Tips for starting a new job after your PhD

You’ve finished your PhD and you’ve got a job. Well done! You may have found it a struggle or a breeze, but either way, you’re once again leaping into the unknown.

Academia and the real-world are often disparate. Whilst the generic, transferable skills you’ve picked up may be as useful in a University setting as out of it, it’s unlikely the transition will be without teething problems. I’ve put together this short list of things you should know before taking the plunge:

  • Accept that you have a lot to learn: You may very well be an expert in sub-glacial processes or the Indian subcontinent clothing industry, but you don’t know everything. There will be people around you who have been in their position for years. It’s not helpful to go in all guns blazing and shooting from the hip; you’ve probably got a lot to learn, whether it be about the local area, your organisation, your key working areas or your colleagues, their strengths and weaknesses
  • Accept that you have a lot to offer: You have a doctorate, which is pretty much the nicest qualification you can have. You have spent (at least) three years as a project manager, looking after a budget perhaps or running a seminar series. You will possess technical skills, writing expertise and cutting-edge ways of working. Make sure people know what you can do, and what you can’t do.
  • Accept that you will make mistakes: Nobody is perfect and it is inevitable that you will make an error or two when you start. Don’t be afraid to admit you’ve been wrong. Although you don’t want to be spineless and wishy-washy, you also don’t want something to come back and bite you in the bum six or 12 months later.
  • Ask questions: Lots and lots of questions. If there is an acronym you don’t understand or a procedure you’re not sure on, ask someone. This is particularly important when it comes to administrative stuff relating to your pay and holiday. People generally don’t mind and appreciate that you’re new. They only really get annoyed when it’s your third time of asking!
  • Network, network, network: As with your career in University, who you know really helps. With most high-levels jobs it’s a pretty small world; my internal examiner did their undergraduate with my boss’s boss, whilst my other boss’s boss used to work with someone I did my PhD with. You should never burn bridges, if you can help it!

To add some context, I recently completed my PhD and started a job with the Environment Agency as a Geomorphology Technical Officer. Emma has already mentioned in a blog recently that more and more people are finding jobs outside of academia when they finish their postgraduate research. I did, and I’m happy as the proverbial Larry. I had the advantage of only ever wanting to do a PhD because I had a passion for the subject; that it helped me get this job is a welcome and added bonus. I’ll let you know how I get on.

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3 comments

  1. Some good points there Trev. I think it is worth emphasizing that the skills that look good on a CV and land a job aren’t always the complete package (or even massively helpful) in “the real world”. For example you mention project planning and a PhD does demonstrably give you those skills especially in a CV/Interview context, but a commercial project will involve multiple people, multiple sites, budgets, much greater compromises and other things that a PhD project doesn’t involve. It’s really import to sell ourselves strongly as possible when searching for jobs but we shouldn’t mistake that self-marketing as actual ability to do any job easily!!

  2. You’re spot on. If I’ve learnt anything it’s that I’ve got a lot more to learn!

  3. Interesting to read. After 15 years in GIS I’m 50% through a PhD, now I’m beginning to wonder about going back to industry and how to do the job I really want to do – river restoration and catchment management + GIS. Think I need to do some CV work.

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