For many researchers who are reaching the end of their PhDs, a difficult decision may be looming: do you pursue a career in academia, or consider your options elsewhere?
There are more PhDs completed each year than there are tenured positions available within the academy, so it’s not a surprise that giving serious consideration to a career outside academia is a reality for many PhD students.
But it’s not just out of necessity that researchers are taking their careers in a different direction – it’s often a conscious choice to seek work in a new field. And there’s an appetite for information; many conference programmes now feature sessions discussing this exact topic.
The importance of career planning
When you’re head down in your PhD research, thinking about the next steps in your career may feel like a distraction. But the sooner you start planning, the more confident you’ll be about your options when the time comes.
“I feel that spending a bit more time thinking about yourself, and how you approach work, or what you want to get out of it, should be to the benefit of the whole organization,” says Kate Murray, careers consultant for research staff at King’s College London and a podcast interviewee.
Your degree will have developed you into a subject matter expert, but it also helps you develop strong analytical, project management, and communication skills, among others. It’s essential to spend some time considering the skills you’ve developed, your strengths, interests, and what matters to you in a future career, before exploring the options open to you.
“The conversation that I often have with people is trying to help them decide what change they want to see in the world,” continues Kate Murray. “Once you’ve got a sense of what that change is, and for whom you want to make a difference, or to whom you want to make a difference, then it makes the rest of the decision-making a little bit easier.”
It will take a little longer than simply jumping onto recruitment sites to start the job hunt but becoming more self-aware will help you find a career that’s right for you. If you’re more aware of what motivates you at work and what you most value, you’re more likely to notice and seek out opportunities that are a better fit with your personality, preferences, and skills.
A good first port of call is your university careers service. They’re likely to have advisors who can help you start to understand which careers could suit you best. They may also be able to offer you things like psychometric testing to help get to know your preferences and work ‘style’ better.