Thursday, August 2, 2018

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Drawing your roadmap for life after the PhD

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!


A topic that we've discussed a number of times on this blog is "life after the PhD." We have discussed career options after the PhD, I've given advice on what a reader should do after the PhD, moving around the world for your career after the PhD, working as a scholar in the gulf region, the job interview, the benefit of your academic skills for future employers, how to frame your mind for a job after the PhD, how to find a job outside of academia, how to plan an academic career, and how to figure out which career path may be good for you.

Today, I am showing you a possible roadmap on how to prepare yourself for your career after your PhD. This roadmap is not set in stone, of course. It is a collection of ideas and questions to help you frame your mind. If early on during your PhD, you feel like you'd like to stay in academia, that doesn't mean that your decision is made and that you can't change your mind. Thinking about your next steps, and exploring options is a better way to prepare yourself than writing your thesis and then waiting for a job to magically be offered to you.

1,5 years into your PhD

It's never too early to start thinking about what you'd like to do after your PhD. After 1,5 years in your program, you probably have a good impression of what working in academia means, and what type of (strange?) beast the academic is. You don't have to decide on anything yet, but you can start thinking about your options after your PhD, and make some choices based on your interests. If you are interested in the industry, plan to attend career fairs in the future to learn about possible employers, and visit the exhibition hall at conferences.

When you start to think about your options, think about what would work for you and your family. Would it work for you and your family to move to the other side of the world for a post-doc position? Are you willing to move away from your home at all? Can you gamble on a short-term contract, perhaps with low pay, or does your family need your income? Consider your ideal conditions first.

If you find it difficult to answer these questions, then write for yourself what your ideal work looks like. Which tasks do you do? Do you travel? Do you commute? How does your ideal day look like? Do you want to work part-time perhaps to spend time with your kids in the afternoon? Define for yourself what you want, and start making it happen.

1,5 years before graduating

Now is a good time to start thinking more seriously about your plans for after your PhD. If you can't define a direction you want to focus on for after your PhD, see if you can get help from a career counselor. Most universities offer some sort of support for their students. If possible, get one-on-one coaching with a career counselor, or stop by to brainstorm with one of them or with a trusted person within HR, so that you can get the ideas from an outsider. If your university offers workshops around the topic of finding employment after the PhD, sign up to such a workshop or series of workshops.

Discuss with your supervisor and colleagues about your options. Catch up with recent graduates from your PhD program to learn from their experience. At conferences, talk to recent PhD graduates. If a conference is organized through a professional organization, they often have a career center (sometimes available as a booth at the conference) - visit them and learn from them.

1 year before graduating

Hopefully, you've been able to do some good thinking for yourself over the past few months, and have been able to exchange ideas with HR professionals as well as with recent PhD graduates in your field. If you've identified for yourself which career paths call your attention, start to work more actively towards getting a job.

Don't just scroll through job openings online. Mention to your friends and colleagues that you will be graduating soon, and that you are exploring options. If you are looking for an opportunity in a certain sector, see if you can meet with an acquaintance from this sector for coffee to learn from his/her/their experience, and ask for advice. Don't list somebody as a reference on your resume unless you have a good working relationship - so don't try to make your contact in this sector your reference right away.

Send your resume to companies and institutions of your interest. See how you can get a foot in the door by volunteering at industry events, going for a short research exchange, or do some case studies for a public institution. Just don't think that, because you've shown your face, you are entitled to a job - but show up, and show what you can bring to the table.

6 months before graduating

Interview time! Have you heard from anybody to whom you sent your resume? If not, don't panic (and don't start stalking people). If necessary, make another appointment with a career counselor to revise your resume and give you extra advice. If you seem to find it hard to get noticed by employers, work with a recruiter.

If you're invited for an interview, go prepared. Do your "homework." Learn about the company,its people, and identify for yourself what you can bring to the table. At the same time, define for yourself what you want. Return to your description of your ideal job: which tasks excite you? What do you expect in return from your employer? What is non-negotiable for you? Would you opt for more salary or for more holidays?

when finishing your dissertation

Time to celebrate! If you finish and publish your dissertation before your defend, and you are looking for a job, then use your dissertation to do a bit of shameless self-promotion. Send your finished dissertation to anybody who may be interested in your work, and who perhaps may be having a job opening. You never know what good it may bring. Take your printed thesis copies to conferences, and mention at the end of your presentation to you can give away a few copies (bring a stack with you).

Upon graduating

If you are graduated and don't have a job yet - don't panic. Decide for yourself if you want more advice from a career counselor and/or recruiter, and see if you can survive financially until you land a job, or if you need to take on some "emergency" employment, or raid your savings.

Don't let the fact that you haven't found a job yet overshadow the success of finishing your PhD. Celebrate in style, take time to appreciate yourself and your effort, and then throw yourself back into the job-seeking activities, now with all your energy. Let your entire network know you are graduated and available. Don't spam the entire world, but send personal emails to possible interesting contacts, and use LinkedIn to your advantage.

After your PhD

If you've taken a first job after your PhD, know that you have your entire career in front of you. If after some time, you find that the job is not what you thought it to be at first, then take that lesson and learn from it: what is good for your? Which new skills did you learn? What did you not like - something related to the contents of the job, or is the commute making your miserable? Go back to the drawing board, reshape your ideal job, and start looking for something that more closely parallels your vision.



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