Beyond Your Research Degree
Episode 7 - Dr. Natalie Whitehead, Co-Founder Exeter Science Centre

Episode 7 - Dr. Natalie Whitehead, Co-Founder Exeter Science Centre

September 3, 2020

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. Natalie Whitehead, co-founder of the Exeter Science Centre.

Here are some links to the different organisations and schemes we discussed in the podcast: 

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter Doctoral College

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of Beyond Your Research Degree.

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I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and I'm delighted for this episode to be joined by one of our recent graduates, Dr Natalie Whitehead.

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Natalie, are you happy to introduce yourself? OK, great.

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So I'm Natalie Whitehead. I recently finished my PhD in physics.

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I was looking at spin waves through magnets, which are just a special type of wave that travels through magnets.

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That was my PhD and that finished in September.

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And I'm now the founder and director alongside my colleague, Dr Alice Mills for the Exeter Science Centre.

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Talk to me about the Exeter Science Centre. How how did this come about?

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So this is something that I've been thinking about for, oh, I don't know, probably just a bit over a year now.

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But a year and a half. And basically, I I was trying to work out what to do after my PhD

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So this who was in physics and during my PhD and undergraduate degree,

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I was really involved in doing public engagement with research and a lot of science outreach.

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I absolutely love talking about science and and speaking to the public about it and showing them demos and getting their

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views and trying to answer questions and things and basically just trying to inspire them about how amazing science is.

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So I was trying to work out what to do after the PhD, which would, you know,

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be good for me, but also for something that I can really contribute towards.

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So, you know, the climate crisis is a really big thing at the moment.

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Of course, it should be and should have been for the. I don't know how many decades.

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And I really feel like I have some kind of responsibility to do something with my physics training, which is useful.

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So I was trying to work out what to do and whether, you know,

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whether I should go and work for one of these amazing Start-Up companies doing cool things.

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You know, I was looking at the the ocean clean up.

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I think what they're doing is amazing, using science and tech to solve the problem and a global issue and lots of other companies like that.

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It's nice thinking. Well, you know, I could go and work for someone like that. Will I be the best scientist or engineer to do that?

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I don't know. But I thought really what my what my skills are.

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One of the things I'm really passionate about, as I mentioned, is science communication.

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And this idea really just came to me one afternoon having lunch and thinking like, why don't I just make a science centre in Exeter?

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It's just something that I've always kind of thought, wow, we should really have one of those here

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I've been to a few around the UK and across the world.

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And I just I love going there. And I see adults and people of all ages just absolutely loving,

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understanding different things about science and playing with scientific equipment and just really engaging with science.

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And I just figured, why don't we have one here? And why don't I just make it?

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So I approached my colleague Alice, and she's a very passionate science communicator as well.

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And she loved the idea here. And we've just been talking about it since then.

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So, yeah, we're just super dedicated to making it happen.

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So what stage are you at with your plans for the science centre?

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We're still in the very early stages. So, as I mentioned, I finished the PhD in September.

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And of course, when you, you know, hand in a PhDthesis,

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you still got a lot of work to do afterwards to kind of, you know, do the viva and make corrections.

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So that's been kind of continued and maybe into about January or so.

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And then I really properly submitted it put in online and then then could properly focus on this that I've been working on.

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It's pretty much full time on and off, you know, around the thesis since September.

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So what we're what we're doing at the moment is trying to get trying to get the public to be aware of our plans and try

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to get their input and really just try to establish ourselves as a science discovery centre for Exeter and for the region.

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And just trying to raise awareness, try to raise money as well.

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That's a big part of it. And just trying to make it happen.

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We've got a a team of advisers who are amazing and super inspiring from different areas of science education and business as well.

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And they're kind of our advisory boards. They'll be moving over to be our trustees.

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Once we establish ourselves as a charity soon. But there's there's loads of things to do about it.

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When you take on such a big project, you realise that, you know, you're running a business.

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You're also trying to create a charity here, charitable business.

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Engage with the public. And that is just a kind of multidisciplinary project ready, which is really exciting or very overwhelming.

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But at the same time, it's some I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.

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I was going to say it's it's a huge project and and it is there must be an awful

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lot of business based skills and business based work that needs to be done.

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How how has that been? How has it been. Yeah.

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You know, going from an academic environment to doing much more business related work.

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Have you found that transition easy?

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Have there been kind of skills and experiences you've been able to take across or has it been a complete learning curve?

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It's been a very steep learning curve. So am I. I don't have any experience of running a company myself, and nor does my colleague Alice.

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So we're learning. However, I feel like when you you do a PhD and you study.

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I mean, you know, from my experience of studying science and physics,

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you you have to take in a lot of information and and process things and think logically.

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And, you know, you you can learn things very quickly.

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And although the business and accounting and finance and all that kind of stuff is it's not my first language at all

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I feel like there's there's a lot of information out there that just needs synthesising, understanding.

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And really, that is the way we're approaching this.

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Of course, we understand it. We we shouldn't be expected to be absolute experts.

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Everything we're doing and this projects, rather,

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it's it's understanding when we need help and need assistance and guidance from people who really have experience in this.

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So we've been very lucky, actually, to have a lot of assistance from the university in.

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In this kind of Start-Up venture, if you would call with the start-ups team, setsquared programme.

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They've been absolutely wonderful and giving us the kind of business advice.

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So we've been assigned a business adviser, David Solomides, who is just super inspiring and really, really, really helpful.

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And he's become one of our kind of formal advisors and hopefully one four trustees will move to a charity as well.

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So so the help is out there.

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I suppose if I was to give advice to someone perhaps who is thinking about doing something unusual like this, who doesn't have the experience.

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I guess it's just you just have to go for it and be prepared to ask and and reach out to people and organisations who can help you,

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such as the university and and others. It's just been wonderful.

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Actually, the amount of support and help that we've received from from various kind of organisations across Exeter and mostly really the university.

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But, yeah, I feel like we've we've been assisted the whole time with them.

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With things like this, especially business, which is kind of scary and unusual for the physicist,

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for scientists, but I but I think it's it's totally doable and it's always going to be a learning curve.

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But if you're determined enough, you'll you'll make out. Yeah. And I think there's a couple of things I'd like to pick up on there.

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The first of which is to just acknowledge that that the support is out there in it.

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And it's not about knowing everything yourself and having all of the skills yourself, but knowing how to access your networks, I guess.

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And and and in this case, for you, it is the university and the start-ups team.

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Definitely, definitely. That's really important, too, because you you can't possibly know everything,

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really recognising that is really important because otherwise you just try and do everything yourself.

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It get stressful. It gets overwhelming.

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It's kind of it's almost like knowing when to delegate and knowing when to knowing that you can't possibly know everything

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and that there is a big support network there if you're part of the university or have been part of the university.

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They are just wonderful in in encouraging and helping and facilitating anything to do with Enterprise or Start-Up Ideas.

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That is just been even the kind of encouragement that you get of, you know, wow, this is a great idea.

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You should speak to this person or have a look at this. It's it's just been really, really helpful.

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And I think people don't expect that to be a department of the university that has this kind of business expertise.

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And they really do. Yeah, that's it.

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And I seriously encourage anyone to to go visit the the Innovation Centre as the start-ups team are over in the deck over there.

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And they're just they're just great. You just pop in and speak to them and they can they have lots of kind of seminars, workshops and advice for you.

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So just go and speak to them. They're really great. So the experience you have of writing papers, your thesis reports, funding applications,

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all those sorts of things clearly and stood you in good stead for what you're doing now.

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Are there any other skills or experiences you had during your PhD day that have been really, really crucial to starting this venture?

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That's a good question, because I think, to be honest, the whole thing really the the way that I was approaching this,

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they're calling it a project, is there's more than a project.

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So that is an ambition. But, you know, you have to break it down into small, achievable steps because, of course,

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you know, Mount Improbable really in this case is building a multi-million pound science centre.

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But they're kind of finite steps you can break this down into.

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Okay. We need to talk to people. We need to make a plan.

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And then those have some steps as well.

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So the important thing is when you're doing a Ph.D., you cannot say, right, I'm going to just just solve this big problem I have for, you know,

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it's going to take four years and a PhD in this case, it might take about I dunno about seven years if we're if we're lucky to get the funding.

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But at the same time, it's a seemingly insurmountable task, but it can be broken down into small, achievable chunks,

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some of which you're doing all at the same time, which just makes it a little bit more challenging.

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But, um, but yeah, I think that the whole time management and understanding that things can be done,

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they just need to be done in small chunks is very helpful from a PhD

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So what else. Things like presentation skills. That's been hugely important to them during the a PhD

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We've had a lot of opportunities to to do presentations, you know, preparing PowerPoint,

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doing either conference presentations or presentations to our colleagues about the way that we're doing.

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Again, you have to be clear. You have to be kind of clear enough to a to a broad audience who don't necessarily have your expertise.

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And you have to express complicated ideas in a very short space of time, sometimes five, 10 minutes or so that you've got.

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And I found actually that that I've had that experience here as well. So we've had a number of number of opportunities where we will be doing business

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pitches to various audiences and they might be five minutes long or so.

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So I've had the same problem I have to express to people this kind of amazing

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vision that I that I and my colleagues have about the Exeter science centre.

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And I have to explain it in five minutes and everything that could possibly encompass and that's challenging.

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It's something I'm still kind of learning about because, of course,

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they people think of it from a business sense to not only have you got to express the vision,

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you have to express, you know, how you're going to get funding and all of this kind of extra detail to in five minutes.

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So that's been challenging. So, yeah, there's some really cool things are coming across.

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That's the the writing, as we've already talked about, but also the kind of product and time management presentation skills.

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So I think the thing that's. That's really interesting to reflect on is that it's not necessarily obviously what you're doing is science related,

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but it's not necessarily the the science specific skills that you're using certainly at this moment in time.

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It's it's the broader kind of skill set that you develop through the process of doing the research degree.

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Definitely, definitely. I think it's not necessarily you know, you don't have to have done a science PhD to to be able to do this stuff.

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But certainly, from my perspective, it has helped a lot because I feel I said and I hope I'm sure it's the same in other disciplines.

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Of course, I have no experience of it, but I just feel like doing a you know, doing a PhD in general,

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I think gives you this this ability to take on and face a lot of information and and that kind of stuff, that that's really incomprehensible.

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Synthesise it down and make logical steps when you understand what what needs to be done.

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So it's definitely helped. I guess that the difficult question but the one that I know that people will be

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wondering is obviously this isn't making you any money at the moment to be to be blunt.

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So are you working alongside it? So that the way that I'm doing it at the moment is we don't have any specific income, which is, you know,

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obviously would be difficult for a lot of people, to be honest, being pretty thrifty throughout the PhD

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I know a lot of PhD students often, you know,

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work an extra year sometimes to write up results and and maybe their funding ends and they have to continue writing the thesis.

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Luckily, with the way that I did the PhD in the centre for doctoral training in metamaterials, they were wonderful.

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And they would they would, you know, pay you for the full amount of time.

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So you had a good four years to write up.

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But what we're trying to do is, well, we've got some it's called co creation funding from one of our advisors who's amazing, Dr. Janet Anders.

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She's provided us with some funding to basically pay a very small stipend that will start soon.

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Yeah, it is a bit of a problem because when you when you do start something like this way,

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maybe you don't have an immediate income source or or reading something current kind of charitable.

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You do need to have a bit of a business head on you.

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You need to think about how how you're going to make money from it, mainly because it has to be sustainable.

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We don't want to make a big salary for ourselves. We're not interested in that.

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We want to do something good. To be honest, it would just be great if, you know, we could we could all just live for free and do nice things.

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But of course, that, of course, you have to you have to think sustainably long term.

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So this has been something we've been thinking about for a while. How on earth do we do this?

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Because, of course, you know, I initially were like, we need to make this amazing building, amazing centre, because that will have the most impact.

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And, of course, we need a lot of money for. How are we going to get to that stage?

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Well, we think that since our expertise, mine and Alice's when Alice joins us properly in September,

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our expertise really is public engagement with science.

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And of course, we we've had a lot of experience working with academics and working in academia.

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And we think that's a really important way for us to bring money in initially just to

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kind of pay ourselves a small salary and enable us to work on this properly for for

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a longer term is to work with academics to kind of basically do public engagement on

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their behalf or with them and take the hassle out of that whole process for them,

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including the reporting back and making sure that everything's clear for the for the the ref, the research excellence framework.

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So what we're what we're doing is starting now to work with academics to make public engagement programmes of their research,

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which involve, you know, working schools, the public.

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And we've got, of course, a big growing audience across the Southwest to reach and do public talks for them, help them make exhibits.

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And eventually we hope that this will transition into working with them properly for,

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you know, putting putting their amazing exhibitions in the science centre itself.

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But the way we've kind of reframed thinking about this project is that, you know, it's not just working towards a building.

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You know, that isn't the end goal, really. It would be wonderful. We really, really want it to happen.

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But the really important thing that we can be doing right now is having an impact with the public.

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You know, even though we don't have a centre, we can still be a kind of a kind of abstract idea of a centre, which is just,

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you know, we're doing something great where we're communicating science to the public in a scientific research.

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And by the way, I have to clarify, like I'm using science, but really, that's an umbrella term for STEM or science,

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technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine, which we're using but I tend to just use science because its shorter

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So we want to communicate science, the public. We want to have an impact now.

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And and we don't need a building to do that. Of course, when we have a building,

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we'll be able to have so much more influence and impact and have a space that people can actually visit and engage with.

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But for now, we're going to be working with academics that should bring some money in to enable us to do this.

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And at the same time, we're going to be working to get grants from from various funding bodies and of course,

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working towards getting what we hoped might be some philanthropic or some capital grant funding to make the building itself where we're optimistic.

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That's brilliant. And just sounds like a really, really considered a weay to.

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Support yourselves, but also develop and support the.

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The business slash charity. And develop those connections and that interest and engagement with the future centre.

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Definitely. Yeah. I mean, we're really I guess the thing is we're not trying to do something on the side,

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which is I don't know for example, selling scientific toys

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Maybe that would make some money. It's kind of relevant, but not really.

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But that's more of a kind of profit making enterprise, which is just trying to,

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you know, and whether that profit goes towards the stuff that we're doing.

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We we thought we might as well try to get some some income through doing the activities we really ought to be doing anyway.

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It's just kind of lucky, really, that some that there is a market for, if you want to call it that.

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We know that a lot of academics are really busy and they don't necessarily have

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the skills or the the time to do proper public engagement rather than just,

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you know, going to a school once throughout the whole course of of of a grant.

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Instead, what we can do is say, look, you know, you don't need to bother about sending all those emails and organising things and

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reporting back and and trying to reach a broad audience will do all that stuff for you.

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And at the same time, we're doing something good,

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because it's we're getting to talk to the public about science and about exciting research that's going on locally.

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So it just ticks loads of boxes, really. We really hope that's gonna be a viable income source for us.

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But we're working on it. Yeah. Yeah.

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As I said, it sounds incredibly exciting. And the.

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The idea of of the centre, and I mean certainly as a kind of I grew up locally and I remember taking school trips,

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we always had to go to Bristol, you know, to the science centre. And so the idea of having having that in Exeter seems.

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It almost makes me sort of when I when I saw saw the work you were doing,

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it made me think what actually given this exeter science park, we've got the Met office here, the university.

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Why don't we have one? Yeah. Exactly. Really pleased you said that

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I guess this is a good opportunity to kind of explain, you know, a rationale for putting it here and also what we're trying to achieve.

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So if you. The clearest thing I tend to start with, of course, on a podcast, so I can't show you it.

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But if you look at the map of science centres across the U.K., these are.

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I have to kind of define science centre first.

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So a science centre or Science Discovery Centre is a kind of Hands-On science museum, which isn't about exhibits behind glass,

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which are kind of historical or, you know, and and have a more historical kind of background.

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It's more about Hands-On experiences which are trying to, you know, infuse and inspire people of all ages and backgrounds about science.

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So that's what a science centre is.

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And if you if you look at the map of science centres across the U.K., there is just a gap in this region which needs filling, quite frankly.

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So, as you mentioned, there's one in Bristol, which is really curious and that's amazing, really a really great centre.

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And they've got a wonderful planetarium. And it's just it's just really cool.

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It's actually one of the the earliest science centres in the UK in its original form.

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And also what else we got down in the Southwest where we've got these projects, of course, amazing and really iconic.

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And the Eden projects is still quite specialised in its aim

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So that, you know, it's more about kind of I kind of want to get it wrong, but more horticultural, you know,

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it's it's it has a certain theme associated with it isn't really general science, including like space and astronomy and biology and things like that.

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It's it's more specialised in what it does. And there's also the Plymouth the Aquarium in Plymouth.

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That, again, is very specialised. It's a it's an aquarium. And it says more about, you know, it very specialised theme.

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So what we're trying to create is a is a general science centre,

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which covers all aspects of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.

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And we are trying to to fill this gap of science engagement in the Southwest and why Exeter

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Why not Tiverton or Cullompton?

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Or something like that.

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Well, Exeter itself is is really trying to establish itself and is doing a wonderful job at being a real science and tech innovation hub.

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I mean, you're right. We have the Met office, we have the university,

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we have the exeter science park and this consists of a load of really exciting science and tech companies who are who are doing great things.

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So Exeter already is a hub of science and that does lots of great things going in the region are going on in the region around here.

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And it really just is the perfect place for it, not only because they know it has great connections,

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particularly for North Devon and the more rural areas across the southwest, you know that the roads all head towards Exeter.

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And, of course, the train service as well. So we're trying to take as many boxes as we can in terms of location.

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We want to really locate it in the centre of Exeter so that people don't have to drive to get to us.

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You know, they could use public transport or they could use a park ride service and and you know that.

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Or they could cycle in and whatever, depending on where they live with.

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You know, if we were located out in the countryside, pretty much everyone would have to drive to get to us or,

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you know, it would just make it more difficult for people to reach us.

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And also, we're just we're trying to become a real cultural centre.

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You know, we don't want to be a kind of tourist attraction on the outskirts.

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We want to serve the public and and host clubs where if we get this amazing building that we'd like to create,

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we'd love to have green walls of rooftop garden.

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You know, maybe we'd love to work with the RHS for example,

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and the Eden project to create a kind of rooftop Eden where people come and they they have mindful kind of gardening activities

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and clubs they might take part in from a kind of gardening for mental health kind of idea that we'll have public lectures.

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So I just imagine it being this kind of space that people, you know, whether they're.

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Interested in science, whether they're interested in the arts, though, will come in and an experience this place in lots of different ways.

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The thing I haven't really emphasised too much. Mainly because it's it's something I'm really excited about.

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I don't necessarily have the expertise in is the fact that we want to tie in art with the science centre really strongly.

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And I'm still working out ways to do this. I met with residents at the amazing and inspiring Studio Kaleider

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And that's the kind of organisation which not only facilitates lots of artists who work together and and

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work on really inspiring things that they create these amazing kind of art experiences and installations.

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So I'm a resident there, which means that they very kindly let me use their office space and, you know, work amongst their colleagues.

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And I'm hoping that will, you know, help me get an insight into this. This amazing arts community we have in Exeter in the Southwest,

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and we're trying to we're trying to ensure that that isn't just a, you know, science centre for science nerds.

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You know, even that would be some nerdy components of the science centre.

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We wanted to ensure that it's appealing to a broad audience and we want to emphasise that science, isn't it?

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Well, okay. The subject isn't just you're a scientist or you're an artist.

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You know that you can be both. You can use the skills from both areas to to to basically understand the universe.

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We find ourselves in and that's what artists are trying to do, you know, interpret and understand the world.

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And that's what scientists are trying to do as well. I don't see them mutually exclusive, I think.

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I think we can learn a lot from each other. And I just think it would just make it so much more interesting.

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We have been to a few science centres, the one in particular that really resonates with me,

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and that is a great inspiration for the place we're trying to make is the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

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They have a an artist in residence.

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They have these amazing creative and kind of psychologically interesting art installations which have loads of science behind them.

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And they just I can't even express it. It's it's really inspiring stuff.

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And we'd really love to emulate that. And that's something I'm trying to work on at the moment.

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We're trying to understand how we can embed and and make a thread running through a whole centre of art as well as science.

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So there's a lot of information. It just sounds incredibly inspiring.

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And it's great to hear that you're working with Kaleider as well is that a connection that the university that through the start-ups,

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set up, or is that something that you sought out yourself? So I'm trying to think how that happened.

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I think I was doing a pitch. This was I handed my PhD thesis in on the Monday and on the Tuesday, I had a pitch at an Exeter Cits Futures event.

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Oh, wow. Yeah. And I hadn't written my presentation for it, so I had zero I had to hand, my thesis on the Monday morning.

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And then that afternoon prepared my presentation. And then I'm quite literally on that Tuesday.

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Everything starts kicking off. So I had of emails and really started working on the Science Centre the next day.

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So that was intense. But yeah.

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But I think from that meeting, the kind of networking meeting, I met Andy at Kaleider and he said, oh you need to come in to our open Fridays.

