What career planning should I do during my PhD?
You might already know what you want to do after your PhD, or you might have absolutely no idea. Whichever it is, you need to start planning your next steps. Without a plan you might all too easily find yourself drifting into a career you don't really want.
Career planning shouldn't be something you think about just in the last few months of your PhD, when you are writing up and trying to find a job. A good time is at the start of your second year, when you are settled into your research but not yet panicking about how little time is left. Once begun, career planning should be revisited every few months - your opinions might change and you might no longer think, for example, that lecturing is the job for you after observing your supervisor at exam marking time!
How do I do it?
Career planning can be broken down into 4 key components: Self-awareness, Occupational awareness, Decision-making and Taking action (or Action planning). This is referred to as the DOTS model (derived by Law, 1977)
Consider what it is you like and dislike about what you are doing now. What parts of your PhD have you enjoyed the most, or found the most challenging? What led you to do a PhD in the first place? Has it met your expectations? Answering all these questions will take time, but it is worth it to build a picture of your skills and motivations. This can then be tested against the career you want, or used as a basis to find one. Vitae has some useful resources to help you get started on this.
If you are having trouble focusing on what you want to do, don't panic - come and see a Careers Adviser instead. They can help you refine your objectives and set a strategy to reach them. Or, try using a Computer-Aided Guidance package such as Prospects Career Planner (see the useful links page).
You should also, once you've thought about what you want to do, research it to make sure you know what it entails, how to get in, what skills are needed and so on. Being fully informed is a vital part of career planning! And, if academia isn't what you want, planning ahead in this way gives you time to try and get any work shadowing or experience that might be required in your chosen occupation.
Decision Making and Action Planning
These aspects of career planning can also be thought of as continuing professional development. Whatever direction you wish to go in, it is beneficial to have done some skills training, so keep up to date with what's on offer. You'll have an idea of areas you'd like to develop after looking at your skills and motivations. Remember, the Research Councils recommend you spend ten days on career development and training per year - so use it! Keep your networks going - friends, people you were on undergraduate courses with, colleagues - especially if they go somewhere different. They can be a valuable source of information and, possibly, opportunities!
For more information on career planning, and some useful links and resources, visit the 'careers' section of the Vitae web site, and the career development section of the University's web pages for research staff, researchers@bath. You might also find this quick guide useful:
Quick guide to career planning
- Set time aside specifically for career planning!
- Look at why you chose your subject
- Carry out an objective assessment of your skills, interests, values and aptitudes
- Analyse what you've got from your studies, and your strengths and weaknesses
- Use this information to help you choose a career
- Research that career
- Get to know the employment/job-hunting scene
- Think about your CV - write it and get us to look at it!