Are industry employers wary of employing PhDs?
It entirely depends on the company and the industry. Some companies (e.g. Tessella) have a large number of PhDs in their team and seek them out. This is why doing some research using LinkedIn, your own contacts etc. can be useful to identify companies where other PhDs have gone to work, and the teams they work in within those companies. That would tell me that if there are PhDs already working in that team, then the hiring managers understand what a PhD gives you and are pro-hiring PhDs.
Employers will also be wary if you don’t tailor your application well, explain why this job is the next conscious step for you, and how you can help the company achieve its goals. Depending on the role they may fear that the role may not challenge you and that you’ll move on after 6 months; but if you can really show them that you understand the job, that this is a conscious career choice for you and that you’re committed to it, you can challenge this wary-ness.
In short, if you expect your CV to speak for itself on your CV and don’t unpack it and translate it well into skills the employer is interested in, yes, they will be wary. But if you do a good job of expressing your motivation and understanding of the industry, they are much less likely to be wary.
If you believe this report from the CIHE from 2010, then employers may also be wary that people who have spent longer in academia are less likely to be able to see the ‘bigger picture’ and may have a narrow focus; linked to this they may have questions around commercial awareness. Again, these are relatively easy things to remedy by being well read-up on the industry you’re entering and knowing what the main issues and challenges in that industry are, and understanding the jobs you are going for and showing how you can help the company achieve what it wants to achieve. That of course, requires research on the company and ideally informational interviews with people already working there.
When is the ideal time during your PhD to start career planning?
I’m of the opinion that career is always happening. It never starts or stops, because career has no ultimate end goal for many people. We move and change and evolve. You are constantly finding out what you like and don’t like, what environments you like and which ones you don’t. Discovering this IS career planning. As is trying out new things, extending your network and learning about yourself. You just need to think about it more consciously. Start thinking about this as early as you can. What bits of yourself do you like using every day in your work? What kinds of people use these bits of themselves and what jobs do they have/ where do they work? Try as early as you can to seek out opportunities and put yourself in positions where you can learn these things about yourself. If you leave this exploration until your last few months, that’s really quite late and you risk ‘impulse’ job searching without having done any work on what you actually want from your next steps. One of my favourite career theorists once said that when it comes to ‘career planning,’ ‘we don’t plan and execute, we hypothesise and test,’ and the sooner you can start ‘testing’ your ideas by trying things out, the better.
If you’re a Birmingham PGR, this course talks you through a process for career planning beyond academia.
If, however, your question is more ‘when should I start applying for jobs,’ this entirely depends on your financial and personal situation. But if you don’t want a gap between finishing the PhD and starting a job, I’d say at least 6 months before you’re due to finish is a good time to start. Employers may sometimes wait for the right candidate. You need to weigh up what’s feasible for you, e.g. would you be happy to balance a job and writing up, do you want a break post-PhD etc.
Would you suggest focussing all applications in the same field (e.g. post-doc), or diversifying across a number of fields (e.g. RA, post-doc, industry)?
This depends on your priorities and what you want. If you are looking for an approach where you don’t narrow yourself down and you want to pursue your interests in a range of different sectors, go for it. Your first job won’t be forever, and some people just want to ‘get into something’ so they can get some experience and feel their way around from there. Just remember that it will take more research because you will need to sell yourself convincingly to a range of different audiences, so you’ll need to be learning how to do that and translating your skills and CV accordingly for your different audiences.
It also depends on how competitive the industries are that you are looking at and how the job markets are currently doing in those industries. If the answers to these questions are 'very’ and ‘not so good,’ then having a plan b, plan c etc. is very useful in the current climate.
Also, know yourself. Don’t apply for postdocs just because ‘you feel like you should’: work out what you want to get from your next step and which of these options are most likely to help you get that.
Does the UoB PGR Careers team offer one on one career advice/support?
Yes, for all current Birmingham students and all graduates for up to 2 years after graduation. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more or request a 1:1 meeting/email support.
