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: Evidence Custodian – The International Commission On Missing Persons (ICMP)
My Twitter: @tareq_alomairi
Personal Website: www.TareqOmairi.co.uk
Life outside of Academia never occurred to me when I first started my PhD study; I worked for two years as a University lecturer in my home country, my family were all academics, and the PhD seemed like the perfect route to solidify my career route in Academic research.
All changed once I got a taste of the freedom of exploring development opportunities that being a Postgraduate student can bring. I still liked research, however, my true calling turned out to be being in a more dynamic position when I can influence and support the growth of individuals and intuitions. Postgraduate life gave me the confidence to develop my skills in networking with people and forming connections, and helping to form connections and establish collaboration links.
It is extremely important to keep an open-minded approach when looking for opportunities after the PhD. My doctoral research project was in the field of astrobiology, examining microbes in the stratosphere 4000m away from Earth, now, my work involves retrieving the DNA evidence from mass-graves and genocide burial sites. To say that I made a radical career change would be an understatement!
I work in the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), an intergovernmental organization, that addresses the issue of persons missing as a result of armed conflicts, violations of human rights, and natural disasters. My role, as the ICMP Evidence Custodian for Iraq, is assessing, training, mentoring and monitoring domestic institutions involved in the secure management and transfer of DNA samples, and other evidence or data related to missing persons investigations. As much of a cliché that might sound, there is no typical workweek for me. Most of the time I am out travelling and meeting with different governmental partners that we collaborate with or investigating the possibility of working with them jointly, we also visit institutions such as hospitals, police, and judicial centres, and mortuaries, to examine the processes they conduct for missing persons reporting, and also provide training to our partners. Another part of the job, as an international organisation is to represent our organisation in events and conferences. There are also, of course, days when we work from the office, where I am writing up reports, submitting project proposals and following up on ones that are underway or drafting guidelines and standard operating procedure documents.
Working with organisations such as mine within International Relations sector requires a different type of skills than academia: While it certainly goes in your favour to show that you published in high-impact journals or have attended a few conferences. Other more important factors will play a more significant role in the decision to hire you. Being able to work with different international, multidisciplinary teams, being adaptable, and having worked overseas are all essential for this job.
When it comes to the question of whether a PhD is required in my current work? The short answer is that it depends on how you spent the time that led to you getting the PhD. For me, while my advanced technical knowledge of DNA analysis certainly helps with my job, I felt that what truly gave me a good competitive advantage in my current role was how I managed to develop my transferable skills and also knowledge on things outside of my research. By doing all of the on-the-side part-time roles and projects, I managed to transform my four years of doing PhD into four years of work experience relevant to the role I am now in.
Despite the striking contrast between the subject of my PhD study and my current work, the transition from the former into the latter did not happen overnight. Several part-time roles I took part in during the time I was doing my postgrad paved the way to where I am now. At one point during my studies in Sheffield I was working in three part-time jobs in the University:
- International Office Ambassador for students from the Middle East – Aiding PG applicants to prepare for their lives in Sheffield.
- Prospect Research Assistant: Working in the Alumni Relations department, researching information on donors and companies in the Middle East.
- Doctoral Academy Intern, Research & Innovation Services – planning training workshops and programs for all PGR students in the University, to encourage multidisciplinary work and collaboration.
Among several other things, I was also a committee member in four societies, in addition to being an Event Manager for one of Pint of Science events in Sheffield, and ran a programme for training doctoral students called ‘Leadership Development Programme’ which led to me being awarded the Best Academic Led Activity in 2017 from the Students’ Union.
A pattern started to emerge, in which it became apparent to me that I have a passion for things which involve designing training and making connections. Therefore, the few months that followed the end of my PhD, and the time I started the new job, were spent by me working as a corporate consultant, providing training on project management and communication topics. By the time I started working for the ICMP, the transition did not seem odd or out of place, but rather an inevitable outcome to my accumulating experience and evolving career pathway.
My word of advice for researchers who want to consider a future career outside of academia is to never settle with staying in the lab! Think of the PhD experience not as a limiting hurdle that narrows your career prospects, but rather an opportunity. Despite the stress and struggle that accompany the PhD, there is also the liberating feeling that you are responsible for your own learning and development, meaning that you get to choose from a vast range of opportunities, workshops, and courses that your university offer. Also, make sure to be proactive and take advantage of the funds available for you to start your own programme or initiative while at the university, as it will make you stand out and show your future employers your ability to take charge and lead.
Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? Both ReliefWeb and UN Careers are the most common services to look for jobs in the Humanitarian and International Relations sector, LinkedIn job search is also popular for vacancies within those sectors. Also, make sure to follow the organisations you have an interest in, and always check out their vacancies page for new opportunities.
What professional/accrediting bodies or qualifications are relevant to where you work? Since my particular job involves an element of teaching and training, my Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA) accreditation proved extremely relevant to the role. In addition, anything relevant to report writing, project management, and the ability to work in an international setting are considered solid competitive advantages in the field.