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So they have this wonderful thing where on a on a Friday anyone can go and use their

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office space and just kind of mingle and do some work there and talk to people.

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And. And I I did that a few times.

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I just thought, this is so cool. You know, everyone is so interesting and they're working on great things.

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And they were really welcoming. And I guess I just I just wanted to be part of it.

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So I applied to become a resident. And they very kindly let me in. And yeah.

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So it kind of happened through just one of the networking events that these wonderful events that Exeter City futures organisers.

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I heartily encourage anyone who is thinking of setting up or being part of or doing something locally.

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They should just go to these kind of events.

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You know, there's lots of no on exeter city features have this amazing, you know, idea for the future of, exeter, that they're really proactive.

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It's just a great place to get things done. I can't really explain. I think it's it's.

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Exeter. It's the kind of people that are working here that are doing things here.

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There is a lot of encouragement and a lot of help and a lot of opportunities. So it's really the best place to be doing something great.

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That's that's brilliant. That's really, really brilliant. I think we probably draw to a close, but in doing so what?

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What advice would you give someone that's thinking about.

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I guess setting up their own business or venture or or project or, you know, we can use a variety different terms,

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but they're getting towards the end of the end of the research degree of the day, they're thinking about what's next.

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They want to set up on start up on their own. What advice would you give them?

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Okay. I would suggest that they have to.

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If they say they've got the project, they they understand what they want to do or even if they have a brief idea.

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First of all, if that part of university, I'd suggest talk to the kind of student entrepreneur team we have.

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We have one at Exeter. Of course, they're amazing. Go and talk to them and they will probably give you some amazing advice.

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Maybe you attend a seminar about, you know, how to put your put your business ideas into practise.

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They have lots of things about how to make a business plan, how to, you know, make you go to networking events and and make Connections.

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So I would really firstly suggest just talking to people about it,

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preferably people from the business entrepreneurship team, and also try and get a bit of a team behind you if you can.

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Trying to do something as a single person is really tough because, you know,

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not only is it really helpful to have a sounding board for other people to come say, well, should we do it this way or maybe we should try this.

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You know, I think this is why, for example, in in university lab work, you know, when you we have we have lab projects.

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You have to do it.

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They usually put you with a partner or there's a small team of you that really helps realise working in a series is hugely important to this.

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So maybe they'll be two of you, maybe three of you.

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And then, you know, eventually you'll start thinking about getting advisors on board maybe who have business experience,

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maybe you who are just super enthusiastic about your cause and have experience from other areas.

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But it's it's just I suppose don't be afraid of going and doing something unusual.

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You know, it might when you when you say to people, oh, I want to make a case, maybe 40 million pound science centre in Exeter,

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I think a lot of people would just like you're completely mad and you kind of say,

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well, you know, you have to be a bit crazy to do something like this. But, you know, it can be done in that it should be done and that it can happen.

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If you're motivated enough. You really I guess you have to have the enthusiasm for what you're doing.

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You have to be motivated and particularly resilient to setbacks,

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to the kind of overwhelming nature of what you're doing and just get people around you who can support you, who can guide you and who can help you.

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Yeah. Talk to First of all, the first thing to do is talk to the amazing people and the student start-ups team.

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That's my advice. Absolutely.

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And you've mentioned lots of different resources here, like the start-ups team at the Innovation Centre, set squared Exeter City Futures, Kaleider

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And I'm going to put links to all of these organisations and information in the show

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notes so that people can kind of follow up on on those brilliant recommendations.

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And that's it for this episode.

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Thank you so much to Natalie for taking the time to talk to me about what is an incredibly exciting project and the range of support.

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You can access it if you're interested in this kind of charitable, entrepreneurial venture after your research degree.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 6 - Dr. Denise Wilkins, Researcher at Microsoft Research

Episode 6 - Dr. Denise Wilkins, Researcher at Microsoft Research

July 27, 2020

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. Denise Wilkins, Researcher at Microsoft Research.

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter Doctoral College

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It's Kelly Preece here research development manager ing the University of Exeter Doctor College.

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And I'll be your host for this episode.

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I'm delighted to be talking to another University of Exeter doctoral alumnus, Denise Wilkins, who is currently working as a researcher in industry.

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Denise, are you happy to introduce yourself, I'm Denise Wilkins and I'm a social scientist and I work at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.

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So my job there really is to conduct research. So I'll be trying to understand people.

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Social scientists trying to understand their needs and really try to feed insights back

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to people who are looking at the future of technology development to really think how,

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you know, what I'm hearing, what I'm talking to, people might translate and be applied to products that we might want to develop in the longer term.

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And so at the moment, we're working in a theme called The Future of Work.

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So we're really interested to understand what the work might look like in the future and how technology might support that.

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And my project is looking at knowledge in large organisations, say,

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trying to find ways to help workers in large organisations share knowledge and have knowledge kind of more available to them in their work.

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What was your research degree in at Exeter? My degree was in psychology.

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Say it was it was very kind of similar themes.

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I was looking at technology and in particular I was looking at a social media and how it might affect people's willingness to engage in activism.

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So to put it, I was really inspired by things like the Arab Spring and where you might have

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seen or have kind of had news stories that social media played a role in,

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acts as a catalyst by inspiring people to go on the streets. But at the same time, there was also kind of a slacktivism narrative going on which said,

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well, you know, people are just like him things and sharing things on social media.

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And they're not really kind of going on the ground and doing the hard effort. So really

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Well, what I tried to do in my PhD was to really understand when and how social media might facilitate activism

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and social change and what are the type of circumstances where it might maybe have a different effect.

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And reduce people's willingness to do that. On what? When might it have more kind of negative effects and social change?

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So although I was in psychology,

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my research will always have the interest in people and technology and how technology can be a positive driver for change.

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And that's kind of followed me on to my work at Microsoft. So I'm interested to know what what your plan was, I guess,

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when you were doing the coming to the end of your research degree in the write-up, which is incredibly challenging in and of itself.

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Did you have a clear plan of what you wanted to do afterwards? Was the plan always to go into a research career in industry?

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Yeah. Well, at the time, I don't think I was aware.

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of the different options and career paths that there were.

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And I knew that I love researching. I knew that I love talking to people.

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And I knew that I wanted to have an impact, say,

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thinking about how technology so pervasive in our everyday lives and how new technology is being created all the time.

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I was aware that, you know, that there are kind of negative impacts that technology can have, say how can.

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And so the idea as a researcher take a role in shaping that.

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And I wasn't really sure then about the opportunities that existed in industry.

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It wasn't something that I heard much about. You know, psychology's part of STEM in Exeter.

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So I often heard about people with like a chemistry or biology degrees and how they might go to kind of pharmaceutical companies.

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But I didn't really hear much of the narrative about what kind of psychology PhD could do with their degree.

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So I wasn't really aware and I was mostly looking for the kind of jobs in academia and postdocs in academia.

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And I actually I went on. And prior to working in Microsoft, I did a postdoc and I Exeter.

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So that was with the same P.I.

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He supervised me for my PhD. And that was looking at a different form of technology in different contexts.

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And I was looking at block chain and how and how it could be used to create new peer-to-peer energy markets.

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I was looking at the energy sector there. It was only when I started doing that postdoc

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One of the other researchers on the same project really told me about kind of user research.

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They told me about HCI as a field. And they told me about my research in Cambridge and how they do lots of they have lots of engagement,

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kind of which social science and which social scientists that there really is a role for kind of social scientists in large

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organisations like that and engaging with different users and generating insights that can be used by design and developers.

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So was that an immediate move?

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So when you finished your postdoc, did you go straight to a job at Microsoft Research or was there something in between?

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Yeah, there wasn't anything in between. So from talking to her it just sounded really inspirational

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It sounded kind of exactly what I wanted to do

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So no, on the one hand and. So Microsoft research is slightly different from like Microsoft, so there's kind of two arms to Microsoft.

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You have sort of Microsoft and the product groups and they'd be directly they still do user research

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and they and they would be directly trying to impact the products we use every day in the short term.

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So it really is. As far as I totally understand that it's about sort of what really focussed on finding insights that can improve specific products.

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Whereas Microsoft Research has its longer term or indeed vision.

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So I'm not part of any particular project, product group, but I hope to have insights that could perhaps impact and shape any of the products.

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And other large tech companies have similar.

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You have Google and you've got Google product groups, but you will see what people research.

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So, yeah, that's that's kind of one of the splits that you have.

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So really what I liked about Microsoft research is that you have the opportunity to have the real world impact on the products.

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And by really doing that I'm aiming for that kind of thought leadership and find it,

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finding these insights that can impact the longer term vision that there really is this kind of academic community.

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So we're encouraged to write publications and to submit them to journals and to conferences.

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Really, really there is this academic engagement.

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We also have. So that's another reason why that's those kind of opportunities with Microsoft Research really appealed

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to me because I felt like it ticked both of the boxes of what I really loved about being in academia.

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So on the one hand, trying to have real world impact or say being part of a broader academic and scientific community where you're able to sort of

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push your learnings out more broadly and beyond kind of the immediate project that you might be working on through publications,

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for example. Yes, and what you're saying about not being aware of the opportunities in industry,

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but particularly where social science type research might be happening in industry is something we hear a lot for from students.

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So from what you're saying, it sounds like there were a lot of similarities between the role that you're doing now and a research role in academia.

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So could you talk a little bit about what the differences are? So what's different about researching in industry compared to academia?

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Yeah. So I think, you know, one of those pieces that I like, which is much stronger is is the impact.

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Say, I feel like maybe for me as a junior researcher in a university, that idea of impact was probably quite far from my mind.

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So I want to see the research I wanted to write out for publication.

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And then you heard stories about people talking about impact are more senior.

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Well, I never really knew what that meant. I didn't really know how I would go about having impact.

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And I think sometimes on a personal level, I would think I'm I'm doing research and I'm I'm writing papers.

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But who's reading them. Who's going to do something with them.

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Is is it other folk from the psychology community, which is great.

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But, you know, how can you go beyond your community and and really encourage people who are designing technology to do it differently?

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And for me. That was just perhaps a kind of psychological gap in my head,

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like I couldn't see how those steps joined up, whereas in my soul, for me, it's much clearer.

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And so I'm just a really practical examples. We have regular meetings, we have different product groups, and I'll be sharing my insights with them.

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So really, the stakeholders of the research are really clear.

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And, you know, you have those in mind when you're trying to design the research and you have the opportunity to really think,

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well, how how might this kind of shape shape their thinking?

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So that's the kind of steps are a lot clearer to me, which is one thing that I really liked.

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I think it perhaps changes some of the type of things you might produce.

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So I think sometimes in sort of academia where we're taught to write

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Kind of papers and the papers can be really long. And, you know, people are really interested in the details.

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So they want to know exactly what methods you used and they'll want to know a

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lot about kind of the background and your kind of theoretical justification. And again, I want to know at the end,

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how does how what other kind of impacts of this and other academics will really have time to kind of read those long papers.

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And we need to still learnings from it.

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But I think one of the things in industry is that you're trying to communicate # to lots of different people.

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And some people they might be the same specialism as you.

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So there might be other social scientists and I might have a lot more time to read all of that.

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But you also might be talking to kind of leaders or designers or people need to make that decision about their product really quickly.

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So they will just really want to have something that they can absorb like, say,

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really a PowerPoint and they just want to know on know even two slides, like what are the key things I need to know?

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And so it's about communicating a lot and a lot more kind of concise ways.

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And also perhaps not being afraid to have an opinion and how they're a strength and say these are tje recommendations is what I would advise you today.

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And again, for me, at least in academia. I felt like that wasn't something that I did before.

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I didn't really make lots of presentations, only occasionally of us going to a conference, for example.

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And again, I, I think it was just my personality but I would shy away from making really strong recommendations and say,

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well, because of this study, we need to be X, Y and Z.

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But that's really what people are looking for in industry.

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You to give the practical recommendations for that for that work and what they should do next.

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So I'm hearing a lot and what you're saying about the core skill set that you use in your current role

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and communication in a variety different forms and formats seems to be an important part of that.

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But I wonder what other sort of general skills did you learn or develop during your research degree that you use on a daily basis now?

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I think because of my degree, I think one of. The core skills that I learnt was really planning research and then sort of learning

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how to conduct research on having sort of a variety of different research methods.

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So really that kind of expertise with people and being able to interview people and get them to talk to you about whatever,

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whatever topic they might they might have and then really been able to put that together into a narrative.

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So I feel that's one of kind of the strongest, the strongest skills that I've kind of taken from my PhD

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So something that I think would be really interesting for our listeners is that you've

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interviewed and been successful for a research job in academia and in industry.

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So can you talk about the interview, and application processes for those roles?

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And if they were similar or if they were different and if so, what the differences were and they were different.

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So the the entry process at Microsoft was much longer.

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So there were a number of calls first.

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I think first I submitted an application, which was I think it was a CV and maybe maybe a statement, a short statement as to why the job was with.

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Interesting. And then I had a call from a recruiter.

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He just really wanted to cover some kind of fundamental thing.

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So the job I actually have with Microsoft, it is called a postdoc.

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So it was just really checking things of, you know, how have I finished my PhD?

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And just trying to get the basics to kind of field. And then I was passed on to a telephone interview with the person who is now my manager.

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So I think she interviewed me, for about an hour.

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And then after that, I got invited to the lab where I would give a presentation, say the presentation was an hour.

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And then I had an interviews with one to one interviews with a number of different researchers at the lab.

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So it really was like a whole When I was there, it was really like a whole day event, the number of different activities.

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Whereas my postdoc, Exeter, I did the I think it was the normal application of the CV and the cover letter.

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And then I got invited to an interview and I was interviewed by a panel of three people who ask questions.

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And I think, you know, that interview was for less than an hour.

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So I think that the length and the number of stages was much different.

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And in industry compared to the university, you know, and I think because the task the difference I didn't give a presentation,

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was interviewed at the university, say again, that had a different type of preparation.

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So I had to kind of put the presentation together.

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But I think in terms of like the the fundamental preparation for the interview and thinking, you know, why do you want the job?

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Why what have you got to offer? How does that fit into your career path?

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Why this organisation? Why this role? And those things were great.

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And also say when I was applying for both jobs I got help from the career service at Exeter.

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So I had a one to one session with one of the career advisers.

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She specifically helps PhD students. And that was really sort of invaluable both times in terms of sort like just helping me think about it.

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So I really felt like that kind of preparation that I did beforehand would be really key.

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And I would encourage anybody who's applying for any type of job, reallu to put the work into that preparation.

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You know, any any might even that work might even span a few days when you go away and you'll really be searching and understanding things.

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So, yeah,

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I feel like that was something that really helped me with both with being able to do that kind of up from preparation and get my my head into space.

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So I need kind of a story that I wanted to tell. Absolutely.

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And did you find you articulated that story and those skills differently in the different contexts?

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I feel like it was similar. Yeah, I do feel like it was similar.

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I think because, you know, the job I have with Microsoft is a postdoc.

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So they are expecting somebody. who doesn't have you know

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Somebody who i new to industry is somebody who has completed a PhD and they're looking for that kind of first industry position.

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So they weren't you we'd expect me to come and say, you know, I've got years of, you know,

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working with product groups and, you know, delivering insights and having this massive impact on how organisations run.

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And it really was trying to articulate how the findings from kind of my my PhD, for example,

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of how some of the findings that I have could be relevant and impactful for them and kind of Microsoft as stakeholders.

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What would that look like? And I think that was kind of similar. to my postdoc interview in academia, they really want to kind of, you know,

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know some of those kind of transferable skills, so the postdoc that I did at Exeter.

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And it was a completely different topic.

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But they wanted to able you know what what skills would you bring and how how would she make sure that they that that could benefit all project?

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So I feel like that was there were lots of similarities. Yeah.

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It sounds like the threads between the different research roles in different contexts are actually really strong.

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Can you talk to me a little bit about your average, say? I know there's no such thing as an average day right now,

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but how different is you kind of working day and working life to when you were a research degree student and a postdoc?

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So I think my average day I'm now in industry is quite different to how it was as a PhD student.

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And for me, at least mostly in my PhD, I was really working on on my own.

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Say, a lot of the time I was in wasn't meeting with many other people to discuss my research.

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Other than my academic supervisors, I'm very rarely.

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I would give maybe a presentation to kind of the lab group that we had.

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So it really was a very individual work. I felt like I was kind of doing it for myself.

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And I also felt like, you know, this is for me when I'm ready to

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Share that. When once I got the paper or once I've done the presentation, I'll share that with other people.

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But I think the kind of flipside of that was always that question. My model, who's really interested in the in the results of this?

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Like, what's going to happen to it later? Whereas in Microsoft, it's much more collaborative.

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So I'm working as part of a multidisciplinary team, so there's designers on the team.

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And there's machine only researchers and theire's engineers. And we have sort of regular meetings throughout the week.

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So in any one day I might be meeting with the team members to tell them about the things I've been doing, so to update on

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The things I've been doing during the week, or also to hear about what they've been doing.

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I might be helping people conduct their own research, say some of the designers they do research on might be helping them like recruit participants.

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I might be helping them think about some of their findings and distil insights.

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I might be kind of contributing to a PowerPoint that we're making to show other people the work we've done.

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And there is I might be I might be participating in a brainstorm or workshop where we're

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trying to understand the next phase of the project and what some of our priorities are.

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But there is still space for individual work. So I would still conduct my research studies.

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I'd be doing literature reviews. I'd be doing going through an ethics process, say, to get ethical approval for my study.

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I'd be analysing the results and trying to trying to write these up and trying to write papers.

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And there is also an we have sort of a kind of lab culture say I'm part of the future of work theme.

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And every other week we would have a meeting where we would, for example, listen a presentation from one of the other researchers.

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So I think really my day could be split up with any of those tasks, depending on what stage I'm in the project.

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And I wouldn't. There is no one day that looks the same.

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And I think those types of tasks on that kind of individual level, they are very similar to what I was doing in my PhD

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And there is this other collaborative layer where you are really part of a bigger team and anybody trying to kind of help the team be successful,

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which I feel is different from from my PhD because it was kind of a very individual project and working style.

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So thinking about the emphasis on collaborative working, what experiences did you have as a research student that helped prepare you for this way

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of working or helped you develop the skill set that you would need in the workplace?

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I got involved in different types of extracurricular activities, I feel like that helped more than what was in my PhD per se

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So when I was Exeter,

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that was the opportunity to be a facilitator on Grand Challenges Week and so that was really a great point of collaboration for me in trying to

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kind of think about what what kind of team of undergraduates are doing and how I might also support them in their work and kind of facilitate them.

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So that didn't feel as kind of individual. And there were other things that I did.

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So I I'd be included on a grant application, it wasn't successful, but I kind of helped prepare some of the work for that.

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So there were kind of brainstorms and kind of workshops, sessions, and people were collaboratively authoring kind of documents.

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So that was really another aspect that really facilitated that.

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And another thing that I.

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got involved with was the widening participation programme at Exeter so that's with the with the residential team, say and also open days as well.

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So those I was working as part of a team where we collaborated said, think about what?

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What activities do you want today? Well, some of the things you want to present to people.

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So I felt like those extra curricular things were what really helped.

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And we have that kind of collaboration aspect in my PhD

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And I also mentioned the postdoc I did at Exeter. was looking at the kind of peer-to-peer energy markets.

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And that was more collaborative that because I was working in a multidisciplinary team with computer scientists and software engineers and say, yeah,

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that was a lot more collaborative in terms if we had more kind of regular meetings where we would

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give updates about the work that we've done and look at the different kind of pieces of work,

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we tried to understand how the different pieces kind of fit together.

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So I felt like it wasn't perhaps things that I did kind of directly through my PhD

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But I felt that there were other things that I got involved in during my PhD that helped.

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So what other extra curricular things you got involved with that really important

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or formative for moving onto the stock and your current job at Microsoft Research?

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Yeah. So I know that I got I took part in a summer school as well.

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So in the psychology department and social psychologists, we're part of a broader kind of the European association social psychologists.

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And there was a summer school. So I took part in that. And that was in a way of about how we have kind of grand challenges for the undergrads.

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It was sort of you kind of came in for I think it was a week or two weeks and

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we just tackled like a brand new problem or brand new area of research us

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And we kind of worked in small groups and we thought about what a study would look like and what kind of questions we'd want to ask,

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what kind of data we want to collect. So that kind of rapid and that trying to gain a rapid understanding of any topic and

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then tried to kind of spend that up into what kind of project proposal might look like.

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That was really good as well. So I think. Those types of opportunities where you know that you can be working with other people,

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doing a different type of task than you might do in your everyday work. That was good.

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And yeah, I had a few other things that I did so that I always kind of get the names of the schemes

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but I think it was I think this actually came under public outreach.

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So when I got involved in things like the Sidmouth Science Festival and put together, I just sort of like a little demo from psychology,

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but just got me talking to other audiences say those are kids, you know,

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young children and members of the public and say again, you know, I didn't even talk about my own research.

