HDR Career Conversations

Supporting research student career development and employability at UOW

You are getting a PhD, so what’s next?


rnolReflections from School of Health and Society Research Student Careers Event 

Introduction: As HDR Careers Counsellor I recently contributed to a career development event at the School of Health and Society (HAS) which included a panel discussion followed by some interactive career exercises. You guessed it – we asked for a volunteer to write a blog piece. Faysal Kabir Shuvo, a PhD researcher in HAS volunteered to share his learning from this event co-ordinated by the Head of Postgraduate Studies, Associate Professor Xiaoqi Feng.


Dr. Iain Butterworth (far right) sharing his career story, pictured alongside Dr. Rachel Loney-Howes and some of the HAS research student audience.

The objective of this workshop was mainly to guide post-PhD career planning. The workshop was an excellent mix of professionals sharing their career journeys. Dr Iain Butterworth is the Head of professional services in the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. Dr Rachel Loney-Howes, has recently been recruited as Lecturer in the School of Health and Society. And finally, we had Ms Sarah Ryan, our on-campus resource for all matters HDR careers. The workshop was nicely moderated by Associate Professor Xiaoqi Feng, Head of Postgraduate Studies, School of Health and Society. Motivated by my participation in the Careers Central Career Ready Learning for Higher Degree Research (CRLH900) subject, I have started to explore a range of post-PhD career options. Therefore, personally, I was intrigued by Iain’s blended career experience.

Dr. Iain Butterworth had finished his PhD in 1996. According to him ‘that time it was not difficult to get a non-academic job after PhD’, which reflects how the situation for the PhD graduates has changed. I had been thinking that it could be difficult to get a position in industries after a PhD. However, from Iain’s rollercoaster experiences along the career path, I started to feel that ‘if there is passion, there is the way’. He highlighted communication, positive attitude, teamwork, integrity, creative thinking and most importantly the ability to solve problems as key qualities that employers would expect from a potential candidate. He responded positively to my query about the applicability of technical skills (e.g. data analysis) learned in PhD into industrial jobs.

In contrast, the post-PhD career of Dr Rachel Loney-Howes has just started after completing her PhD in 2017. Getting into a tenure-track position at a reputed institution like UOW just after her PhD showcases her brilliant and impressive academic portfolio. For many PhD graduates, it can take much longer to find a permanent position. According to Rachel, it is her passion which shaped her academic career in criminology. Apart from passion, she also puts emphasis on self-confidence, keeping focus and networking to be successful in the academic career (or ‘showing up’ as she termed it).

Towards the end of our workshop, Sarah facilitated a useful hands-on activity on ‘generating possible selves’, where I worked with a peer to explore potential areas of career development moving along academic research to more real-world problem-solving roles. In fact, I have found this type of reflection along with other HDR career development workshops as part of CRLH900 have been really ‘eye-opening’ for me. Those workshops helped me to think deeply about where I want myself after my PhD as well as about strategies to reach there. Especially, given my preference for a non-academic career after PhD, all these workshops were enormously useful.

School of Health and Society HDR students working together to generate career options along a continuum of opportunity.

In Australian universities, a big portion of higher degree research students are international as like myself (ACOLA review of Research Training, 2016 pg. 5 table 2). Therefore, we do not have all the ‘situated benefits’ like residency, English communication skills. In addition, many of us have family responsibilities. Both of the speakers at some point of career building time sacrificed personal relations, which is not easy for everyone pursuing PhD. However, the success stories of Iain and Rachel encourage us to surpass the challenges. In a nutshell, the key take-home lessons that I have learned from the event speakers:

• Define your career targets
• Stay focused
• Earn essential skills, recognise and communicate them
• Nurture creative thinking
• Develop your network

Faysal Kabir Shuvo is a PhD candidate, in the Population Wellbeing and Environment Research Lab (PowerLab), School of Health and Society under the supervision of Professor Thomas Astell-Burt and Associate Professor Xiaoqi Feng. His research focuses on exploring socioeconomic inequality of urban green space distributions and qualities as to promote social and active ageing in three contrasting international cities.

Thank you Faysal – I can see from you blog piece that you took a lot from the interesting panel discussion, with two diverse and fascinating career stories shared. I am really happy to hear that CRLH900 is supporting you in thinking deeply about your future career. Enrol in Career Ready Learning for Higher Degree Researchers (CRLH900) zero credit point subject

For more career advice from UOW alumni – see our HDR Career Conversations HDR alumni career posts

What do you think about the advice given and the points Faysal made about the post-PhD job market and job search? As always your comments are welcome below.

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