Responding to change or setbacks | The Careers Service Responding to change or setbacks – Oxford University Careers Service
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Opening the conversation

Creating change in your work patterns, or setting, can help you move on in your thinking and create new, unforeseen openings.

At some point in your life, perhaps while you’re at Oxford, you will need to do something that feels quite radical in order to step off a familiar track that is no longer good for you. Sometimes change is forced upon you: a supervisor moves to a different university, funding runs out or your research group is reconfigured.

While there is truth in the familiar saying “be the change you want to see”, it requires courage and a willingness to bear some less comfortable experiences along the way.

The Careers Service is here to support you in planning for change, and going about it.

We recommend reading how others have responded to the particular challenges that exist in academia. You will see the weaknesses in professional systems more clearly, put your motivations in context, and, quite possibly, be inspired to try new directions or even fashion a role that fits your talents and priorities. You may then want to book an appointment with a Careers Adviser to discuss these.

Ibarra’s book ‘Working Identity’ is useful for anyone thinking about moving on from academia after a postdoc, or similar mid-career transitions. It contains case studies and a framework to evaluate your experiences when trying out new directions. A reference copy is available in the Careers Service resource room, and an electronic copy is available at the Bodleian Library..

Other helpful sources include pieces by PhD students and postdocs: An experienced Oxford DPhil student shares tips on exploring your work preferences and options beyond academia in a Nature article. And one Canadian postdoc recounts what she learns about academia through her attempts to get a permanent position and why she decided to become an independent professor and consultant researcher, as well as her life story.

Senior academics are also starting to identify the structural problems within academia and make clear strategic suggestions to PhD students and postdocs.

Talk to your peers, departmental administrators and faculty to see what you can do together to create an open conversation about change and build a culture of support.

The personal and career uncertainties brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have added to the pressures felt by some early career researchers. This Chronicle of Higher Education article by Aisha Ahmad sets out the reasons why now is not the time to castigate yourself for not being more productive than ever while life as we knew it has been suspended.

Overcoming a sense of academic failure: Podcasts & Workbook

Many of us have phases where we have no idea what we’re doing, or everything feels like it’s going wrong: that we are failing, or even that we are failures. Sometimes such phases feel less like phases than a permanent default. And often we assume – wrongly – that no one else ever feels the same.

This is an initiative intended to help make it OK to think and talk about failure. It grew out of an event held in June 2016 which brought together DPhil students, early-career academics, and researchers at later stages of their careers in academia or beyond, for a frank conversation about academic failure and success. The event made clear how powerful it can be to acknowledge perceived failures, talk about them, reframe them, and learn from them, rather than bottling them up and pretending they never happened.

The resulting resources currently include a series of five audio podcasts and a workbook.

The workbook offers prompts to reflect on your experiences, alter your perspective on them, and take action to continue learning in the future. It also includes CVs of failure from some of the event speakers.

The podcasts explore things in a little more depth, with the help of contributions from some of our speakers plus other people at different career stages. The podcasts are not short (around half an hour each) and will reward focused engagement. We recommend that you take some quiet time to listen, perhaps with a pen and paper to hand.

The Workbook

You can download the workbook here.

This initiative was developed jointly by: 

Podcasts on experiences of failure

Podcast 1: The Feeling of Failure

What does failure feel like, and what happens when you sit with it?

Podcast 2: Failure and other people

Other people (or our idea of them) can induce feelings of failure and alleviate or transform them.

Podcast 3: Failure and the farewell to academia

Why does the idea of leaving academia so often feel like professional failure?

Podcast 4: What to do about it all: Personal attitudes

How to change your own attitudes to failure and success, and how failure relates to regret.

Podcast 5: What to do about it all: Personal actions

How to take action to change the role failure plays in your life.

  • Susan Blackmore: psychologist, lecturer, and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences; Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth
  • Julia Bray: A.S. AlBabtain Laudian Professorial Fellow in Arabic, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford; Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford
  • Rachel Bray: Careers Adviser for Postgraduate Research Students and Research Staff, Careers Service, University of Oxford; Research Associate, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford
  • Chiara Cappellaro: Research Fellow in Linguistics, University of Oxford; Knowledge Exchange Fellow, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), University of Oxford)
  • Barbara Gabrys: Academic Visitor, Department of Materials, University of Oxford
  • Adam Hart-Davis: photographer, writer, and broadcaster
  • Jaz Hill-Valler: DPhil student, Department of Physics, University of Oxford
  • Leanne Hodson: Associate Professor of Diabetes and Metabolism, Radcliffe Department of Medicine, University of Oxford
  • Dan Holloway: Head of Administration and Finance, Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, University of Oxford; founder of Mycelium
  • Ritchie Robertson: Taylor Professor of the German Language and Literature, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford; Fellow of The Queen’s College, Oxford.
  • Chris Wickham: Chichele Professor of Medieval History (emeritus); Emeritus Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford

We thank all our contributors for talking so openly about their experiences and what they have learned from them.