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I feel like sometimes that's a barrier or you might think, oh, I don't have anything to say about my research,

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but I just talked to them about kind of classic psychology experiments and bought them things that they could play with.

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So there's a little bit of an IQ test that they got to kind of shift ground blocks and try to put patterns together.

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But I think that as well,

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it just helped me just with communication skills and thinking about how to explain kind of research to people who aren't academics.

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So, yeah, I thought both in the communication and in just kind of planning that and setting them up and talking about the team,

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all we got to do and how are we going to do that? That was also another aspect of collaboration.

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So thinking about those those extra curricular things you did, you know, Sidmouth Science Festival,

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Granch challenges the summer school, going to a careers consultant for one to one appointment.

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What other advice would you give to current research degree students to.

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What opportunities do you think they should make the most of during their research

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degree to help them prepare for that transition to a career in research,

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but also a role outside of academia? Yes. So I think the one thing that I didn't do, which I've learnt about, is internships.

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So, you know, so organisations like Microsoft Research.

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But I think anybody anybody's interested, potentially interested in tech in the summer.

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Lots of these companies have internships where they're looking to these students.

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They're paid. They're like well paid.

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And you can go for three months over the summer, say, I think a lot of places they start to kind of advertise things in September,

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say, you know, it's a bit of forward planning involved.

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But I would definitely say to look and see if there's an internship in the type of area that you might be interested in,

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because it really does give you a head start on.

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You know, some people come back and do the internship every single year.

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So they, you know, they start in their first year.

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And then by the end of their third year, they've done an internship with the organisation three, three times.

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And you really think, you know, they've almost got kind of years work experience directly in the industry that they want to go into.

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But even if you do the internship and you might think, oh, actually,

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this isn't anything like I thought it's going to be and I've I've realised I don't want to do this.

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I think it will give you a whole new set of skills that you probably wouldn't get from your PhD

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And also, it gives you that learning. It might give you that closer understanding of what is it that I want today.

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And I think even if you kind of really feel strongly I want to go into academia

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and doing something like an internship might help you get industry connections.

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So when you're thinking about, like your own grants and how you might want to have an industry sponsor when

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they're doing internships with a relevant industry could help you get a build.

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That network can have these connections where later you can say, oh, actually, maybe I can find out these can be an industry partner on a grant.

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So I would definitely advise you to look for these things.

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I think one of the challenges that I always had thinking about my career was I had relatively limited geographic mobility.

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So I know that lots of people end up going abroad after their PhD

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And, you know, for me, because of my family circumstances, that wasn't an option.

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But I would encourage people here don't underestimate like what companies are kind of not too far off on your doorstep.

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I really I didn't even know that Microsoft had a lab in Cambridge and other companies in London isn't isn't too far from Exeter.

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So, you know, you might be surprised kind of what there os and what they're doing, the type of opportunities that they have.

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And so I'd really encourage you to think about that.

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And I'd just talk to people who I talk to people at conferences and yeah, just reach out to people on linkedin

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If you think they're really interesting and even if they're not somebody you could work directly,

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they might have advice and say, well, you know, maybe I should try this place or maybe should look at this programme.

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And I think that that's fabulous advice,

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whether you're looking at roles inside or outside of academia to really think about starting to build and maintain that network of contacts,

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because whether you're looking for roles in industry or collaborators or industry partners for funding applications,

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those networks will sustain you for your career. Thank you so much to Denise for taking the time to talk to me.

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I found our conversation really fascinating to get into some of the detail of what a research career in industry is like,

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what that transition from postdoc to research an industry is like,

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but also what experiences to make the most of to help facilitate that transition and get you the skills that you need.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 5 - Dr. James Alsop, Secondary School Teacher

Episode 5 - Dr. James Alsop, Secondary School Teacher

June 25, 2020

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. James Alsop, who works as a secondary school English teacher.

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter, Doctoral College

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Hello, it's Kelly Preece and welcome to the latest episode of Beyond Your Research Degree.

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In this episode, I'm talking to Dr James Alsop, a graduate of the University of Exeter who is now working as a secondary school teacher.

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Are you happy to introduce yourself, James. I'm James Allsopp. I graduated from Exeter in 2015 with my PhD in English.

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My thesis was all about the Living Dead in early modern drama.

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It was cunningly titled Playing Dead because it involves dead things in plays.

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I thought I was quite proud of that. I am. It was a four year process.

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It was a hard, hard, hard fought PhD. And at the end of it, I didn't really have any career trajectory.

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For various reasons I'll probably end up talking about in a minute or two.

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Fast forward, you know, five years or so. And I'm here in Exeter again after a short return home to Essex and I'm teaching.

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So I'm teaching English at Torquay Girls Grammar School.

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And yeah, I've been teaching now for seven years in total with a couple of mini breaks here and there as well.

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Yeah, that's been my path. And hopefully I'll fill in the gap between how did I finish the PhD and how did I end up here.

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Yeah. So what? I think thinking about it kind of chronologically,

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what was what was that like to be coming to the end of or getting to the end of the PhD and not knowing what the next step was?

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So first thing's first I think I made the whole thing sound a little bit easier than it was

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even though I did emphasise the chronic difficulty of the entire process.

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I don't if I mean if you're listening to this, I don't necessarily take my example as a model to follow.

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I had a extremely. I want to say strange, this strange feels like an understatement.

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I had a frankly bizarre ending to my PhD, so I did my first year of the doctorate

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And I'm self-funded, by the way. I was very fortunate in that my grandfather was able to pay for my entirePhDprocess.

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He gave me his will before he passed away. He is still with us

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He's got. That's lovely because he's got the kind of fruits of the labour.

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He wanted to say, you know, you'll end up with his money at some point, say I have it now and do something with it.

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And it was strange because that was very cool having this amazing gift.

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But also there was a lot of emotional pressure there. You know, you've got this big pocket of money.

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All of a sudden it's been spent on your education and you better do something with it.

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And even in those early days, it felt like the Holy Grail at the end of the PhD

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was always this academic career. You know, my role models were academics.

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My my my academic heroes were people that I looked up to for so long.

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And just imagine being in their position one day.

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Imagine being in that lecture theatre or imagine sharing these ideas and having these amazing conversations and writing books.

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And, you know, that was the aim that was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

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But I mean, as we all know, and I imagine anyone listening to this knows,

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those pots of gold are far rarer than perhaps you imagine at the start of the journey.

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And being self-funded I had to pay my own way through that first year of the PhD in terms of living expenses and things like that.

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So what I found was I had three Part-Time Jobs on the go one time.

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And of course people think of the PhD. As, you know, you're a student, you're learning, you're in education still.

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But as anyone that started the process knows, the PhD is a full time job.

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Yeah. You know, it's it's an all consuming beasy

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So I was spending my evenings and nights working on this doctorate and my days I was spending so much time,

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you know, furthering between, gosh, what did I do? I was a barman. That was cool.

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I love being a barman. I was a barista in a coffee bar.

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Wow. I worked in what was Coffee Express and I think has now turned into I know there's a salon there at the bottom of Devonshire house.

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It used to be a coffee bar.  I was there in the early morning to do breakfasts for students.

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I was a cleaner as well at the Exeter Corn Exchange.

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I still get a cold shudder whenever I go out there.

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And that's not because it was a bad job or because I saw it as unworthy of me.

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It's because it was ungodly early hours. I was up at half past three in the morning to get there for a half past four shift.

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And I'm not I'm not gonna tell you this because, you know, woe is me or anything like that.

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I just want to make it clear, you know, that that first year was intense. I had this huge emotional pressure,

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but also this workload that meant I was spending so much time earning money to live in Exeter that I wasn't actually doing much studying in Exeter.

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I rarely saw my supervisor. And that wasn't because they weren't available.

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It was just because I wasn't. Yeah.

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So that was a lot. I moved home in the second year of the degree, which was a godsend.

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You know, I was lucky enough to be able to move home and live with my parents while I carried on with this PhD

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And finally, I had time to research. Finally, I had time to start writing.

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Of course, what that means is now in the back of my mind, I've got this ticking clock.

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You're in your second year. The third year is approaching and that first year didn't contain much productivity, did it, in any real sense?

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I also needed money. You know, I couldn't live off my parents.

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So I had to get a job. I ended up working in a pancake restaurant.

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Both things. Oh I know, which is great.

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You know, I make a mean pancake and a mean omlette to this day, you know, there are skills that I carry with me for the rest of my life.

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But, you know, it was a again, it was it was a tough process balancing this.

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I lived in Essex, which isn't a million miles away from the British Library, which was grand.

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So I'm finally starting to find some balance there.

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And then the third year of my PhD started and I realised that actually I didn't know what was at the end.

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Now, thing is, I because of all the other stuff that in.

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Not so much my time. I hadn't got anything published. I've been to one single conference.

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I hadn't helped to put together any conference panels myself.

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I hadn't contributed any reviews to any publications. And when you're studying English, when English is your field, you know,

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the publication is it's a daunting process because there's so much amazing stuff out there.

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But it's also very solitary process. This was in the days before academic Twitter, I think, took off.

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And I found that the whole thing intensely lonely. It was very hard to make any any headway there.

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I didn't even know what an academic conference was until the end of my second year.

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You know, I it feels so strange to say now.

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So I found myself in this strange place at the start of my third year where I didn't know what was actually going to happen at the end of it.

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I had a very supportive supervisor who saw me through that, third year by, you know, scrutinising everything I sent her, no matter how terrible it was.

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You know, come the end of that third year, I found, you know, I.

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I didn't know what was actually going to happen once I completed this enormous essay in my mind.

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I wasn't preparing for a career anymore. I was just surviving I needed to go into a fourth year to complete this PhD.

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So that that's when things started to turn around for me, out of necessity, I needed to look for jobs.

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So I thought academia is not going to happen for me.

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You know, with my lack of publication history, with my lack of any contacts, there's no way I'm getting a university job.

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I don't even know how to apply. And I didn't know it at the time.

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I'm saying this because I think the context is important. I felt as hopeless as hopeless could get.

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And looking back, actually, this period of time was perhaps the best thing that happened to me.

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It was perhaps the most productive, personally and professionally of my career.

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You know, that necessity creates opportunity. I think if you look for it, you find it.

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And I decided it's, you know, I need a job, I need money.

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And to move out of my parents. I went into teaching.

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It wasn't as easy as I thought to begin with because you need to do teacher training.

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And the teacher training programmes on offer, you know, vary between universities.

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There are different schemes you can go on. I needed money now.

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I didn't want any more student debt, really, or I want to minimise that as much as I could.

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So I went on something called a SCITT school centred initial teacher training.

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I went back to my old secondary school and I started doing training there.

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It was so weird. I was on the other side of the staff room door all of a sudden.

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And I'm doing this PhD on the one hand, again, in the evenings during my days, I'm training as a teacher.

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I'm going on teaching courses. I'm learning how to engage with kids harder than I thought.

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Oh, man. And let me make this clear. Subject knowledge does not a good teacher make.

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I mean, I can't emphasise that strongly enough. I thought.

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Yeah, this will be a cinch. I'm just talking to kids. I'm just talking about English.

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I can do English. Oh, I could not teach.

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My training was important. At the same time as I am completing a PhD, doing teacher training,

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I am also in the process of moving house because I'm also in the process of getting married.

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So again, when I say that my experience isn't necessarily one you can generalise,

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I feel that that's a fair thing to say because I would not recommend doing two of those things at the same time,

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let alone all four of them needs must. And I did what I could and every decision I made at the time I made because I felt it needed to happen.

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I wasn't willing. And perhaps it was a foolish thing in hindsight, I don't know, I wasn't willing to compromise on any one area of my life.

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I wasn't willing to compromise on my relationship or my PhD or my teacher training.

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I wanted to start living. I couldn't afford mentally or financially to carry on in this strange, nebulous stopgap zone.

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I wanted to start being the person I could be. Outside of the PhD

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And I think that's important. You know, when you're studying for the PhD actually, again, it's a long, long process,

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regardless of your subject, regardless if you're working by yourself or part of a team.

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It's a lot. And you. By the end of it, we'll have a good idea of where you stand academically.

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But professionally is still finding your feet professionally. There's a world out there that you haven't had the chance to explore just yet.

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I. Fast forward to the end of my teacher training.

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It was very, very difficult. It was a hard, hard process. I experienced a lot of good, though, you know.

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There's nothing more therapeutic, I think, than working with young people.

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I think every teacher I've ever spoken to will say the same thing.

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The very best part of teaching is working in that classroom with those kids, regardless of whether they're in secondary to sixth form here.

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So whether you're dealing with an 11 year old who's writing a comic strip about Romeo and Juliet or whether

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you're dealing with a sixth former who's writing a huge assess coursework essay on comparative feminist literature,

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you know, whichever age group you're dealing with.

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Just being able to sit down with kids and talk through their ideas and help them see the best parts of themselves.

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That's what teaching is all about. There's loads of negativity. There's loads of financial pressure.

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I mean, you don't get paid much. Government are constantly moving goalposts.

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The things that you need to teach often feel slightly counterintuitive, you know.

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But the marking. Oh, over marking.

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But all of that is made worthwhile by being able to work with young people.

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That was a lifeline for me. And it's a lifeline during difficult circumstances.

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Like I said, it was strange working with other adults again after after a long period of being by myself.

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It was strange working with with other, you know, young professionals.

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And I got a little bit of blowback. You know, I would tell people, hey, this is my story.

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I've got a PhD after I'm doing my PhD and I'm doing this as well.

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And there was a lot of I don't know how else to describe it.

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But reverse snobbery, you know.

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Oh, so you've spent this long at university. You haven't lived.

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You've come into teaching. What do you think? It was the easy option. And I'm like, well, I did think.

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And now I know it's not you know, you by doing it, actually, you're working on developing a huge,

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huge set of skills that will be useful to you in any form of employment.

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I know that's the sort of thing I tell you when you start your PhD

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It's the sort of thing that you hear whenever you go to any kind of, you know, training session on.

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ok  what do I do once it's done? They'll say that. But I speak from experience.

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This is true. You don't know how good you are.

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If you're listening to this and you're doing your PhD and it feels like you're struggling and scratching and clawing your way through it,

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you've got so much to offer the world. You just don't realise it yet.

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And you will. Your time will come as mine did.

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You know, I finished this teacher training. I moved to a grammar school in Chelmsford, in Essex.

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And I had the best three years, I think, of my life there.

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The reason for that was simple. I found something that works for me.

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I found a job that let me be me. And it scratched that academic itch

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It helps me, you know, I think it helped me grow in any number of ways, teaching.

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But, you know, first and foremost, it allowed me to be academic in a sense, without having all the university pressure on me anymore.

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But also, it gave me something I didn't even realise I was looking for. You know, remember, I was a teacher.

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That sounds cheesy. I don't care. You know, I say at times, you know,

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I entered because I needed the job and I thought it would fit and I didn't realise quite how well I would fit into it.

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Oh, that rhymes see, teaching is fund. I think it be useful to talk about what the what aspects of your PhD you feel that you use.

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In your job. Apart from that kind of academic knowledge and like you say, scratching that kind of academic itch.

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What I discovered was that the PhD had actually given me all these transferable skills and I was in a job where they had the time to shine, I think.

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So first of all, even though if you're doing the PhD, you become pretty good at time management pretty quickly,

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if you don't, you you very quickly learn why time management is useful.

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And you get a diary and you invest in ways to try to learn very quickly how to become good at time management.

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It's I mean, it goes without saying a school is run on a clock. You know, you've got every hour of the day.

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It's designated to a certain period, a certain subject, a certain class. You've got to be in a certain place at a certain time.

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Well, all of that came second nature. You know, for a lot of people that have been throughuniversity and going straight into teaching,

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they haven't had a rigid timetable for a couple of years, particularly in the humanities.

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You know, actually, you know,

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waking up early and getting to the place on time and then having every hour of my day organised was I mean, it was amazing.

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I knew exactly where I'd be at any given point of the day. And I found it really easy to sort of immerse myself in that world.

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And the interpersonal skills that a PhD teaches you as well.

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And by that, I mean the importance of asking questions. I think I said, you know, while I was researching, I was very lonely.

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I was very isolated. But even so,

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you're engaging with the text that you study and you learn very quickly the importance of asking the right question to find the answer you need.

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Well, in a school, what you're doing as a teacher is asking questions constantly.

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Kids don't learn because you throw information into their heads.

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Kids don't learn because you stand there with a syringe and inject the information through their eyeballs.

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I mean, the day would be a lot shorter if that was true.

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They learn because you're asking them the right questions and you're getting them to find answers to those questions themselves.

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Give them the tools. Give them the scaffolding they need. But, you know,

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I didn't realise quite how naturally it came to bounce questions from one person to another to encourage students to ask each other questions.

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I mean, that kind of thing became second nature very quickly. But it's a skill that it takes a lot of new teachers a long time to pick up.

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It feels quite. It feels quite logical to go into teaching and give information.

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It feels less intuitive to provide the means to find the information and then assess whether or not that information was being found.

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But as a PhD researcher, graduate student postdoc, wherever you are, that's the skill that you find comes very,

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very naturally because you've been practising it for longer than you realise.

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What else did I come across? Well, my goodness. I find in schools students need help with things that I see, again,

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as a actually student had been doing for some time, writing letters of application.

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So if a student is applying for, you know, a part time job or if a student more permanently is applying for a university.

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If a student wants to apply for a university that has entrance exams, I'm thinking to in particular, you can probably think of where they are.

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That's a lot of pressure on these kids to do enormous research, enormous work on an application that may or may not even be successful.

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And if you're sitting there as a PhD student thinking, yep, I've done a few of those.

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Welcome to the world of UCAS.

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Again, you thought you were long past it, but if you go back to teaching, you'll be working with sixth form kids who need help applying to university.

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It's more competitive now than ever. And the application process is so, so difficult in so many ways.

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When's the last time you wrote a personal statement? Also, I'll ask these kids and they won't know what a personal statement is.

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When's the last time you wrote an essay about how good you are?

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I'll ask my students and they'll say, well, never. As a researcher, you're constantly doing that kind of thing.

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You're writing emails, asking for information, your writing applications for funding, your writing applications for conferences, things like that.

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You are constantly trying to justify, you know, why you deserve a shot or something.

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And for these kids, that experience became valuable. I found in everything I've been to four schools now as a teacher and every school I've gone.

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So I've become. The go to guy for my sixth formers, if they want an application read or if they want a personal statement,

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make it stronger or if they want to know how to sell themselves.

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It's strange in an era of social media where everyone talks about themselves constantly.

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I still think being able to talk positively about one's self is a skill a lot of young people struggle to develop.

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And, you know, if you can just teach them to think more of themselves and put that into paper.

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Well, that's progress. And, yeah, that that's I think that's the biggest thing I got from the  PhD

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And you'll notice I haven't mentioned anything academic, really. You know, the subject knowledge.

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You know, if you've done it, if you want to be actually you've got some subject knowledge.

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Right, about that. It kind of goes without saying.

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But what perhaps you don't realise you've got is the ability to make connections between different subjects, areas in teaching.

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That's really important. You know, you can be teaching two different modules to the same class at the same time.

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And if you can show them why it's important we do this where the areas connect.

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If you can do creative writing, your writing to persuade, writing to convince in one module as part of the English language component,

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then you can link that to perhaps, you know, your literature studies.

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You can talk about Pride and Prejudice and say, well, okay.

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So when this letter is written to this character, what persuasive techniques are you detecting here?

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So you're combining the creative with the analytical in ways that you know again well, you will find regardless of your specialism.

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I know I'm using English examples, but regardless of your specialism, you'll find it so much easier to make Connections that engage the students.

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One of the big questions every teacher fears is, is the loud kid at the back of the class saying, yeah, but why is this important?

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Do we really need to learn this? And my friend, if you're listening to this, you will have an answer ready, because that's what you do.

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You give answers to that kind of question without thinking about it.

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That's what you've been doing all the time you've been researching. You know what else I found, though, that I wasn't expecting?

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Here;s the really cool thing, I think about going into teaching.

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It made me a better academic. I can't emphasise that enough.

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I told you at the end of the PhD, I had zero publications. I'd been to one conference.

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I didn't even know conferences were available to people like me. I thought it was just professors that went to them.

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They were daunting, scary things. And I hadn't written anything anybody care to read as a teacher.

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The first thing you learn, I think day one is clarity of expression is everything.

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If you don't express yourself clearly to class.

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They won't know what they're doing. And then you've wasted an hour of their time on yours.

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If you don't explain something clearly to them, they'll go into an exam with the wrong answer.

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I learnt quickly that being concise and clear were two of the most valuable skills anyone could ever develop, regardless of your job.

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But in teaching, they shine. And that's not something I had ever considered really as a the actually researcher.

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I've been teaching now for seven years and I've published two essays.

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I've published one review. I've been to eight different conferences.

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I've done two podcasts on academic matters.

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I've started an academic blog. I've done all of these things while being a full time teacher.

