UCL Researchers
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    The UCL Careers team use this Blog to share their ‘news and views’ about careers with you. You will find snippets about a whole range of career related issues, news from recruiters and links to interesting articles in the media.

    We hope you enjoy reading the Blog and will be inspired to tell us your views.

    If you want to suggest things that students and graduates might find helpful, please let us know – we want to hear from you.

    Karen Barnard – Head of UCL Careers

    UCL Careers is part of The Careers Group, University of London

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    6 networking tips that work for me

    By S Donaldson, on 6 November 2015

    network 2 Image from Andy Lamb

    Networking is important. It just is. But it can also be painful.

    The below networking tips have helped me, so hopefully they’ll also help people who are a bit like me. But are you like me? Do you feel social awkwardness acutely and do everything in your power to avoid it? Do you enjoy spending time with humans, but also hate meeting new ones? Do you cringe at the thought of entering a room packed with strangers, with the aim of ‘selling yourself’? If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the above, these tips could ease your pain:

    1) Have a purpose

    Have a reason for being somewhere that isn’t simply ‘networking’. There’s nothing I find more excruciatingly awkward than milling about with a glass of wine surrounded by people I don’t know. I just end up leaving early. But if I’m actually doing something, then I find it much easier to talk to strangers, get to know people, and pick up useful contacts.

    You could see this as a ‘planned happenstance’ approach to networking – put yourself out there, get involved with things, and the networking is likely to just happen without you really noticing. For me, this has meant signing up for a course where I’d meet people in a certain sector, or volunteering at relevant events. Sometimes these events have included one of those dreaded ‘networking sessions’, which always feel far less awkward if I’ve been part of the team organising them.

    2) Latch on to a good networker

    Like it or not, it’s not always possible to ‘have a purpose’. Sometimes attending actual networking events is part of life. And it can yield results. I find networking events more productive and less terrible if I attend with a natural-born networker. The intense schmoozing might make you feel uncomfortable at times, but the good networker will ensure they (and, because you are together, also you) talk to lots of key people, and their social skills should make the whole affair less awkward for everyone.

    3) Don’t bring the whole gang

    While attending a networking session or signing up for a course with one other person (hopefully a fantastic networker – see tip 2) can give you the confidence to talk to new people, bringing a big group along is likely to be counterproductive. Enjoying complimentary drinks with friends at conferences or networking sessions is fabulous in its own way, but you probably won’t get much networking done!

    4) Be curious

    Networking events can inflict a pressure to be interesting. But it’s better (and easier) to concentrate on being interested. Sure, you should try to swot up on relevant topics and issues to do with your particular sector/company of interest, and it’s sensible to have a short elevator pitch about yourself prepared. But in reality, most people quite like to talk about themselves, and they like people who let them do it. So if you ask lots of questions and seem genuinely engaged you’re likely to build rapport, and in turn networks.

    5) Don’t expect too much

    Network 3Image from Sean MacEntee

    …or at least not too much too soon. Networking is great for your career. But if you go into each networking event expecting a promotion, you’ll be often disappointed. And if you harass everyone you meet for a job, you’ll be often avoided.

    Asking questions people can easily answer (a la tip 4) is a good start. If you come away from an event having learned about someone’s career path or what it’s like to work in a particular company, then you’ve acquired valuable knowledge for your career thinking and applications. And remember networking can be a long game. Although it might not be immediately obvious how someone can help you (or how you might help them!), building your networks is likely to pay off in the end.

    6) Follow up

    When you meet someone at an event try to follow the link up within a week. I have a friend who likes to send a small gift to new contacts. Although it works wonderfully well for her (it’s how she and I became friends), most people can’t pull it off without seeming creepy, so a brief email or LinkedIn request should suffice. It can be nice to remind them of the conversation you had, and perhaps even send them a link to something they might find interesting. This keeps the contact warm, increasing the chances they’ll remember and think well of you, and decreasing the chances you’ll feel awkward when you contact them in the future.

    Originally published on The Careers Group’s Get Hired blog.

    Leaving academia? 5 CV don’ts

    By S Donaldson, on 2 November 2015

    Warning sign

    Image adapted from Nicolas Raymond

    Academics live in their own special world when it comes to CVs. So it’s no surprise that many researchers are baffled when they try to leave the ivory tower. Here are five mistakes to avoid in your non-academic CV.

