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Six Things We Learned at The ECN’s Bridging the Gap Conference
Year-round, the PSA’s very own Early Career Network (ECN) strives to support early career academics, from giving community support, to events like Bridging the Gap: Careers Inside and Outside Higher Education held on the 6th December at Nottingham Trent University.
The event focused on helping those at the early stages of their career navigate the future job market, and how the research skills developed at this level can open a lot more doors than just those inside academia. The day was packed with workshops, talks, and networking throughout the day.
In this short blog, we share some of the highlights from the ECN’s Bridging the Gap Conference: from what options are open to those with a PhD to what steps you should be taking to get your first job on the career ladder.
1. The difficult bit part is that first transition after you finish your PhD.
The transition from PhD to a career can be quite rough, at times it can feel quite directionless. Your next step will often be dictated by the skills and area of your research, so no single bit of advice will be 100% relevant – which sometimes not only makes it harder when seeking out advice, but there are things you can do to smooth the transition – such as following the other bits of advice below.
2. A PhD doesn’t mean you have to work in academia.
Speakers from the event included a number of people who took their PhD skillset and moved outside of academia. With talks from those in journalism, think-tanks, and even Parliament. The skills you learn make you valuable to both private and public sector organisations, you just need to remind yourself that the skills you have are actually transferable!
3. There’s a fine line between what content in your cover letters & CV’s to keep generic, and what parts should be amended to the job you’re applying for.
In an ideal world, each application you should write should be specific to each job. But the reality is, when you’re applying for multiple jobs, you simply don’t have the time. So clearly there is a balance to be had. But try your best to not copy and paste the same text for each application. As said by Professor Sue Pryce – “Time and time again, I get applications that are straight generic... It doesn't help your chances.”
4. Get yourself known and build up your profile.
Part of building a good CV is a good profile. So, it helps to put yourself out there early on. Go to conferences and seminars, network with peers, send speculative emails, and be active in the media – these are all great ways to get noticed.
A good place to start is to talk to your media press team who should be able to point you in the right direction. Talking to the media is actually great fun, and you don’t need as much prep time as you’d expect with other academic engagements.
5. Learn to communicate about yourself
One of the big pieces of advice given throughout the day is that to get on the career ladder you really need to sell yourself. Being able to tell others how your skills are transferable and being able to demonstrate knowledge in your area will tell recruiters not only that you have these skills, but that you are also an effective communicator – something you’ll need when it comes to teaching.
6. You’re not alone, you’re not the first person to go through this, and there are people who are willing to help you!
The postgraduate experience can make you feel incredibly lonely. But remember you’re not alone. Dotted around over 100 universities are people, just like you currently doing a PhD. There are even more people who have only recently finished one too. That means there is a wealth of experience just waiting to be asked. From offering to check each other's CVs, to sharing experiences, or asking experienced academics on potential recruitment opportunities - there are people who will help you if asked.
And remember, networking through relevant organisations is a good start to finding like-minded peers to chat to. Probably a good time to mention that the ECN is only £20 a year and is one such organisation you can use to connect with others!