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August 3, 2023, by Leah Sharpe

From PhD to Higher Education Professional Services

By Dr Ruby Hawley-Sibbett, PhD in English Literature (2023) and Graduate Management Trainee at the University of Nottingham

Starting my PhD

I decided to do a PhD because I was enjoying my MA and wanted to continue to research early nineteenth-century women writers. I had an idea for a project shedding light on Jane Austen’s forgotten regional contemporaries which ultimately became the basis of my thesis. I used this proposal to secure PhD funding from Midlands3Cities (now Midlands4Cities). The transition from MA to PhD was relatively smooth for me, because I remained in the same research area, at the same university, with the same lead supervisor. The main changes were getting to know my new supervisors, the increased independence of PhD-level study, and having a PGR office where I could work alongside my peers (at least until 2020!). 

Advice for those considering a PhD

My advice for anyone considering undertaking a PhD would be to take time to deeply consider your motivation and goals, both personally and professionally. I would also recommend having a backup plan in case you change your mind. I was initially interested in pursuing an academic career, but I realised that I was more suited to a career in Higher Education professional services because of my skills, interests, and work preferences. Professional services refers to a wide range of job roles, including staff in schools and faculties, as well as services such as Careers, Libraries, HR, finance, and much more (think of all the people who have supported your PhD journey who are not academics). 

I would really recommend doing a placement or other work experience, and not leaving it too late to do so; even if you aren’t sure what you’d like to do, pursuing any opportunity is likely to open doors you hadn’t even thought of. Towards the end of my PhD, I undertook a placement (funded by Midlands4Cities) working with the PGR Careers team to look at researchers’ needs. This cemented my decision to move into professional services. 

How my PhD prepared me for my career

During my PhD, I developed my research and writing skills, but also my personal confidence and resilience. I also gained skills which were not directly related to the process of writing my thesis from the additional projects and work experience which I undertook. For example, I worked as a demonstrator on courses offered by the Researcher Academy, organised a reading group, conferences, public engagement activities (both online and in person), and training opportunities for my peers. 

These activities contributed to my career goals by helping me to understand what I enjoy and what I’m good at. They provided me with great examples for my application when I saw my current role advertised. I also sought help from the Careers service with my written application as well as interview practise, which boosted my confidence. I am now a Graduate Management Trainee. This is a programme which the university runs to train professional services staff. I am completing three six-month placements in different parts of the university which will help me to decide which area I want to pursue in the future.

I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t done my PhD. While I decided not to pursue a traditional academic career, I still benefit from working in a university, with colleagues who really care about teaching and research.

Explore dedicated careers support and resources for postgraduate researchers or talk to a PGR careers adviser about your plans. 

Posted in PhD Students