This week I had the opportunity to attend the “Life after PhD” event held at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park. The conference was a celebration of the postgraduate research culture in the UK, aimed at giving early career researchers the chance to reflect on where their careers are headed. The conference also provided the opportunity for leading figures in academia and outside to share how their own research has influenced their lives post-PhD.
The venue itself was beautiful! A 17th Century house situated in the tranquil heart of Windsor Great Park. Cumberland Lodge is an educational charity. Its Patron is The Queen, who has granted the sole occupancy of the house for discussions aimed at the betterment of society. I was in awe of the surroundings, and thoroughly enjoyed staying in such a historic house.
After registration, the conference kicked off with a number of insightful talks from guest speakers. A careers development consultant at Cambridge’s careers portal offered us insight into the different career possibilities for PhD’s. The Head of Education at NUS spoke to us about the PhD journey itself; how we feel about it as academics, drawing on her own personal experiences. We heard from those working inside and outside of academia, highlighting the endless possibilities for PhD students upon graduation.
In between sessions, I mingled with other delegates. I really enjoyed this opportunity to meet fellow PhD students from accross the UK and it’s not often that I get the chance to mix with students from other departments. We exchanged stories of our PhD journey’s, talking specifically about our student-supervisor relationships, fieldwork, writing-up progress, as well as our hopes and fears as we move towards the task of finding a job after we graduate. I made new friends and forged new networks. The evening finished with a cultural recital from Ruth Rosen in the Lodge drawing room. Among others, she read Shakespeare, Kipling and Chaucer, all of which seemed particularly evocative given the historical conference venue.
Day two. As a conference requirement, each student had to give a ten minute research presentation to other non-specialist PhD researchers. Due to the size of our cohort, we were broken into smaller groups (12 students each) and I spent the day listening to fascinating talks about other research projects. In my group, research topics were fascinatingly diverse. There were projects on Dyslexia in adults, German literature, seismicity on Mars, bone marrow, law in the Middle Ages and music in film. The exercise was helpful in forcing us to concisely summerise our projects and in presenting to an interdisciplinary, non-specialist audience.
Day three. On the final morning, the conference was broken into a series of workshops: CV writing and Interview techniques, Public engagement and ‘How to stand, breathe, speak and Listen’ . First up, the very lively and practical session on how personal presentation. I have to say, I was a little dubious, given the 9am start/lack of morning coffee/instructions to wear comfortable clothes. Despite my reservations, however, I ended up really enjoying the session. I learnt that it’s not just what you know, but its how you put it across; how my actual physical presence affects my presentation. I learnt useful skills for interviews, meetings, conference presentations and teaching. After a quick coffee break, the second workshop focused on CV writing. We spent time analyzing job descriptions and discussing CV’s and interview techniques. I learnt the importance of tailoring job applications to specific jobs. Our session chair (a careers advisor) told me the number one failure during an interview is when employers ask something along the lines of “Why do you want this lectureship at X University?” 99% of people respond with a carefully planned response about why they would be an excellent lecturer. All very well, but that’s not the question they asked. Why this lectureship, at this university, in this department. Specifics are crucial. Being vague will get you nowhere. Our final workshop focused on public engagement, providing an insight into strategies I can use to identify public audiences for my research, and how I can engage with them.
In sum, as I find myself hurtling (with alarming speed) towards the end of my PhD journey, this conference was well timed to offer me insight into life after my PhD. I often feel anxious about job hunting, and I’m sure my fellow PhD students can relate to this. I know that the job market remains tough and competition is fierce. Still, I am ready and excited for the next step. Taking advice from the past few days, I intend to follow my passion and remain confident that good things will happen. The support network established by the conference will be invaluable whatever the future holds.
– Stephanie Morrice, PhD Candidate