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Reflections on BSA Postgraduate Forum Life Post PhD: What’s Next? Denisse Sepúlveda Sánchez

I was awarded my PhD degree last summer and, after celebrating and relaxing, I started to ask myself the big question: what’s next? And then: what I should do? Will I stay in the academia? How can I get a job? How can I improve my research profile? How can I perform well in an interview? Do I need more publications? Or do I need develop other research skills in order to get a job? These and other questions were answered at the BSA Postgraduate Forum event Life Post PhD: What’s Next? (17 Oct. 2018)

As a student, you usually think that the PhD is one of the more difficult parts of a research career and yes, it is. However, looking for a position in academia can be very complex if you do not have the right information. Being from Chile and looking for a job in the UK, I find myself in this process, looking for advice and trying to understand the rules in academia. The fact that I attended this event helped me to learn very practical information about how academia works in the UK and how I should develop my research profile.

First, Professor John Solomos (Warwick University) talked about what you need to know about the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and he gave some advice about how to think strategically in order to develop a publication profile. For example, you should join or should organise a reading and/or writing group, because in that way you can develop your teamwork skills, but also, you can get more opportunities from knowing more people.

Moreover, if you have the opportunity, you should contact publishers and editors, because they can guide you in terms of what they are looking for in their journals or books. He advised us to organise seminars or workshops and invite people who are working in the same area to come along. In that way, you can develop your network and then it’s more likely that people will want to collaborate with you on a publication.

Moreover, he also recommends that it’s good to look for a mentor, because in that way you can get advice from someone who has experience in research. He suggested looking into the BSA mentoring scheme.

Then, Dr Sally Brown (Edinburgh Napier University) gave us some insightful advice about writing funding bids. If you want to apply to get funding, you need to know all the possibilities that you have and what the funding is about before applying. To that end, Sally gave us a list of sources of funding in the UK, such as: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), British Academy, Wellcome Trust, Leverhulme Trust, Nuffield Foundation, The Sociological Review, among others. After you know what sources of funding there are, you should focus on which types you want to apply for, which could be fellowships (Leverhulme), project grants, seminar/workshop grants or travel grants. According to Sally, the most important thing about applying for funding is writing a good proposal. Your proposal should be realistic and practical. Furthermore, you have to consider that writing a good proposal takes time, so it is better to write it in advance instead of writing it two weeks before the deadline. She recommended applying for a small grant first, in that way you can develop a research profile to obtain a bigger grant. She talked about her research journey: she first applied for a seminar grant and then she started to apply for project and internal grants. Sometimes you will be rejected, and that’s normal. It does not mean that you are a bad researcher, but you have to keep going and applying until you get the funding.

After lunch, Dr Jana Javornik and Dr Francesca Zanatta (University of East London) talked about academic job applications. They gave a very enthusiastic and practical talk about the transition from being a PhD student to then being part of academia. Moreover, they gave us advice about how to prepare for ‘scary’ job interviews. For instance, you should be prepared to answer the following questions: What are you currently reading? Tell me about yourself? Are you willing to fail? Where do you see yourself in five years? What have you learned from your mistakes? Why should(n’t) we hire you? Who was your best and worst boss? What do people criticise you for?

Some of these questions are very tricky, so you have to prepare good answers for them. Similarly, they said it was crucial to learn about academic traditions and hiring practices, and to find out about the national and cultural landscape you are looking for work in. Moreover, they advised using social media, like Twitter and Blogger, in order to get your work known. They said that you should think about your professional goals and what you need to do to achieve them. Also, they recommended being willing to look outside of academia: sometimes the academic job market is tough, so you should talk with academics and non-academics to see which options suit you best.

Finally, Dr Hannah Bows (Durham university) reflected on her academic career path and spoke about how you should develop your profile in three main areas: publications, teaching and research. In terms of publications, she advised focussing on the quality of publications instead of quantity – it is better to be published in a good journal than have multiple publications in less recognised journals. Also, she recommended that you think about how you can contribute to the research environment and what transferable skills you have. Similarly, you have to decide which direction and profile you want as a researcher, due to the fact that some positions are focussed on research more than teaching. Moreover, she advised developing your network in order to have a better chance of future collaborations.

As you can see, this seminar was very useful, thanks to all the recommendations that speakers kindly gave to us related to the transition from being a PhD student to getting an academic position. It is good to know that there are people willing to help who don’t even know you. I hope that in the future I can do the same for the next generation. Sometimes you need this kind of event to help you to make the best decision for your academic career path. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in this amazing event.

Denisse Sepúlveda Sánchez obtained her Sociology PhD at the University of Manchester. Her research explores the consequences of the social mobility of indigenous people in Chile and how they negotiated their class and ethnic identities.

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