What’s next for you? | The Careers Service What’s next for you? – Oxford University Careers Service
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Getting started

Some of you reading this page will already be focused on a particular career direction, while many  are exploring several options or looking for new ideas.

Wherever you are on this spectrum, a great way to move your thinking forward is to read biographies of successful people in a range of work sectors. You’ll find an honest, entertaining insight into the attractions, disappointments, unexpected joys and bumps along the road.

And you will feel better about your prospects and learn a couple of (magic) tricks from JK Rowling’s 2008 commencement speech to Harvard graduates.

If you prefer listening, find inspiration and an understanding of what counts in career progression on radio programmes such as The Life Scientific, the Reith Lectures and even Desert Island Discs. Many invited guests did a doctorate and/or some significant research at some point in their career.

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.

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.

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 for you, to make sure you get the ball rolling.

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.

Pursuing academia

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 raise your chances.

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:

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

Do I understand the pathways available in my discipline?

  • 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.

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?

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 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.

Combining academia with other roles: Portfolio Careers

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 becoming more 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 increasing 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. 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.

For more insights into how this 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 that these organisations have paid to feature in the booklet because they want to receive enquiries and are often keen to hear 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
Exploring beyond academia

If you know which sectors you wish to explore, look at our relevant sector webpages to learn about different roles, entry points, any prior experience needed and job search strategies.

If you want ideas, there’s plenty of inspiration out there:  To find out what is important to you, try a relevant online PhD careers planning tool (listed below under Looking for Ideas?) or Oxford’s new Career Compass.

Then see what others have done….Read the bios of a wide range of early/mid career professionals with a doctorate and/or listen to their experiences of getting jobs beyond academia, as shared in our annual Careers Conference for Researchers. We also recommend the more detailed 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 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.

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.

Researchers can be excellent entrepreneurs – whether through their original ideas or a love of thinking creatively with others. What’s more, it is at the interfaces between academia, industry, policy and practice where the most exciting developments tend to occur.  There is a lot going on in and around the University and city to support entrepreneurial learning and activity, much of it leading to jobs or improving people’s chances of getting a job. Check out where you can learn more by browsing Enterprising Oxford.

There are many ways to dip your toes into a new work area that cost very little time or energy. Internships 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 wide range of internships on our opportunities page in CareerConnect, the majority of which are open to all researchers – whether staff or students – at Oxford.

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.

**NEW** Research staff are invited to apply for a micro-placement facilitated by the University of Oxford. These 2-5 day placements are designed to give university-employed research staff an opportunity to taste alternative working roles and settings, and to further develop key employability skills including commercial awareness, communication skills and team-work.

DPhil students can apply to all our summer internships and termly micro-internships.

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.

See our top tips on setting up your own internship or work experience

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.

Looking for ideas? Unsure which way next?

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.

Then, 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 Careers Compass 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 choose exercises to  evaluate your skills and priorities, then 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. Routes into these are outlined above in “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.

Finding a good fit: MBTI questionnaire

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. See the events calendar on CareerConnect for details.

Needing a confidence boost

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.

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’) 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

This information was last updated on 06 January 2020.
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