What’s next for you?

Remember what you have to offer and be encouraged. As a researcher, you have already proved that you are a highly adaptive, life-long learner with advanced analytical skills. These qualities are valued in all evolving employment landscapes. You will no doubt have further adaptable skills and competencies to offer, some of which may not be recognised in your current academic setting or circles. Keep reading our pages for ideas on how to demonstrate, or grow, your skills.

Invest time in your development. Identifying a next step that is right for you takes work, yet this 'work' can be fun and highly rewarding if you give it time and care. Remember that you will be more confident in your application and therefore attractive to employers once you have analysed how your particular characteristics, skills and talents match their aims and values (including within academia!)

Expand your horizons – Research at Oxford is typically a very focused activity, meaning that many people don't see the range of options available even in this city. Learn how Oxford's researchers engage beyond the University in ways that bolster their career and how to get relevant support through Research Professional (free to all at Oxford) and by subscribing to Oxford's Research Staff News. And read the section 'exploring beyond academia' below.

Find support that works for you!

  • see Vitae's resources for researchers during/post PhD; Oxford's membership is for you!
  • try a PhD career planning and exploration tool flagged under 'Looking for ideas?' below,
  • come to a workshop tailored to Oxford's early career researchers, or make an appointment with a specialist careers adviser,
  • find out whether your peers would also like more careers-related insight and ask your department to host a Careers Talk. Simple to organise, these work best when research staff  and/or students set the agenda. Our tips are based on experience across the University.

Do whatever feels most practical to help you become more active in your career development.

And a quick plea: Try letting go of the common way of thinking about researcher career progression as either ‘staying in academia’ OR ‘moving beyond academia’. A much healthier  perspective is one that enables you to hold both in mind as possible future scenarios because you will be stronger in your approach to either as a next step. And, the opportunities to move between academia and other sectors are clear in certain fields and growing in many more. See Manchester University's top tips on returning to academia.

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The early stages of an academic career can be exciting, uncertain and daunting, all at the same time. Our top tip is to find out what is needed to progress in your subject area as soon as possible, then decide how to use your time in Oxford to boost your chances of getting more senior, independent roles.

Remember, careers in academia are no longer as linear or predictable as they once were, making it all the more important to think creatively and investigate the diverse opportunities available in universities around the world.

We suggest you ask yourself some questions to check whether you are working on the basis of assumptions, or evidence:

Will I thrive in academia?

For all its celebration of freedom, creativity and innovation, academia has a strong work culture in the sense of traditions, expectations and systems for how things are done. Some of this can feel restrictive or repressive, particularly in the early to mid career stage - a fact that is increasingly recognised by initiatives to improve academic research culture (e.g. by Vitae, and the Royal Society). But such change takes time, probably longer than you are prepared to wait to decide  your next steps...

So, try to gauge how happy you think you could be in academic roles in the near future (likely these will be short-term contracts) and if you manage to secure a more permanent position. It can help to separate what it is you love about research from the things you enjoy or struggle with in academia. Dig a bit deeper into this question using the excellent tips and videos from Manchester University for PhD students, for Masters/RAs and for postdoctoral research or teaching staff.

Do I know enough about the range of jobs I could do?

Do I understand the pathways available in my discipline and in the region I wish to work?

  • The routes to academic progression vary widely between subject areas. Check you have a full picture by browsing Manchester's discipline-based information and talking to others in your department beyond your immediate colleagues.
  • Some countries have highly structured systems for academic progression (e.g. Germany, the US), along with an annual hiring process made up of specific steps beginning up to a year before the role is expected to begin. Check your facts via sites listed in the external resources list in our page on Academia and Higher Education.

Am I fully aware of what people hiring for these roles look for in a candidate?

  • check your sense of what it takes to be competitive and strategic
  • get practical tips on thriving in academia from our Early Career Researchers blog - from a top-class application to deciphering the 'subtext' of interview questions...
  • read research on the contexts in which some progress while others struggle, for example:
    • Scaling the Ivory Tower: Merit and its limits in academic careers (in USA)  (2018)
    • Mid-career academic women’s reluctance to overtly pursue prestige (2018)
    • The value given to competencies not made explicit in job descriptions (2014) such as
      • Vision: knowing what your contribution to knowledge will be in 20 years
      • Management and Leadership in research teams, funding bids etc
      • Strategy: pro-active scanning and managing both personal horizons and those of your research group or department.
      • Boundary-Spanning: being able to interact across sectors, including through public engagement and impact work

Do I know how to prepare myself to move forward?

