why every researcher needs more work experience


Let’s get one thing clear – I’m not saying everyone needs to do a placement or an internship. In fact I’m writing this to stress that there is more to work experience than a 3 month placement – a placement may not be what you need at all. For researchers, whether PhD student or research staff, a placement may not be practical, possible or preferable.

So what am I saying? Well, work experience can offer a range of benefits and take a variety of forms that provides learning, insight and awareness in ways that suit you, your needs and your availability. At any stage of your career whether you are planning a change, a move, or just developing yourself, you could benefit. Consider this list of possible gains;

  • Build professional experience and exposure
  • Develop specific ‘commercial awareness’ or sector knowledge
  • Enhance your self-awareness, self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Experience fresh perspectives
  • Apply your skills in a different setting and learn new ones
  • Expose your research to a wider audience
  • Meet new people and develop professional networks
  • Learn about your preferences and the options and opportunities available to you
  • Understand your value in a different environment

This isn’t a comprehensive list – I’m sure you could add more!

So, what do I mean by work experience?

Let’s be creative and open minded about this! Work experience could be;

  • A few hours a week throughout your PhD or alongside your research post
  • Industry collaboration or networking
  • Volunteering on a regular basis or as a one off activity
  • Skills training and professional development activities
  • Part time work or a casual job
  • Consultancy role or contributing to a project
  • Self-employment or freelance work
  • Work shadowing, perhaps spending a day or two in a different work environment
  • Visit days or site tours advertised by employers or arranged yourself
  • Information interviewing – a 1:1 discussion with someone doing a role or working for an organisation that interests you
  • University responsibilities – teaching, demonstrating, open days, committees, funding bids, conference organising
  • Individual and group competitions – experience in themselves but may offer placements as prizes
  • Public engagement activities – festivals, PubhD, Pint of Science – contribute to existing events or put on your own
  • Internship or placement – that is an option too!

Some of these opportunities will be advertised. Last time I searched Career Connect (the Careers Service resource that lists vacancies, events and careers appointments), the part time jobs available included Children’s Science Presenter, Junior Analyst Developer, CiCS Open Day Ambassador, Temporary Under-12 Football Coach, Bee Keeper and Archiving Clerk. It’s not just bar work and waitressing! But many opportunities are created by you and for you by using your research and networking skills and perhaps some support from your Careers Advisers for Researchers. As a researcher you can book an appointment with Jane or Rachael to discuss what would work for you and how to make it happen.

Talking to people about their role can be a great way of finding out more and creating openings that lead to opportunities. If you are concerned that people are busy or too important to talk to you, I would stress this; people tend to like talking about themselves or what they do. I can’t guarantee they will always respond positively but they are often flattered to be asked to give advice or share their expertise and knowledge with you. Most people aren’t in a position to offer you a job, so ask for something they can give. Be enthusiastic, interested and ask intelligent questions of them and who knows where it could lead!

Useful resources and information

Find Vacancies – http://www.shef.ac.uk/careers/students/jobs

Creative job searching – http://www.shef.ac.uk/careers/students/jobs/creative

Develop your skills – http://www.shef.ac.uk/careers/students/advice

Student Jobshop – http://www.shef.ac.uk/careers/students/jobs/jobshop

Volunteering – http://su.sheffield.ac.uk/sheffield-volunteering and www.sheffield.ac.uk/experience/volunteer

Placements – www.careers.dept.shef.ac.uk/infotree/WorkExperience.php

Self-employment – http://enterprise.shef.ac.uk/entrepreneurship-support and http://www.careers.dept.shef.ac.uk/infotree/SelfEmployment.php

Café Scientifique – www.sciencecafesheffield.org/

PubhD Sheffield – http://pubhdsheffield.strikingly.com/

Think Ahead: SURE – www.sheffield.ac.uk/ris/ecr/tasure

Sheffield Teaching Assistant professional development programme – www.sheffield.ac.uk/lets/cpd/sta



Image courtesy of http://www.enterpriseiq2.co.uk/ask-the-expert/


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