HDR Career Conversations

Supporting research student career development and employability at UOW

Are you career ready?


Introduction:  UOW Higher Degree Researcher Amy Boyle first wrote on this topic as part of her online reflections for the zero credit point subject Career Ready Learning for Higher Degree Researchers CRLH900.  Her proactive and organised approach and examples of career development activities were too good not to share more widely, so I asked her to rewrite her experience as a piece for the blog.  Though we can’t all be so naturally organised, I am really impressed with the incremental approach Amy is taking to her career development activities and her ability to find opportunities as she progresses.  

Coming into a PhD, I think a lot of people are so focused on their research that they forgot to think about what comes after. Having a PhD doesn’t necessarily get you a job in your field, but with a little bit of planning you can increase the likelihood. Your supervisor’s main focus is your thesis work and they may not have the capacity to help with your career. Consequently, I participated in the HDR Careers workshops last year as part of the optional careers subject CRLH900: Career Ready Learning for Higher Degree Researchers. I was in the first year of my PhD and the learning acquired through these workshops was incredibly useful to rewire my thinking into approaching my PhD as an apprenticeship, rather than just another stage of study.

My participation in these workshops encouraged me to take initiative for my career development, develop long-term strategies and be cognizant of the changing workforce, specifically:

  • the casualisation of the workforce
  • that PhD candidates go on to work in academic and non-academic institutions
  • that you need to have transferable skills
  • the recruitment process isn’t always straightforward – it’s often about who knows you, and importantly, knows what you can contribute (or who can come to know you and your work i.e. Twitter, LinkedIn, Research Gate, Academia.edu etc.)

Throughout and since the subject,  I spent some time at the beginning of my PhD researching the types of jobs I might be interested in (academic and non-academic) and thinking about how I might get there. I signed up for a variety of job alerts, figured out the types of things I would need on my CV and made a long-term plan. I have broken up my CV goals and specified when I would ideally like to complete them over the next 4 years so they are manageable (and not all at once!). Here are some examples:

Training: there might be some courses you can do to enhance your knowledge, employability and/or transferable skills. There are often free or subsidised places for postgraduate students if you apply early too.

e.g. I got a free postgraduate position in a Digital Humanities Summer Institute Course at USYD in 2018.

Publishing: this might include journal articles, book reviews, academic and non-academic research related blog contributions. Book reviews and blog contributions are a great place to learn the publication process because they are shorter and usually not peer reviewed.

e.g. from July last year, I kept an eye out for Calls for Papers (CFP). To date, I have contributed to 2 research related blogs and I will have an accepted book review and journal article published by the end of the year.

Conferences: presenting your research is a great way to get feedback and meet like-minded scholars. Having to communicate your research is so useful for clarifying your own understanding and isolating the key points.

e.g. I presented a work-in-progress at a UOW postgraduate conference, then used the feedback to polish it up for an external conference run by the Sydney Screen Studies Network. I then submitted my paper to a journal and was accepted for publication. So, that’s 3 CV points using the same paper – you’ve got to use your time and research wisely!

Academic administration/coaching: this helps you get an idea of the “behind-the-scenes” at universities and the types of admin, teaching and mentoring jobs you might be expected to do.

e.g. following the workshops, I joined the UOW Jobs on Campus program and am now working as a Peer Academic Coach for a few hours a week. There are numerous jobs like this at UOW and it’s only a small interruption to your study, but great background experience!

Teaching: you need to bear in mind that you might not be given the opportunity to undertake tutoring work until the later years of your PhD. In saying that, you can still show your ability to teach through coaching or mentoring positions. There are also teaching development courses you can do to add to your CV in the meantime.

e.g. In Spring 2019, I intend to complete some of the online modules offered by UOW Learning, Teaching and Curriculum.

Build your network: you can keep an eye out for networking events, seminars and conferences/symposiums where you might meet relevant contacts.

e.g. I attended a few events last year (all free or with minimal charge, as I applied early and was given postgraduate concessions). I have found most of my opportunities by word of mouth by association, so I cannot stress networking enough.

Academic committee work: one way to build your community, is by applying to be part of academic committees or networks, which might also provide opportunities to collaborate with like-minded scholars.

e.g. I signed up as a member for several internal UOW and external research networks. I offered to become involved in the Sydney Screen Studies Network and am now the Secretary and Postgraduate Representative – which means I have access to the whole network when/if I need it!

Volunteer work: volunteering shows that you have a genuine commitment to and interest in tertiary research and teaching.

e.g. I volunteered to be part of Discovery Day, as well as a number of networking and promotional events. This wasn’t just one way though – because of my prior involvement, I was asked to give a speech about my research and demonstrate my passion to teach future students.

Complementary external work: there might be some part-time work you can do that complements your career goals. This doesn’t have to be directly related to your research.

 e.g. despite researching television, I worked as a Youth and Students Officer for the Department of Human Services. This experience increased my knowledge of tertiary institutions and the socio-cultural/political concerns of students. My academic and non-academic work will be greatly influenced by this knowledge.

Grant applications: you will need to complete research grant applications for academic and non-academic workplaces. You can practice this by applying for grants, scholarships, awards etc.

e.g. I applied for the NTEU Carolynn Allport Scholarship last year. I was unsuccessful, but I was shortlisted so can still note this as a CV point.

By meeting some of these goals early, I have (hopefully!) freed myself up to focus on thesis writing and editing in my final year. My CV has grown significantly as a result of the apprenticeship mindset. I think it’s important to realise that you have to make your own opportunities, but once you start, they often start coming to you. I should mention that I am a domestic student, have a supportive partner and don’t have any children – so I am in a position of privilege. However, I think if you spend 30 minutes each day building on these goals, and space them out with foresight and planning, it is manageable.

All the best to everyone for their research and career planning this year!

Amy Boyle

Amy Boyle is currently completing a Doctor of Philosophy (Arts) at the University of Wollongong.  Amy’s research explores the representation of women and the circulation of hetero-patriarchies and feminism through western popular culture.  Her dissertation will examine how the movement from broadcast network to subscription television has cultivated a feminist niche audience and a new demand for female-centric, more explicitly feminist fiction.

Thanks Amy (and also for being our first HDR Career Conversations multiple contributor! – Read her piece on ‘Creating Businesses that Transform Society’ here)

Consider enrolling in Career Ready Learning for Higher Degree Researchers (CRLH900).  More information is available including additional blog posts from current and previous students.  

Can you take any ideas from Amy’s experience and suggestions?

What other examples can you share?

Please feel free to add your ideas and comments below.

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