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: Doctoral Training Partnership Manager, and Graduate School Manager
Approximate salary range for your type of role: £30-£42k
The decision to leave academia was not an easy one for me. I did my PhD at the University of Birmingham studying Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a topic very close to my heart and something I feel incredibility passionate about. I enjoyed my time in the lab, travelled the world attending conferences, became actively engaged with communicating research to patients and raising awareness of the disease.
After graduation, I got a postdoc at the University of Sheffield and, following a few short-term contracts, secured an externally funded research grant. So far so good, my academic research career was on track.
However, as time went on I began to realise it was not the bench work that really motivated me anymore, it was the additional things I did outside the lab. Communicating research, committee activities to enhance the researcher environment and developing/mentoring others. During this time I took part in Springboard, a personal and professional development programme. It gave me the space I needed to think about the bigger picture and what I wanted to do next. This is where the v i s t a seminars came in. I attended a session on professional services careers and it sounded perfect, so I set up a job search and started applying.
Top tip number one: Take time out to reflect and think about yourself. It’s not easy, our busy daily lives take over and you don’t realise how fast time is matching on towards the end of a contract. Allow yourself the space and time to plan ahead, mentoring or a programme like Springboard can really help.
I’m going to be honest, securing my first job outside academia was hard. It was a steep learning curve, from writing an effective supporting statement and solid, skills-based CV to performing well at interviews. I was a postdoc for over eight years, so feedback including, “your application was too scientific” and “not enough administrative experience” were unfortunately not uncommon. I had great support from friends, colleagues, mentors and family to get this right, I also reached out and spoke to people already doing similar roles.
Top tip number two: Use your network and build on it. All the jobs I successfully applied for I had already made some sort of connection with the employer, so go forth and talk to people in areas of work that interest you.
My first job on the other side was an Academic Skills Development Advisor at the 301 Student Skills and Development Centre here in Sheffield. This was a maternity leave cover post, working on design and delivery of academic skills workshops alongside operational delivery of peer learning activities. I loved this job, the team were great to work with, I learnt a lot and my science background was highly valued. The skills and knowledge I’d developed as a researcher were easily adapted into the role.
Top tip number three: Don’t be afraid of a stepping stone job. It is a competitive world out there. Full time, permanent, grade 7 equivalent jobs are hard to come by straight away. Maternity cover posts, fixed term contracts or lower grade roles are great to get your foot in the door. My second post-academia job hunt was far easier. Just nine months’ worth of experience in professional services had broadened my horizons and proved that I could effectively apply my skills outside the lab.
I currently have a dual role, 80% Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) Manager and 20% Graduate School Manager for the Faculty of Science. Both involve the training and development of PGRs to ensure they get the best possible student experience. On a day-to-day basis, I oversee a number of ongoing projects. For the DTP role, I design bespoke training for PGRs across four HE institutions, I am the main point of contact for students, academics, professional service staff and funding bodies for all aspects of the DTP. My Graduate School Manager role is less student facing and more about developing processes and implementing policy/strategy behind the scenes. Great time management skills are essential in split roles like mine and these are fairly common in HE professional services. I do lots of planning, organising, communicating and creative thinking. I work with a large number of people across seven departments in the University of Sheffield, and four additional HE Institutions. However, the bulk of my work is done independently. Giving me the freedom to be proactive and I am enjoying making the roles my own. There isn’t really a typical week as my work revolves around PhD milestones and funding cycles.
To be competitive as a candidate in doctoral training careers you need to understand the funding environment, not just from a researcher perspective, but have an awareness of the policies that drive HE and research. During my postdoc contracts I volunteered to represent researchers on a number of committees, including the Departmental Executive, MDH Research Staff Association and Early Career Group. This not only provided me with a wider understanding of the HE environment but expanded my network of contacts and gave me the confidence to communicate with staff at all levels. Other key areas are communication, presentation and social media skills.
Top tip number four: Don’t underestimate the value of committee roles. I proactively sought out opportunities to build my experience beyond the lab. From these committees I gained leadership skills, negotiation skills and event management experience. All of which were great evidence for job applications and interviews.
My find words of wisdom are to break out of your research bubble. It is very easy to get sucked into the minuscule details of your research project. However, that alone will not provide you with the examples you will need to demonstrate your skills outside of the lab environment. Practice writing applications, download job specifications that look interesting and start applying early. Writing a clear, concise and persuasive application is a skill and takes time to perfect. Approach people already in your field of interest, get the inside track on what skills are required and valuable feedback to develop your applications. There are many interesting and exciting roles professional services and doctoral training. Your PhD and research experience will be highly valued and the students you work with will really benefit.
Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? Specific university job pages or www.jobs.ac.uk with a search filter of ‘Professional and Managerial’.
What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? Feedback from the interview panels suggested my training background made me stand out. So I would recommend Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy as professional recognition for this type of activity, which you can apply for locally via a University of Sheffield scheme. The Association of University Administrators (AUA) and Professional Association for Research Management (ARMA) have plenty of networking opportunities and resources that may also be useful.