Am I prepared for the likely emotional challenges ahead?

Career development experts often witness the high emotional costs of competing in the academic job market or even anticipating next steps. These can include anxiety, fear, loss of confidence or joy in their work, imposter syndrome,strain on relationships and depression. It is very important to gather a support team around you and practice self-care. See our tips in our page for researchers titled Responding to Change or Setbacks.

Gaining independence as a researcher

A framework can help you assess and plan your professional development. We suggest printing out the full version of Vitae's Researcher Development Framework (RDF). Because it shows the wide-ranging skills valued in academia, the RDF can look overwhelming. We recommend that you:

  • identify key skills in your academic area on the circle diagram (consult your peers if in doubt),
  • look at the table below to see what level of each skill is expected for your next step between completing a PhD and becoming independent
  • work out which skills you are already developing (and have evidence for); identify any gaps
  • plan how to fill gaps in your study/working role or via training; discuss these with your supervisor, PI and/or a Careers Adviser, and plan your time accordingly.

Remember: postdocs and all research staff are encouraged to take dedicated time for professional development of their choosing within their contracted time according to University policy.

You don’t have to use your annual leave, and we advise planning development time into your year.

Current policy states up to 5 days for those working in departments within the Medical Sciences Division and up to 10 days for those within MPLS. Social sciences and Humanities are similarly supportive and have not set specific allocations. If you are unsure how to approach this with your PI, seek advice from your departmental administrator or divisional HR manager.

It’s up to you to choose how best to use this time – conferences can be great for networking but there’s much more out there. See our Boosting Your Employability page for ideas

Preparing to teach

A track record of teaching experience is required for lectureships and other teaching roles.

Finding opportunities to gain experience at Oxford is easier in some departments than others. Wherever you are, take the initiative: Let senior colleagues know your availability and what you can offer.

It can be frustrating that Oxford’s tutorial approach offers relatively few openings to get involved in teaching undergraduates. Remember that the Oxford system is highly unusual, and that the vast majority of universities look for experience in delivering lectures to large numbers of students and running weekly seminars. You can get gain relevant experience by giving talks, facilitating or contributing to seminars in your department, local schools, youth groups or adult education settings. If you are a postdoc with some experience, consider taking the PGCert qualification, as outlined below.

Oxford-trained researchers have secured lectureships having done some part-time teaching in another nearby university. Keep an eye out for short-term or part-time positions, and reach out to your equivalent departments in Warwick, Oxford Brookes, Reading, Bath, one of the London group or even the Open University, to offer a module related to your specialisms.

Teaching qualifications also help. The Oxford Centre for Teaching and Learning offers a range of courses and other forms of support to all DPhils and staff involved in, or keen to start, teaching. Postdocs looking to consolidate existing teaching experience are welcome to apply for a place on the one-year, part-time course to gain a Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.  The programme is designed to fit around work commitments, and actively encourages trainees to look outside Oxford to how teaching is designed and delivered elsewhere, plus ways of teaching inclusively and using technology.

Be aware that senior academics appointing new teaching staff in many UK universities will be thinking about how candidates will help them score well in the next TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework). Read up to make sure you understand what is being measured, and talk to people in departments advertising roles to identify their priorities for retaining or improving teaching quality.

More and more people are choosing to do a PhD, many with an initial plan to become an academic. Most quickly discover that the academic job market in Europe and the US has not grown at the same pace, meaning fierce competition for relatively few permanent positions.

Combining an academic role with others is increasingly common. For some, this is a short-term strategy to muster the publications or other credentials for a competitive academic application. For others, it is a career choice to achieve variety and develop expertise in different sectors. The trend is stronger in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and is growing in the Sciences.

Researchers who are foxy, seeing where their technical expertise can add value beyond the university, are often very successful in getting work as an independent consultant to organisations looking to influence policy or innovative R&D. See for example

With time and experience, these roles can be the bridge into permanent positions in organisations that rely on sound research, or the basis for straddling academia and practice through research partnerships or fellowships with an applied angle.