    Don’t…

     

    …be too subject-focused

    When you’re going for a post-doc or fellowship your subject of study may be all important. But when you move out of academia people will start to care more about the skills you’ve used and concrete things you’ve achieved. If you’re moving into an industry research role where your research subject is relevant, great, but for everything else a very simple PhD title should suffice.

    …use too much technical jargon

    If you’re moving into a job that has very little to do with your research area then using lots of technical terms risks 1) confusing recruiters and 2) painting you as someone who only cares about this very specific subject – i.e. the wrong person for the job.

    …assume employers understand the value of your PhD years

    Some employers actively target PhD graduates and are willing to pay a premium for them. This could be because they’re looking for particular subject expertise, but often it’s because of the skills developed during a PhD.

    But a lot of employers may not immediately see the value of the extra qualification. Try to think of your PhD years as a job, and tell recruiters about the relevant tasks you took on and what you achieved. Maybe it’s about the multiple projects you managed through to completion, the research budgets you handled, the international collaborations you were involved with, or the writing skills you displayed.

    …use the same CV for every application

    A great CV is tailored to a specific role, so it should change slightly with each application. Think about which experiences, skills and achievements are most relevant to each role; These should be the ones you emphasise the most.

    …waffle on

    Academic CVs can often run very long. But outside of academia we don’t usually want to see anything longer than two pages, and some industries will expect a one page CV.

    Are you cut out for academia?

    By S Donaldson, on 20 August 2015

    leave-academia-before-postdocsPeople leave academia for all sorts of reasons. For some it’s an active choice: maybe they want more job security or a better work-life balance, or maybe they’re just not as fond of research as they had once anticipated. For others the decision may be taken out of their hands, as they move from post-doc to post-doc, finding it increasingly difficult to secure the next role or chunk of funding. Dr Shelley Sandiford, ex-researcher and founder of science communication business Sciconic, has written a Next Scientist article to encourage those in the latter group to make the move out of academia before “wasting years in postdocs”.

    The article isn’t for the faint-hearted. As Sandiford sets out the difference between PhD “Student As”, those with potential, and “Student Bs”, those who will never make it, she attempts to send out an early wake-up call to those she says simply won’t succeed in today’s competitive academic sector. These are students who’ve found themselves with disappointing PhD projects in poorly-resourced and/or unsupportive teams, and who haven’t built a respected research profile by the end of their doctoral degree.

    But Student Bs shouldn’t feel too bad, because Sandiford says they’re the norm not the exception. In her opinion, “upwards of 90% (or more) of PhD students SHOULD LEAVE Academia“. Indeed, we know that the vast majority of PhD grads do eventually leave academic research. And outside of academia, the playing field is level; PhDs, whether they’re Sandiford’s Student A or B, are all high achievers with an equal chance of building successful, fulfilling careers.

    So are you a Student A or a Student B? If you’re feeling strong enough (!), give the article a read and see. If it feels a little too cutting in places, remember that Sandiford considers herself to be an ex-Student B, so her harsh words are an attempt to save others from making the same post-docing mistakes she feels she made. If you don’t have the time or the stomach for the full article, why not try out her handy “Do you have what it takes to become an academic?” flowchart, right.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Getting your voice heard could land you a job

    By S Donaldson, on 1 July 2015

    PhoneNew research published in Psychological Science has shown that written job pitches pale in comparison to the spoken word.

    When scientists at the University of Chicago asked people, some of them professional recruiters, to evaluate student job pitches, they responded better to videos and voice recordings than to the exact same speeches written down. Using identical words, when evaluators are able to hear a person’s voice (importantly, both with or without a visual video recording) they rate that person as more intelligent, thoughtful and competent.

    Speaking to The New York Times, Professor Nicholas Epley, one of the co-authors of the study, explained these results by saying that spoken words “show that we are alive inside – thoughtful, active….The closest you ever get to the mind of another person is through their mouth.”

    So what does this mean for your job hunt? Well, it means that networking is EVEN more important than we’re always telling you it is. And that although online professional social networks can be a great way to identify useful contacts, they’re no substitute for actually meeting someone, or at least chatting to them on the phone. And you know when you’re invited to call for more information while applying for a job? Well maybe you should do that. Put together some intelligent questions to which you’d actually like answers, and use it as an opportunity to introduce yourself and what you have to offer – it could mean that they’ll pay more attention to your written application when it comes in.

