Female student working in a lab

November 17, 2022, by Leah Sharpe

Doing a PhD but Unsure of Your Career Options? Here’s What Helped Me.

By Annie Buckley, PhD researcher

If, like me, you’re doing a PhD having gone straight from your bachelor’s degree to your master’s, and straight from your master’s to your PhD, you might be feeling like you don’t have any work experience outside academia. This can feel scary when beginning to think about career options.

What if I don’t have adequate examples of my skills in a job interview? Will my working style adapt to a job outside of academia? How will I know if my career choices are right for me?

Worry not! There is a way to expand your experience in the workplace, put your skills to the test, and earn some extra money – all without impacting your PhD progress. You may have seen PPN placements (Postgraduate Placements Nottingham) dotted around in your email inbox, but had thoughts along the lines of ‘I won’t be allowed to do one of those’, ‘I can’t pause my PhD to make time for this’, or ‘this isn’t aimed at me’.

Is a placement for me?

Like many other postgraduates, I thought that I wouldn’t be allowed to do a placement during my PhD. I assumed it was similar to a ‘sandwich year’ during an undergraduate, and that my PhD just wasn’t set up to allow for this. After having a meeting with a careers adviser at the university, they suggested that I give a placement a go, and it was one of the best career decisions I’ve made so far.

I chose to apply for a placement working in the Careers and Employability Service at the university, as the proposed role had creative and technical elements to it. Working in this role alongside two other placement students on similar projects was such a valuable experience, and provided a real insight into how my strengths can be applied in the workplace.

A placement actually enhances your PhD, not distract from it

All three of us on the placements found that we got more work done on our PhDs during this time, as we learned to improve our time management and organisation skills. The roles gave us more confidence and developed our strengths, even in areas we hadn’t considered before.

There are a huge range of placements to choose from at several points throughout the year, and they are set up with the understanding that you will be completing your studies alongside the placement, so it’s not clashing with your studies like a normal part-time job could.

Doing a PhD full time for three to four years can feel like a never-ending process, and it often feels like another task shows up before you’ve finished the last. Having a short-term placement with a clear start and end point can be really rewarding and motivating.

What does a placement give you?

Since completing my placement with the Careers and Employability Service, I feel far more prepared to provide examples of my skills and strengths in a future job interview, and more comfortable with the idea of entering a career outside academia. The role has helped me to identify how my skills gained during my PhD actually translate to the workplace, and realise that my PhD is in fact a job!

What’s the next step?

It’s important to recognise your own strengths and identify the kind of workplace you’d feel driven to work in, and a placement could very well be the way to get you there. Next time one of those PPN emails comes along, have a look through and contact the careers advisers if there’s something else you’re interested in.

Find out more about Postgraduate Placements Nottingham. The scheme is specifically for postgraduates but you can also look into other opportunities such as the Nottingham Internship Scheme, Nottingham Consultancy Challenge, and Unitemps.

Posted in PhD Students