experience in the ‘reality’ of public and foreign policy, I would very much welcome a portfolio career and any opportunity to return to some form of an academic career in the future.

Arts & Humanities PhD Case Studies: A Portfolio Academic Career

This interview, and the others to follow over the next few weeks, are with the employers represented at the recent King’s College London Arts & Humanities PhD careers event. They have been written by PhD candidate Valeria Valotto, to whom we are very grateful!

From PhD to Lecturer and Chaplain: A Case of Portfolio Career

Revd. Dr. Rosie Andrious

Current position: Rosie is New Testament teacher at KCL and Chaplain for Imperial College Healthcare Trust.

Starting point:

After reading Theology I completed an MA at King’s, where I then returned for my PhD after being ordained. Prior and alongside my PhD I was a mental health chaplain for fourteen years for the South of London and Maudsley Mental Health Trust.

What was your first step outside academia?

There was never a moment when I ‘leaped’ outside academia. Throughout the PhD I have been building a portfolio career, combining research and teaching with full-time chaplaincy.

How did you make it?

My previous role as chaplain was crucial in allowing me to carve out my unique career profile. While doing the PhD I had been teaching, it was natural to continue this activity alongside my job as a chaplain, which provides financial stability.

Arts & Humanities PhD Case Studies: Staying in Academia

This interview, and the others to follow over the next few weeks, are with the employers represented at the recent King’s College London Arts & Humanities PhD careers event. They have been written by PhD candidate Valeria Valotto, to whom we are very grateful!

From PhD to Postdoc: The Academic Route

Dr. Pyi Phyo Kyaw

Current position: Pyi Phyo is Research Associate in Abhidhamma Meditation at King’s College London.

Starting point:

After studying a BA in Economics and Management at Oxford, I completed an MA in Buddhist Studies at SOAS in 2010, and eventually studied at King’s for my PhD in Buddhist Studies (2014). Prior to that I trained as a precept-nun in Myanmar in nunneries at Pyay in 2007 and Sagaing in 2012

What was your first step outside academia?

To date (2015) I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Buddhist Studies at King’s. Although this is a research post, I teach two modules: Introduction to Buddhism and Buddhist Ethics. I am very busy organising conferences as well as juggling academic commitments and juggling admin work.

How did you make it?

Upon applying for this post I had already published two articles and gained teaching experience as GTA. Patience, determination, and passion were key factors in securing the position, however.

What is the next move?

I hope the fellowship will be renewed. Most of my colleagues are employed on 1 or 2 years postdoc contracts – either on research-only programmes or combining research and teaching, depending on the funding body.

Pursuing an academic career: resources to support you

Many of the researchers I meet in one:one appointments or through workshops across King’s are, of course, interested in pursuing an academic career.  It seems that more of you are approaching this decision knowing it’s a competitive field to enter; the oft-quoted statistic that just 3.5% of PhDs will make it to permanent research staff is sobering.

These resources can’t replace a conversation with a careers consultant, supervisor or other adviser, but they’re here to prompt some thinking from you, perhaps to provide an alternative view, and to help you think fully around the issues confronting you.

Making the decision

  • This part of the Vitae website* offers help with information on what doctoral graduates do and analyses the results of the various longitudinal studies on academic progression.
  • Jobs.ac.uk, as well as being one of the key sources of academic vacancies, has a key series of ebooks you can download for free to help with understanding how to plan an academic career.
  • RCUK hosts links to the research councils and their career sections.  Take a look at these profiles for comparison with your own situation and feelings about your future.
  • This report, from the Wellcome Trust, includes information on how doctoral students choose their careers.

Research

It’s important to have an understanding of the pressures universities face, particularly in terms of research funding and student numbers.  These pressures influence recruitment of academics, who need to be able to demonstrate how they will contribute to the new employer’s research impact, public profile and attractiveness to students.  Read more about the REF and how it impacts recruitment here.

Your supervisor is best placed to help you develop the direction of your research.  In terms of your chances of success in the recruitment process, understanding how to get your research published is vital.  Talk to your supervisor about the best conferences for you to attend to raise your profile.  Do you know which are the universities that have research strength in your area?  These could be on your ‘hit list’ of places to target, to research and investigate their research direction and strategy.

Use the people available to you while you’re doing your PhD as an invaluable source of information and advice:

  • Talk to postdocs and new lecturers in your dept and faculty about their experiences – things they wish they knew…
  • Go to as many seminars/talks/events in your faculty and beyond to meet people, get advice and see how a dept/faculty operates
  • Look out for activities of the various learned societies and academies – these are great chances to network and develop skills and learn about funding etc
  • Start to develop your research ideas (and sound them out with others), remembering you might need to go beyond your current research

Have you thought about working overseas? Euraxess is the best place to start thinking about working in Europe; while this forum may help with thinking about the US. Further help on working in France is available here.

Finally, it’s important to have an idea of how your research could be funded.  Which research council, charity or other body will you identify and how can you meet its requirements?  What are the possibilities of crowd-funding for your research?  Practise applying for grants by successfully getting conference funding, or applying for Graduate School funding for a training event.

Teaching

The next part of your professional portfolio to address is teaching.  What have you done to indicate your interest and motivation in this area?  How have you innovated and what feedback have you had?  Can you demonstrate to your department that you are willing and able to teach on areas other than your research topic?  Find out how the TEF may affect universities (clue: it’s rumoured to be the teaching equivalent of the REF….).

