Photographer shot of a cup of coffee with a leaf shape drizzled into the coffee

April 5, 2019, by Katy Johnson

Coffee and Connections – Food for Thought at a Networking Brunch

By Andrew Wilhelmson, PhD researcher

A couple of weeks ago, I took a short break from my desk to head on over to a PhD Networking Brunch being held in The Studio. Asides from a great excuse to take a break from reading the colossal stack of papers sitting next to me. I hoped the morning would give me a chance to broaden my ideas about post-doctorate career paths.

One thing I’ve certainly noticed amongst friends and family who know that I’m doing a PhD, is that they assume that I must be pursuing an entirely academic-oriented career. In truth, I’m yet to figure out exactly what it is that I’m pursuing, as eluded to in my prior ramblings.

1. First Impressions

So I arrived eager to hear about options as-yet unconsidered. There were a handful of representatives from a range of industries and professions and a superfluous supply of tea, coffee and croissants to get the ball rolling. First stop, a quick chat with an employee from The Hut Group (that’s the giant conglomerate behind brands such as MyProtein and Lookfantastic). Now I’ll be the first person to put my hand up and say those leadership roles in a multi-national e-commerce business wasn’t something I had ever considered myself interested in. For that matter, even remotely qualified for. Nevertheless, I was interested to hear that actually, many of the skills and experiences inherent to a Doctorate, are exactly what such companies are looking for in graduate management positions; team leadership; strong communication skills; international outlook; and a strong career drive.  

2. Meeting Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

My next port of call was certainly the most interesting to me – a lengthy chat about Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (or KTP for short), something I had only heard of about 2 seconds prior to this conversation as I read their banner title. KTP is a three-way collaboration between a university, an external employer and someone such as myself. External organisations seeking precise skill sets liaise with a university to recruit a graduate with relevant capabilities.

That graduate then embarks on a fixed-term contract, not too dissimilar to a post-doctoral fellowship. They would often be working both at the university and the company to carry out a project, often research-based. The package includes a salary that reflects the highly-trained nature of a doctoral graduate, training and development funding. They also offer residential courses to support fast-track career progression upon completion of the project; possibly continuing within the company on a new internal contract.  A quick trip to the Nottingham and national KTP websites gave me a taste of the sorts of opportunities available and I was impressed to find so many of these ‘hybrid’ academia/industry-linked projects available – certainly something I will be keeping tabs on throughout my PhD for relevant opportunities. 

3. Coffee Break With PPN

After a very brief chat with a plant-science company representative (I’ve come to realise that PhDs offer many transferable skills, but applying to be a crop-scientist is a little beyond the scope of my remit). I headed over to hear about the bespoke Postgraduate Placements Nottingham offered through the University this programme enables post-grad students to get flexible, paid work experience, typically in local companies, seeking specialist skills for the completion of a ~200h project. I had heard of PPN before but hadn’t realised the flexibility of these roles and how the projects are designed from the ground up to work for you, the student, rather than solely working to the companies’ schedules.  

All in all, the hour spent chatting over coffee definitely helped to give me a little glimpse outside the bubble that academia can sometimes feel like. It’s given me some food-for-thought about identifying my skills beyond the laboratory and their applicability to other career options. With that in mind, I grabbed another quick snack (you know, one for the road) and headed back to the office. 

If you would like some support in learning the variety of career paths you could take after your research, book in for a careers appointment with one of our advisers. Kirstin Barnard and Clare Jones are professional experts that can help you find the right path

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