Monday, 12 March 2012

Post-PhD and the path of internships?

About a year and a half ago now I finally made the decision to see the careers advisor at the university where I completed my PhD. I resisted for a long time after completion because I just thought I had enough experience of studying, life and the working world to get by on my own and manage the job application process and interviews without the help of others - beyond accessing a few sites on the Internet. Well, after several shots at applying for academic teaching jobs, one with an interview and others without a look-in, and after finally admitting to myself that I wanted to look at other alternatives, I made an appointment. My name and details after the session were then put in the system and every now and then I get emails about career fairs at the university, workshops and other things. Before I mention today's email I'll just say a little about the session with the advisor.

I wasn't exactly sure what I was expecting when I went there, although I did bring my 'academic' cv with all of its details about qualifications, awards, teaching, conference papers that I felt so proud of, and a start with my little list of publications. It became immediately clear to this woman that the cv was too academic and I needed to redesign it and perhaps think about using the 'skills-based' cv. She was very helpful here and showed me some good websites for Post-Grads who had switched from the academic cv to the skills-based one. What was funny about this was that part of my undergrad Level 1 teaching was devoted to helping students see the value of the 'transferable skills' they were acquiring through their academic studies and which could be a good selling point for future employers. I never quite spent the time thinking about how exactly I would have to sell my own skills.

I left the appointment feeling some kind of relief that I had finally got there and had this session yet it was mixed with feelings of more anxiety. Now I had to actually sit down with myself and try to figure out what I wanted to do. What was my ideal job? she asked me. Oh dear, that was a tricky one. I honestly couldn't answer. Is there any ideal job left to have, I asked myself. Are my expectations too high?

Editing down this story a little bit now, I made the decision to look at some of the internal jobs that were advertised through the university. My newly designed cv was a hit and I actually got an interview for what I thought was a promising fixed-term post. It was part-time, just what I wanted, and had lots of potential to learn new stuff, while putting to use many of my 'skills'. I found myself quite surprised at the interview though. The pay wasn't great. It wasn't on the lowest end either but I hoped I could have applied for a job with a better salary. Anyway, what really surprised me was that the interview included a panel of four people, including one from another department, so an external person. I was drilled as if they were interviewing me to run the project (the role was to assist the Project Manager). The expectations were very high and seemed comparable to a Post-Doc research post, for someone with a PhD. However, the actual job spec and the essential qualifications expected that candidates should at least have an undergraduate degree, not a Post-Grad. I'm reliving the frustration of this interview now as I type away.

When the other candidate got the job I felt quite a bit of relief. The office was situated in the lower level of the building in the basement and didn't seem to have any windows. The campus was huge and overwhelming. For drivers, you had to park in an area that seemed miles away and pay, and then find your way to this nowhere land eventually. The poor students, I thought.

I continued to look for other roles at the university but nothing suitable came up. And much of my search on a UK graduate jobs website advertised for graduate internships. So many of my students would have been taking those up, in their desperate desire to get experience.

I'm reminded of this today as the careers office has sent me an email, personalised with my name in the letter, asking me to consider the value of doing an internship. Come and find out about those ones that are not advertised, come and see what it's like to work in this area, gain experience doing this and that. I am soon to be 49, have previous years of hard work experience in printing/publishing industry. I trained as a secondary school teacher and can manage a classroom of 32 pupils from ages 11 to 17. I have taught university level students, undergrad and post-grad MA students. I have had two children and managed my work and studies around them. I have somehow managed to complete a PhD research project and write around 80,000 words of a cohesive academic narrative. I have taught myself some complicated new software packages when doing my PhD research. Somehow, I should be able to bypass the need to do an internship as a means of proving myself? Is there no way that the careers office can hone in on Post-Grad talent and help us in our search for meaningful work? Couldn't they even just think about the right kind of recruitment agencies to point us towards? They seem to be spending so much time and energy liasing with local employers for undergrads that they have missed an amazing opportunity to help build a stronger reputation for the university employment statistics through us older, more experienced Post-Grads.

I know that all I can do is keep trying and keep refining that skills-based cv and strengthen my personal statement. But I'm not convinced much of the time that it will solve the problem of the Post-Grad who may be too over-qualified for many jobs, and perhaps just too scary for employers who want to stay away from hiring the old 45-plus people like me (now with lots of grey in my hair!), who may have been their lecturer in their uni days who gave them a bad mark on an essay and a hard time for never showing up to seminars. And I'm not sure I'd blame them. Would I really want to work for them anyway?


  1. I find it really frustrating when I hear that I I ought to consider a internship since I figure that its just an excuse, a make do project to while away the time until something more appropriate turns up ...and in my head I think ...ahem, when.?? This answer is never answered. However, the fact that you've told to consider one suggests that your careers office just is awful, frustrating even and makes me wonder whether they read your cv/resume or listened to you when you told them what your qualifications were and what you've done. You've got a ton of experience and had a wide variety of why would you want to do an internship? Do the careers office really think that you'll say yes to the possibility?

  2. Thanks for your comment Anthea. The whole intern thing is very frustrating. I've just got a new job in a university which address the student experience and with particular focus on Postgrads! I am told that my own experience as a Postgrad PhD student is what inspired them to hire me, so it's nice to see that the experience was helpful. But I aim to have a look at the area of employability provision and one of the things I would question is this internship business as seems more appropriate for undergrads. Should be interesting!