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Thank you very much, James, for taking the time to talk to me.

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I felt that this was a really important conversation in terms of thinking about careers beyond a research degree,

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because it's a classic case of what's called planned happenstance.

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So where you make decisions based on a number of different contextual factors that lead you into your career path.

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It's not a clear plan to become a teacher. And James's case, but he's ended up in the.

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Exactly the right career and the right environment for him. And I felt his passion for teaching was so palpable and evident in the conversation.

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And I really valued the way that he articulated the different ways in which his skills

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and experiences of doing the research degree are part of his job as a teacher.

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And also the ways in which teaching in a second school environment helps him to quote him.

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James himself, scratch that academic itch. And that's it for this episode.

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Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about that career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 4 - Dr Caitlin McDonald, LEF’s resident Digital Anthropologist

Episode 4 - Dr Caitlin McDonald, LEF’s resident Digital Anthropologist

April 27, 2020

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree! In this episode PhD student Debbie Kinsey talks to Dr Caitlin McDonald, a University of Exeter alumni who now works at the Leading Edge Forum. Today Caitlin is recognised for her domain knowledge in qualitative methods like ethnography and participant-observation. 

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter, Doctoral College

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My name's Dr Caitlin McDonald.

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I graduated in 2011 with a degree in Arab and Islamic studies from here at the University of Exeter at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies.

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And hard as it is to believe that it's now nine years later.

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It's it's really interesting to look back on what's happened since that time and

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consider the skills that I took away from the university and how I'm applying them now.

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So maybe to give you a bit of an update on where I am. I currently work as a digital anthropologist at an organisation called The Leading Edge Forum,

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which does technology and strategy research for large businesses and just in the

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Last month I was at the UN delivering a talk at the International Labour Organisation.

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I then hosted a dinner at the House of Lords about ethics. And I've done a range of interesting and exciting things since then.

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But it's really interesting to think about this particular month in particular

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and how that the kind of culmination of where I started and how I got here.

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So I started working at the Leading Edge forum about two years ago, and before that I was based at what was the Times educational supplement.

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But it's no longer known as that it's just the tes

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It's no longer owned by the Times, where I was working as a digital analyst, data analyst and working with data systems quite a bit.

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So all of that sounds really different than where I started, which was very much middle easy studies based, but really the kind of the through line.

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The thread for me was that a lot of the research that I was doing when I was doing my PhD was very digital ethnography based.

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So I was looking at patterns of knowledge and how they shift around the world, in particular for dancers who often for Middle Eastern dance,

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want to base their practise or to base the centre at the hub of their knowledge in Cairo or sometimes in Turkey or in other kinds of regions.

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But in my particular case, I was looking at dancers who had a dance tradition that is based out of Cairo.

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And what ended up happening was I did a lot of ethnography around in particular how people were using Facebook groups,

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but also other social media channels to spread the knowledge and in the creation of knowledge

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about how the dance kind of mythology and epistemology of what the dance meant to people.

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And while this doesn't sound really revolutionary now, way back in 2006, 2007, 2008, when I was first doing that, that was fairly new.

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You know, there weren't a huge amount of digital humanities tools at the time.

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And certainly we weren't using anything like this wonderful lab that we have now. I think this was the old print print shop at the time.

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So it was really interesting. But then what ended up happening is I went to do a very quantitative role,

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which when you become an anthropologist, you don't necessarily think of yourself as a quantitative person.

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Some might. I did not. But it was having that kind of digital skills component that really was able to help me make

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the transition from a very academic role into a much more kind of commercially minded role.

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And I didn't really intend to leave academia, but around the time that I was leaving, there were huge budget cuts.

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So there simply weren't the kind of resources available for people to have postdocs and subsequent academic careers in particular.

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As an immigrant to this country, I was I needed to have a role if I wanted to stay working here.

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That was not short term. So it had to be a Full-Time full contract.

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And luckily, I was able to find something that worked out, which was with the Tes

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and they really wanted someone who could help them to an extent of their research skills.

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But a lot of the role was really about the kind of Day-To-Day operational knowledge to help the business run.

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So that was very, very different from what I previously been doing.

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But having this kind of interrogative skills, those kind of basics of a humanities research skills,

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those basic social sciences research skills was really helpful or for doing things

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like helping question why a particular thing was being done in a particular way.

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In particular, I was doing a lot of kind of daily reporting of what was happening on the website and what kinds of numbers

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were coming back in terms of circulation and all those kinds of things that digital businesses do.

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And really, the thing that was extremely useful was being able to turn around and say, hey, is anyone actually reading this report?

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You know, something as simple as this ritual that we go through on a daily basis of producing these numbers.

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How are they feeding into our decision making?

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And in some senses, that questioning was perhaps not always very welcome, but it also was that helpful to create the conditions for change.

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And I think that the social sciences are not always really great about talking about

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the transferable skills outside of academia that absolutely do exist.

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And I think now we're starting to see in particular with another research area that I do, which is all around ethics.

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You're starting to see some of those kinds of questions emerging around.

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Who is in charge of this knowledge or what are the kinds of different weights that we put on how we assess particular aspects of

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artificial intelligence and its relevance and its usefulness and how is it relevant to and who's benefiting and who's not benefiting?

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And I think that having a general social sciences research background, regardless of whether your specialism is in ethics or in,

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you know, particular aspects of digital technologies, you know, having that kind of questioning mind is is a really useful thing.

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And I think that people who work in digital context are starting to appreciate those qualitative skills,

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again, in a way that perhaps has been a little bit subsumed recently. So those kinds of questions around how is this going to benefit not only direct

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users of our services or our products or whatever it is that we're building,

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but also that kind of contextual knowledge about how is this affecting other people who are going to be impacted by the decisions that we're making?

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There is renewed curiosity and interest in those kinds of decisions. And so increasingly, organisations,

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businesses and non-commercial organisations are looking to the humanities as well as

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engineering to to make up the body of knowledge of creating those products effectively.

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So I would say now is a really good time, actually, to be in the digital humanities.

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And to some extent, no matter what you're doing, your work is always going to have a digital component.

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So recognising that, you know, when you think about the degree that I did,

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which was very much based in transmission of knowledge and very much about dance,

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you wouldn't necessarily think that that would lead to where it did lead. But in other ways, it makes total sense.

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It was a logical chain of transmission. I was looking at the social components of how that knowledge was happening.

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And now we are even more immersed in digital technologies. Our careers are even more immersed in this, no matter who you are.

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So having that background of having done that, kind of that kind of study was really useful to get me where I am now.

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Yeah, it sounds really interesting. So it sounds like so

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all PhDs are very specific so yours was around dance and transmission of knowledge between dances and creation of knowledge in that way.

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But then it sounds you talk about thinking about things, those things more broadly in terms of the general skills we develop.

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And how did you find translating those things from kind of academic speak to then going into a non-academic, non-academic role?

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Yeah. I would say that initially it was a real challenge for me, partly because when I first was looking for a job,

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I still was applying for a very academic roles, as well as starting to look beyond that.

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So I was looking at a lot of roles in market research. I was looking at the National Centre for Social Research.

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I was looking at ESRA U.K. you know, you go places like that and they have a more kind of traditional, I would say, research bent.

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Whereas if you if you move into, you know, user research and a company, for example,

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and most organisations do have a user research arm if they have a digital component, even if that's not their kind of core business,

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but that the language of that is very different from what perhaps you might be talking about

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if you're coming out of the social sciences or have a real kind of pure research background.

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So but the advantage of being an anthropologist or a sociologist or someone who

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studies the way that people think about knowledge is that you can then apply

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all the research skills that you have to your own situation so you can notice

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the kinds of patterns of knowledge that are happening in your organisation.

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You can notice the particular language that people are using around things and say, OK, you know, this group is talking about doing AB testing.

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You know, I might describe that differently in my own historical research background or whatever it was.

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But actually, the actual things that you need to do, the mechanics of the research are the same.

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So simply learning the kind of patterns of the patterns of life and work in

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the organisation that you find yourself in is a really useful skill to apply.

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So I spent probably two or three years mostly working in a digital engineering team.

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People that were doing actual software creation. And my role there was to assist with data migration that was happening.

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So we essentially had a place that we'd been storing all of this hard quantitative data

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that we were collecting over the years about how that Web site that we had was being used.

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And then we were changing everything about the underlying infrastructure and technology that we had into a completely different data storage system.

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And my role is to make sure that as we were doing that, nothing got lost.

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The data was collected in the same way. Nothing was missing.

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Nothing suddenly looked out of place. And so part of that was doing things like mapping the infrastructure from how the old data system work,

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doing what's called an entity relationship diagram, and looking at what the new entity relationships would be.

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So the places where the data was collected from the stored.

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And as I was doing those, I was like, this is a lot like doing essentially is family tree diagrams.

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You know, it's very much the same thing where you're looking at where are things transmitting from A to Z.

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So you can use all those kinds of same skills. And also just the kind of.

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That sense that I would get when I would go in and if I didn't know what people were

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talking about or if I felt like there was something unspoken or something happening,

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I didn't quite understand, I would behave exactly as though I were doing ethnography with a community,

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which is to try and treat the knowledge that I was a part of as being something that was that I was studying, you know.

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And so kind of having that observational hat on.

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First of all, it really helped defuse some situations that could have otherwise been quite personally demanding.

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Because if you just view it as I'm learning about what's going on within this group,

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then you're kind of personal sense of responsibility about that while still high because you were working there.

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It doesn't feel quite so rooted in your own sense of identity, I suppose,

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because you can also treat it as I'm viewing this as objectively separate from myself.

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And also then, you know,

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eventually you will pick up the lingo and you will learn the skills and you will realise the patterns that are happening within your organisation.

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And that's really helpful for putting the right pieces in place at the right time to achieve the things that you want to achieve in your career.

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Yeah, yeah. It's kind of like learning the language when you're there using those skills.

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You already have to kind of pick up on that. Precisely.

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Yeah. And how did you find it kind of before that stage, kind of making applications,

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trying to write and tailor things in such a way that you're using a language you're not quite sure of yet?

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And kind of that probably is the hardest piece.

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I would say, because you're not yet immersed enough in the transition that you want to make.

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To really know what you need to say so that your legitimacy of knowledge in that spaces is understood.

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And you also simply don't have the connections, perhaps, that you would do once you've moved into the space.

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So I'd say if I were going to do anything differently, probably what I would do is, you know,

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and especially for students who are listening to this now that are maybe in their first or second year,

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I would have spent a little bit more time thinking about how am I going to make the

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kinds of connections I want to make to understand the spaces that are available to me,

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like what are the options that are out there? And, B,

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make the Connections to really form the right network so that at the right time I have the right information about what roles are available and

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potentially who can introduce me to the right kind of person to to know about a job that's that's out there and the right kinds of skills.

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So because skills do change in terms of need, employer need, and what they're looking for will change over time.

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So having an idea of how that space is shifting will allow you to see not only what's on the on the market right now or what's needed in the market,

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but you can get an understanding of what's going to be needed by the time I leave,

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because you can kind of observe the trends that are happening and say, OK.

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So if I put some resources into, for example, learning how to do network mapping or doing a bit more on the kind of digital skill side,

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then I'll be more valuable than if I'm spending time doing something else. Which isn't to say, of course, that you shouldn't focus on your degree.

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I mean, you know, it's such a kind of you have to get over that hurdle more than anything else.

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Right? That is the thing to get through. But I'd say a really crucial skill is networking.

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And I know that everyone always says that. And people find it can find it very overwhelming.

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But I think the thing to remember is networking is a skill that allows you to understand

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some knowledge that's out there in the world that you don't yet have in an informal way.

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So if you view it in that sense, then it can be less overwhelming.

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And I found as well, once I started learning to have an objective when I went to a networking event.

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So I go to a lot of digital skills, meet ups in London, or I try and attend a lot of webinars or whatever it is I'm trying to learn about.

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I look for places where I can find that information and in particular I potentially can

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share some information as well because people are always willing to engage with you.

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First of all, if you're interested in them and ask them questions, everyone loves talking about themselves.

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This is like the crucial skill of good networking is if you can get someone, if you can express interest in them.

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People are usually very willing to tell you more about what they're doing,

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but also people are usually have some kind of a need that if you can fulfil that need in some way,

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like having a slightly adjacent skill or a different skill that they're looking for, then they'll want to talk to you as well.

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So so building that skill of saying, OK, there is a big data meetup on Wednesday, I'm going to go and

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My goal is to find out either a little bit more about this particular topic or to meet someone that works in this

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business or to find someone that has this job title and just speak to them a little bit about whatever my objective is.

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Having that focus can really, really make it much easier because you feel less overwhelmed by the idea of networking in general.

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That can. Huge kind of topic and kind of focussing it on something smaller to achieve can make can make life just a little bit less overwhelming.

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Yeah, yeah, definitely. I think a lot people do get it. Oh, you've got to network.

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But then what does that really mean? What does it look like in practise. They kind of.

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Yeah. So to get tip of going to something with an objective and kind of having a little bit of reciprocity in that,

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like maybe there's two things you can offer as well as getting people to talk about themselves.

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Yeah. And honestly, the other thing that I would say, which is a really good tip, is even if you're fairly early in your career,

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especially if you're looking at a non-academic role, getting up there and being a speaker.

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So, you know, it gives it gives you a chance to showcase what you're doing or the kinds of knowledge and skills that you have.

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But it also gives people an excuse to talk to you at a networking event.

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And even if you're an introvert, actually, as scary as it could be to go on stage,

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giving a talk is a really excellent way of putting the burden on others to come and talk to you so you don't have

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to feel like you're trying to muscle your way into someone else or to identify a friendly face in the crowd,

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because everyone knows that you're so and so talked about the thing and then they might want to come ask you questions.

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So it's a really great way of, you know, it's essentially you saying I'm here, I can talk about this.

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And I'd say the real value is that in the personal connections, the one on one connections that you make after you've given the talk.

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So even a short you know, in particular, when I think about the technology team,

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which is mostly what I work in, there are tons of events, in particular London, where I live.

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You could probably go to multiple. You'd have your choice of events to go to every evening.

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And typically they're very short form talks, two to three minutes about a subject of interest.

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So there's usually lots of opportunities to get in and kind of on the ground floor of the ladder of speaking, as it were.

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If you're in a place that has less accessible resources in that way, there are definitely a lot of online resources.

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And in particular, I think now that there is so much fear about physically being lots of people together,

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lots of the kinds of events that I would typically have gone to are going to be thinking about moving online more and more.

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And the way that we develop essentially digital etiquette.

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So, you know, how people develop those kinds of informal connections is going to become increasingly important.

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You know, it's relatively easy to put together a podcast or a webinar that is one way broadcast content,

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but creating those connections that those networking events are really valuable for.

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There are very few ways that people are good at that right now. But I think increasingly that's a thing that people will get good at.

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So I'd say look for opportunities in that space where you can not only watch a piece of content,

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but also in some way contribute to an ongoing dialogue and meet people through that kind of a mechanism.

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I'm trying to think of other examples of good kind of asynchronous or at a distance ways that people can learn and connect with one another.

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I subscribe to a lot of newsletters about such just some interest to me professionally as well.

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Usually reaching out to someone and saying, I read this thing or I have a question about whatever it is,

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you won't always have a hundred percent success so that people will get a lot of demands on their time,

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particularly as they get more skilled or experienced in their space.

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But often people are again willing to talk about something or willing to connect with you,

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you know, to answer a question or to be involved or engaged in something.

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People are typically very generous with their time, you know, especially if you're only asking for 10 minutes or, you know,

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whatever it is, a small or small chunk of time is usually a good way to go in, particularly if you can be specific about your ask.

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That really helps people to engage with you quickly is instead of being like, hey, I read your thing, will you be my mentor?

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That's that's often too open ended. But if you say I read your thing, it was interesting.

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Specifically, I have a question about blah. You can often then open a dialogue in that way.

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Yeah. So it kind of being specific and kind of very much time limited when you're asking of people.

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And yeah. And it's really interesting to think about kind of non sort of Face-To-Face in person ways you can do networking.

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I think a lot of people think of networking as you got to go to this event and a lot

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of PGRs are part time or they have caring responsibilities and they just think,

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oh, I just can't do that. Actually, there are all these other ways that you can get involved.

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Yeah. And like I say, I think that those kind of online and asynchronous abilities are where the necessity for those

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is going to become increasing over the next few months and probably years after that as well.

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You know, because businesses have long been looking for ways to encourage less business travel, for example.

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And it's always, oh, it's too hard. There's no way to do this. It's impossible.

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And one of my current research areas is how digital technologies are actually changing the physical spaces that people work.

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And so right now is a real kind of fascinating live experiment for me to watch the way the businesses are responding to the current pandemic crisis.

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And I think that that really will change a lot of the things that we're thinking about.

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In particular, you look at things like slack channels for technology.

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Conferences have always been very popular, but.

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It's going from that being a kind of adjacent thing to the event, to being that is the event.

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You know, video conferencing again. It's not like that's a new technology,

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but the way that people get comfortable with using those things in particular in large groups is going to be really interesting.

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I think how people understand the visual and audio cues that they're getting on multiple person calls is going

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to be interesting because you often have these kind of slightly weird signals where if you were in person.

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So, of course, you know, we're probably sitting about four or five feet apart as we're recording this podcast.

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And that has a particular kind of etiquette about the way that we do distancing

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But if you're in a video conferencing situation, people often have the camera at a slightly weird distance.

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So you either feel like you're too close or you're too far away.

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And that gives different cues to how you perceive that interaction, where they have the microphone to close it.

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It's like they're breathing on you. I don't know if you've had that experience. I'm sure everyone has.

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And it's that really sets up a very different kind of interaction.

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And I think that as these technologies become ever more ubiquitous,

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people are going to have to be getting better at understanding what those implications

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are of sound and eyesight and what that means for people's comfort level of distancing.

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So that for me, is very fascinating subject right now. Yeah, yeah. There's so much to explore.

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And it's going to be interesting how it develops like over the next couple of months especially.

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Definitely. And you mentioned that he thought networking would be particularly with people in the early

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stage of their PhD just in terms of finding out about what different entities are doing,

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how things are moving and trends,

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and then they can use that to think about what skills do I need to pick up and develop and see if someone was interested

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in doing the kind of work that you do like as a digital anthropologist and all the various things that that's include

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What kinds of experiences would be useful for people to try and pick up alongside or as part of the PhD

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I think one of the it's important to focus on one of the reasons that I think it's important

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to do this early in your academic career is because when you are working in academia,

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unless you are doing something part time or you have prior experience outside of academia,

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the people who are teaching you so often don't have the experience of working outside of academia.

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So they are simply not in a very good position to advise you about if you want to explore non-academic options.

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What that transition looks like, what kinds of skills are being looked for.

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They can't really advise you on the kind of non-academic lingo unless they themselves are also doing some of this stuff.

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This is all, of course, very context dependent.

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You have some departments who are very different or you have university support services which can help you.

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But in general, my experience when I was a PhD student was that of many others that I spoke to was that they simply weren't

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able to bridge that gap into the commercial realm because they didn't have the right advice at the time.

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And being an anthropologist and someone who does a lot of ethnography

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I always think that the best way of learning about something is going to immerse yourself in that thing and then experiencing it for yourself.

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So finding an internship or some kind of work experience, I know it's less common for older people to be doing those.

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But you can usually find something. And there are often places that will offer short work placements even to postgraduate students,

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although it is you know, sometimes they're not quite very well set up for that. But, you know, there are definitely places that are doing it,

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especially if they're interested either in your area of research or the kinds of creative skills that

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you can bring to the situation that you're looking at and doing those fairly early on in your career.

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Gives you an opportunity to understand more about yourself, what you like and what you don't like instead of waiting until the end and thinking, hey,

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I'm just going to sit out in the wide world and having this wonderful badge of my degree is going to

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tell people something about who I am and the kind of skills I have often in a commercial setting.

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You know, you might recognise the value of a PhD, but you won't understand how that applies to your business.

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So particular for early people who are just out of the PhD

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It's a hard sell because in essence, from an employer perspective, they're seeing it was just a regular graduate who is a little bit more expensive.

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And that can be challenging to overcome that.

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You know, I'd say after your first job or first couple of jobs, when you move it to either a more managerial role or more strategic looking role,

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then people begin to value your active experience more than they did when you were first out of the gate.

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So that's really tough because that's kind of the biggest hurdle is is getting into your first job.

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It's a very much kind of a catch 22 situation. But coming in from your your postgraduate experience, having had some commercial experience as well,

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puts you in a much stronger position than to be looking at a commercial role because people can

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people make assumptions about your commercial experience when they're reviewing your CV or your,

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you know, as you're being in your hiring process than they will about someone who's just coming with no experience.

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That's obvious to them. Yeah. So it sounds like it's really important.

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First, few roles to really think to really keep in mind that someone else won't know, understand what a PhD is.

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Also all the skills involved. So you really have to work at both getting other experiences,

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maybe then also how you kind of market those things, I guess what those skills mean from your PhD.

