Event summary: pursuing non-academic careers post-PhD

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A library filled with people studying.

On Wednesday 20 April, the BISA PGN was joined by Stephanie Rinaldi, Caroline Metz, and Anni Pues to discuss non-academic career options after a PhD in International Studies. They offered some reflections on their career paths and some advice for PhD graduates looking to do the same.

For Caroline, the decision to leave academia came two years after graduating with her PhD in Political Economy while she was completing a post-doc. She first began to take on some policy consultancy work and eventually applied for a job in a NGO in the sustainable finance sector, ShareAction, where she uses her expertise in international finance as a Policy Officer. Stephanie’s trajectory is a little different and shows that it is possible to build on transferable skills acquired during the PhD to change field entirely. Stephanie went from a PhD in Political Theory to a role in university professional services at the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester. She now manages multiple research grants, while still being occasionally involved in research projects, as a Research Programmes Manager. Anni’s career is once more a little different. After over a decade working as a practicing lawyer specialised in criminal law, human rights, migration, and asylum cases, Annie returned to education to gain a master’s degree and then a PhD in International Criminal Law. Since then, she has been a Lecturer at the University of Glasgow, while continuing to practice law.

Caroline, Anni and Stephanie have very different career paths, which sometimes took them in unexpected directions. Reflecting on her own trajectory, Anni noted that her path is far from linear and that saying yes to opportunities that interested her, even if they seemed small at the time, ended up playing a huge role in getting her where she is now. Stephanie and Caroline noticed similar patterns. For Stephanie, the content of her PhD has very little to do with her current work. Yet the training in research methods, and the people she met working in professional services and teaching during her PhD allowed her to reach her current position. Caroline explained that her frustration with the writing process for research articles led her to focus on writing in different formats. She wrote a series of blogs, which were the gateway to her move into consultancy. Caroline, Stephanie and Anni mentioned that personal decisions, such as refusing the hypermobility required from many ECRs in academia who jump from city to city, sometimes country to country, to follow academic jobs also shaped their career paths.  Reflecting on all of this, all three panellists concluded that, as cheesy as it sounds, following what you want to do, whether that is professionally or in your personal life, will eventually open some important opportunities. They also all encouraged everyone wanting to make a similar move outside of academia to network, network, and network some more. Talking to people who have a PhD and then went outside of academia or, more generally, talking to like-minded people, is greatly valuable.

They also offered some practical advice on how to frame the PhD experience for the non-academic job market. Writing a PhD comes with a lot of transferable skills, not least the ability to write well and quickly. Such an ability to quickly research a question and come up with a substantial, nuanced and rigorously evidenced answer is a very valuable skill in most jobs. They also all noted that a PhD is essentially a large and long-term project, and that by virtue of finishing it PhD students have acquired important project management skills, including delivering a project following a budget. And finally, all three panellists emphasised that a PhD is so much more than ‘studying’. Organising events, participating in conferences, contributing to peer-review, are all great ways to gain different skills. To end on Caroline’s words, everything is a transferable skill if it is framed in a way that speaks to the job requirement – and PhDs are very good at framing information.