Supporting the career development of doctoral students
Advice for doctoral supervisors on how to approach career conversations with your doctoral students and what support is on offer from the Careers Service
How you can help
As a doctoral supervisor, you may find that you are the first port of call for careers advice from your doctoral students, particularly those considering an academic research career. This section offers some suggestions for ways you can support doctoral students with their career development.
Be open to having conversations about future career plans
These could be integrated into training needs analyses or progress review meetings, or take place on a more informal or ad-hoc basis. You may find that these conversations happen more in the latter stages of the doctorate, but try to encourage early engagement with career planning. The Careers Service’s Career Planning timeline for doctoral students includes suggestions of career planning activities doctoral students can engage in at every stage of their doctoral programme.
Take a supportive, non-directive approach
Avoid assumptions about what particular individuals may want to do. Be open to discussing career options outside of academia, even if you feel you don’t have all the answers; more than 50% of doctoral researchers will move outside of academia three years after graduating. If asked, give constructive and honest feedback about an individual’s suitability for an academic research/teaching career.
Ask open questions and encourage reflection
Questions could include: ‘What are your thoughts about options for after graduating?’; ‘What skills and experience will you need?’; ‘What skills are you developing though doing a PhD?’; ‘Where could you get more information and advice?’
Signpost to appropriate sources of advice and support
Signpost doctoral students to the Careers Service if they are interested in options outside of your area of knowledge or would benefit from more in-depth careers support. The Careers Service has extensive web resources for researchers.
Introduce doctoral students to your own internal and external networks and collaborators
You may be able to introduce them to former supervisees, external stakeholders or collaborators who may be additional sources of career advice and information and employment opportunities.
Provide support and mentoring on academic career development
This could include:
- help with development of a publication strategy
- involving doctoral students in your own grant writing and encouraging them to apply for small pots of money
- facilitating teaching experience and letting them observe your own teaching
- encouraging involvement in conferences
- providing feedback on academic CVs and giving advice on interview preparation
- sharing your own career pathway with them and the highlights and challenges of an academic career
Encourage and facilitate a proactive approach to professional development and involvement in wider departmental and university activities
This will help to develop non-research networks and to build transferable skills such as team working, organisation and leadership. Encourage involvement in research-related activities such as organising conferences, enterprise and research commercialisation, involvement in departmental committees, student representation or peer support, as well as opportunities to present and communicate their research to a variety of audiences. Employers outside of academia will value a wide range of experience.
Encourage doctoral students to record their own progress in research and other activities
Encourage self-reflection and the recording of progress and achievements. This will help with the preparation of CVs and applications as well as the development of research plans.
Support from the Careers Service
The Bath Careers Service provides impartial support, advice and guidance to students in defining and developing their careers during and beyond their degree. The Careers Service works with doctoral students at all stages in their programme to encourage a proactive approach to career and professional development, to raise awareness of possible career opportunities both inside and outside of academia, and to assist with effective self- presentation in applications and interviews. An overview of the range of support offered is outlined below.
1-2-1 Careers appointments and practise interviews
The Careers Service offers 20-minute careers appointments - useful for discussing first steps in career planning and job-searching strategies. We also offer CV and applications advice appointments for feedback on CVs, application forms and cover letters. Careers appointments and CV and applications appointments can be booked by students via MyFuture.
Practice interviews are available for students who have a confirmed interview coming up. Contact the Careers Service enquiries desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or Anne Cameron, the Researcher Career Development Advisor.
Career Management workshops and skills training
The Careers Service offers tailored career management sessions for doctoral students as part of the Doctoral Skills Programme, on topics including career options, interview preparation and CVs. In addition, doctoral students can participate in our careers adviser- and employer-led events programme which is open to all students.
Access to employers and professional networks
The Careers Service organises a number of careers fairs and hosts presentations from employers representing a wide range of sectors. Throughout the academic year all students have the opportunity to meet a wide range of employers on campus or virtually when they give presentations. Students can also access Bath Connection, a database of Bath alumni contacts, including doctoral graduates, who can offer insights into their experiences of working in various roles, sectors and organisations. In addition, we encourage doctoral students to develop professional networks through involvement in conferences, research seminars and non-academic activities, and particularly through active engagement with relevant Professional Bodies and Learned Societies.
Specialist Information resources
The Careers Service website has a specific section for doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers which contains extensive information on career options, vacancy sources and self- marketing, and there is information for researchers in specific disciplines.
An in-house vacancy database and advice on where to look for jobs
MyFuture is a comprehensive source of vacancies for full-time jobs, internships, and voluntary work opportunities, and there is a specific search option for PhD students. The Careers Service can also advise on where to look for work in specialist fields.
Provision for specific groups on request
The Careers Service are very happy to provide tailored sessions for Departments, Faculties, Doctoral Training Centres and research groups. Contact Anne Cameron to arrange this.
What do doctoral researchers do once they’ve graduated?
Doctoral students find work in a wide range of sectors and industries. A limited number of roles will ask for a PhD as an essential requirement; numerous others will consider a PhD as advantageous or desirable, and many roles will make use of the transferable research skills and experience gained through undertaking a PhD. The high level analytical, critical thinking and problem-solving skills developed through doctoral research are highly valued by employers.
The Careers Service supports the collection of data from all students about what they are doing at a specified time period after they have graduated. Overview leaflets summarising the employment destinations of UK and other EU domicile doctoral students between 2012/13- 2016/17 from each Department are available here.
National information on the employment destinations of doctoral students is available through the What do researchers do? leaflets published on the Vitae website.
You may also find it helpful to look at the infographics summarising employment data and sample job titles for each discipline.
Vitae, the national researcher development organisation, has a wealth of careers and professional development information and advice, particularly career stories of other researchers, CV examples and the Career-wise researcher booklet.
As well as being one of the main places to look for HE academic and non- academic roles in the UK, jobs.ac.uk also has a blog and articles with careers advice, and a range of free e-books on topics including writing cover letters for research jobs and academic job interviews.
Careers Service blog
These cover a range of careers-related topics, including many that are of specific interest to doctoral and postdoctoral researchers.
Nature careers articles
Lots of careers-related articles for scientists.