Staying research active

Insights from the Postdoc Takeover Week, 27 - 31 March

Postdoctoral researchers from The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) are taking over our Insights blog this week – sharing advice and tips on the things that matter most to today’s researchers.

Browse the full list of posts.

Instructor in New Testament Greek at the University of Oxford, Cressida Ryan, shares her advice on how to stay ‘research active’ once you have submitted your thesis.


You’ve submitted your thesis and are now applying for jobs. At the same time you’re teaching hundreds of hours to earn a living. The temptation can be to let research drop, but keeping it going is valuable, and often easier than expected. Here are some reasons why it still matters, and a few suggestions for how to keep going.

Your research area will continue to develop. It’s easy, when caught up in the retrospective thesis revision process, to take your eye off the ball. It’s worth going back to your basic research processes to see where the field is going next, and engage with it afresh. You will grow in intellectual maturity and have new ideas – time ‘out’ gives you space to think.

A thesis is only one kind of research product. Short articles, blogs, collaborative writing, or posters can balance out the single-minded weight of a thesis. Even if you can see your thesis as a monograph, new research styles can benefit this process.

Theses focus on a relatively narrow area which by definition is not well-studied. This is unlikely to equip you for early career teaching. Research in unfamiliar areas which do occur on university curricula might broaden your horizons and improve your attractiveness to employers. Turn professional development into a research activity. Issues such as improving student feedback, supporting students with SEND, or outreach and access are not going to stop being important; once you get a post you may have even less time to think about them.

  • Go back over previous drafts to find all the little ideas you didn’t pursue. Chase up a few.
  • Check out staff development through SEDA or Tomorrow’s professor.
  • Subscribe to WonkHE to keep abreast of developments in HE.

At this point your work is unlikely to be eligible for the REF. This gives you a certain research freedom. At the same time you will be building an increasing academic profile which might help in the search for an academic job.

Research is like other activities – it benefits from practice. Getting rusty can slow you down when you do get an academic position, so keep it up. Conducting research without an academic community around you, or a supervisor to read things and set deadlines, can be lonely though.

  • Set yourself a target, even if it is only an article within the year.
  • Go to general conferences to help get an overview of where a discipline is moving and network.
  • #ECRChat on Twitter has fortnightly discussions, and your research area might also do so.
  • For tips on being an independent researcher see Helen Kara.
  • Make use of communities such as Vitae.

Access to research materials can be hard if you are no longer within an institution.

  • JSTOR often has institutional access for alumni.
  • If you can afford it, the London Library is an excellent research resource and community.
  • Keep an eye on Google books as it is always expanding.
  • Offer to review books.

Finishing a thesis is exhausting. New research can help reinvigorate you, and help ascertain whether it is research, being in a university context, or both which you enjoy. Doctoral candidates vastly outnumber available academic posts, so it is important for career reasons to clear this up. At worst, you may find that research can be a hobby as well as a job, which is no bad thing. At best, you’re preparing yourself for a research-led career in a range of new ways (whether in a university or elsewhere).


Cressida Ryan is the Instructor in New Testament Greek at the University of Oxford, within the Faculty of Theology and Religion. She started off as a Classicist, however, with a BA and MPhil at the University of Cambridge and PhD at the University of Nottingham. Between her MPhil and PhD she was a school teacher, and between her PhD and current post she worked in university outreach. She mainly researches the early modern reception of Greek drama, from scholarship to opera. Follow Cressida on Twitter @CressidaRyan.