Making your DPhil Count | The Careers Service Making your DPhil Count – Oxford University Careers Service
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An Oxford DPhil (PhD) can be a fantastic boost to your career:

“Employers value doctoral graduates’ deep specialist subject knowledge, excellent research and analytical skills, their capacity for critical thinking, as well as their ability to bring fresh perspectives to problems or the organisation” (CFE Research, 2014, The Impact of Doctoral Careers: Summary)

Yet you will need to be smart and strategic in how you use your time at Oxford, simply because more people are doing PhDs then ever before.Many DPhil students say they wished they’d thought about their career possibilities in the first or second year of their programme when they had more time to be flexible and try new activities.

We are aware that doing a DPhil is an intense, time-consuming experience. Our resources flagged in these pages, workshops and appointments are designed to help you focus some energy on the next stage and prepare for it confidently.

Our top tips: Pay active attention to your career as soon as possible, talk to your supervisor  as well as others (postdocs included!) and consider routes beyond academia even if you currently favour an academic pathway.

Knowing yourself and your strengths

Building a career following your doctorate relies on knowing what you can offer and articulating this effectively. Let’s learn from doctoral graduates in the workplace:

  • 91% rated their skills and competencies as a critical factor in gaining their current position, with 46% saying these were a formal requirement and 45% that they were important factors.
  • 76% stated that having relevant work experience was either a formal requirement (28%) or an important element (48%) of their recruitment. (Vitae 2013, What do researchers do?)

To stand out and progress in any work sector (including academia) you’re likely to need extra skills and/or experience. Knowing where the key gaps lie and how to fill them relies on a first step – to identify your strengths and relate these to the needs of organisations in the career sectors you are interested in, in other words boosting your employability for academia or beyond.

Talking about the skills you would like to develop in your annual Training Needs Assessment will help your supervisor support you in making wise and timely choices. If you feel you would like more or different support than your supervisor is able to give, talk to other experienced members of your department, a Senior Tutor in your college or a Careers Adviser.

Raising your profile

Work on your publications plan

Publications remain a major aspect of your academic profile and your employability in many  academic roles. Talk to your supervisor and other senior faculty or postdocs about when and where to start publishing; the advice here differs by field and department.

Get some Teaching Experience or Insights

Teaching experience is helpful for career paths in academia or education more generally, yet can be hard to come by in Oxford, especially in some departments or faculties owing to the college-hosted tutoring system. There are also free courses to give you insight and early training in teaching techniques run by Oxford’s Centre for Teaching and Learning. Our advice is to discuss opportunities with your supervisor who will  need to approve your teaching activities in compliance with University policies.

Knowledge Exchange and Public Engagement activities

25% of the score given to University departments in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework assessment will be based on demonstrable research impact. Universities wish to hire candidates who are motivated and skilled in this area.

Impact-related activities may be built into a doctoral research project for some students; others can get experience by volunteering to help departmental colleagues with projects or events. Talk to your supervisor or Director of Graduate Studies about opportunities for getting involved in departmental activities, and keep a look out for Division or University-wide public-engagement events such as ‘Live Fridays’.

Considering ways to broaden the impact of your own research beyond scholarship is also wise, perhaps using case studies from Oxford as inspiration or guidance from James Cunningham’s (2014) booklet ‘Positioning for Impact on Your Scientific Journey: Reflection and Action Book’ .

Get experience working on funding applications

Anyone planning an academic future needs to show they understand the world of funding. You can do this by listing any contribution you have made to drafting a large grant proposal or by listing your own applications to smaller pots of money, such as travel grants, funding to organise a conference, money towards your fieldwork expenses etc.

Ask your supervisor about opportunities to bid for funding for your research or a conference, or to contribute to larger applications being prepared in your department.

Internships

Internships are not just for undergraduates! On the contrary, internships are increasingly used by DPhil and masters students to gain valuable insight into a new sector, widen professional networks, investigate potential research collaborations and generate tangible experience to add to the CV.