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It's not just I did this degree and there's nothing about it that makes sense.

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Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And also, it's worth remembering that in a commercial setting, the word research can mean very different things.

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So I'm doing some doing a little bit of research on what is the commercial we're looking for and what do those kinds of roles do.

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And if I'm if I'm right. Gosh, the PGR resource that I'm forgetting the name of.

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But it's like academia to ac-doc or something like that. Yeah.

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I can find it to be linked. That would be awesome. Thank you. So.

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So there's some good kind of role descriptions of, you know, what does a U x designer do.

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And what does a commercial analyst do.

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And things of that nature that are just kind of general descriptions of jobs that are out there in

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the market and getting an understanding of what the language is that's used around those roles is

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really helpful because you can then tailor your CV to reflect those skills specifically and in

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particular to take some projects that you've done and demonstrate how those skills relate to that role.

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So essentially, it means you as the person coming into the job,

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you have to be a bit more forward stepping and thinking to to to the commercial

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person to give them an understanding of what you want them to see about that.

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That relates to their job that they have on the market.

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And that can be challenging because, again, sometimes the language is, you know, very jargonistic in particular.

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And, you know, if you've worked in a commercial setting, you might understand the particularities of what they're looking for.

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Whereas if you haven't, you don't really know what they're looking for.

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But trying to get informal interviews with people just to understand what they're specifically

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asking or getting in examples of prior work that other people who are in that field have done.

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So that's why networking isn't just about learning from people who are already hiring managers.

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It's not just about trying to find people who are looking for, you know, who have jobs on offer,

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but also about meeting people in those roles and finding out what their backgrounds are and how they got into that role.

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So it's really important, even just pure networking, can be super important to to understand how they bridge that gap and how they got into that space.

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Yes, I say there's a lot to do in terms of not having assumptions yourself.

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Someone else will understand what you're talking about then not assuming that

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you also know what they're talking about when they say research and you say, I've done this research,

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you might be talking about two completely different things and you might not either

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have a good match or they might not realise that you might be a good match. And talking to other people,

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who are in the field and their experiences can really help to sort of reach those gaps and find that language like you say,

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before you're fully immersed in whatever field. Is that kind of thing.

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Yeah. Yeah. Precisely. Yeah. So you say if someone was applying to work with you with that particular things that you are looking for in

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terms of how people put those things across or things you'll particularly like not looking for things like,

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nope, don't do that. Yeah. Let me answer that question in two ways.

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So where I work now, we are essentially a small consortium of researchers who have very different skills.

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So you can think about in an academic setting as being like an area skills department where you might have an economist and an anthropologist

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and a musicologist and whoever else that are all working on either a particular geographic region or some kind of conceptual region.

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But they all have very, very different skills that they're bringing to the table.

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And they might not even work very closely together, although they might on some projects. So that's really where I work now, is like that.

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We all have very specialised skills. I'm the only digital anthropologist on the team.

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The other people who have more skills that are focussed on looking at things like digitisation and cloud

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technologies and organisational strategy and some in some cases software engineering concepts and things like that.

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So we all have very, very different goals.

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So when we look for someone, we're typically looking for someone who has different skills and what we already have.

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I would say in the roles that we're doing, if I was hiring someone to be an assistant to me, then I probably would be looking for.

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Usually I've done that in a kind of short term project way.

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So in that case, it will very much depend on other project is when we hire into the the LEF.

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More broadly, we probably will be looking for somebody with a fair amount of commercially experience already.

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So I probably wouldn't see that as a good was a good starting role for somebody who has a PhD.

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But, you know, I've managed to make it there eventually. So I think if you want to work in an organisation that's like the one that ours is,

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then it's a matter of figuring out what kinds of steppingstones you need to put him.

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Along the way to get there.

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So to answer the question more from the perspective of my old job, when I was doing a more kind of data science y data analysis, background.

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When we were first hiring people who were typically coming straight out of their degrees for junior analyst roles.

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That was a very quantitatively oriented department.

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So we were typically looking for some examples of statistical knowledge, some potentially familiarity with statistical package software.

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And interestingly, there's not a lot of crossover between academic usage of those things.

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So you typically might be doing SPSS or quite a lot of stuff with, ah, potentially some stuff with Python.

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And what commercial organisations use in those spaces.

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Obviously all the maths is the same, but they simply are using different kinds of software packages.

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So we wouldn't always be looking for some experience in those commercial packages,

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which are things like Tableau and Click View and software package called Looker.

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But if they had some, that was usually perceived as an advantage.

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But if they had Python, our other stuff, we knew that they'd worked with statistical package software before and that was OK.

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We also were looking for people who at the time, again, very quantitive were all but we wanted people who could look at a set of data

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and see where there were irregularities or unusual things happening so that

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they could then raise a challenge in terms of either how the data was being collected or an anomaly of some kind in what was happening with the data.

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So you needed to have a bit of an investigative hat. And I would say my role there as an anthropologist was much more about assisting

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people with the kind of more ephemeral qualities of questioning those things.

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So while I did have a very quantitative role when I was there, I wasn't necessarily doing a lot of the kind of data sciences side of things.

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A lot of it was more of the summary statistics. And then, OK, we've noticed that there's an unusual pattern.

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What are some creative ideas we can think about, about in terms of why that might be?

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So you needed that mixture of people who could do the the crunchier side of the maths,

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but also say things like all the schools are on holiday this week or there's been a strike in Chicago teaching in the Chicago teaching union

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And so therefore, we're having less people who are logging on to share their stories with us this week or whatever it might be.

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So there is kind of that social side in terms of understanding what you know, if you see something unusual, what might it be?

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So a lot of my role in the end was really about training the newer trainees so they would come in with a more kind of hard sciences background.

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And then my role would be to help them. Question. When you see something unusual, why might that be so they can answer a lot of questions about this.

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Looks weird, but they didn't necessarily know what to do with that information. And my role is to help them understand that.

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Know how could you then question this more broadly? Yeah.

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So it's kind of, um, combining those that kind of hard science, the social sciences types together.

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Precisely. And I would say if you depending on the size of the organisation you're with, you often find that you get blended teams.

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So and that can be a real strength when you're able to when you're able to have people who have strengths in different areas,

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it allows you to see information in a different way than if you are just one person is looking at it in one way.

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And of course, there's always the wonderful idea of having everyone have all of the skills.

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But people are simply going to have different strengths.

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And recognising where they can contribute the most is really important for any organisation to do.

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Yeah. Yeah, sure. I know I say sounds like you're saying your current role and maybe that's a person that's listenings dream.

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Well, they want to work in a team, but it's a case that you won't necessarily do that straight away to think about the kind of work.

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What are the steps and experiences I need to get to that point. If that's the kind of thing I want to be aiming for.

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Yeah. Precisely. So a good example would be like, there is no way that I would have the job I have now,

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even though my role is much more qualitative than it was previously.

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If I hadn't had my experience where I was doing essentially the kind of hard number crunching for the past six years before that,

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because it gave me experiences like managing a team, give me a lot of organisational operational experience.

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So I understood the different parts of what most businesses have in terms of the kinds of ways that they're set up.

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Give me a lot of experience around kind of standard ways of doing commercial modelling for different kinds of things.

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So then when I go into businesses now where where I'm advising them, I usually understand the organisational setup pretty well.

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Because, you know, though, of course, there are differences, there are definitely commonalities in terms of how large organisations are always set up.

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So if I hadn't had that experience,

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I wouldn't simply I've simply wouldn't be able to kind of stretch to putting myself in the shoes of the organisations I work with.

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So so, yeah, it's definitely that kind of sense of, OK, if I want to someday work in a think tank or work in a research.

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organisation or something of that nature or go into a kind of political policy organisation.

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What do I need to do so that when I get there,

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I have the right mixture of skills and background and essentially area knowledge so that I can really provide the most value in that kind of role.

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Yeah, yeah. And when you were moving to your first role at tes, like, how did you find because obviously that was quite different in terms of quantitative,

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in terms of applying for that role, how you sort of sold your skills in that setting mixture thing.

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So I had applied for several different things around that time.

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I specifically remembers applying for internship and publishing as well. And I was applying at that time as well as it has.

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And the tes connection was actually through a personal friend.

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So, again, networking, it comes down to, you know, it absolutely is about what you know, because, you know,

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when you show up in the room to be the one who is in the interview, you have to you have to pass the bar.

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But in terms of the knowledge about what roles are available and out there,

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it really is helpful to not just be depending on job boards and kind of publicly available information.

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Having some knowledge about, you know, roles that either are not being advertised explicitly or in particular this role.

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When I first was applying, it has had a very hard time filling the role.

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And that's partly because it was a slightly unusual setup for the role.

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So a lot of the people that they were interviewing either had one side of the job that they were looking for covered already,

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or they had the other side that they wanted.

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So in this case, they wanted somebody who could do a lot of the kind of analysis and Day-To-Day reporting.

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But they also wanted someone who they could eventually train to do some of the the actual programming of the reporting tools.

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And what they were finding at the time was that they could they could find someone who was one of the other very strongly,

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who had a commercial background. But they were really struggling to find somebody who either had both or wanted to do both because it was unusual,

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you know, expectation, especially for that level of role. And of course, I come in as a newly graduated PhD and like, I can do anything.

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I'm willing to do whatever it takes to succeed in this job. And sometimes that extra flexibility of simply saying, hey,

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I'm willing to learn it can it can sometimes put you in a better position simply because other people whose careers were

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fixed or have a very focussed career path in mind might not be interested in having that kind of broad range of skills.

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And so, you know, for you to come in then and say, I can learn things very quickly and I'm very experienced in part of this or I am

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very thorough in the way that I go about learning things can be a real advantage.

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And so that was eventually what happened was because they'd had such a hard time filling the role,

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they were then willing to look slightly differently at what kinds of mix of skills they needed. So essentially,

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I showed up at the right time when they were looking for someone who is a little bit different than what they had initially had in mind.

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And then when I was doing the interviewing, clearly they were impressed by the research skills that I had,

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but also some of the ways that I was thinking about or questioning some of the stuff that they were putting forward that made them feel like,

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OK, this could be someone who can approach this role differently, which is really helpful for them.

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And interestingly enough, when I went to then move to the leading edge forum where I work now,

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I knew that I was ready to move on from a role that was very quantitative.

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And I wanted to get back into some of those more kind of core research skills that I developed.

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And when I was here at Exeter and I was having a hard time because my role at that point was so quantitive that all anyone could see in me was,

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oh, she's an analyst. She's an analyst. And so it was very hard for them to see that the qualitative skills that I'd amassed

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in the previous simply weren't things that in their mind were showing up for them.

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When I was trying to put myself forward.

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So but the leading edge forum was specifically looking for someone who wanted to do a digital anthropology programme for them, programme of research.

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So again, it was just the right thing at the right time. It just matched up. That was what I wanted to do and that was what they needed.

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And again, they'd been having a hard time filling the role because they had a lot of people who either had a

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lot of commercial experience but didn't really have the kind of core research skills that I had.

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Or they had a lot of people who had been doing very academic research for a long time,

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but didn't have the commercial experience and the context to operate in that world.

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So, you know, it's just about finding the right the right match at the right moment, I think.

422
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Yeah. Yeah. And this only about. Throughout kind of the importance of networking,

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finding out about jobs that are available in any kind of different people's experience and backgrounds in these industries.

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And it sounds like that makes it experience between the academic and the kind

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of commercial industry industry type stuff and get having both those things.

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And I said maybe trying to get some of these experiences durinf your PhD really helpful.

427
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Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It can be really powerful if you want to move into a commercial role.

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And I I'd say also what I've observed. Is there an increasing number of public private partnerships or academic quasi

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academic research skills or or things of that nature where there's some kind of,

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oh, hey, we, the university have a lot of research skills or a lot of scope for doing like innovation lab style stuff.

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But what we don't have is a lot of the commercial side of things.

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So they develop these like digital hubs or innovation hubs in different parts of the world, in different country.

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And so there are often roles that are available that are kind of quasi academic, but also really depend on the commercial experience as well.

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So, you know, I haven't really had an experience of fighting for those,

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but it's something I've observed as I've been thinking about my my future career path.

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It's something that I've observed is out there in the market. So there might be something like that. You know,

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if you're thinking about perhaps wanting to stick a bit closer on the academic

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side and maintaining those academic credentials and publishing and all that.

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But also having a bit of commercial experience that would let you be that kind of linchpin between those two those two things.

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So I'd say that's an interesting potential career path as well. It's adjacent to but not exactly the same as the way that I've gone.

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And would there be any other kind of final tips you'd give someone kind of in the middle of

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your PhD or something you wish you'd done a bit differently when you were doing your PhD?

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I think the only other tip.

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And again, it's probably something that is spoken about perhaps a bit more than when I was a student, is prioritising your own self care.

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And I mean that not in a fluffy bubble bath kind of way, although if that is something that works for you, then great.

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But really look after your own mental health and your own physical health.

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Because if you don't have a working as a working instrument, then it's going to be very difficult for you to play the sonata, basically.

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And I'm hoping that there are a lot of resources out there available now to enable students to to really

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care about those things and to look after themselves and also to develop those habits early in life,

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especially when you're in the kind of pressured environment that a Masters or

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PhD is that will put you in extremely good stead for later in life when you

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have pressured roles or are dealing with different kinds of pressures like

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balancing work and family or what or financial concerns or whatever it might be.

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So developing those habits early on, when you're at what might be the most pressured moment of your career, ultimately will then help you.

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Everything else beyond that will seem like a piece of cake then. And that's it for this episode.

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Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 3 - Gemma Edney, Graduation Coordinator at St George’s, The University of London

Episode 3 - Gemma Edney, Graduation Coordinator at St George’s, The University of London

March 30, 2020

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree! In this episode PhD student Debbie Kinsey talks to Gemma Edney, a University of Exeter alumni. An experienced project manager and events manager, Gemma now works at St George's, The University of London. 

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter Doctoral College

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So I'm Gemma. I did my PhD in film studies finished last April.

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So April 2019 was when I was awarded. I submitted the September before that, so I sort of stopped the actual physical researching and writing 24/7.

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In September 2018, immediately after submitting, I got a job at the student information desk.

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Here I am organising graduation. Which sounds more stressful the more I think about it.

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But I actually think organising graduation is actually quite stressful.

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But so I did that.

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So I did that immediately after submitting completed my corrections while I was doing that, and then continued doing that for a little bit.

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I was looking for jobs here and there.

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The plan originally was academic jobs, so I was looking for those.

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There weren't very many. So and the more I looked at, to be honest, the less I wanted any of the jobs that did come up looking.

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So then in October last year, I decided to apply to the civil service fast stream scheme.

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And finally, it's the longest application process ever. But finally, I found out in February that I've been successful.

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So I'll be starting there in September, which is about the change of direction, but is, I think, a good move for me.

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So, yeah, that's kind of where I am in my journey at the moment.

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Yeah. So you were initially you working kind of in university, you know, you said.

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Well, yeah, initially looking for research type jobs but now decided to move outside.

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Yes. Yeah. So I worked throughout my PhD anyway, um,

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part time at the university and then that's sort of how I ended up with the job that I ended up with once I had submitted.

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I wasn't in a position I could once I'd finished, just do sort of a seminar here and there or like one or two seminars a week.

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I needed an actual job full, full time hours. I did.

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Originally, I was offered teaching in the year that I, I submitted, but it was only one seminar a week.

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And so I had to say no because I needed more than just one seminar a week and I

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wasn't able to take a full time job and also do a seminar a week because funnily enough,

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the university don't like to employ people or more than a full time contract. So.

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So I wasn't able to do that, which was a shame, because I do really I do miss teaching is one of the things I really miss.

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But I carried on looking. I was constantly looking for jobs.

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I was never under the impression that I was gonna do graduation organisation forever.

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That's not something that I thought was on my future plan, really.

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So I did carry on looking for jobs. But the more I looked to be honest, the more it's they were all fixed term.

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They were all part time. Some of them were fixed term and part-time. And it just wasn't something that I wanted.

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After doing four years of PhD, I was ready to just actually know where I was going and where I was gonna be and have a bit more stability.

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And it was just one of those things that gradually I came to the realisation that actually,

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although I would have loved to stay in academia, it wasn't the top of my priority anymore.

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And I think that's okay. I think that's fine to have come to that realisation.

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It took me a while to come to that to come to that realisation.

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But yeah, it's not something that I have no regrets about stopping looking for academic jobs.

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There was a point where I just anything came up I went, I didn't want that job.

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I just looking at the looking at the job description and looking out the work involved and things, that's not I don't think I want it.

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And when that just kept happening, I thought, yeah. I didn't want any of these jobs.

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So I started looking outside. And to begin with, I was a bit sort of I felt a bit lost in the.

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I had been aiming at this for so long and done this one path.

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And then I thought, OK, what am I going to do now? What do I even do?

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And so I look for things sort of within universities and I'm sort of more student support kind of roles and things.

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But again, there was just nothing that really struck me. I got there were a couple of jobs.

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I went for that I think I would have really enjoyed it, but I came second for all of them.

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Which was lovely that they told me that. And also awful that they told me that because I'd have rather come last and just been told, no, it's not so.

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But then I sort of thought, well, maybe I don't need to work at a University at all.

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Maybe all other things. And I actually started looking more at graduate schemes and thinking more.

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Is there anything that also like PhD I'm still a graduate.

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II can still apply. And there are various things there.

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And there are various schemes that actually sort of market themselves.

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at PhD graduates, as well as other graduates of other levels as well.

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And so I started sort of looking at much more widely than I had been before.

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And I actually heard about the civil service scheme on a train.

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Just people behind me were talking and I was really nice. So they were sort of just talking about their current roles and everything.

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And I was thinking, oh, like sounds interesting. Like what the scheme that they're on.

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And I had a look at it. And it's actually designed not just for fresh undergraduates that are leaving university

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but for a career changes and people are all different stages of their careers.

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And I quite liked that.

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It specifically says we are not just a graduate scheme and we're not just for 20 and 21 year olds that have just finished their degrees and things.

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So I sort of looked into it and to be honest, just that and an application on the off chance.

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And then, I mean, it's a very long process. So the longer I went into it, the more I said I actually really want this

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I want I want a place.

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And so, yeah, it was as soon as I sort of got more more involved in the process and through the application, the more I thought, yeah.

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I think this is a really good move for me,

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something that I think I can apply myself to and having a bit more experience beyond sort of having through my page.

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The experience I've got and through working elsewhere as well, I think we'll actually be really beneficial.

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So, yeah, there are absolutely no regrets on the journey I've taken to get to this point.

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But it just took me a little bit of time to come to come to the realisation of what I sort of wanted and needed.

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To be honest, this is for my own personal wellbeing.

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I think this is a really good decision. And ever since I've sort of had the plan of life.

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Now I know that I'm going somewhere else. I'm going off in this direction. Sort of felt almost lighter.

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Yeah, this is great. I haven't felt that for a while. So that's where.

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Good. This kind of thing where it's important to think that not just the things you enjoy, that you really enjoy teaching.

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So what kind of life you want. Yeah. And a lot of the academic opportunities and I like them around you and finding just didn't fit with the kind of life.

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Yeah, absolutely. And I'm like, I think there are people that can say, yeah,

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I'm happy to go through a few years of temporary contracts in the hope that I can then go on to a permanent one eventually.

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And that's great. And that is originally what I thought I would have to do.

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But the more I thought about it, the just the more I think I don't I don't want to have to.

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As soon as I go into a job, I start looking for another one, because that's pretty much all I have done.

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So throughout my PhD, I was on sort of temporary contracts anyway,

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which didn't matter because they were part time and I was always, always able to get another one.

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But then I was immediately looking for jobs as soon as I had finished and then immediately looking for other jobs.

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Once I got the one I was in and I was just done with the job search.

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If I'm honest, there's only so many applications I can start and then maybe fill out.

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And then the competition obviously is always so high.

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So just for my own for my own sake, I thought it's okay to have priorities the on going into a research job or an academic job.

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I still I've still continued to do some research when I have the time.

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I mean, having a full time job makes that less likely. But I've got an article coming out soon in a journal and things like that.

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I still really like my research. I haven't completely fallen out of love with everything I've done, but it's much more.

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I can do it on my own terms. There's no pressure or I can do what I want when I want.

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If someone likes it, they'll publish it. Great. But there's no sort of expectation that I have to get so many publications out.

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I have to get this experience in order to get this job. I might only have for six months.

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And that's having that knowledge as much.

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It's just so much calmer in my life. Yeah.

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And it sounds like looking at said you were feeling a bit lost when you made that decision.

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Like when. Sure. Went to. Yeah. Graduate schemes. Kind of gave you that structure to that.

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It did. Yeah. It was never it was never something I had even considered at all.

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I thought, no, I'll stay if I do. I'll keep looking for academic jobs.

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And if I don't get an academic job, I'll still look in sort of student support

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And it was only when I thought, why, why do I have this weird thing that I have to stay?

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Within a university, maybe I don't have to work at a university. It was only then.