Other resources

If you are one of the many researchers who are finding the academic environment especially stressful at the moment, there are some useful tips on developing resilience on the Oxbridge Early Career Researcher blog that may help you to put things in perspective.

At times of uncertainty in their own work or in the wider environment, many researchers respond by putting off dealing with their bigger challenges and instead focus on smaller, peripheral tasks which can be more easily accomplished – clearing your email inbox or sorting your electronic filing system, for example.

While these tasks may well need doing, using this as a way of deferring the time when you will have to tackle the bigger issues, though understandable, can become a habit. A new podcast on the Oxbridge Early Career Researcher blog has excellent tips for researchers who are finding that current circumstances have created the perfect conditions for procrastination to set in: do have a listen if you feel that this describes you.

If it feels as though your whole world is out of kilter, taking time to step back and evaluate how you prioritise the amount of time and attention that you give to work and all the other elements of your life is a worthwhile exercise.

The podcast series ‘The Happiness Lab’ by psychology professor Dr Laurie Santos of Yale University is based on the latest research into human cognition and the cognitive biases that impede better choices. Try listening to the episode on Working your Way to Happiness (Season 2 episode 4), though all the episodes give useful insights into how we can make small changes to improve our levels of happiness.

Talking to others about the difficulties that you’re experiencing can be a good first step to dealing with them. However, whether you’re new to Oxford or you’ve been here for a long time, finding someone to talk to about your struggles with work and your sense of wellbeing can be a challenge – often we worry that revealing these thoughts and feelings to our friends and family will make them think less of us.

  • The new Oxford initiative OU Coffee Ambassadors responds to this challenge by offering free opportunities for a confidential conversation over coffee with trained peers who provide a listening ear and may be able to signpost you to other resources that you weren’t aware of.
  • The Thriving Researcher blog by Dr Eleanor Pritchard was set up to create a space for researchers to discuss shared experiences on learning how to work and thrive in the face of the challenges within an academic life that can feel overwhelming and isolating.
Do you need more help?

New to Oxford?

Join the Oxford Research Staff Society (OxRSS) to meet other researchers, join in on social activities in and around the city, and ensure your voice is heard in university decision-making.

Your partner or family will find a warm welcome at Oxford’s Newcomers Club, an organisation, run by volunteers and hosting regular gatherings. The club’s aim is to help those accompanying newly-arrived visiting scholars, graduate students or newly-appointed academic and administrative members of the University to settle in and to give them the opportunity to meet people in Oxford

Facing redundancy?

Your first line of advice and support is the staff-member in your department responsible for Human Resources (HR). If you are unsure who this is, or want advice from someone with a wider perspective, we recommend talking to the HR team in your Division. More details on how to get advice plus University policies and procedures are on the OU Personnel Services site.

Need more support?

The Counselling Service is here to help all Oxford students gain understanding and insight into any difficulties they may be experiencing, to develop emotional resilience and put into effect real change, enabling the fulfilment of academic and personal potential. The Service offers free and confidential support, but it is not an emergency service.

Research staff members can call on the support of the Occupational Health Service (OHS) for support and counselling work-attributable health issues impacting performance and wellbeing at work. This team comprises specialist clinical staff that provide independent advice to employers and employees concerning the relationship between health and work, and the effects one has on the other. The OHS web pages also contain links to a wide range of wellbeing and mental health resources.

This information was last updated on 29 May 2020.
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Recent blogs about Responding to change or setbacks

Recruitment opportunities for graduating BME students

Posted on behalf of Adam Hewitt, BA Philosophy and Theology, Harris Manchester College. Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 08/07/2020.

In the wake of racial injustices being exposed yet again in the American police force, the Black Lives Matter movement has seen a global resurgence. The goal of the movement is to end racism, both in institutions and in wider society. Activists wish to see a society in which Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people do not fear the organisations designed to protect them, and that they are provided with the same opportunities afforded to other members of society. Black Lives Matter “work[s] vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people.”

