Life after a PhD

Life after a PhD can be overwhelming, from seeking a full-time job to returning to a normal routine. Dr Karen Patel discusses academic careers, her trajectory post-PhD and maintaining her hobbies.

Dr Karen Patel discusses life after a PhD, securing academic jobs and more.

Job opportunities after a PhD

When I submitted my PhD, I was relieved at first. However, that soon gave way to anxiety about what I was going to do next. Would I get a job? What would I do?

You learn a host of skills while doing a PhD, and given how scarce and competitive academic careers are, it’s worth exploring other avenues and expanding your skillset.

Prior to my PhD, I worked in a number of different industries. After initially exploring the idea of becoming a sports journalist, I then did social media and marketing for a number of companies.

I had studied at Birmingham City University for my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, so I knew the University well. When I had the chance to join BCU for a full-time job, I jumped at the chance.

It was here that I explored possibilities for a research career, and I found out about Midlands3Cities funding, which I successfully applied for in 2014.

Preparing for a career

While preparing for my PhD viva, I put together some ideas for a postdoctoral project and researched funding opportunities.

Just before my viva, I found out I was successful in securing funding from the Creative Economy Engagement Fund (CEEF), funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The project saw me work with the Crafts Council looking at diversity in craft, and it formed the basis for my successful AHRC Leadership Fellowship funding application, which I was awarded in January 2019. I am still working on that project.

My position is still precarious, which is the downside of being an early career researcher. Because of this, it can be really difficult to sustain an academic career, unless you get lucky with a permanent position early on.

Seeking funding

Funding is extremely competitive. To stand out, you need to articulate that your research matters.

When writing your funding application, you should think about the real life impact your research could have, whether it be on society, culture or the economy. You need to make this absolutely clear in your funding application.

Funders also need to be confident that you are the right person to carry out the research, so you need to make this clear and demonstrate your suitability for the research project you propose.

Most importantly, read the funding requirements! The funder will reject your application outright if it doesn’t meet the criteria, so take the time to read the requirements carefully, and keep an eye out for new versions of the requirements.

Transitioning to life after a PhD

It’s important to try and maintain a work-life balance while doing your PhD. For example, try and have a separate hobby or interest.

One constant throughout my PhD has been my love for football and Liverpool FC, which has always helped me switch off.

During the PhD, I was also part of an amateur dramatics group, and that was great for me to have something else to focus on.

It’s so important to make time for yourself and make sure the PhD doesn’t become all-consuming.

You can find about more about Karen’s work by visiting her website.

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