Using the Careers Service as a PhD researcher, pt. 1

This blog is the first of two exploring how using the Careers Service can benefit you as a PhD researcher, each of which consists of an interview conducted via email. This first part was conducted with a History PhD who recently graduated from Bristol and secured a role in Professional Services at the University of Bristol.

Remember that all of our services are available to our PhD researchers, both whilst you are registered here and for up to 3 years after you graduate.

1. How have you used the Careers Service, and what did you gain from this?

During my final year as a PhD student I was invited to a ‘Careers beyond Academia’ event by the Careers Service, attending which provided an opportunity for me to consider my choice of career after graduation. Though entering academia seems a natural path for a PhD graduate it is equally important to keep an open mind because successfully landing an academic job not only takes a lot of effort, but also luck to find in your area of expertise located somewhere you’d like to live.

For me, the first gift from the Career Service was to help me face the reality that not every PhD can or should necessarily have to work within academia. This opened my mind to a larger world of possibilities.

From attending the ‘Careers beyond Academia’ event I learnt some basic things to do to prepare for entering careers outside academia, what employers are looking for, and how to convey the skills, qualities, and experience I developed as a PhD candidate in a language employers would understand.

I subsequently made the decision to pursue a career in professional services at the University of Bristol, and set aside some time from my research in order to accumulate other relevant work experience in order to obtain the experience I would need to do so.

In addition, I sought advice from the Career Service where I had a 1-to-1 session. They not only helped me with some overall guidance, but also gave me very detailed and practical tips for constructing my CV and cover letters, thanks partly to which I eventually landed a job at Admissions Office at the University of Bristol.

I am very pleased with my current role, and the practical training I obtained in the process of researching my PhD is fully put into use in it!

2. What would you recommend current PhD researchers could do now in order to help their future career?

When developing your research experience it is helpful to keep an open mind about alternatives to academia. A great benefit of being a PhD researcher is learning how to learn, so if you come across something that piques your interest put your research skills into action, find out how you can prepare for a career in that area, and think about how you can transfer the skills and experience you’ve gained working as a research to that context.

You can also use your research skills to discover and explore suitable career options, and talk to the Career Service to help you weigh these options.

3. Do you have any advice on how to explain the value of a PhD to employers outside of academia?

It is important to highlight the transferable skills acquired from accomplishing your PhD thesis, such as research and analytical abilities, as well as qualities like self-motivation, attention to detail and persistence.

It is also important to highlight that you understand how individual detailed tasks fit into an overall organisational perspective. When applying for jobs that require multitasking, remember that completing your PhD’s advantage in prioritising various tasks of the project and arranging one’s own workload to meet conflicting deadlines is also valuable.

4. Do you have any advice on researching / talking to potential employers?

Each cover letter should be tailor made for the specific job application, matching your ability and quality to the job specifications with brief examples. During this process, it is important to think through why this position requires the specific qualities asked for and reflect this in your application.

For example, a lot of jobs require good “communication skills”, but different positions have different purposes for this requirement – is it to deliver good customer service? Or is it to help enhance the team building? To liaise with other departments or organisations? It is therefore crucial to research the role you’re applying for to understand its purpose, and cater to the needs behind the words.