Recruiters that respect these goals and wish to do their part in creating a more egalitarian society must take positive action to diversify their workforce. This is not only a benefit to the wider society, but also a direct benefit to productivity. A study in the journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology shows that diversifying existing groups improves performance. Furthermore, it isn’t only because the new individual adds a new perspective, they also stimulate the existing members of the group to perform better cognitively, adding new perspectives to the existing work force.

The governmental Equality Act of 2010 recognises the need for positive action in recruitment and allows for this practice. Recruiters are allowed to run employment schemes that only accept applicants deemed to be members of a disadvantaged community. BME students fall into this category.

Running BME-focused recruitment pathways is a method that employers use to diversify their workforce. The amount of these pathways in the employment landscape had been steadily increasing over the last few years, added in part by large trendsetters such as the BBC establishing a five-year Diversity and Inclusion strategy in 2016. However, there is a concern that these schemes might start to dwindle after lockdown, especially if the country heads into a recession. It is very likely that the COVID-19 lockdown will shrink the entire recruitment landscape; The Institute for Student Employers has reported that 27% of companies have said that they will be recruiting fewer graduates as a result of COVID-19.

So, I’ve taken a look at a few BME recruitment schemes in order to rekindle their visibility for students concerned about their employment opportunities post-COVID. As well as specific recruitment schemes, I have also included two organisations that aim to provide more generalised support to BME students and graduates.

BME recruitment schemes

The Civil Service Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP)

You may have already heard of the Civil Service Fast Stream, the UK Government’s recruitment scheme designed to get fresh graduates into mid-tier roles straight out of university. Most Fast Stream jobs pay at least £27,000 in their first year, with promotion opportunities often within three years, so as you can guess, it’s a very popular scheme. The SDIP is the Fast Stream’s ‘primer’ internship. It runs over the summer and is open to BME students, those from a low socio-economic background, and disabled students.

Successful applicants will spend a minimum of six weeks working in a department of their choice, gaining experience in civil management that will set them up for a competitive Fast Stream application. If a participant in the SDIP receives a good report from their supervisor, they are ‘fast-tracked’ through the Fast Stream testing process and are automatically admitted to the interview stage.

Find out more about The Civil Service Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP)

Diversity Access Scheme – The Law Society

Every year, The Law Society awards scholarships to 10 students wanting to undertake a Legal Practice Course (LPC). This scheme focuses on candidates from low socio-economic backgrounds. It also takes into account candidates coming from families with no history of FE, and people fleeing violent and oppressive regimes.

Successful applicants will be provided with a bursary to cover the cost of their LPC. The scholarship also provides a professional mentor and work experience in a legal sector of their choice.

Find out more about The Law Society’s Diversity Access Scheme

The Harper-Collins BAME Traineeship

Harper-Collins is one of the world’s biggest publishing brands. In 2016 they launched their traineeship with the goal of recruiting BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) individuals, and don’t require candidates to hold a degree in order to apply.

Successful applicants are placed on a 12-month rotational employment at the company’s office in London. This allows applicants to gain experience in multiple areas of publishing such as sales, editorial, and production. The position also comes with a training allowance of around £23,000 annually.

Find out more about The BAME Traineeship at Harper-Collins

This is just a sample of the diversity initiatives offered on the job market currently. Graduates will need to conduct their own research in order to find the schemes that best suit their aspirations. However, the three mentioned here are provided from reputable organisations and run on an annually basis, so current 1st and 2nd years can be fairly certain that they will be accepting applicants upon graduation.

BME recruitment support

SEO London

The Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) is an organisation providing support to BME students and those from a low socio-economic background who wish to pursue a career ‘in the city’. They provide support programmes for entry into five sectors; Consulting, Corporate Law, Business Technology, Engineering, and Investment Banking. Also, their HerCapital programme is designed to skill women for leadership roles in the corporate and financial sectors. SEO provides CV, interview, and psychometric test coaching as well as technical training and advice on market awareness.

Their executive staff and directing board are composed of a majority BME cohort with a significant proportion of them being alumni of an SEO programme themselves.

Find out more about SEO London

Creative Access

Creative Access hosts a platform advertising multiple recruitment schemes open to BME graduates interested in a career in the creative industries. Candidates make an account and receive tailored job offers based on their interests they list in their application. They report an 87% employment offer rate after applicants completed one of their advertised internships.

