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 re-configured.

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 post-doc, or similar mid-career transitions. It contains case studies and a framework to evaluate your experiences when trying out new directions. Reference copies are available in the Careers Service resource room.

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.

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.

Give us your views on our sense of failure resources
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). 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.

This information was last updated on 17 September 2018.
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Recent blogs about Responding to change or setbacks

OXFO L.E.V8 Accelerator

Posted on behalf of Oxford Foundry. Blogged by Mike Moss on 20/09/2019.

OXFO L.E.V8 (Elevate) at the Oxford Foundry is the University of Oxford’s most diverse accelerator. The programme takes in up to 12 high potential ventures a year and is designed to support and nurture early-stage start-up teams affiliated to the university.

Oxford students, staff and alumni can get six months free support to build their venture. This includes mentorship, masterclasses, and access to the Foundry’s global network of investors and partners including Biz Stone, Cofounder of Twitter and Medium, Jenny Tooth OBE, UK Business Angels Association, Professor Bill Aulet, MIT, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, and Robin Saunders, Managing Partner at Clearbrook Capital.

Ventures also get support to build a team – many ventures have met their cofounders through the Foundry, along with leadership and resilience skills support, financial, business, pitching, product-market fit, customer development and legal advice.

To date, the Foundry has supported 19 start-ups who have raised £7m, created 70 jobs and are having a global impact across sectors including retail, medtech, energy, publishing, fintech and more.

The accelerator is based in our Oxford Foundry building on Hythe Bridge street and runs from 18 November 2019 to May 2020.

“The Foundry has accelerated our growth by providing a space devoted to entrepreneurship, giving us access to people with diverse talents and expertise, and to its network of investors. It has been incredible. Such growth wouldn’t have been possible without the Foundry. We are now focused on raising capital and sales and marketing. We want to sign ten new clients by the end of the year.” Jason Lacombe, CEO, Veratrak.

We welcome solo founders and teams and it’s a fantastic chance to be part of a supportive and expert community.  The programme is equity-free.

Apply online on the Oxford Foundry website. Deadline: 30 September 2019.

International Mathematical Olympiad: Exclusive talk and weekly cash prize competitions

Posted on behalf of G-Research. Blogged by Hugh Nicholson-Lailey on 28/06/2019.

G-Research, a leading quantitative research and technology company and long-standing Oxford recruiter is sponsoring the International Mathematical Olympiad 2019.

Weekly Competitions

To celebrate this, they are launching a weekly mathematical challenge in the style of IMO problems – with a cash prize of £1,000 each week for the first person to submit the correct answer. A ‘warm-up’ taster challenge will go live on Monday 1 July, and the first cash prize challenge will go live at midday Monday 8 July. You will find the puzzles here >>

Exclusive talk on Combinatorics: Monday 22 July, from 18:00

Professor Po-Shen Loh (Carnegie Mellon University), national coach of the USA International Mathematical Olympiad team national coach of the USA International Mathematical Olympiad team will give a talk on combinatorics in London on 22 July.

When Bare Hands Fail: An Interactive Talk on Combinatorics with Po-Shen Loh,

Where: The Royal College of Physicians, 11 Saint Andrews Place Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4LE
When: Monday 22 July, from 18:00
Reserve your place: please email Alex.Whitlcok@gresearch.co.uk – places are limited and first come, first served so register ASAP to avoid missing out!

This interactive lecture will use one of the most difficult problems from a recent USA Mathematical Olympiad exam to illustrate the connections between modern combinatorial problems and theorems and techniques from other branches of mathematics, such as algebra, probability, and even topology.

Free event, and travel to and from the event will be reimbursed – please remember to bring your receipt with you on the day.

Bolstering your core employability skills – for Researchers

Blogged by Rebecca Ehata on 21/05/2019.

Do you know which skills employers are looking for – and which of these you already have? Are you looking for tips on how best to communicate your skills to employers?

Come to our workshop for DPhil students and research staff, Bolstering your Core Employability Skills for Researchers, to learn what core employability skills are, how to identify your current skills set, and how to demonstrate these in the job application process.

When: 4 June, 13:00-16:00
Where: Seminar Room B, St Cross Building
Book your place here.

Researchers in Schools programme: applications close 27 May!

Posted on behalf of Researchers in Schools. Blogged by Rebecca Ehata on 08/05/2019.

In the UK today, there is an entrenched link between household income and educational success. Pupils from low-income backgrounds are far less likely than their wealthier peers to attain five good GCSE grades, progress to higher education or have a fulfilling career.

The Researchers in Schools programme tackles this by mobilising the research community to become outstanding classroom teachers, as well as champions of evidence-based practice and higher education.

We offer PhD researchers a unique, generously-funded route into teaching tailored to your abilities, knowledge and experience. Through our programme, you’ll develop the skills to become a highly-effective classroom teacher, helping support pupils, regardless of background, to excel and progress to higher education.

  • Complete our Research Leader in Education Award, a fully-funded, three-year programme of professional development designed around the PhD skill set;
  • Create and deliver Uni Pathways, a university-access intervention based on your PhD, aimed at increasing target pupils’ chances of attending a highly-selective university;
  • Take one day of protected time each week to work towards the RLE and Uni Pathways;
  • Receive honorary academic status at a research-intensive university, providing access to research facilities and a network of academic support;
  • Benefit from competitive financial support, including generous funding options for your training year.

For more information and to apply, visit www.researchersinschools.org. Applications close 27 May 2019 so please submit your application as soon as possible!

May is a month of career development opportunities…

Blogged by Rachel Bray on 02/05/2019.

This term is already flying along… Take some time out of your research to reflect on your career development, and make some easily-actionable plans.

Join us for an updated Career Management workshop for DPhil students and research staff in one of three locations during 4th week:

  • Tuesday 21 May, 10:00 – 12:30 (followed by lunch), St Luke’s Chapel, Radcliffe Obs Quarter. Register here.
  • Wednesday 22 May, 10:30 – 14:00 (lunch provided), Gottmann Room, School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford, OX1 3QY. Register here.
  • Friday 24 May, 10:00-12:00, Seminar Room A, English Faculty (St Cross Building). Register here.

This interactive workshop – piloted last week and received excellent feedback – will enable you to to step back, consider future possible career paths, and identify what you have to offer to employers within, or beyond, academia.

Topics will include job satisfaction, your values, career motivations and transferable skills. Our focus will be on making the most of what you already have, opportunities to boost any core employability skills during your time at Oxford and how to articulate these to others, whether in person or in applications. We will also share  top tips on effective, mutually-rewarding networking

You will be encouraged to draw your insights together to begin a realistic personal career plan and to consider your next steps.

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