Look for initiatives offering short, part-time opportunities, for example ReShape Co, Oxford Strategy Group and consider joining our Researcher Strategy Consultancy skills programme as a first step.

For more insights into how combining roles can work in practice, see our pages on Freelancing and Portfolio Careers, especially the  podcasts and video of researchers who run portfolio careers, plus the related workbook to help you plan this well Portfolio Careers: How to optimise and manage them available in the 'Our resources' section of the page.

You can find further guidance and entry points via

  • Networking
  • Our contacts list for local employers who participated in the most recent OX and Start-Ups Fair: Remember; these organisations have paid to feature in the booklet because they want to receive enquiries and often especially from researchers. Ask them to suggest ways in which you can gain insights into the company or explore possible work experience opportunities.
  • Finding Work in Oxford
  • Using recruitment agencies

There are two bits of (fun) research you need to do to explore effectively.  The first is to understand yourself, and the second to understand the world of work out there.

To discover more about yourself (what is important to you, what you enjoy and are good at) try a relevant online PhD careers planning tool (listed below under Looking for Ideas?) or Oxford's new Career Weaver.

And to learn about a range of work opportunities available to you, start by looking at what others with similar backgrounds or interests have done....

Read the profiles of doctoral graduates and former research staff now working in diverse, rewarding roles on research-careers.org. You will be surprised and encouraged to see where people are now using their research skills, and what helped in their transition from academia.

LinkedIn is a vast database stretching across the globe. You can always find at least a dozen people with similar background and interests, and see where they now work, in what role and the steps they took between a PhD or postdoc and their current position.

If you now have ideas about attractive work areas, browse our relevant sector webpages to learn about different roles, entry points, any prior experience needed and job search strategies. Don't miss the podcasts of people explaining what they do and how they got there in  'our resources' on every page.

Talking to people working in any given sector will give you the best flavour of their working world, and can open opportunities to visit, do some work-shadowing or an internship to gain more insight. Make sure you hear about events and opportunities offered by employers keen to recruit from Oxford. Sign up to receive these email invitations via CareerConnect and keep an eye on our termly calendars.

For further inspiration and an understanding of what counts in career progression: read biographies of people in a range of work sectors, or listen to The Life Scientific, the Reith Lectures and even Desert Island Discs. Many invited guests did a doctorate and/or significant research at some point in their career.

Careers Conference for Researchers

Our annual Careers Conference for Researchers offers those considering career options beyond academia the chance to listen to former researchers who have moved into a wide range of roles and sectors, speak about their current jobs and their experience of making the transition. Visit the conference page to see the bios of previous speakers and information on the next conference.

Researchers can be excellent entrepreneurs – whether through their original ideas or a love of thinking creatively with others. With so much going on around the University and city to support entrepreneurial activity, keep an eye on Enterprising Oxford  to see how you can learn more. Remember, this is for everyone, not just those who may have an idea for a start-up!

There are many ways to dip your toes into a new work area that cost very little time or energy.

Our top tip: Think strategically and creatively about the overlap between your research and the interests of local or national organisations. Once you have identified these connections, you can mention these when making a speculative approach expressing your enthusiasm to learn more about their work and contribute in practical ways. For example, you might propose assisting them with short projects, designing an internship that would best suit their needs, or work-shadowing.

Internships or part-time projects are a great way to gain insight into a new field, develop your skills and strengthen your professional networks. Many lead to job offers.

  • Employers list a range of internships, (non-academic) fellowships and part-time roles on our opportunities page in CareerConnect, the majority of which are open to all researchers - whether staff or students - at Oxford.
  • If you are keen to setting up a bespoke internship, start with our tips on setting up your own internship or work experience and look out for our regular seminars on Securing an Internship as a Researcher (open to staff and students)

All research students can apply to all our summer internships and termly micro-internships . Sign up to the internships alert mailing list (via 'Keep Updated' on the internship homepage). You can book an appointment with an internship specialist for advice on your application or how to approach organisations via reception@careers.ox.ac.uk

If your DPhil is funded by a research council, ask your department about Doctoral Internships. These excellent schemes let you choose the organisation, cover all costs and give you an extension on your submission date. They are currently offered in Interdisciplinary Biosciences, Humanities and Social Science. Other research councils may offer them soon.