They partner with a large number with big-brand employers like Apple, the BBC, and the Financial Times. Harper-Collins was the first publisher to partner with them in 2011 and have gone on to advertise their BME traineeship through the site. Another benefit of the large pool of employment opportunities they have listed is the potential to be employed in areas of England outside of London, as well as remote work placements.

Find out more about Creative Access

These lists are by no means exhaustive and are provided as a useful starting position for graduates and soon-to-be graduates to begin exploring the opportunities currently offered. The organisations listed under recruitment support are a great next step for students curious about diversity recruitment schemes. Both websites have detailed resource lists and information for those wanting to find out more about BME recruitment schemes.

Article written for the Careers Service by Adam Hewitt, BA Philosophy and Theology, Harris Manchester College

Pitching research effectively via video calling

Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 30/06/2020.

Tuesday 14 July, 14:00-15:00 (40 places)

Book your place on CareerConnect >>

This workshop is designed to help Oxford University researchers improve their skill at pitching their research. It covers unique issues of communicating via video conferencing, with a particular focus on key problem areas when compared with conventional conversation: loss of personality, loss of clarity, and increased distractions. Solutions will then be offered across three areas: how to frame one’s picture, how to use one’s body, and how to use one’s voice. There will be an opportunity to practice these skills in the workshop. The workshop will provide a framework of awareness and tools through which attendees can prepare for their pitch practice appointments.

Workshop attendees will have an opportunity to book a 15 minute 1 to 1 appointment on Friday 17th July (2 – 5:30) where they can practice their thesis pitch and receive feedback. Places are limited. Booking will be available after the workshop and will be on a first come first served basis.

The workshop is open to current Oxford DPhil students and researchers only.

Careers events in 8th and 9th week of Trinity

Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 09/06/2020.

We have some exciting events lined up for the end of Trinity, in weeks 8 and 9. Click on the links to find out more about each one and to secure your place. Don’t forget to check CareerConnect regularly for all upcoming events, to book appointments, and find jobs and internships.

8th Week

If you are thinking about a career in banking or investment but not sure how it all works, whether it would suit you, what roles are available, or how to get a job in this industry, book a place on this session.

By the end of this virtual workshop you will have thought about the objectives of an interview, know what to expect and how to prepare for a variety of different interviews. You will have experienced some aspects of interviewing and being interviewed to enable you to develop your preparation and performance skills.

The legal sector is large and full of variety so for this session the main focus will be on understanding the roles of a barrister and a solicitor, how to become qualified and find a job and how to get started. If you have been considering a possible career in law but are not sure where to start, then join this event.

This session aims to provide a light-touch overview of key similarities/differences between some of the key destination countries, a set of points to consider when deciding whether to follow opportunities overseas, and signposting to the best resources to help you make your decisions.

How can interns make an impact? How can I impress my employer? What are the best ways to up-skill through an internship? How can I use an internship to create an impressive CV and convey experience in future applications?

You are invited to join our upcoming online event to find out the answers to these questions, and to explore ways in which you can maximise the opportunities on offer through a placement.

This informal session will give you some tools to help find work experience opportunities, without the accompanying stress. We will also focus on how you can use the time to develop employability skills beyond those acquired in your degree.

The autumn is the main period when graduate recruiters open up and have deadlines for their graduate and often internship programmes. We will provide ideas on how best to use June through September to give yourself the best chance you can, to secure the internship and graduate opportunities that you want.

Come along to find out how to navigate opportunities in the creative industries, get a clearer idea of how the sector has been impacted by COVID-19, and what you can do to develop your skills and experience during this time.

Careers Adviser Julia Sadler will be covering all the basics at this introductory session to publishing to help you figure out your next steps and if publishing is right for you.

Julia joined the Careers Service in 2018 after working in publishing for 20 years. She’ll cover the roles available (there’s more to publishing than editorial), the skills needed and how to get a job in this industry (hint: graduate schemes are not the most common route in)

In this session, we will cover career planning, how to identify and move towards your dream job, practical job-searching strategies, how to market yourself effectively (through effective CVs, cover letters and applications) and how to prepare for interviews.

You will also find out how the Careers Service can help you now and in the future. In this live event we will answer all of your questions.

And, don’t forget to follow us on Facebook for more careers events updates >>

9th Week

This event is particularly for scientists who are interested in research within the pharma/biotech industry. We have guest scientists from Adaptimmune (local biotech company) who will be speaking about what it’s like to work in research and there will be plenty of opportunities to ask questions.