Different Faculties, Schools and Departments have their own rules on PhDs and post-docs teaching undergrads and Master’s students at KCL.  Some of you may have had extensive experience and been able to complete the PGCAP(HE) (though PhDs and GTAs will not be accepted onto this programme in 2015-16).  You may have found it harder to combine study or work with teaching, but you may like to consider, for example, taking the short  Preparing to Teach course.  The Graduate School also encourages you to consider applying to the Brilliant Club which offers opportunities to teach in secondary schools. I meet some PhDs who have successfully created tutoring opportunities for themselves.  King’s Widening Participation department uses PhDs to work on the K+ Summer Schools.

Have you thought about online teaching?  King’s is forging ahead with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and may well be interested in ideas coming from the PGR community.  Or, you may have ideas about how KEATS can be better used to support undergrad teaching.

Admin

Academic admin can cover a multitude of activities, anything from being part of the examinations process, to participating in the Widening Participation agenda for your department, to being a PGR student rep on a committee or offering to create a researcher society.  Perhaps you can contribute to the ATHENA Swan or other equality scheme?  Does the learned society or professional body linked to your subject area have any opportunities?

Taking part in these departmental activities demonstrates your wider understanding of how a university operates and the processes and procedures necessary for its smooth running.

Online profile

‘The world is changing and so are expectations,’ says Guy Trainin, a US associate professor surprised at how few of his students use social media to advertise their work. Developing your online profile can help to:

  • improve your research by connecting with academics outside the UK
  • improve your profile (one KCL PhD recently appeared on BBC Radio 4 discussing his work, following a tweet about it)
  • help you research future careers – job titles and employer names.

Keep an eye on the Researcher Development Programme for help with developing your social media skills.

Making the application and being interviewed

So, you’ve made the decision to stick with an academic career, you’ve developed a strong research profile, taken on some admin and teaching and have done what you can to create an online presence.  The next step is applying for jobs, and following through with succeeding at interviews.

Take advantage of the workshops available through the RDP as a starting point and use these resources too.  An Academic Career blog from Manchester University is helpful, and this blog has a recording of a CV webinar and articles on writing a CV.  Help with reviewing CVs, application forms and interview practice is available through King’s Careers & Employability.

Further help

There is more support available for you through the online module Careers and Professional Skills for Researcher on KEATS**.

Good luck with your decision-making!

*King’s has an institutional membership of the Vitae website but you will need to create a log-in – use your KCL email address and a password of your choice

** Log in using your KCL credentials and then self-enrol onto this course

Career Inspiration: Networking to find a Post-Doc

A guest post from Mary Carman, PhD candidate in Philosophy

The academic job market is notoriously saturated and finishing a PhD brings with it a need to realistically assess one’s research trajectory, capabilities, and academic employability. For those in the humanities, like myself studying philosophy, there aren’t many alternative options if you want to work in the same area of interest.

A research postdoc is the dream position – but also rare and highly competitive. I am not one of those inspirationally brilliant students; nevertheless, I have such a postdoc lined up. I was realistic about my job prospects and did a few things over the course of my PhD which contributed to my ultimate success. One in particular, however, has had diffuse effects and is worth drawing attention to because of its unromantic reputation: having networks.

There are three distinct but interconnected ways in which having networks counted in my favour. The first was as a way to build up my CV; the second was as a way to gather information; the third was, simply, knowing people and having people know me.

At the beginning of my final year of PhD, I wasn’t in a good position to be applying for academic jobs in a highly competitive market. I didn’t have any peer-reviewed publications and, because of my visa status, couldn’t apply for the kinds of temporary teaching jobs where publications are less important. Nevertheless, other aspects of my CV are strong and are strong as the result of ‘networking’ activities. For instance, throughout my PhD, I made a point of submitting papers to and attending conferences. By sharing my work with others, I was able to develop and improve my ideas. Through meeting others, I was recruited into various projects such as being a student representative for a research institute and co-running an inter-university research forum. Focusing purely on my CV and not on professional and personal development, the effects are obvious: my CV tracks a clear development of papers related to my area of expertise at conferences which themselves increase in status, and I am able to provide evidence of a strong commitment to the profession, beyond my actual research.

The second way in which having networks counted in my favour was as a way to gather information, both in obvious and non-obvious ways. Here is an example of the latter. As I began my final year, I was disillusioned with the nature of philosophy and the direction my research had taken – disillusionment I was all too happy to complain about to anyone who would listen, including a lecturer in my department I had very little contact with otherwise. A couple of weeks after speaking to her in passing, she forwarded me an email calling for applications for a postdoc project with the cover note, ‘Isn’t this exactly what you’d be interested in?’ And she was right: it was an extension of my research I hadn’t considered, an extension which in fact directly addressed some of my main worries. Putting together the application for the postdoc, I started to think about my research in a new way and realised that I wasn’t at a dead end. The irony is that I had received the same email via a mailing list but had deleted it without taking in the content. I needed someone else, familiar with my ideas and hesitations, to draw my attention to a job option that inspired me.

The final way in which having networks counted in my favour is the most direct: knowing the right people at the right time. I’d successfully been offered the postdoc but was now in a bittersweet position. The project was great but I would be based in a little town I’ve never really liked. I did my undergraduate and masters degrees in South Africa and had kept in contact with some of the people I’d met. So, back on holiday, I dropped by to say hello and attend a talk – and fortuitously mentioned that I had an exciting postdoc offer. The professor I was talking to expressed surprise, said that she wasn’t aware I was interested in these kinds of things, and proceeded to tell me about a project she was initiating. Would I consider applying for that, she asked. I would; I did; I got it. This only happened because I had kept in professional contact with her and she knew and liked my work.

Of course, there were other things I did which helped me to find and secure a postdoc. And, to a certain extent, I was in the right place personally: I was looking for a change and hence was open to new ideas; I was also familiar with a different country and its universities, and wanting to return. Nevertheless, having networks has been crucial to my current success, even though, for the most part, I never consciously thought of myself as ‘networking’.