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And obviously there are so many jobs and you have to try and structure it somehow.

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Then I sort of thought, well, maybe let's look at the schemes out there.

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And there are, as I said, there are some that do actually market themselves as PhD level.

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And they say that they'll give you like a salary increase if you've got a PhD over a bachelors or a masters, so that there are schemes out there.

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And I was when I discovered that, then I thought, oh, okay, well, maybe I can look at some of these.

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I mean, investment banking isn't what I'm actually interested in. So I didn't apply for quite a lot of them.

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But there are still schemes out there that value these.

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There are there's more resources, I think, for science PhDs than there are for humanities PhDs

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In terms of moving into industry or moving outside of universities.

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But there are schemes out there and there are there are people that have made the move, too.

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So, yeah, I think discovering that was was really good as a way of at least starting to structure my search.

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And then I had just a lucky train journey. So what was the process like?

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You said it was quite an involved process. Yeah. So it's a really involved process.

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So I sent the initial application in in October and then I had to go through two rounds of online tests,

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which are so it's not really verbal reasoning or anything, which is why I expected it to be.

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It's kind of they give you a scenario and you have to say which decision is more more valid or you have to sort of say what you would do,

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that kind of thing. And then if you pass that, there's a video interview,

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which is one of the strange experiences I've ever had because there wasn't a person on the other end.

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It's just a pre-recorded question, which then you have certain time to answer the question in and then off your recording goes.

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So I was sitting in my kitchen sort of looking at my wall, trying to answer, trying to answer questions was a very strange experience.

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But I did that. And then after that, there's an assessment centre where you actually meet people for the first time

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and you're with lots of other people that are also applying to the scheme.

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You go through various tasks. And and then after that, I waited for 10 weeks and then eventually found out the outcome because they have so

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many people that they have to they have to set marks for each of the different schemes,

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because within the within the whole fast stream scheme, there are fifteen individual streams that you apply for.

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So they have to sort of set pass marks and gradually narrow the bands and until they have the right number and things like that.

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So it takes a long time, but it was thankfully worth worth it in the.

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It has been it was a long process. But Handily, I found out that it was two days after my birthday, which was nice.

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And also the day before I had an interview for another job, which is fixed term until August.

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So that's just doing is doing graduation at another university in London.

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So that was it was quite. I applied just because it was it's more money than I was.

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I'm on at the moment. And I thought, well, why not? And then but I probably wouldn't have taken it because it's only fixed term until August.

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Without the guarantee that I'll have somewhere to go afterwards.

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But I then yeah, the next day I had the interview and I said, yes, I would take this role if asked, because I've got time, I've got somewhere to go.

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And so I say things kind of all fell into place,

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which was nice because before that things hadn't really felt like they were falling into place at all.

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But yes. So that kind of brought my leaving Exeter forward by quite a large, large amount of time, which I will obviously be sad to do

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I've been here for a really long time. But yeah, I think it's a good move for me to sort of just go.

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And for once, it's kind of I'm just putting myself first completely as a completely selfish decision that

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I'm just gonna leave and do something else for five months and then go and do something else.

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So it's yeah, it's good for me to have a bit of change of scenery and and work out work out what I'm good at again.

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Yeah. Did you find, say, during the process of applying anything, you applied things from your so p h d time.

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Yes. Anything learnt skills or how did you sort of transfer this sort of university academic speak I guess.

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Yeah. Different industries. So I mean I think being able to write well is something that I don't think you can

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under estimate writing applications and being able to talk about your experience from

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when you go to conferences and people say also you also tell me about you tell me

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about your research and you have to suddenly think of something that you hadn't.

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Considered and this really High-Powered person is asking you about you and you think you need to make yourself sound intelligent.

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That's really good for interview. So I'm sort of thinking on your feet about examples of things you've done is really helpful.

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The most helpful thing, though, I think, is just the general project management of doing a PhD.

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A PhD is a project and it goes on for a really long time.

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And you have to manage your time. You have to manage the individual tasks that make up the whole and knowing how to do that.

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And just that process is so helpful not just for applying and telling people that you're good at project management, but also for in the workplace.

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I would not be able to organise graduation without any kind of experience of project management.

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So it's things like that that I think people don't realise that you're not just go to writing articles and researching a very niche topic.

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You're also good at thinking more widely and planning really far ahead.

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Projects go on. These projects go on for years and you know where you are at any given time and can sort of even if not to other people, to yourself.

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You can always, you know,

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roughly when you think you might be finished and sort of you might tell you might tell people that it's a slightly different time.

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I know I did that. I think I would give a date and then in my head, maybe not that day.

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But that ability is just so helpful and is an example.

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that I give in interviews all the time. When people say, oh, tell me about how you manage your workload.

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Okay, let me tell you a story. Let me tell you all about my PhD

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So that is by far the thing I apply the most.

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And just in general, I think having a bit more experience of communicating with people, of having interviews,

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of applying for things, applying for grants or sort of travel scholarships, things like that.

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And just a bit more experience of how that process works in writing about the benefits of certain of certain ventures and just in general helps.

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I spoke to some people at the assessment centre for the Civil Service.

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And I mean, I was very flattered because to begin with, they said, what are you studying? I thought, oh, nice.

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And they said, you know, they'd found the interview really difficult because they weren't sure what to say.

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They didn't have any concrete examples for things and they weren't sure what to

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expect when in a one to one situation with an interview or anything like that.

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But as a student, you have one to one situations all the time with your supervisor.

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And I mean, I don't know about anyone else, but my supervisor used to ask me questions.

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I did not know the answers so that I had never I hadn't considered before then.

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And actually that was a real benefit that I had had that experience. I am quite good now at thinking on my feet.

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When someone asked me a question, I don't know the answer. But that's not something that everybody has.

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So it's it's those little things that actually can help in terms of applications and talking to people and communicating,

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which I don't think you think about very often when you're doing a PhD

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It's kind of thinking about these sort of general skill terms think about it Like what you're doing is actually project management.

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Yeah. Not just working on a PhD. It's this way. Yeah, exactly.

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Like, really useful generalisable skills. I think sometimes when people say if they I know that when I spoke to family

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who didn't know what a PhD was and I found it really hard to explain to them.

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And it's only sort of since finishing that I go it's a really big project and it

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takes three to four years and you have to plan each individual task and they go,

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oh, okay. But sort of while I was doing my PhD, I'd say, oh, it's like a big essay like that doesn't cover it at all.

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And, you know, trying to explain that, I'm sitting at my computer reading books and writing and people.

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Okay, I don't really understand what that is and how that counts as work. Yeah.

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So it is only sort of since finishing I have been able to explain my PhD in terms that aren't just academic.

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So kind of finding something to be useful if people thought about how to articulate what the individual which is generally just what is a PhD

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Yes. Is what it is. Exactly. And I think I don't think there's enough out there.

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I don't think people focus on these transferable skills much.

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There's a lot of emphasis on transferable skills, undergraduate level,

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because the range of subjects that people do, as I've asked, but I think there is a PhD level,

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there's less of an emphasis on it because there's an expectation that you'll go on to continue researching, even though so many people don't.

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That was another thing I felt when I. Was first coming to the realisation that I didn't think I wanted to stay in academia.

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And I was thinking, well, does this make me a failure? Am I now a failed academic? Is that what I'm going to be called?

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No. It was only when realising actually how many people I knew that had moved outside of academia.

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I know more people that have moved outside of academia than have stayed in it.

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And it was only when realising that realising that I didn't call them failed. Actually, it was it it was fine.

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But we do I think we need to have a bit more focus on the fact that lots of people

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don't continue in a university role or in a in a research based role after their PhD

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And that that's okay.

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And that a PhD is more than just a research degree is is a feat of product management and time management and managing your own workload

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and your time and managing to work independently while also having the stresses of the institution or trying to do some teaching.

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Or if.

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If you've got funding bodies that want to know exactly what you're doing and when, then it's there's so much more to it than just the actual thesis.

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Yeah. Like, I think sometimes it's couched in terms of being like, oh, this is research training, this is your training.

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But actually I'm pretty sure the majority of PhDs don't go on.

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Yeah. Become academics. Certainly the majority that I know aren't academics and some have.

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And that's great. Yeah. But lots haven't

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And they've gone into all kinds of different industries.

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And I think. Yeah. I think we need to talk about that just a bit more really.

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Because it was when I found myself Googling like, what happens if I don't go into academia with a PhD

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And then like there's a few blog posts and a few things saying, oh, you know, this is what your PhD actually means in terms of skills.

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And I went, oh my goodness, I have skills. I'm just writing about film studies.

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So which I knew, I knew I had skill film studies, but.

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But it's nice to actually have that. I have someone to say it's fine.

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Yeah. There are other jobs and other jobs that will value your experience as well.

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Yeah. That will value your experience. And they might like especially like say in your case, fit better with your life.

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Yeah. Like, yeah. I think it's okay to put yourself first,

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which is something that I didn't do during my PhD really at all and wasn't something that I was doing when I first started looking for jobs.

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And it was coming to the realisation that I had absolutely no desire to apply for a job that was called what was it called?

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It was called an unestablished teching fello. I like the fact that that job title even exists, made me go, oh, no, I don't think so.

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And I think it's okay to come to that conclusion, I think.

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But that's not what I want to say. Yeah.

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Like, I've got a partner, I'm ready to maybe buy a house,

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but actually plant down some roots somewhere rather than constantly wondering where I'm going to be next.

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So that's that's an okay realisation that I have come to.

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And yes, I do miss the teaching. The teaching is the part of it that I do miss.

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But there are so many in any of the jobs that I would have applied for.

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There was so much teaching, plus that it's never just teaching.

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And that's the same in any teaching profession. And that's not just universities that's teaching in general.

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And there are always parts of it. I went, oh yeah, I don't think I want that.

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But I'm going into the say the stream I'm very into in the civil service is HR.

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So it's still really people focussed. And I'm gonna be training,

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I'm going to be teaching people things and I can use my skills in those ways rather than rather than teaching undergraduates specifically.

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Yeah. Is again, thinking about it, the skills and the things you enjoy in broader terms saying, yeah,

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teaching is not just in schools and university yet it's also training, you know, everywhere.

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Really. Yeah. And it was sort of when I was thinking about that and I was thinking, yeah, I want to work with people.

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Definitely I want and I would love to be able to have some kind of teaching role in that.

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But I don't want to be a school teacher. I know lots of school teachers and I think it's admirable, but it's not something I could ever do.

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So and I think, oh, well, what am I going to do then? And then I was thinking, well, actually, I've gone to training, such as in my job.

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So people run those. That's that's a thing that people do.

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And yeah. So it was coming to the conclusions. Really?

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I just needed to start thinking outside the box a bit more.

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And there aren't just certain jobs that you have to go in to that there's all kinds of all kinds of roles that

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you can fulfil and still work with people and still train people and have pass on knowledge and things like that.

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So, yeah, that's. It's been a long time coming, but it's realisations that I gradually made over sort of the last year.

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Yeah. And if, say, someone else, or even just know your past self kind of in the middle of their PhD trying to figure out what they want to do next.

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Is there any kind of experience you can recommend them getting or anything that you think would be helpful for them to think that would do?

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I think just thinking about overall what you'd like from a job.

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So I'm in very broad terms, so I'd like to be able to manage someone or I'm not interested in management,

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but I would like to work with people or in some kind of training capacity.

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So very broad terms that on are neither academic nor non academic.

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First of all, just to give you a better idea of any kind of sector that you might be able to go in, cause I certainly to begin with was very limiting.

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I was I limited myself to sort of higher education. It's a sector I feel really strongly about.

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And so I thought, yeah, fine, higher education.

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But there are so many different roles within higher education that you still need to have sort of an idea of what you want to do.

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And I think it's okay to be choosy about jobs.

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There was a period of time where I sort of just applied for anything I thought I was vaguely qualified for.

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But then I thought, actually, would I want this job at all? And I really thought about it.

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The answer was no. So having an idea of at least the kind of role you want and then having a look at what's out there and thinking,

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okay, so I want to work with people, well, that can mean what kind of people do I want to work with?

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And then that can point down all kinds of different roads that sort of aren't what you expected.

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I certainly three years ago would never have said that I was gonna go into H.R. and the civil service.

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That's not something that I had ever considered, but sort of just don't feel like you need to limit yourself.

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And thinking in those broad terms can help that, I think.

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But it can be a it can be a scary place to try and just go. I need a job.

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I don't know where I am. So, yes, I resisted the urge at one point just to sort of send out a CV and say needs job wll, travel.

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But yeah, thinking about that in more broad terms and then being able to pinpoint your sort of top five.

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So I wanted a permanent job or at least something that would lead to a permanent job.

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And that was really high up on my list of priorities. And then as soon as you've got those priorities,

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you know sort of what jobs you can apply for and what jobs really aren't worth the application process,

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because often, especially with academic jobs, I found I was putting my absolute all into an application only to be turned down.

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And there are only so many rejections you can take before you start taking it personally.

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So I think and on all of those, I have seen no doubt that really my application,

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if you read if you read between the lines, you could see that it was not the job that I wanted.

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And churning out applications will do that sort of you'll become very generic.

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So having those sort of top five things that you're looking for that you won't compromise on.

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So I want a permanent job. I want to work with people.

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To be honest, they were my top two things. I wasn't really that fussed after that.

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But at least something, at least some kind of priority will then help you draw your line as to what you apply for and what you do.

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Yeah. So just spending some time really reflecting on what matters to them as well.

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Yet priorities and and thinking about whether you stay in academia or not.

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Like, where do those priotities fit in. Yeah, absolutely.

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And I mean, to begin with, one of my priorities was I want to be able to carry on my research.

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And flexible working options are certainly that that covers that.

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I have no desire to completely give up research altogether.

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I've spent so long researching and it's part of what I do. And I think it's part of me as a person.

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So I have no desire to completely stop. But the ability to do it in my own time and research exactly what I want when sort of inspiration

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strikes is I think will be better for my research as a whole and better for me and say.

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A flexible working option is always better.

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So I at the beginning of this year, in my current role, had flexible working, approved where I worked.

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Condensed hours. They worked longer, longer hours on four days and then had a day off each week, which meant that I could do whatever I wanted.

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I didn't have to do research. There were days I did not.

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But then there were also days that I sort of sat down with my computer again and got my academic head back on and.

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And I've got an article coming out hopefully soon, depending on whether they accept my recent corrections.

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But yeah. So that's that's something that I've been able to keep hold of.

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And and sort of keeps part of my academic identity in a way, because it is an important part of me.

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And it's not something that I haven't. As I say, I haven't grown to hate my research.

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That's not what's happened at all. But those priorities have sort of helped change the way I look at the job search in general.

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Yeah. So kind of spending some time reflecting on your priorities.

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And then also revisiting them in case they do. Yeah. Like, originally, your priority was to get an academic job that kind of shifted and then.

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Yeah. Thinking about how you can integrate all these different things.

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So it's not like if you do still want to research, you won't necessarily have to just shut a door.

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Yeah. Absolutely. No one. I don't know anyone, not even academics who only research for their entire time.

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And then they go. This is my researching time and that's it. So sort of you don't you don't have to close doors to anywhere.

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I think there's absolutely nothing that says that you have to be a lecturer at a university in order to be published as an academic.

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So it's a there's you shouldn't limit yourself.

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I don't think. It's okay to say I'd like to be sort of a casual research and do it as a hobby rather than rather than do it as my only job, I think.

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I think in many ways I would be better as a casual researcher.

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So, yeah, I think just keeping being mindful of what you want and what your initial reactions are two things.

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Certainly when I started realising I was looking at jobs and going, there's a job that I could apply for.

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Do I really want this job?

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And suddenly realising that I was hesitating so much more on job applications and going, maybe I should listen to myself a bit more.

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I clearly don't want this job. Let's not spend three days working on an application for it and sort of just.

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Yeah, being aware of what your own gut feelings are about things,

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because I started realising that actually being happy in what ever job I was doing was actually much more important to me than the job itself.

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And it has made such a difference since having something fall into place.

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I have been like a different person and everyone has noticed.

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And I will be so sad to leave Exeter and I don't know what I'm going to do when I actually have to leave because I will have to probably be prised away.

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But it's it's good to stretch out of it and go in a different direction sometimes.

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That's what people need. Sometimes I think it's okay to have you can feel both these things.

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You can feel a desire to move to something else and still feel sad. Yeah.

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It's not like, oh, you should only look elsewhere if absolutely hate it.

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Yeah. I think was the thing. You don't have to sort of taking a change of direction doesn't have to be out of loathing for what you currently have.

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It can just be, you know. Well, I think it would be really great if I did this for a bit, and that's fine.

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But I don't think I don't think we really talk about any directions in terms of when people are doing a PhD

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It's kind of. Finish your thesis and then all after that, you'll go into a researching post, which is not the case.

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It's not as easy for anyone, but it's kind of the expected trajectory.

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And yeah, I think no one ever sort of mentions that sometimes people don't want to do that, and that's fine.

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And maybe we can maybe we can talk a little bit more about what people might do if they

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decide they don't want to go into a  PhD can be used as a trial at the end of the day.

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If you don't if you decide at the end of it that you don't like the process of researching, then you don't have to stay in research.

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And you said you worked part time alongside doing a part-time PhD

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Did doing that help at all with you? Kind of. I think it kind of helped me.

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Come to the realisations that there was other work that existed and kind of helped keep me grounded in the real world as well as in academia.

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There were certainly times when it was hard to juggle my two my two identities of academic and not academic.

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But I think it did help to a certain extent that I thought, well, I've been doing this throughout my PhD anyway.

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There's clearly nothing wrong with doing the two.

345
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So why can't I do the two forever? And just because my PhD is finished, it didn't mean that my interest in research finished.

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But it certainly made me more aware of the fact that there are other roles that I am suited to.

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I absolutely loved all of the all of the temporary jobs I did during my PhD

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There was nothing that I thought I never doing with ever again. And so it did help to a certain extent.

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There was also, I think, the fact that I was working and then I needed a full time job.

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Obviously, there was left. I had less time to think about whether I would go into a teaching post where research pays.

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There wasn't anything that was immediately available as soon as I finish my PhD

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And therefore, it was going to be non academic. And I knew that and that was fine.

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I still continue to look for academic jobs, but it was certainly quicker in that immediate period.

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I didn't have sort of any time at all. I didn't have months of going.

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OK, well, I've got this very small amounts of teaching.

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Will it maybe go anywhere else? Like, could I try and extend it in any way,

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which I know that I know people that that they've had to do that process where they've had sort of two seminars a week or a few hours teaching a week.

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And that's been fine for a little bit. And then they've got to the point where they've gone.

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Well, now I need something more than that. But I don't know if I'm gonna be offered it.

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And I don't know if if there's a process for it. So my my sort of immediate cut was very I was much quicker.

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I said, well, I need a full time job. There isn't currently one available. There's one here.

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And that's where I went. But again, it's it's still my skills hasn't changed because I've left academia.

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I am still the exact same person I was when I was doing my PhD

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And I think that took me a little while to realise that actually doing a non-academic job didn't make me a different person.

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I was still a doctor and I still have that vocation and I'm still using stuff from doing a PhD

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So, yeah, that took me a little bit longer. The acknowledgement of the non-academic world was quick,

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but the acknowledgement that I wasn't a different person in their world was quite a long time, really.

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Then that came. That came afterwards.

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So kind of thinking about your identity as an academic and what it means if you're not in academia and your interests and skills.

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And I guess a bit like you were saying before, you have you develop all these generalisable massive generalisable skills in a PhD

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which aren't necessarily always talked about as much they should be. And I guess the same goes for your identity.

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Yes. Like, you are just a human.

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Yes, exactly. And sort of I sort of put myself in a box of PhD these students, for such a long time and became.

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By the end of my PhD So good at trying to explain what that meant.

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And trying to justify the fact that it is a job doing a PhD, because so many people don't understand that actually doing PhD is a job.

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And it's it can sometimes be draining, saying, yes, I'm a student, but I'm also I'm not really a student.

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Well, you think I'm saying when I say I'm a student is not what I am.

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And sort of put a I had myself I am a PhD student.

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That is what I am. This is what I do on a day to day basis.

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Sometimes outside of that, I also go and work and do all of these other things.

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But in my head, that was it was just two separate things.

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It was two separate completely two separate roles that I did when no, I was still the same person in both of those roles.

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And it's just that I did research and one of them and I didn't do research at another.

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But I still put I've managed and I still taught people how to do things.

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It was just not teaching students about film. It was teaching staff about systems.

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You know, it's the same skill and it's still I use the same skills that I did for my PhD for every other role.

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But I haven't I hadn't even considered that that was the case while I was doing my PhD which sounds really silly in hindsight.

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Of course, I wasn't literally two different people. I can feel like that sometimes.

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I think that you can be so involved in your PhD project that it's kind of like looking through a tunnel.

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And when you're in that tunnel, there's nothing else.

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You're not. You're not outside of it in any way. And everyone that even sort of mentions your PhD or comes into that tunnel with you would never leave.

