Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: Online Content Developer for the Centre for Academic Practice Enhancement (CAPE) at Middlesex University.

My academic career began as a Lecturer in Languages at Coventry University. I also tutored in Business for Cambridge Education Group in Coventry, and I complemented this experience with further roles as a research assistant at University of Warwick and research associate at University of Leicester and juggled all these roles whilst I studied for my PhD.

I took six months off work from teaching to complete my PhD but kept in touch, and when the university advertised a job vacancy for a full-time lecturer on a permanent basis, I managed to secure the position. Getting your dream job is great, but, for me it is important that organisational and personal values are aligned and I didn’t agree with organisational values of the place I worked. So, I questioned whether I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. My PhD project had led me to implement e-learning initiatives as well as writing a thesis and so I had some great transferable skills.

I applied for several types of jobs. I had the goal of adding more well-being into my life, and of relocating to another city to expose myself to different experiences. I found this when I moved to ‘the other side’ of Academia – professional services in the Higher Education sector, at the University of Westminster in London, implementing Blended Learning courses for staff.

In hindsight, I knew from the first day I joined that organisation that I would not stay there long term. I was determined to make the best of that role though: I ran some complex and difficult projects there such as being a change agent for Performance Management, implementing online systems, and developing e-learning modules on challenging topics. I also discovered there I am a good manager. Yet, I was aware that I didn’t find the job meaningful, and I took a career break. Leaving a full time permanent job was a very difficult decision to make. There were many layers of fears and insecurities I had to peel off to do it.

During this break, I took on a voluntary role as a Communications Officer for a charity called the Staff Development Forum to explore communications and marketing and pursued other professional interests aligned to learning design and instructional design. I soon felt strong enough to jump in on to the emotional rollercoaster of job hunting, and began applying for jobs again.

I must say that the whole process of job hunting was painful (due to getting rejections) but a useful experience (for all the learning I gained about the sector). I now work as an Online Content Developer for the Centre for Academic Practice Enhancement at Middlesex University and I am nearly two months into the role.

My current role covers the three aspects that for me constitute the recipe for happiness at work and make the job interesting, enriching and fulfilling for me:

  • A third of the job, to some extent, I have done before: Develop practical and useful content to help academic staff improve their educational practice – I feel confident with this.
  • A third of the job I am currently doing as part of my voluntary position at the SDF: Improve the communications, online and social presence of the department – I’m interested in this field and I wish to develop expertise.
  • A third of the job I haven’t done before, it’s new to me: Understand policies and strategies to come up with support for academic staff – I feel challenged but also intrigued.

After two months of working for Middlesex I have experienced this University as a truly diverse environment, in terms of their students and staff. The lecturers and tutoring staff I have met are very committed and passionate. Middlesex is very inclusive, innovative, and student-friendly.

I also organise meetings with academic colleagues to collect information on their practices and issues. I meet with senior academic developers and we use this time to discuss findings on academic practice at Middlesex. And I write content for the department e.g. guidance on data protection and confidentiality for personal tutors, how to make an inclusive classroom, how to use collaborative and flexible classrooms. I also manage the social media presence of the CAPE team @MDXCAPE.

In this role, there is abundance of collegiality and support. This is refreshing. I am given guidance when it is needed and CAPE is very down to earth and hardworking. There is access to growth opportunities by stretching yourself in the job, and this agrees with me, there is so much that one can learn in a class. Deep learning comes from experience, taking action and making mistakes.

I keep learning by staying connected with informal groups of professionals through Twitter and by participating in Tweetchats. Tweetchats are a very convenient way to access a community of practice at your time and pace. I also have a strong online presence through LinkedIn, and I write articles through the LinkedIn publishing feature. I like to keep in touch with the wider community that way in addition to attending conferences and courses. I like to look at the bigger picture, see what is influencing the higher education sector; so I subscribe to blogs and newsletters.

I work in a similar context to lecturers and researchers, but I feel I enjoy a more varied context. I have a much broader overview of the sector and understanding of the university. I am aware of the external forces affecting the sector. I like producing tangible outcomes that may be of use to other people. I love interacting and working with colleagues. I apply my academic skills and criticality into the enhancement of the educational practice.

The transfer from working as a lecturer/researcher into my latest roles happened organically. For me, it has been important to be aware of the changes in the sector and respond quickly when navigating the job market. One of the drawbacks for me has been that I developed a sense of identity as a lecturer and a researcher. Having to re-negotiate my professional identity to adapt to the new circumstances of my job as a staff developer was challenging for me.

Top three ways to develop in order to be competitive in a career change

  1. Expand your expertise broadly, take an interest, engage in meeting various work groups, or special interest groups, and seek to develop your network and contacts through shared interests, this will help create opportunities to find a job.
  2. Volunteer for an organisation that you believe in and offer your expertise. This will help expand your expertise. I personally learned valuable skills, and gained more confidence through doing this.
  3. Express what you know and develop your voice via social media. Articulate your thoughts via a blog perhaps. It is not only about knowing but also demonstrating your expertise.

Personally, and professionally what matters is to create that life one wants. With a PhD, it is possible to find a job in so many diverse areas and with so many different employers. Know yourself, what your strengths and weaknesses are and focus on your strengths. Choose yourself in whatever you do.