Friday, January 11, 2013

UK Careers Resource for Post-Academics

If you’ve come across How To Leave Academia and are a post-academic from the UK you’ll find this information about the UK organisation 'Vitae' helpful.

Curriculum VitaeCreative Commons License the Italian voice via Compfight

When I was a postgrad in the arts and humanities in the UK, I was fortunate enough to secure finding through the Arts and Humanities Research Council. At application stage I was warned that by no means should I expect to get my PhD funded as it was such a competitive area. In fact, I told myself at that point that if I didn’t get the funding I would rethink the whole prospect and do something else. At that point I had no idea what that something else would have been, but I felt strongly about committing myself to a self-funded position. When I was awarded the scholarship I was so grateful that I was recognised for my academic achievements and potential that I realised I had to take it forward and try my best. Of course, the other, less confident side of me also felt that they had just made a mistake: quite often at times throughout the study I felt guilty to have bene awarded the money when there were other self-funded PhD students out there who seemed so much more capable. I struggled with feelings like this for some time.

In the second year of the funding I was encouraged by the AHRC to attend a four day workshop that was organised through what was then called the UK GRAD School. This UK organisation is now called Vitae. They provide things like professional and career development workshops and resources for postgraduate doctoral student researchers, University researcher staff and those in ‘research institutions’. Well, I did attend the workshop along with a diverse group of other funded students from other UK institutions. Some of these students didn’t have any choice as their funding body required them to attend. The days were planned so that small groups of us would work together on various tasks or team-building exercises that were facilitated by a mentor. We also had activities planned like CV/resume preparation, mock job interviews and role play to help us think about how we might work in various situations and contexts. The aims of much of the week were for participants to think about the value of their transferable skills and how we might be able to recognise our potential in career directions that we may not have imagined at that point in time. We were advised to visit our Careers offices at the university and to get as much out of them while we were there.

At the time I agreed to attend, I believed I went with an open mind and willingness. Upon reflection and after meeting a couple of others who were a bit like me, I realised that I saw myself as a PhD student who felt clear about the fact that I was going to pursue an academic career and in this respect I knew what I had to do to achieve that. My advisor would play in important role in this plan – I would work with her on my CV planning and personal statement writing and job applications. She would advise about conference abstracts, papers, etc., and I would take up contract lecturing in the right areas and follow the usual path. Several others there had this in mind and expressed a bit of boredom at being forced to think outside the box. They were academics on the road to teaching and research. They were confident in their scholarly abilities and didn’t need role play to reassure them. As an older PhD student and one who had experienced previous career choices (there was one woman there who may have been close to my age but I was the only attendant with children), I felt that I certainly could manage an interview and presentation brief. I could sell myself easily after all of my work experience, but yes, wasn’t it nice to be given a bit of a refresher course, so to speak.

Now that some years have passed I’ve had the reality check that actually managing a successful career in academia is a lot more challenging than I ever imagined at that time. I wish I had taken the workshop a bit more seriously, or at least taken their advice and seen the Careers office nearer to my completion of studies.

When I was coming close to deciding to transition out of academia I did in fact make an appointment with the Careers office, as a ‘free’ advice visit was still on offer for up to two years after graduation for Alumnis. I was intrigued that my appointment would be with a woman there who had a doctorate (Dr. so and so), and there was some comfort in the knowledge that she would know what PhD study and later career choices were like.  I hadn’t quite planned to release all of the emotional turmoil I had been feeling at that point, but it was within minutes after her asking me why I wanted to leave academia that I found myself suddenly very tearful – at one point I had to stop to catch my breath and contain myself. While she didn’t claim to give me any final answers to questions like what would I be good at doing – what kind of career can I have now, she did offer some clear and helpful advice.

The first place she directed me to was and she reminded me that it was once called UK GRAD School. I found it interesting that while my previous funding body would periodically send me information or survey links asking me what I was doing now after graduation, they never offered any post-graduation career development advice and I never remember hearing anything about the new change to Vitae. When she first showed me the webpage it appeared as though it was focused only on developing research students and other research staff for success in academia. But as she moved further into other paths in the website I saw that there was much on offer for those who were looking for alternative prospects. In some cases, there were case studies of academics who left and found research careers in commercial or other institutions. Others found careers in training or in management/administration in academia. But others found career potential in completely different areas. The advisor showed me links to numerous examples of academics who restructured their CVs from an academic focus to a ‘skills-based’ CV. There were other links to the site Beyond The PhD which had audio-recorded and transcribed interviews with people who completed PhDs and who had left academia for various reasons. I suddenly felt there was some hope for me. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to just find something else and the process of revealing to my academic colleagues and friends that I was thinking of opting out else was going to present its own challenges that would not be resolved quickly via a revamped CV. But discovering the Vitae resource opened my eyes to so many possibilities I hadn’t considered before then and gave me the confidence to move forward rather than just feel stuck.

If you haven’t discovered or utilised the Vitae site before now then have a look and spend some time exploring it. On first glance, the site appears to just focus on researchers’ careers. But if you look under the Careers tab you will find a variety of resources that will point you in other directions. The link for ‘What do researchers do? provides access to Vitae’s own publications about career profiles and destinations for people who have had doctoral research training. This one, ‘What do researchers do? Career paths of doctoral graduates (2011) ' offers great evidence from a study showing ‘that doctoral research training is a good foundation for a wide variety of occupations and demonstrates the flexibility of researchers who take advantage of a diversity of employment opportunities’.

The report ‘Straight Talking’ offers a great resource from a study, drawing on a survey and interviews, of post-PhDs and researchers on how they might access their networks more effectively to enhance their career potential.

See this link for more information about Careers outside of higher education.

You are bound to find some shared experiences through the useful Vitae database of career stories. Vitae encourages readers to upload their own stories. There are some stories from academics charting their career journeys but they are amongst many other alternative ones. Worth having a look while working your way through other links such as Career Planning.

I hope you will find Vitae as fruitful as I have. Enjoy!

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