If you are not funded by a research council, ask your department about Knowledge Exchange or other grants that allow you to propose an experience with an external organisation related to your research or in a sector you might want to work in.

SEO Careers focuses on helping students with disabilities or from under represented and under-served communities to secure places on some of the most rewarding and competitive internship programmes in the UK. Opportunities for Black and minority ethnic (BME) students are also available through Rare Recruitment.

Get a broad perspective

Although data on post-PhD or post-postdoc transitions isn’t collected as consistently as the post-bachelor degree data, some larger-scale insights on what researchers do next are available.

  • Two Vitae reports provide a useful overview of early career researcher development. The first (2009) report analyses data collected from PhD students at UK universities on their post-PhD employment. A more recent (2016) report details the career progression of early career (postdoc) researchers.
  • The League of European Research Universities (LERU) has produced a set of Maps of academic career paths in nine European countries, including the UK. These outline the typical trajectory for researchers, the kinds of posts available at each career stage, how posts link to funding structures and points of transfer between routes and stages.

Zoom in to individual experiences

Individual accounts of how other researchers have used their training to develop fulfilling career paths may inspire career thoughts if you are currently unsure what your next role might be.

  • Research-Careers.org, developed by early career researchers in Oxford and beyond, features a growing number of profiles of researchers who have transitioned out of academia.
  • Vitae’s website contains an expansive set of researcher career profiles including academic/research as well as non-academic roles.
  • The Royal Society’s website also contains some interesting researcher profiles; including some transitions back into, as well as out of, academia.

Networks matter. We see this through our work with researchers, and the insight is backed up by an article in FEMS Microbiology Letters about PhD student and postdoc job-searching: “Making meaningful connections and building relationships can be more valuable than other job-related skills… to progress within many professions.” (Blackford, 2018)

While you are in Oxford, make the most of your opportunities to build cross-disciplinary links and get actively involved in groups where you can meet people with different experiences and perspectives. Students have ample opportunity to network through colleges, doctoral training groups and student societies. If you’re employed here, join the Oxford Research Staff Society (OxRSS) for a warm welcome, a wide variety of social and professional networking activities, and the opportunity to express your views through departmental voice reps. Most student societies are also open to early career researchers.

Signing up for divisional training events is a great way to meet others outside your direct field of study, exchange ideas about potential career moves, all in addition to strengthening your skills profile.

The university’s inter-disciplinary research centres, such as The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), the Oxford Martin School, the Global Priorities Institute or Oxford E-research Centre (and many more) provide excellent opportunities to connect with researchers beyond your discipline.

Tap into resources in your department to find out where alumni in your field now work. Ask your departmental administrator how you can get involved in alumni events and/or use the alumni database.

Join My Oxford Network for access to about 10,000 alumni willing to answer industry-specific questions and/or be a mentor.

Harness the power of LinkedIn

The search function on LinkedIn is an excellent way to identify former DPhil students and researchers whose fields of study or interest overlap with yours, see where they now work and what their current roles entail. You can use this technique for any university or institution with which you have a strong affiliation.

Having identified individuals with interesting career paths, you can then explore their employers’ websites to learn more about what those organisations do, whether you would be a good fit, and any potential opportunities. See our Networking guidance for more tips on how to do this.

Remember: Be specific with your keywords when you search because the LinkedIn database is very large. Include ‘Oxford’ (or other institution), your college or your department to pinpoint people whose training and experience correspond to yours. If you then decide to get in touch with someone whose profile you have seen, having those things in common may also increase the likelihood that you receive a response.

Take heart - you're doing the right thing in asking yourself the question 'Is an academic career path really the best for me?' It is often hard to see the many roles where researchers add value and find satisfaction when you're living in Oxford and surrounded by academics!

Yet the vast majority of researchers will review their career ambitions during their DPhil or research contract, ready to move into other sectors.