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It was like that's that's the only context in which you in which you refer to them.

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But that's not that's not the case. And it's once I realised that maybe I could use the skills I was using during my PhD for other things.

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I became a lot more enlightened in my own job search and sort of thinking about what I wanted and

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realising that I could use it to my advantage rather than thinking about myself as a failed academic,

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which is for a while. Why? So I thought, wow. So yeah.

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So it's kind of thinking about what your priorities are in general.

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And then also thinking about what skills you actually do have from your PhD

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kind of decompartmentalising it. Yeah.

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PhD life to actually even though for you you were doing it literally at the same time it still was like this.

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Yeah. And I said things are kind of pointing out how you think about what you're doing and how that fits your priorities and what jobs there.

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Yeah, absolutely. And yeah decompartmentalising is exactly why I would say because I had,

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I had completely compartmentalised my life into little boxes that sort of okay today I'm putting on this hat and then I will

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put on another hat and then I'll go home and I might put on another hat because no one wants to talk about the PhD all the time.

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So it's realising that actually maybe you can just wear one hat and you're different things with that.

406
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So it is. Yeah, definitely part of my journey especially and has been very helpful in sort of the last

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year where I've come to terms with with what I originally had deemed as failure.

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And now I have no regrets whatsoever. So now you wouldn't call it academic failure?

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No. Something else is there? No.

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I mean, someone I know did say I did say to me that there are lots of people in the civil service who are in academic rehab.

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But I didn't think I. I don't think I want to call it rehab, because that makes academia sound even worse than I even think it is.

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So I don't think I mean, I don't need to go into rehab for academia.

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But no, I don't know if there's a word. A word for.

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But just there is this there is this idea that if you don't go into an academic job, that you have somehow failed at academia.

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I mean, you can't fail at academia. That's not a thing. And everyone has their own has their own journeys and their own priorities in life.

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And I think as long as you have found out what yours are.

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And it might be that your priority is getting the academic job.

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And that's fine. That's there's nothing wrong with that either. But if it's not your priority, that is also okay.

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And we although there won't be people around that tell you that that's okay.

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Is okay. And having at least having an idea of what your priorities are is just so it's just so important.

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Because for for years my priority was finishing my PhD and that was really all I thought about for the whole time.

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And then when I eventually finished it, I went, well, what now?

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What do I do? And there's the weird interim period anyway, when you submit and then you have nothing to do because you can't read it straight away.

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Why? I don't know anyone that would do that to themselves. And if if they were, I would strongly recommend not doing it.

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But there's sort of that weird time where you have literally nothing to do.

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Until then, you prepare for the viva. And then you invariably get corrections today, which that was.

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It was a hard time trying to complete the corrections while also in a full time job.

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But I did it and that was fine.

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Luckily, my corrections were only minor, so I was able to do it sort of of an evening over the course of a couple of weeks.

430
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And. And that was all fine. And then it kind of all well then just ended.

431
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I thought, well, is that it? Now, why am I not an academic anymore?

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And the answer is no.

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I am still very much an academic in that I like to do research and I still classed myself as academically minded if there is such a thing.

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But I'm just not working in academia and I'm much happier for it, I think.

435
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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about that career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 2 - Dr. David Musgrove, Publisher at Immediate Media Co

Episode 2 - Dr. David Musgrove, Publisher at Immediate Media Co

February 27, 2020

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree! In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. David Musgrove, Publisher at Immediate Media Co.

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter doctoral college

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I'm Kelly Preece, researcher development manager in the doctoral college at the University of Exeter.

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And I'll be your host today. Hello.

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Hi. Hi. OK. So my name is Dave Musgrove and I studied here at Exeter.

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I did my B.A. here in archaeology and I went on to do a PhD in the archaeology department.

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There was a year in between times when I went out and worked for a few companies doing various temping jobs.

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But I came back. I was very, very grateful to be asked back and be given a funded opportunity to do a PhD

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All about the mediaeval landscape archaeology of the Peet Moors of the Somerset Levels a title I remember well from doing it.

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And I did my PhD in three years and then I left and did not carry on into academia.

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So the my career since then has been I've been essentially working in the media, specifically in magazine publishing,

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but also latterly in online publishing because of the realities of the print magazine publishing world.

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And the fact that online is is clearly an important place in which publishing happens.

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So how did I get into that role?

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Well. So whilst I was doing my PhD It became fairly clear to me that I probably wasn't going to become an academic.

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So I think it was really in the second year of my PhD, actually, that I thought I ought to be thinking about what else I could be doing.

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So I chatted to my supervisor and said that I was thinking I was quite interested in publishing.

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I've been doing some work for her, editing some of her manuscripts and doing some page, lay out some of her books.

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So I'd been developing some skills. There getting a bit of cash and that had sparked a bit of interest to me.

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So she suggested I go along to the University Press here at Exeter and see if they had any volunteering work experience opportunities,

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which I duly did. And and I enjoyed that and must have be reasonably proficient because they offered me some part time work.

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They're just doing general admin and a little bit of light editing.

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So I did that for the latter part of my PhD

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And I met somebody there who had some contacts in the magazine publishing world.

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So when I finished my Ph.D., she very kindly put me in touch with some people at a company called Future Publishing,

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which is based in Bath, which produces lots of, still going, produces, lots of computer magazines and other things.

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And I had also, whilst I was in my PhD, I had taken an interest in the Internet, which at the time I was doing my PhD.

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That was a few years ago the Internet was only really starting off and I learnt how

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to do HTML coding and I was able to get a job on a magazine about the Internet.

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Well, I applied for it. And with the contacts that I had been given by this person at the University press, I had a little bit of a step in.

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And so I got a job while working for as a very base layer level on this magazine for a couple of years.

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I was very lucky to get on a training programme there for magazine journalism, and that got me into into the world of of magazines.

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I worked on various other computer and Internet magazines at Future Publishing for a few years and then

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heard about a History magazine launching at a rival company in Bristol called Origin Publishing.

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So I applied for a job there. Got it. And obviously played off my doctoral skills to get that.

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And I've been with that company ever since. It's been through various guises and was bought by the BBC.

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And I ended up working on BBC History magazine, which is a very popular History magazine, the most popular History magazine in the UK.

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And I've essentially been working on that for the last few years,

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as in various roles as the editor for about a decade and then subsequently as the publisher and content director.

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So I'm now in a managerial capacity, but still within a media company.

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So that's the story. Fantastic thank you so

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You say things that spring to mind and about the importance of some of that.

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Experiences you picked up alongside the PhD. So you talked about having had a year gap before and doing various like temping jobs.

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Were any of those things related to your subject area or to publishing or were they kind of just General? Nope

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They were a variety of jobs, working in a postroom, working.

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I ended up working for a market research company, and I think we'd probably be described as a graduate level job, as a market research executive.

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Which to be honest I didn't particularly enjoy.

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And that was what led me to think, well, maybe I'll have another crack at academia for a bit.

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I think all those all those positions, you know, you can pull out some skills from them,

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some experience which is helpful in getting the first real job that you want to do.

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And definitely, I think for anyone who's looking to enter the job market, you know, you know, in a professional capacity,

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you need to draw on any any possible skills you can think of from from Part-Time work or temporary work that you've done and just,

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you know, make sure that you can you can flag up one thing that you learnt from that.

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So when I worked in a postroom for instance sure, I would have said that it helped me develop my people skills because I was dealing

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with a lot of a lot of um trubulent individuals who wanted their post

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I don't remember exactly what I said. But, you know, there were you can always find something.

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Some even from the most uninspiring sort of job. You can always find something that she can allude to in an interview or in a CV.

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So when you were applying for those that the first role and at the at Future publishing in Bath

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you talked about kind of drawing in quite a wide range of interests. And obviously you're relying quite heavily on your writing and editing skills.

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And what else did you draw on in applying and by doing the role in particular in regards to having done a PhD, having done a research degree?

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Well, I think one of the one of the things that I particularly draw on for that first role was the was the fact that it wasn't specifically related to

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my PhD but that I done during my studies, which was learning to code websites,

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which only had the opportunity to do because I had some time in my you know, in my in my research calendar.

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And there were some facilities here to enable me to do that.

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So I was clearly able to draw on that, to give me this sort of specialism that they were interested in for that particular magazine.

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In general, I'm sure I would have said, and I would have meant it,

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that my my doctoral studies had given me an overarching sense of responsibility in the

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understanding of the importance of personal responsibility in all aspects of work.

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And I would have played quite heavily on the fact that I've shown that I have the

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ability to do a project and carry it through to completion on my own volition.

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And I think that's me. That's one of the really big things you can say from from from doctoral research is to say,

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you know, you clearly have the capacity for independent work.

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What you need to then do is to demonstrate that you also have the capacity and the flexibility

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to work in a team environment where you're not working solely to your own agenda.

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And that's probably one of the things I think maybe is a more difficult aspect for people coming from transitioning out of academia into the business

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world or or even into into the public sector is to demonstrate that you have

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the facility to work in an office environment rather than just on your own.

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And there are numerous ways to do that.

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You can allude back to your employment experience if you've worked in a, you know, had a temporary job in an office or in a pub or both, which I did.

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Then you can demonstrate that. But I think that's quite important.

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I think that's a start is a potential stumbling block for people who who see you may be actually on to see.

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They think, well, that's great. Can they can they work in an office?

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Yeah. And I do think and we know from research that's quite prevalent perception of but from employers,

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of people coming from academia or having done the PhD, it's the idea that that quite solitary and detail oriented,

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very focussed on themselves and their own work and perhaps lack those kind of team working and interpersonal skills and increasingly with the kind of.

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Environments that we have in the university and from shared office space to some of the leadership roles are available to our students.

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Like being a PGR representative or various different things. Actually, there's, you know, even just organising a conference with a group of people.

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There's some real opportunities to pick up on and draw in those skills.

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Yeah, I'd say that's super important. I don't think for one moment think that doctoral candidates or PhD students are lonesome.

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Weirdos No, I wasn't. Maybe I was, you know, but I think that is that soon.

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I think you're right. That is a perception from employers that that's something that some perhaps goes with the territory.

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And I think there are, as you say, there are lots of ways that you can demonstrate that you're not that you have team working skills.

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You just need to make sure that you've thought about that and you've got some answers,

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but not down pat that that's that's going to alleviate that concern.

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Do you think they for somebody that's been through that process for also thinking, you know, where you are now as an employer and as a manager?

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Are there other areas that you would see that you think a particular kind of stumbling

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blocks are people who are looking to move from doing PhD to beyond academia?

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I suppose there's always the sense that is, it is the person who's kind of who's coming to you.

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Are they actually interested in the role you're doing or are they simply because they haven't been able to get an academic job?

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And I think that is quite a thing that would be a concern for some employers to think, well, you know this person.

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They've gone down. They've gone this far down a route of research.

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Why aren't they weren't they carry on? Weren't they doing what one assumes they wanted to do?

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So I think that's key. Again, is easy to counter that.

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You just need to think about it. You just need to be clear about what you're doing and you need to express.

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Well, this is this goes for any job.

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You need to have a very good reason why you want the job and you need to be keen and enthusiastic and have a good answer.

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I mean, if you're in in an interview situation and you're not asked why you want the job, then that's a bit odd.

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I've never been in an interview, not been asked. So you have to expect it and you have to have a good answer.

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And and you have to be able to demonstrate that you really want that job.

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And perhaps it builds on what you did in your in your doctoral studies.

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Perhaps it's perhaps it's some in some way linked to or if it's completely ensconsed then that's fine.

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But you just need to demonstrate that you are fully committed to that.

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And the reason why you are no longer carrying on academia is whatever it is.

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And just make sure you've got that nailed down, say, just picking up on it.

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What was it like for you to do those three really intensive years on that one project

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and then to leave that project for also research and for a certain amount of time,

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history and archaeology behind me on something completely different? Did you find that difficult?

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Did you find it quite exciting?

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So I was I was very pleased to put away my books about mediaeval Peet Moors and my struggles with the paleo graphy of mediaeval Latin.

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Glastonbury Abbey rolls briefly.

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I was pleased. And then I was yeah, I was I was pretty gutted that I hadn't hadn't carried on with it.

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But with the wave, a realisation of a practical realised realisation that I wasn't gonna be a great academic.

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I think I sort of clocked that that, you know, in seminars.

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I wasn't the person coming up with the, you know, the really insightful grasp of the topics and stuff.

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So I was aware that I was never gonna become a great professor.

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But, yeah, I was it was I was sad that I wasn't or wasn't involved in that environment anymore.

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But on the flip side, it was a really, really interesting role.

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I was really fascinated in what I was doing. I was learning a lot of skills.

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I was under a completely different sort of pressure. I mean, I've been under a long, grinding pressure to get to the end of the of the PhD

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And then I was immediately shipped and it was pretty much immediate I didn't take a break.

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And I was skint pretty pretty much straight into into this job, which which was brilliant because I needed work and money and a new new focus.

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I think if I hadn't had that, then that might have been worse.

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If I'd just been sat around thinking, oh God, I've done this. PhD

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Now, I've got nothing. I was I was quite a long way behind my peers in terms of salary and position, which was a bit difficult.

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But some, you know, things tend to equalise out.

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So I wouldn't I wouldn't worry about that too much. But it was yeah.

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In terms of deadlines, it was like so I'd come from this long, long deadline into having a deadline every day,

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week, month, and it was unique sort of pressure really exciting. Working with a bunch of people who were really nice and who were all one of the great

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things was they were just all really interested in the fact that I done a PhF and,

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you know, I was politely mocked for being a doctor in the house.

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And I think you'd kind of you do have to accept laughs or traded on that over the years.

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You know, that the doctors here I. Now how I'm using.

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So but, you know, it was it was it was actually a really interesting experience.

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And, yeah, it was fun. So you mentioned about kind of entering in and being behind your peers in terms of salary, but that equalising out over time.

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Is that because you found that you progressed quicker even though you went in at a lower level?

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I mean, I don't actually know. I feel quite comfortable in one day and.

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Yeah, and and what I'm learning now, and that's that's fine, because I think I did progressed pretty quickly.

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I think I was pretty I was keen. I was enthusiastic and I wanted to get on with stuff.

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And there was probably people who didn't quite have that sense of urgency.

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And so that was so that was actually I was released what was good. And I pushed myself forward, you know, and I pushed for promotions.

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I insisted on promotions. I said, I'm doing this on, I'm really good and you need to give me a promotion.

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And yeah. And I got something.

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And then I guess when I blundered back into a role that was closer to my research studies, though actually still some distance.

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Yeah. And then I was able to play back off that.

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But now that academic background. Did that give me more of a platform for Payrise?

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I, I don't know. But I think it is certainly helped me in my career.

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And I've I've I've I've used the fact that I've done the research to to make a lot of contacts and to push myself forward.

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And so so I see I see practical benefits there.

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But I'm reasonably unique space in terms of of my career path going from academia and then finding something that's a little bit similar to it.

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But but actually still quite different. Yes. Say, you mentioned a couple of things partly.

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And I wanted to pick up on you mentioned about making contacts,

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and various different things that obviously that was really fundamental for you in getting that first that first role.

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What would you experience like of going through that interview process?

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And like throughout your career, how how fundamental have you found that kind of sense of contacts and networks to be in terms

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of moving forward or moving sideways or just essentially changing roles or changing path?

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I mean, you know, you would like the world to not be somewhere where you get by, by who you know.

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But reality is that is helpful to have people who can put in a good word if you say this person's good or work.

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And and that certainly helps. Yeah.

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I'm very grateful to that first colleague who I mean, they didn't didn't get me the job.

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They just they just, um, they just put me in touch with somebody and, um, put my name in the frame.

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And that was that was that was that was much appreciated. And also I just, you know, maybe I wouldn't have applied for that role if I hadn't been.

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So if it hadn't been mentioned to me, that  there was the role going at the interview.

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I mean, I think I think I've, in all interviews,

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always found the fact that I have PhD to be useful just in the sense that it does give you a conversation piece.

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And they say, you know, I see you've done a PhD and you say, yeah, I was on the mediaeval exploitations of Peet Moors in the Somerset levels.

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That sounds very boring, doesn't it? And and and and then but you can then say, well, I can say sorry.

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Mildly interesting about. Oh. But it just gives you it makes you sound Slightly more interesting than other people.

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And I think that is useful in a in an interview environment. You do need to sound interesting.

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And that gives you that gives you a little bit more ammunition. So if you have traded on that in every interview environment.

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I mean it. I don't recall doing much of interview practise when I was studying.

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So I think my kind of imagine my initial interview was a great success, but it was it was enough to get me the job.

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Maybe I should have done more interview practise. And I'm not sure I'm not sure how far that's the thing for positions these days to do.

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But I think that should be useful to make sure that you are doing a bit of that and have an idea about what might well might come your way.

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Yeah, there's quite a lot of support that if any institution through my team,

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but also through the career service about things like preparing for interviews,

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particularly if you get how much experience, job interviews or you have any particular anxieties around them, what they might be like.

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And we actually have them. We have this piece of software called Interview Stream where you can set up your own questions

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and kind of record yourself and do practise and get feedback on all sorts of things.

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It is really interesting to be very disconcerting for me to watch myself, but it does help people.

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Would definitely, definitely think those sorts of things. Everyone should take advantage of those.

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Even if you you're brilliant interviewere then I still think you should have a go and just

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I would just point out that fact that you have something interesting to say.

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So do make sure you and it will make you feel more at ease if you could.

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You know, if you have half a minute to say something that you are a real expert, take pleasure on don't take an hour, obviously.

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But just say something that sounds interesting.

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And it is if you to make the whoever is interviewing you think, oh, that's somebody whom I might learn something from, who I might enjoy being,

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you know, who isn't a strange weirdo who who actually has something interesting say and I guess is something really stand out about that,

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because it's sort only it's a slightly more unusual thing to be to have people coming in

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who do have a PhD or who have that level of expertise in something very specific.

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You know, you talked about that role and going on a training programme.

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So can you tell me a bit about what that was on and how that came about?

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But also what I think what it was like to go back to learning that sense once you've started a professional job.

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I mean, that was it was brilliant. It was basically a run a year long training programme for trainee journalists, essentially.

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And every week there was a half a day out for a few,

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a group of ten of us to go and be taught stuff by professional journalists and editors, which was actually fantastic.

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And I embraced it and and and loved it.

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And it was it was very different because of that.

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We have direct learning. It wasn't you know, I wasn't researching.

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I was being told stuff and being given tasks and, you know, being being told to told what to do and then trying to get ahead.

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So I suppose. That you might you might think you're better than that.

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If you've got to go to PhD, why? Well, I've already done all this training. But, you know, humility is a good thing in general.

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And in life. And I was. No, I didn't think that I thought was fascinating.

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And I realised I really needed to understand things. And I really needed to learn how to do the job if I wanted to progress

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I was very grateful for it. And it was it was excellent, I think, you know, government's phrase of lifelong learning or whatever.

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But it's true. You need to you do need to constantly be trying to progress and learn things.

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And if you're not doing that something, you you'll get bored anyway.

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But but you do need to do that for your career progression, whatever.

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So you talked about doing some editing for your supervisor, you know, for a fact they were working.

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And so you and you worked for the university press.

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You obviously have some kind of experience with publishing, albeit quite different kind of publishing.

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And when you you're doing that training course, how different did you find the approach to things like writing and editing and perhaps researching an

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article or a story where you might have used those fundamental skills when you were doing your PhD?

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But how different did you find the use of them in that context?

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Or did you find you kind of needed to relearn how to do those things in a different way?

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Yeah, probably because, well, the stuff those doing for my supervisor was to her standards, to her to to her convention.

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So that was fine. I was just doing on what I was told and and it was very useful, interesting learning experience.

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And then everyone has different conventions and and brings.

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But I think specifically in terms of the question of research and and using your research skills, what you need to do is,

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you know, work environment is you need to be able to stop once you've done it, once you've found something found out.

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I once thought we'd done something that's that's that's enough in a day.

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It's never enough. You always the next rabbit hole to go down in the next journal article to look at the next

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think to have a look at And you're trying to basically understand everything as much as you can about whatever it is you're looking,

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whereas particularly in a journalistic environment, if you can't do that, you've got half a half day, half an hour to do something.

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You've just got to get to the bottom of it as quickly as you can and be happy

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with that and and develop a sense of pragmatism if you haven't got one already.

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Did you find that quite difficult and moving from the kind of longer scale project

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and longer scale questioning to something that is quite discrete and quite quick?

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Yeah, I understand, but I had no choice because you've got deadline and you've got to you've got to deliver.

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I mean, there's you kind of I was I was really worried about all the stuff I did for a little while

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I thought, well i was only given this an hour. Listen, I can't possibly this can't be right.

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But you just got to rolle with it and trust that you've done as best you can.

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So you talked about obviously going on to a history based magazine.

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So you're closer to the kind of background you had in your PhD and that you've moved on to a more managerial role now

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So thinking about yourself as, I guess as an employer.

