The first ECR workshop on alternative careers was a great success, thanks to a well-balanced programme, the generosity of the invited speakers in sharing their knowledge and time, the professionalism and friendliness of St Edmund Hall staff, a wonderful group of interested and lively participants, and last but not least the support of the WiGS committee, represented by our Chair Brigid Haines and Postgraduate Rep Cyd Sturgess. The workshop was organized by Early Career Rep Birgit Mikus and co-hosted by Henrike Lähnemann at St Edmund Hall.
The programme of the workshop consisted of five sessions on possible career paths as alternatives to the classic lectureship or tutor role, which also make use of the skills acquired by doing a PhD or for which having a completed PhD is considered beneficial. Each session featured a speaker introducing their respective field, followed by a Q&A.
The day started with Emma Huber, subject librarian for German at the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford, giving an overview of academic librarianship, the skills involved, the variety of day to day tasks as well as the training necessary to pursue this career after a PhD. She observed that the role is developing away from a subject-based approach towards a skills-based one, and emphasized the advantages that PhD training and a PhD research background offer in this regard.
In the next session, Laurel Plapp, a senior commissioning editor with Peter Lang, introduced the publishing sector with its various fields and the difference of types of presses in general, before focusing on the day to day job of an academic publisher/editor as well as the role of research in this particular role. In addition to advice for newcomers to this field with perhaps little experience (e.g. doing work placements or internships for a short time), she also pointed out educational publishing as a field with much demand for employees with a research background, as well as sources of further information and networking.
Kathrin McCann, research facilitator at the Humanities Division of Oxford University, introduced the growing field of research administration. She explained the different areas of research administration within a university, from the more financial, accounting, or legal sector and the roles that help with grant and funding applications to the more hands-on roles such as project or programme management. She mentioned that many of the roles require a PhD and its transferrable skills, and some roles require some additional training, which can usually be acquired on the job (with the exception of accounting and legal qualifications) and lead to further professional certifications.
Kerrith Davies from Eton College introduced school teaching as another option. He discussed the differences between state sector (which requires the PGCE qualification) and private sector schools (for which a PGCE is not required, but a PhD can be really useful), with their respective advantages and disadvantages, and pointed out that working at private sector schools is more likely to enable one’s own research out of term time. He also pointed out some options for getting first experiences in the sector, such as speculative applications for short-term positions as graduate assistants, or teaching in summer schools or university applications/access workshops.
Concluding the day, Emma Jay from the National Archives gave an overview of the roles available in the cultural sector, specifically in archives. While some roles require a formal qualification, for example, an MA in Archives and Records Management, other roles are accessible with a research background, such as record specialist roles, research and academic engagement, or roles in digital preservation. She pointed out that many archives and museums have (or are starting) their own post-doctoral schemes related to their collections, and as independent research organisations they are eligible for research council funding applications.
Throughout the day, Henrike Lähnemann provided fascinating tours of St Edmund Hall college chapel, Old Library, and the new library and its tower and crypt. A highlight of the sightseeing programme was certainly the climb up the library tower with its stunning view of the city of Oxford.
The participants were doctoral students and early career researchers, who came from Oxford, London, Birmingham, Reading, and Manchester, with a good mix of WiGS members and non-members. A questionnaire was circulated after the workshop to gather feedback about attendees’ overall experience, their view of the balance of topics, the usefulness of the information provided, the overall organization, and suggestions for what could be done differently. Responses, which could be provided anonymously, were all overwhelmingly positive:
“a good variety of topics, very good quality of the speeches and excellent organisation”
“I think the variety of speakers made the day interesting and engaging. The organisation was of a high standard and I think that the setting was lovely.”
“[Most useful was] hearing from a range of speakers, and their emphasis that it was possible to maintain links to research despite not being directly employed to do so.”
“Advice on changing CV / cover letter so that hiring managers (in this case in publishing) get a clear impression of the transferable skills acquired. Reminder that people outside academia don’t necessarily know what “doing a PhD” entails.”
“now have a better idea and some info re where to look for jobs in the cultural sector – really useful! Also really good was the chance to meet other ECR people and make connections.”
“I enjoyed the tour to the underground and rooftop very much! It added much fun to the already fantastic experience of the workshop.”
“Books on chains! An original Lowry painting! A fanfare before each session!! Maybe this all par for the course if you studied at Oxford but it was certainly a fun deviation from my usual routine.”
Some comments suggested that the talk on school teaching could have been improved by an additional speaker from the state sector, as this would have provided a different and perhaps more balanced perspective. Participants suggested sessions on the museum sector and public engagement at future workshops.
As the organiser, I would like to thank the speakers again for their time and dedication, as well as Henrike Lähnemann, Brigid Haines, and Cyd Sturgess for making the time to attend. And of course a very big Thank You to all participants who made this first ECR workshop such a success!