Leaving academia but not Higher Education
By Sophia Donaldson, on 22 February 2017
Dr Eliza Burton studied for her PhD at UCL’s Institute for Ophthalmology and now works with us at UCL Careers as a Placements, Internships and Vacancies Administrator…which made it nice and easy for us to share her PhD careers case study with you all.
Towards the end of my PhD I began looking for roles within higher education but outside of academia. Although I always enjoyed carrying out research, I had moved on a lot since the start of my PhD, having a baby and acquiring a mortgage along the way and was keen to pursue stable, permanent roles. I had always enjoyed the University environment and working with students, so pursuing a career in this sector seemed like a great choice.
I had taken on a variety of responsibilities during my PhD, aside from straight research and this had allowed me to gain experience in university administration and student facing roles. When it came to applying for jobs I looked for opportunities which matched these skills.
What does your normal working day look like?
I am currently in a part-time position working 3 days a week. My role varies from week to week and has evolved over the course of my time here as I have taken on new responsibilities. A typical day might see me liaising with external employers, over phone, email or in person; preparing student careers newsletters; planning and hosting careers events and promoting job opportunities to our students. No two days are the same and the varied academic calendar means that the role changes throughout the year.
What are the best bits?
The role has allowed me to develop and take on new responsibilities since I started, setting me up well for future job opportunities. UCL has a great training and development scheme and although I am in the office less regularly than full-timers, I do not feel overlooked for openings. The team atmosphere has been a real change from doing a PhD which is often quite a solitary pursuit. This means the work is less high pressured than research, with a more collaborative focus.
And the biggest challenges?
Compared to a PhD the hours are much more structured. I was always fairly regular with my working hours whilst studying but if you are the type to prefer more autonomous working arrangements the shift to a 9-5 role could be challenging.
Did you need your PhD?
A PhD is not essential for the role but equally it is not uncommon, and you’re unlikely to be the only Dr. There are many transferable skills you can develop across the course of a PhD as well as commercial awareness of the higher education sector. The key is learning to identify these skills and applying them to non-research roles. For example, my PhD involved clinical research and many of the people skills developed during this have now been applied to dealing with external clients who approach the Careers Department wanting to engage with UCL students.
Where do people go from here?
The progression opportunities in higher education in general are good. There is a structure for career progression and it is common for people to move across departments with transferable skills. There is a lot of support and working within a large University means that there are constantly new opportunities arising.
What top tips would you pass on to researchers interested in this type of work?
I would recommend taking on additional responsibilities during your PhD/ post-doc aside from pure research. By taking on opportunities such as supervising students, assisting in events and aiding in departmental administration you can come out of PhD with a broad range of skills on top of valuable research and analytical knowledge. Make use of the contacts you have within your department whilst still a student to find out as much as possible about the type of roles available.