phd winding road

August 23, 2018, by Jackie Thompson

My PhD Career Path: A Winding Road

By Clare Jones, Senior Careers Adviser, Research Staff/Postgraduate Research Students

As a PhD student you may be considering your next step and looking for that ‘forever’ career. In the 21st century, you’re likely to have four or five jobs in your working life – if not more! Elizabeth Davey talks us through her career history from her first degree to her current role as a researcher training and development manager in the Graduate School at the University of Nottingham. Elizabeth’s career has taken her through various roles based in universities, the charity sector and the private sector.

Changing my focus

My first degree was in physics with planetary and space physics at the University of Wales Aberystwyth followed by a one-year MPhil researching the physics of the atmosphere over the polar caps. At the end of this course, I made a decision to move away from atmospheric physics to medical physics; completing a masters in audiological science at the University of Southampton. This course was more vocational in nature and led me into a career as an audiological scientist. Initially, I worked in a research environment gaining my clinical qualifications, and later as a consultant in the private sector and an audiological specialist for a charity.

Returning to my first love

While I enjoyed my audiology career, I missed space physics hugely! After my maternity leave, I decided to return to space physics and undertake a PhD in space plasma physics at the University of Leicester. As a mature student with a young family, undertaking a PhD full-time was quite a challenge. However, I can honestly say I relished that challenge and thoroughly enjoyed the three years I spent doing the PhD.

Rising to the challenges

My PhD was one of the hardest things I have ever done and there were moments where I wondered if I would complete it successfully. While my situation involved challenges, such as juggling being a mother and doing the PhD, it also meant that I had a strong work ethic. I managed to do the research, write up, submit, have a viva and do corrections all within three years. I knew that a career in academia was probably not going to be for me, but I also knew that there were many jobs within universities that supported researchers and where having a PhD could be an advantage.

Moving into higher education

Following my PhD, I had a short time in a software engineering team in industry. In 2014, I made the move to the Research Policy team, here at Nottingham, working on gender equality in research. This move led to my current role in the Graduate School, where I support postgraduate and research staff by delivering training programmes.

My career path has been somewhat of a winding road. I hadn’t planned it out like this aged 21 but it’s been an enjoyable journey.

If you’re studying for a PhD and thinking about your next step, visit our website for expert advice on exploring your skills and career options within and outside academia. To fit career planning around your research, we’ve developed an online course: Thinking Ahead – Exploring Career Options. It’s a great first step on your career journey.

Posted in Early Career ResearchersPhD StudentsPostgraduate Taught Students