What additional qualifications/experience would you recommend for your career path? Is a PhD in Psychology sufficient (as Hollys PhD is in English Literature)?
A Psychology PhD will be a great basis, but if you want to do a guidance role (e.g. 1:1 guidance with students etc.) then you often need a guidance qualification, such as the one I completed. That said, there are also roles in Careers Services (e.g. employer engagement, placements and work experience) where you wouldn't need this qualification (but these don't involve 1:1 work with students).
In an interview you'll have to do a 'mock' guidance appointment with a student: so if you have any counselling training and know how to contract, establish working alliance etc. you could get in without the guidance qualification and your employer might even then pay for you to do it! So depend on your background and experience.
What is the most important thing you would advise young researchers to focus on in order to progress their career in science?
Know yourself, know which bits of yourself you want to be using every day in a job, and know your options. I’m unsure if this question is specifically asking about academic science, or scientific roles more broadly.
What are the biggest barriers that PhD researchers face after finishing their PhD?
- Confidence. Thinking that all you can do is research in your particular specialism. You are so much more than your PhD! You are good at a whole host of stuff, even if a focus on academic outputs and metrics has at times made you feel otherwise. Linked to this is not having had the time, space and guidance to think about how those things you’re good at might make you an asset to different kinds of employers.
- Having exclusively academic networks, especially if they are interested in working in industry. Connections with people in industries you’re interested in are so important to help you understand the structural differences between academia and industry and help you understand how to translate your academic experience into skills and language that industry employers understand.
- Rejection. Having achieved something as difficult and admirable as a PhD, getting rejections from job applications can be very disheartening and disorienting. Often though, there are a range of tricks (be it in how you write your applications, how you target your job search and where you are looking) that can help with this.
What types of extracurricular activities are most valued by employers?
In short: any that can help you demonstrate the skills that they are looking for, and be explicit about this, e.g. if an employer is looking for teamwork, sports or other team competitions can be good evidence of this. If an employer is looking for communication skills, and you’ve run play activities for refugee children with limited English, then that’s going to be a bonus. If an employer is looking for a passion for the arts and you’ve been part of a music group… and so on.
Anything that is a bit different and can make you stand out is worth it too. I once looked at a CV twice because the person mentioned that they had taken circus-skills workshops and performed as a juggler. I know some recruiters who read CVs backwards, so interesting extracurricular stuff at the end can be useful!
What are the best resources to start looking for a job in the UK (e.g. specific websites, career events)?
It really depends on what types of jobs you’re looking for! It’s difficult to answer generally. It also depends on whether you need a Tier 2 visa, which the ‘in the UK’ part perhaps suggests?
If you’re looking for a list of sector specific job boards I have one here under job hunting links and resources -> Sector-specific job hunting links and resources: https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/as/employability/careers/postgraduate/pgt/finding-jobs.aspx
But I would say your very best resource are other people. Networking and making contacts in your industry who can let you know about jobs that AREN’T advertised.
Is publication record the 'be all and end all' for a successful career in academia?
We did some research with senior academics from 22 different universities asking what they look for when they hire new researchers. They said: 'The important aspect would be to show a continued and increasing output. I would expect to see first authorship on at least a proportion of papers, including papers from the PhD, and then from postdoctoral research. I would hope to see at least some of the papers in top journals in the topic area, ideally those where the potential candidate is first author.'
That said, not everyone has publications straight out of PhD: if you don't, in your application it helps to explain why and indicate what publications you have planned.
So in short, if you have a great publication record, but you don't come across as enthusiastic and someone who has really done their research and can articulate what you can bring to the lab/project/department, then the publications on their own won't 'win' it for you. But if you have a strong profile overall, strong cover letter and can show evidence of being REF-able, that's a good position to be in.
If you're a current PGR/staff member at Birmingham, you can explore recorded sessions and resources in our Careers in Academia Canvas course.