Finding the right internship for you

Our popular and growing programme of micro-internships (2-5 day placements in 9th week each term) are a top favourite with DPhil students because they are short, local and easily fitted around study commitments or fieldwork. At the same time, many DPhil students find enormous value in a summer internship (4-12 weeks, typically during the Long Vac) because they can apply their research skills, forge strong relationships with the host organisation and even develop joint projects or papers. Our internships are available in a wide range of public sector, voluntary and commercial organisations in Oxford, across the UK and (for the summer programme) internationally. See what others have done here.

All current graduate students are eligible to apply for any of the internships offered through the Careers Service. Summer internships are advertised from the beginning of Hilary term; micro-internships are advertised from 0th week of each term. For more details and to sign up for email alerts, see our Micro-internships and Summer Internships pages.

Top Tip: When applying for a Careers Service internship, be bold about stating what skills and added extras that you can offer (for example, your ability to work independently, or flexibility over dates) because these may make you more attractive to the host organisation than most undergraduates applying for the position. You can get advice on your application from members of the Internship Team during the relevant application period. See the events pages on CareerConnect or contact the team on internships@careers.ox.ac.uk

Doctoral internship programmes

Some DPhil students who are required to take an internship as part of a funded doctoral study programme. Support and guidance about how to secure a placement and funding are provided by the relevant academic Division. Please ask your supervisor for more details.

Create your own internship

If you are keen to find an internship but cannot find an advertised role that meets your brief, consider organising your own, bespoke internship. See our guidance on how to do this, and consider booking an appointment with a Careers Adviser or member of the Internship team to help you focus on practical options and a workable strategy.

Internships and Intellectual Property (IP)

Some employers may request a signed agreement from the University of Oxford assigning the ownership of any IP generated during the course of your placement to the employer. If such an agreement is in place, you may wish to consider the following:

  • The research project at the University and your work at the employer must not be mingled. You must not take outputs or other “background” technology from the labs in Oxford and use them in the employer’s work or vice versa.
  • You can use your knowledge and expertise, that is, your “know-how.”
  • There must not be any disclosure of information from the University which is not already in the public domain. You cannot talk about your unpublished results or those of others from within the department / across the University. This will also apply vice-versa.
  • In addition, you must not work on your Oxford project during the course of the internship. The terms of such an agreement state that any IP created in the internship period shall belong to the employer. This even applies to IP created in your “own time” away from the company’s premises but during the period of the internship.
Development during your Oxford DPhil

Each of the university’s Divisions offers a wide range of training courses covering both academic and professional skills. Your supervisor can recommend which courses may be most useful to you. Check here for programmes run by each Division, plus other providers such as Oxford’s People and Organisation Development. Please note that many Division-run training opportunities are open to research students from other Divisions, though the structure and content is likely to be geared to the needs of researchers in the host Division.

The Researcher Strategy Consultancy run by the Careers Service is an excellent, hands-on opportunity for DPhils to work in teams with postdocs and RAs from all disciplines. Participant rate this programme very highly in comparison to classroom-based training…

Through direct work on genuine strategic problems posed by the client organisation, participants polish their skills in leadership, communication, creativity and commercial awareness – all of which can be harder to progress within core academic training, yet are critical for analytical or policy roles in the public and private sector.

The general Researcher Strategy Consultancy runs twice a year (starting September and March), while the specific Researcher Strategy Consultancy – Health and Life Sciences runs once a year, starting in December.

External resources

Career Management for Early Career Academic Researchers: an online course offered periodically for early career researchers of all disciplines.

Imagine PhD: a free online career exploration and planning tool for PhD students and alumni in the humanities and social sciences (though master’s and PhDs in all disciplines will find it useful).

MyIDP a free, web-based career-planning tool tailored to meet the needs of PhD students and postdocs in the sciences.

An Academic Career: guidance and tips for exploring whether an academic career is right for you – and how to get started if it is – from the University of Manchester.

The Professor is In: very useful insights into building an academic career in the USA.

Yale University’s Office of Career Strategy gives some helpful pointers towards the many paths open to people with PhDs.

This information was last updated on 13 December 2019.
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