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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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