To begin reviewing your options, choose a relevant free online career exploration and planning tool. Our three recommendations are:

ImaginePhD is designed for PhD students and postdoctoral scholars in the humanities and social sciences, yet those from other disciplines can use this tool. It will help you to:

  • assess your career-related skills, interests, and values
  • explore 16 job families
  • access and save links to extensive information about job families in one convenient place
  • identify skills gaps related to different career paths of interest
  • map out next steps for career and professional development success.

MyIDP (Individual Development Plan) is designed for science graduate students and postdocs. It will help you identify career goals that are right for you and develop a step-by-step plan to reach them. MyIDP is a four-step process which includes:

  • Exercises to help you examine your skills, interests and values
  • A list of 20 scientific career paths with a prediction of which best fit your skills and interests
  • A tool for setting strategic goals, with optional reminders to keep you on track
  • Articles and resources to guide you through the process

Oxford's new Career Weaver is a web-based application to help you identify, take ownership of and clearly articulate

  • what you love
  • what you are good at
  • why you do it.

It is designed for anyone, at any stage of study or work, to take a step back and think about what matters most at this point in life. You can use the results to inform your Career Planning or bring them to an appointment with a Careers Adviser.

If you're looking for data on researcher employment, stories from researchers on their career journeys or a planning tool that maps academic research training onto career development, go to the careers section of the Vitae website.

We think these tools are great. But remember - introspection can only get you so far. It is then time to start talking to people and trying out different kinds of work, whether through a placement, internship volunteering, or simply asking someone if you can work-shadow them for a few hours. For practical steps towards these, read the section above "Exploring beyond academia'.

If you would like to discuss any of the above, please make an appointment with a Careers Adviser, several of whom have postdoctoral experience in academia and other sectors.

For help with setting up a CareerConnect account or any other matter related to appointments, contact the Careers Service reception team: reception@careers.ox.ac.uk 01865 274646.

There is more to you than your research expertise. Making wise career decisions relies on you having a good understanding of how you function, how you differ from others, and the kinds of environments in which you thrive.

Based on the work of Carl Jung, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality questionnaire that looks at the different ways in which people perceive their surroundings and make decisions. In our experience, those who are already working and may wish to change direction find it particularly useful.

The MBTI does not give you a list of jobs to choose or to avoid. Developed over many years, this tool is best used as a framework to aid your thinking and personal understanding.

One of our careers advisers is qualified as an MBTI practitioner and would be happy to talk with you about whether this tool might be appropriate for your particular circumstances (perhaps as part of a short booked discussion or telephone discussion). Contact reception@careers.ox.ac.uk for details - availability may be restricted in Michaelmas Term and other very busy times. We occasionally also run interactive 3 hour group sessions for researchers on applying the MBTI to career planning. See the events calendar on CareerConnect for details.

Setbacks are part of life, but sometimes they can feel overwhelming and cause us to get stuck.

Embarking on research training and an academic career path is challenging for many reasons. Many people struggle with the feeling that they are not 'good enough' to succeed in academia, or even anywhere. Yet these experiences are seldom discussed openly.

It's important to practice some self-care, including getting support via information and input from others.

We have listened to, and worked closely with, Oxford DPhils and research staff who also believe that it is important to recognise how such feelings can affect people at all stages of their research or career journey, and to find practical ways to address these.

The result is an illustrated workbook and five podcasts on Overcoming a Sense of Academic Failure. These contain insights into why we can find ourselves feeling inadequate (as if we are ‘a failure’ rather than certain things aren't going well right now) and suggestions for responding to this experience individually and with peers.

More tips on developing resilience in academic settings can be found on our Early Career Researchers blog.

Writing Partnerships or workshops are an effective and fun way to rekindle a love of your subject and boost your productivity. Find out what is on offer through training programmes in your Division

If you are an existing University staff member, you can apply for jobs advertised on the internal jobs board via Oxford University's HR Self Service page; see the FAQs page for more information.

And if you have worked at the University continuously for two or more years, you may be considered as a Priority Candidate. Find out more via the HR pages.

In and around Oxford there are many organisations keen to employ researchers. Start by coming along to this and other upcoming Careers Fairs.

Another good way to learn about links between University research and local organisations is Enterprising Oxford  who host excellent meet-ups and other events, open to all.

For more ideas, see Finding work in Oxford.

Looking for more?


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