Book a place on this online lunchtime skills session and find out tips, tricks, benefits and risks of using social media in your job search and beyond.

This session will cover job search strategies, document optimisation, networking and interview technique but we will also be exploring ideas and case studies on how to get back into the market after a break, and freshen up your skills and CV.

 Advice appointments available

You can book an advice appointment with our careers advisers for objective, confidential careers guidance based on your individual needs. Book an appointment on CareerConnect >>

If you are currently in a different time zone and the available appointment times are unsuitable, please contact us on

Top tips from a recruiter for making the most of lockdown

Posted on behalf of Charlie King, Graduate Recruitment Specialist at A&O. Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 09/06/2020.

In a time where we are limited in what we can do and where we can go, it’s easy to find our minds drifting to a place where we feel we cannot achieve what we set out to this year. However, despite the unsettling climate of the world right now, we are all in this together and there are an abundance of opportunities to make the most of. I wanted to share with you 3 of my top tips for making the most of your time in lockdown and to reassure you that you are not at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for graduate roles as you prepare for application windows to open.

1. Find a mentor

Building connections with people who inspire you or who have experience in the industry you’re interested in is invaluable. Whether it’s having conversations about how they got to where they are in their career today, or whether it’s getting insight into an industry or practice area to enhance your knowledge, this is a fantastic way to learn and demonstrate your commitment to learning and developing yourself to a future employer. Talk to your Lecturers, take to LinkedIn, talk to your careers services, attend virtual networking events and don’t be afraid to ask someone if they can help you. At A&O more specifically, Justin Farrance an A&O trainee, has recently set up the GROW MENTORING platform as he identified the need to provide more mentoring opportunities during these times. 

2. Volunteering and work experience

When I speak to students on campus, a common theme is that students undersell their work experience. Of course there is great value in internships, programmes and work experience opportunities offered by graduate employers, however there is also great value in other activities if you find you’re unable to undergo an internship. Throughout university term time, I worked in my university bar at the same time as working towards my studies. In the holidays, I would go home and continue with my part-time job in a local restaurant because I needed to prioritise having a reliable income. I never managed to secure an internship, but what I did gain is a huge amount of confidence in my abilities to communicate with customers, demonstrate my time management skills through balancing a full-time degree and part time work and I could evidence my strong work ethic.

During lockdown, there are many ways we can demonstrate our work ethic and commitment to supporting the many industries that need our help. One way which I have been helping during lockdown, is to sign up as an NHS Responder Volunteer. Checking in with local vulnerable people in my area over the phone to make sure they are coping at this time. Alongside signing up to employer webinars and workshops, my key message is to not forget there are fantastic opportunities to still volunteer, help the community and at the same time demonstrate your working ethic to future employers.

3. Virtual programmes and careers events

It’s never been easier to fit in so many opportunities to upskill yourself when you can do so from the comfort of your own home. Over the next few months, employers will be releasing their virtual event schedules and will be participating in sessions and events that will be advertised by your Careers Service. Without the need to travel, this means you will have a wealth of opportunity available to you and a better chance than ever to attend more sessions. In times where you have had to limit the number of sessions you attend to one industry, why not use this opportunity to gain a wider breadth of knowledge e.g. attending a banking seminar in addition to a legal seminar. My advice would be to focus on “quality not quantity” and really be sure of what you want to get out of these sessions to keep your focus and avoid feeling overwhelmed by what will be an influx of virtual offerings.

I wish you all the very best of luck and welcome you to reach out to me with any questions you have at

Charlie King, Graduate Recruitment Specialist at A&O

International roles available with SES

Posted on behalf of SES. Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 03/06/2020.

SES delivers high-quality connectivity solutions anywhere on land, at sea or in the air, and is a trusted partner to the world’s leading telecommunications companies, mobile network operators, governments, connectivity and cloud service providers, broadcasters, video platform operators and content owners. SES’s video network carries over 8,300 channels and has an unparalleled reach of 367 million households.

As a company dedicated to more people with more content across the globe, we believe our story should reflect those of the millions we serve. We are committed to increasing the number of employees from underrepresented groups and nurturing an inclusive company culture to create a fair, innovative and supporting working environment where people can flourish – empowering all SESers to write their stories and to contribute to the collective success of a truly global team. Diversity means respecting every individual’s story. Inclusion means writing one together. SES values the importance of both.

Find out more about careers with SES >>

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