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What if you had a PhD got you or someone that's just come into the PhD interviewing for a similar role, kind of perhaps where you started?

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You and your team, your organisation, what what are you looking for from them?

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So I suppose it's a bit different, in fact, of my background.

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I would be I'd probably look more favourably on someone who's gonna see them, perhaps someone who hasn't.

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And I think you do need to view.

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Is it. That's it. But I mean. I interviewed yesterday for for a role and the person I interviewed had all the skills.

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I mean, clearly, you need to demonstrate you've got the skills for the job.

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So that was fun. But she was also. Shouldn't she?

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She I think she had an MA She she was enthusiastic, keen and had.

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Enough of a sense of how to describe it.

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She wasn't afraid to stop and ask for a bit of time to answer questions, so she was confident enough in herself to say, I need to.

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I just need to address this properly. So I saw a good level of maturity in her.

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She's quite young. And I think as a as a precondition, you could you could you could trade on that quite well.

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You could trade on that sense of maturity and sense of of self-worth,

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self-knowledge without appearing to be some sort of braggart or something that you've you've done extended research.

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And I think that that is a pitfall you definitely don't want to come across as someone who's, you know better than anyone else.

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And that's clearly would be a bad. Yes. So that kind of elitist.

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Yeah. Don't do that. Don't do that. But definitely, you know, I'm looking for someone who has who has great enthusiasm.

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I want somebody who wants the job. I want somebody who had the same sense of urgency as I had when I was 23

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24. Looking for a job. I want somebody who's going to be banging on my door saying, I want a promotion.

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I want to be better. I want to do this training course. You want those people in your in your in your teams.

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You want people you don't want people to just sit around waiting for wait for the bell.

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So so enthusiasm is is there is the absolute thing I look for, you know, and and confidence.

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I think confidence is is is it is it is great. So in an interview and.

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So. So you make sure you go out and.

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We've got any students listening who are thinking about going into into magazine publishing or online publishing as you are now.

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What advice would you give them in terms of perhaps some of the things to.

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Do alongside their studies or that particular kind of volunteering experiences you think would

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be useful or their particular skill sets that you think they really need to focus on developing.

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So if you're at Exeter, I would expect you to be writing for expose

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I would expect you to be contributing to that to that magazine in some format.

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You should have a blog. You should be you should be blogging. You should be on social media.

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I should be able to find you on Twitter and Facebook and not think that you're completely wild individual.

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But then I should I should be able to see that you are looking to promote yourself in those in those environments.

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You probably we're doing a podcast. I mean, those are all the things that a modern journalist needs to be doing.

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So I would I would advise you to be developing in all those areas.

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On top of that, there are numerous opportunities to do a bit of work experience or internship or,

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you know, apply for competitions, writing competitions, that sort of thing.

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You know, I think the person I interviewed yesterday had won a poetry competition

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So those sorts of things, I think they are they just make you think, but they are bothered

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They are interested that they are enthusiastic. They do care about this and they have a passion for it.

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And that's those would all be things that I would I would definitely try and do.

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So, yes, you need to show that you that you are actually interested in writing and editing if you are trying to get into a media career.

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And that sense of enthusiasm and passion has come across really strongly in all of the answers you've given,

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actually, that one of the fundamental things is about. Being interested and having that sense of motivation to move forward and find out more.

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And I certainly think from my experience working with our PhD students on our research degree students, that's something they have in droves,

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you know, because you need that to be able to pursue a project that is that specialised for that sustained period of time.

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That's real passion and care for something. And.

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And so there's something really wonderful that may have to maximise on on on those personal qualities.

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Yeah, totally. So you can you can trade on. You can trade on it on that as an as a as a as a marker of your enthusiasm and your passion.

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And you can you can really gauge talent. And I would definitely recommend that would be a good thing to do.

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I mean, I think that's what all employers really need and want is that sense of that's somebody who's who is has got a

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level of excitement and commitment that's that's going to make them actually want to do the job and do it well.

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Fantastic. Thanks very much. Pleasure. And that's it for this episode.

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Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

 

Episode 1 - Working in Research Support

Episode 1 - Working in Research Support

December 10, 2019

Welcome to the first Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you...beyond your research degree! In our first episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. Morgane Colleau and Cameron Hird who work in research support in the University of Exeter Professional Services.

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter, Doctoral

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Welcome to Episode one I'm Kelly Preece, research development manager in the doctoral college at the University of Exeter.

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And I'll be your host today.

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I'm delighted to be joined by my colleagues Morgane and Cameron, who both also work in professional services at the University of Exeter.

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Morgane and Cameron, are going to talk to us today about that transition from being researchers to working behind the scenes in higher education and

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particularly in research support and how they bring their skills and experience as a researchers into their current roles.

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So good afternoon, everyone. So my name is Morgane and I'm a research development manager in the EU International Team.

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And my role is set within research services.

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And I thought today what I would do is to give you a little bit of information about my academic background

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and then the professional route or routes that I've taken since completing my PhD in January 2016.

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I've learnt a few things along the way, so I'm hoping that some of the things will be helpful to you.

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So I first came to the University of Exeter as an Erasmus student for the third year of my undergraduate degree,

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which means that I was only meant to be in the country for a year. It's now been eleven years.

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So something went dramatically wrong. So what happened is I did enjoy my Erasmus year and I really enjoyed the research environments

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that the University of Exeter could offer coming from a French higher education institution.

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This is quite different, starting with the facilities and the resources that we have here.

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So say, for example, library access 24/7 and a huge amount of online resources that you have is not something

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that in French higher education institution we wouldn't necessarily be able to access.

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So after my residency, I decided to stay. And I did a part time master's in Middle East politics.

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And I did it part time because at the time my English may have been reasonably good, but I find it really difficult to conceptualise in English.

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So I find essay writing in a secondary language, quite a challenge.

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And I also wanted to spend as much time as possible in the Middle East because that was my areas of fieldwork.

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And then I stayed again for PhD this time,

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which I also completed part time and I completed part time because I combined my PhD studies with a lot of professional opportunities are underway.

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So I got involved with a lot of teaching in both the politics department and the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies.

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I worked in consultancy and that was through opportunities with academics that I connected with.

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Which was really good first hand experience in a world outside academia, but still informing policymakers directly.

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And I worked in welfare support roles, so I worked a lot with undergraduate students living in halls of residence.

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So as I said, altogether, completing a PhD part time.

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And it took me about six years, I finally defended and completed in January 2016.

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And so I had a slide prepared, which was about my existential crisis throughout.

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my PhD with questions such as why? Why am I doing a PhD

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I may have agreed to complete the beast and also had a bit of the imposter syndrome.

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What do I actually know? And the thing about me is I went to my Viva with it, a bit of that imposter syndrome as well.

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So on the one hand, I was quite confident and I knew quite a bit about my topic.

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I had researched Iranian nuclear policy during the Ahmadinejad presidency for six years.

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I lived in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. I interviewed Iranian officials extensively outside Iran.

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But yet I didn't have that voice of authority or their feeling that I could actually speak and represent the Iranian regime very well as well.

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So that was one thing that I had to juggle with throughout my PhD

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And then the question was, well, what am I going to do now that I've completed?

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Do I want to stay in academia? And deep down, I knew I didn't want to stay in academia, but that didn't really tell me what actually could I do.

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And also, would I be a little bit of a failure if I didn't stay in academia or didn't try to stay in academia?

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And at the time, I think I never really reflected on my range of transferable skills.

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So I really hadn't reflected on what it is that I could actually offer to employers and what it is that I actually enjoy doing as well.

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So there was an existential crisis of questions throughout the PhD and then post PhD

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So I then went into my first role at the University of Exeter.

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More out of curiosity. So I was a programme administrator for two professional.

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Programmes in clinical psychology. So I sat within the doctor college.

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And so this is completely different from my area of work because I left Middle East politics after I left academia

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I went for a road that was probably on a much lower pay scale and spine point that I could have hoped for, having completed my PhD

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But I really went into it out of curiosity. Why not?

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I'm drawn to professional doctoral programmes it's a different route from what I've done.

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I would be working with the NHS. I would be interested in this.

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And I really enjoyed that role. Stayed there for two years.

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And I think that is when I regained confidence and I started to become a lot more aware of my transferable skills.

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So things that I could handle that maybe some of my counterparts find it a bit more difficult.

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I had a huge workload capacity compared to others. I was able to engage really well with academics.

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I had an understanding of the PGR environment because I had just completed my thesis.

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I was able to organise and project manage a wide range of targets and projects and so forth.

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So I stay in this role for two years. I then I decided it is time for a change.

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I am still going to be staying at the University of Exeter.

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And I moved sideways and I did an unusual thing where I went from one interview after the other

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and at the end of them decided to combine three part time roles amounting to 1 FTE

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So I had one 0.6 role, 60 percent F.T. in the doctoral college where I was the P.A. to the dean and the associate dean of the doctoral college.

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I also worked for the quality development team. So that was a 60 percent FTE role, but actually with two types of responsibilities.

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And then I had two 20 percent FTE roles on very large scale research projects.

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So one was an EU grant and the other one was a Wellcome Trust.

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So I work really closely with two senior academics on their project teams and that was fun.

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But it is really unusual for someone I think at the University of Exeter to combine a variety of roles, not less.

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Three amounting to 1 FTE And that's something I think served me well because that was noticed at interview stage.

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And to this day, that is something I sell as evidence of my capacity to work in a variety of structures and team and services and systems.

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But at that point, I thought, I need to wake up because this is actually not this very challenging enough.

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So it is time now to stop moving sideways and try to move up.

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It a bit more. And so that's what I've done. And this is how I ended up in my third role at the

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The university, we could say where I was an impact and partnership development officer in a degree apprenticeship team in IIB.

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So IIB stands for Innovation, Impact and Business, and that's the commercial team of the University of Exeter.

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So what was great there is, again, I learnt new skills. So commercial engagement for me was really new

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I had never been a relationship manager for an external company.

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I was this time around the sole point of contact for engineering companies at the University of Exeter.

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So, again, really far away from my field of study in Middle East politics.

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But there I discover that is really not for me because I'm not in a university because of my interest in commercial engagement.

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Actually, I like working at a university because of the research focus.

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So after six months, I left that role and I went for another higher grade role, which I got.

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And this is how I am currently a research development manager. So over seven months, I managed to move twice and two grades up.

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And I think now I'm probably operating at the right level, which is quite nice.

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It will be another few years before I can aspire to a higher grade role.

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So what is great about research of manager role? And a lot of us are PhD

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holders in research services or a lot of us have left academia.

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It's an area of work that seems to be attracting a lot of people with PhDs

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I provide I work one to one with very senior academics, but also more junior academics.

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And I support them with a research grant proposals that want to secure a new grant or an international grant.

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I provide them with post awards support. So I discuss the research project ideas with them.

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I advise them on ideas, few of ideal funding opportunities for them.

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I do a lot of their budget. I do all the legal work that is involved negotiating with the EU European Commission, dealing with collaborators.

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I then also induct them once they are successful to the terms and conditions of their grounds.

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And what is nice for me is that this is as close to academia as I ever wish to be again.

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So I still have a foot in my field because actually I support social sciences quite a bit now.

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I have a fit, but then I'm not carrying the weight of research myself, so I'm quite enjoying that.

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I think I've become more aware as well of the skills that I develop throughout my PhD and

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Definitely using those on a day to day basis.

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So things like analysis and problem solving, interpersonal and leadership skills and being able to network and collaborate with others.

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project management, being able to peer review an application, that's not always easy.

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Provide feedback to a higher up academic. And then this is a road that brings great professional development opportunities.

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So I'm able to manage now. I'm able sometimes to support younger academics with self leadership skills.

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So in terms of how to supervise students sometimes as well, we have conversations and then I also do I additional qualifications.

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So I'm also able to pursue professional development opportunities and recognition.

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So sorry, I have to change page. So this is not good for the recording.

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If we could. So then I just wanted to reflect on what's happened along the way because I have moved around quite a lot.

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I think what has been helpful for me is working with a mentor.

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So I identified a mentor that had also transitioned outside academia that is about 20 years older than me and was very comfortable with.

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I'm a PhD holder. I left academia and here are the skills that I can offer.

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That's a really safe space to have confidential conversations with.

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And it's a good opportunity as well to explore things. And then you can reflect back on with your mentor.

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So that helps. I also enrolled on the Aurora programme. So the Aurora, our programme is run by the Leadership Foundation.

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And this is a women only focus programme. And it's really about focussing on our leadership skills.

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And that was an opportunity for me at the time to really focus on myself and my sense of agency as opposed to what I wasn't.

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I'm not an academic, but actually what else can I offer? Now was quite nice to switch from negative to positive.

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It is at the time I decided, no, I'm going to move up and I'm going to do everything I can to try to get a higher grade job.

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And I also met other women or other very different various stages. And it was nice and comforting to hear about her experiences.

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I attended as many training courses as possible with the university.

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And we have great I mean, I think our people development team do put on a great range of training courses.

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So, again, good way of developing yourself skills, but becoming more aware as well of yourself, your working style.

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What do you have to offer?

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And as I say, I also pursuing professional qualifications through the ILM programme, which is a focus on leadership and management.

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So that has helped me along the way in gaining that confidence over the last four years.

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And so if I had two key takeaways for me, the PhD was a difficult journey.

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And everyone I completed my PhD with was also in the same boat and also struggled, I think.

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And and academia is not an easy choice. And it can be challenging, particularly people around.

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You don't understand. Why would you not want to stay in academia? I think finding an aspiring career path can also be testing.

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And for me, was definitely a need to review process of I'll go a bit everywhere until I find what resonates.

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What I've learnt is that it's worth taking risks.

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So I did jump in my career and role that, I mean, was only a six month opportunity to start with.

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But I decided that I wanted to explore and see if it worked for me.

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So I think that is sometimes worth doing for me, was worth trying different paths to find myself.

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I think what worked for me as well was to identify role models. So I've been really inspired by women that I work with.

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And when I would see them at meetings, I would be like, this is what I want to be like in a few years time.

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That is an inspiring career path. I think it was also what some people along the way to become a bit more reflective of, actually.

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What did I achieve during my PhD? What skills did I develop?

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What am I quite good at? And also trying to sell a bit more and better what I did alongside my studies.

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So not every PhD student who would have had a consulting experience.

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Not every PhD student would have lived in a war zone and so forth.

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So, you know, what else can I sell to me for?

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To this day, my PhD still holds value. So not much in terms of actual academic advancements,

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but I think it is it adds to my credibility when working with academics on reviewing their proposals, for example.

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I think it does give me a bit more credibility. I think it served me well.

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I think it's helped me in terms of scientific thinking and or my leadership skills and to this day.

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So three, four years after completing my PhD. Finally, the sense of failure or the fear of failure has completely disappeared.

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So there are no regrets. And it's quite a nice place to be in because I wasn't in that position two years ago.

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So there's been a nice journey in that sense. Good afternoon, everyone.

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My name is Cameron Hurd, and I actually currently manage animal cultures in our aquarium here at the University of Exeter.

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So I work on the technical services.

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So I'm in a bit of a weird situation because I've been in this role full time now for a year, but I'm still finishing off looking at my PhD.

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So that will be submitted in about three months time.

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So that just shows that there is the opportunity to be able to go off and start doing jobs while you're continuing the PhD.

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So my PhD was in marine biology subject here. I was looking at the impacts of pharmaceuticals release from wastewater on marine animals.

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And during my PhD, I was really enjoying it and things like that.

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But more and more questioning, what do I want to do after my PhD?

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Right. From the age of six, I decided that I wanted to be a marine biologist.

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What a six year old thinks and marine biologist is a very different reality.

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So you think you'll be swimming with whales and dolphins when you're that age? Actually, the reality is, is a very different sort of role

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So I knew I wanted to stick with that. But the purely academic route, I just wasn't sure that was what is working for me.

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So I moved away from this.

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traditional PhD, head to academiatype route for many reasons.

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Some of them with things like job security say things like postdocs were limited to six months a year, two years at most sort of thing.

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I was looking at sort of more of work life balance and things like that throughout my career.

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Today, I often found that I was working all the time, even in my spare time.

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I was working and I wanted to sort of break away from that a little bit.

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Both I wanted to have some flexibility. in where i was working.

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So my personal situation is that my partner is based in Exeter,

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so I can't necessarily move for job because I have to think of her role as well and as her being the chief income earner,

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her job has to some extent take priority over mine. So I needed more flexibility and things like that.

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Standard academic career is a bit more flexible. You often expected to move for the new position that you might be taking.

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So what my current role actually involves is day to day I'm managing an entire area of the aquarium.

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So I support a research group. I support eight members of that research group.

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I help out with the experimental work. I look after the animals.

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So that ranges from so low ranking jobs, like cleaning, feeding, transferring animals up to a higher rung,

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jobs like creating new genetic crosses to producing brand new protocols for the culture of these animals.

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So I work predominantly with marine worms, but I also work with things like jelly fish and other species like that.

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So this was quite a nice role because it allowed me to have that crossover between I'm still doing some research type activities.

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I'm still actually producing data that I can publish papers with.

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But it's just not quite the same pressures as sort of a full time academic to.

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So one thing that I took away from this was actually I felt like I was going in at a lower level, a lower rung, but I felt like I should be.

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I know I took a lot of people off during the PhD and they say, ah, after I finished my PhD

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I wanted to be earning as much money and I won't be getting below that.

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And oh, I feel like my PhD should give me a much more professional job afterwards.

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But what I found with this was that actually sometimes you got to start yourself a bit lower off, a bit lower down.

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So I didn't mind the fact that I was going into some of the more menial tasks like cleaning out animals and things like that, because actually,

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once you're in those positions, you've got a foothold and then you've really got a chance to advertise yourself, show that you can do things.

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You can do so much more than that. So that was quite important thing to notice.

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And actually, there were many transferable skills from my first day, as well as a PhF student.

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You were essentially your project manager, that you're managing your own project.

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You're coming up with ideas, you're putting them into practise and things like that.

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Say, actually, there are many skills you can take away from that and you can take into any profession,

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whether it's academic, whether it's non-academic. What I actually found was quite difficult as I was nearing the end of my PhD in

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terms of looking for employment was a lot of people will look at you and they'll view,

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especially if you've been through a career such as mine,

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where I went straight from school straight into my degree and then straight from my undergraduate degree straight to PhD.

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So I didn't have any breaks in between any working between people then viewing

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my applications for things as though I was overqualified but under experienced

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And although I did various part time jobs throughout my PhD. Things like teaching, outreach work, all sorts of things like that.

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I found that actually for the types of jobs that I was applying for, whether they were technical jobs,

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whether they were working in things like ecology, conservation, anything like that, they were looking for more experience.

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So actually, if someone wants to tell me one piece of advice, what would I think?

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What would I give to someone else in a similar situation?

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I'd say if you've got an idea in mind, try and get some experience in it before you're getting to that point that you're looking for jobs,

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because although you may feel like actually you could do that job brilliantly to appeal to an employer,

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you need to have both the experience and the qualifications and not just one not the other.

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So what I found was that there were many transferable skills.

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So as I would to say, you're asking for this, but I can do this. And that's how it relates.

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So things like project management skills, things at managing projects,

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which you do with your employer budgets and things like using the initiative, you might be coming up with you new experiments, things like that,

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during a PhD that showing that you're using initiative to communicate to people throughout your PhD where they're on a small scale,

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whether you're talking to professionals, whether you're talking to the lay person,

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there are all different transferable skills that you can pass on to your post academic life.

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So unusually, the way my job panned out.

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Although I am sort of balancing PhD, finishing off and full time employment,

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it's allowed me to keep my foot in both camps because I'm still involved in the research.

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But I'm still little, say, able to do other things slightly, I guess less taxing on my mind type jobs,

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things that just allow you a bit of a break after your PhD. And actually, in the year that I've been doing this sort of role,

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I've now had a complete change in job role and having an assistant coming in

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to help me out within the next few months and lined up for a new job role,

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a 50 percent pay increase. And then I'll be earning what I might have hoped to earn straight after payday anyway.

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So there really are all these progression routes and they're really, really helpful.

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So I would just say it's been a really enjoyable process, actually.

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Just moving slightly away off one side from academia, but equally giving myself the option to come back.

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And in a way, I'm sort of coming full circle, but just able to test the waters with what I think is best for me.

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Thank you to Morgane and Cameron for sharing their experience with us.

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There's some really useful tips in there about taking some time to reflect both during and after you've completed

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your research degree to really think about what's important to you in terms of your work and your work life balance,

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but also the kinds of skills you developed and the kinds of roles you might want to go into.

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I was really interested to hear both Cameron and Morgane talking about going in at

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slightly lower level jobs than they perhaps would have wanted after a PhD

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but progressing through those into more senior roles really very quickly due

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to the experiences and skills they gained throughout their research degree.

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You can find links to information about both Morgane and Cameron, their research, their current roles,

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and the various different training and development opportunities they mentioned in the show notes.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

 

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