    How to become a lecturer

    By S Donaldson, on 12 January 2015

    Last month saw the publication of Getting the First Lecturing Job. Careers experts, including UCL’s very own Dr Calum Leckie, surveyed academic staff across 22 UK universities and several research disciplines to gather information on what’s needed to make the jump from early-career researcher to lecturer. The resulting report provides valuable insight into how academic employers think, with quotes on topics ranging from the value of teaching experience to the potential challenges of career breaks. It’s well worth reading the full 57-page version when you have time, but we’ve summarised the main points below.

    Research, research, research

    Unsurprisingly, demonstrating an “independent research profile” emerged as key to obtaining a lectureship. But quite what that means depends upon the discipline. Academics from the biological and physical sciences are likely to expect potential lecturer candidates to have publications in high quality journals, and to provide evidence that they can win funding through independent fellowships or joint grant applications with senior researchers. There are fewer opportunities in the arts and humanities to gain publications and funding, and this is reflected in a lower expectation for these achievements in lecturer candidates. However, publications and book deals are still desirable.

    Candidates from all disciplines should be able to articulate clear research plans and ideas that are independent of their supervisor, and they should be able to convey how their future direction might fit against the backdrop of a target university’s current research. So when applying for lectureship roles, it’s important to investigate what’s already going on in the department and wider institution. Are there opportunities for interesting collaborations? Are there research gaps that your work could fill?

    Teaching

    Teaching forms a key part of most lecturer positions, so teaching skills are valued highly. But this doesn’t necessarily mean candidates have to have a wealth of in-depth teaching and supervisory experience, and a higher education teaching qualification is by no means essential. You can demonstrate an understanding of teaching in a variety of ways, so seeking out opportunities to mentor undergraduates or to act as a tutor in small tutor sessions or lab sessions could be enough. An enthusiasm for teaching, and a willingness to take on new topics, is extremely important. So again, do your research. What would you like to teach, and how? Is there something missing from the current curriculum? Your PhD/research subject could be your unique selling point, but in most cases you’ll need to show a willingness and ability to teach broader topics too.

    It’s also worth bearing in mind that the amount of time dedicated to teaching versus research can vary hugely between different lecturer roles, so make sure you fully understand what’s expected from each academic position before you apply (for more info, check out this blog on the rise of teaching-focused academic jobs).

    Personal attributes

    Academics expect potential lecturers to display certain ‘softer’ skills, namely good communication skills, excellent teamworking skills/collegiality, passion, commitment and enthusiasm. These qualities are perhaps less tangible than ‘research’ and ‘teaching’ skills, and candidates may have a tougher time working out exactly how to get them across. In terms of commitment, passion, and indeed collegiality, doing your research on the role, the department, and the wider institution, and understanding how you could fit in, work with others, and improve things, always helps to show your dedication, and it’s something we find candidates frequently forget to do.

    Interestingly, academics don’t expect candidates to have previously performed many of the peripheral duties involved in being a lecturer. For instance, experiences of public engagement, forming collaborations, people management, and administration, all emerged as ‘non-essential’. They were of course considered a nice bonus. And they may be great ways to demonstrate some of the personal traits academics do consider to be essential, such as commitment, communication and teamworking.

    The Royal Society wants us all to take responsibility for your career

    By S Donaldson, on 9 January 2015

    UCL careers booklet picAt UCL careers, we’re pleased to see a growing recognition of the career development needs of PhDs. This is exemplified by the Royal Society’s recent publication of ‘Doctoral students’ career expectations: principles and responsibilities’. It’s clear that there are many more PhD students than there are academic jobs, so getting a PhD doesn’t necessarily set you up for an academic career. With this in mind, the Royal Society’s report sets out how PhD supervisors, and higher education careers professionals like us, can best help students prepare for the path ahead; universities have a duty to make PhDs aware of their options, and help them develop, recognise, and market skills that will be useful both inside and outside of university research.

    But the report also outlines the active role that PhD students themselves must have in the process. There’s lots of information, advice and guidance available to most students, and it’s important that individuals make the time to seek it out. With quite specific and practical advice, such as “students should assess their own understanding of their skills and achievements every six months and discuss their aspirations with supervisors”, the short report is well worth a read, whatever your career stage.

    You can access the full document here, and an interesting blog from one of the authors here.