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finishing PhD - how to get some confidence looking for jobs

(18 Posts)
lookingouttosea Thu 04-Apr-19 15:43:33

I'm finishing up my PhD (humanities, data analysis, mostly from home) and starting to look at job applications. Totally daunted and freaked out. Zero confidence.

During the 4 years of my PhD I've had 2 kids, now 3 months and 3 years old. I also moved so I was not near my university. Did some limited teaching of tutorials (which I'm convinced were actually awful, although I never received any feedback to indicate that) and met my supervisor every few months but otherwise was at home, with a child, on my own with a laptop and some books. Had little childcare but sort of managed around husbands working hours and research went well.
I never had the time for anything extra like publishing papers, presenting or helping at conferences, networking or anything else. Nor did my supervisors particularly encourage me to do these things. I never knew, during our meetings, whether they had any faith in me or whether they thought I was "just a mum" or a married woman wanting "something to do". That could all be in my head of course.

Academic jobs require much more than just a nearly -finished PhD and fifteen years of totally random jobs. I went to a conference recently and all the other PhDs were young, totally well dressed, ambitious, confident and knew what "track" they were on. They knew the universities they wanted to get into and the people to speak to. I'll basically take any job in my geographical area that will work around childcare.

Anyone out there have these issues around confidence/feelings of isolation or general cluelessness? How can I find confidence to promote myself when I'm knee-deep in nappies and toddler issues? We don't have the money for me not to work once I finish.

PS you may wonder why I did a PhD in the first place but basically I spotted a scholarship one day and applied assuming there's no way I'd win it, and I did!

SarahAndQuack Thu 04-Apr-19 20:37:04

Well, you sound to me to have done a lot! I had not published by the end of my PhD (graduated in 2014, so this is pretty recent). I had done, I think, about 4-5 conferences, and had organised sessions for a conference (but in the most low-key way possible, because it's a big conference where all the organisation is done by someone else, and I was in any case a junior co-organiser of the sessions).

Someone who has had two children during a four year PhD and has completed is a hot shot. Honestly.

I think what is most likely to hold you back is geography, though. I'm in a similar boat as I now have a toddler and can't drop everything to do a stipendiary postdoc somewhere random.

I feel as if there are things I could say, advice-wise, from my experiences, but I don't know what is welcome or what you're in need of, so will stop for now unless you say.

SarahAndQuack Thu 04-Apr-19 20:37:47

(Oh, and you had a scholarship. That's also a CV boost, and not a small one.)

AcceptAcceptAccept Fri 05-Apr-19 12:50:02

The sequence should be getting a couple of papers out, then applying for posts - favouring research fellowships (preparing proposals, getting supporters on board), otherwise postdoctoral projects in commuting distance.

RFs would be better because you won't have to go in so much if at all.

Look into working paper series at your current institution and get a couple of papers up. Then get those under review at well-targeted journals.

Ask, ask, ask for advice. Get a number of people together who you trust and ask them what they think of draft papers/job market strategy/whether they could provide a good reference (which naturally you draft for them). Build and tend to your network. You don't need to see them face-to-face but you can't do it on your own.

I would say, very gently, that when I've been asked for advice in the past from very gifted people in exactly your situation, their eyes glass over. This might be either because of a hang-up about the quality of the work (but have you seen what is out there? - there is so much rubbish). Or because they can't, realistically, take the time to get papers out, and do need to earn a living immediately.

If so, take methodical steps towards a new career. Researchers into Schools is a good scheme. Your data analysis skills sound very employable too. The dream of a 0.8 job on a project which serves as a hidden postdoc allowing you most of your time to write, and will get you towards a lectureship, is almost certainly a dream.

The job itself is heavily WFH except for when you have to go in, and I am also knee-deep in nappies. You have to embrace your dual identity and not see them as conflicting. You don't know what the people you talked to at the conference have going on in their lives - it may be all polish and paddling madly underneath the surface. You need to believe in yourself, otherwise why should those hiring you?

You have enough teaching on your CV except for roles which require you to have delivered a whole module. Look at and they will be quite clear about what is essential and desirable. Look at who is hiring and where and what for. Read The Professor Is In. You don't need to have organised conferences. These things often get in the way of writing time in any case. It sounds as if you have prioritised well. The best thing you can do is get your papers out.

All the very best of luck. There should be more people like you and I'm dazzled by your productivity.

DailyMailSucksWails Fri 05-Apr-19 18:11:20

What kind of job do you actually want, OP?
What kind of "data analysis" did you do?
What is your dream job?

SarahAndQuack Fri 05-Apr-19 21:44:17

I don't think anyone should be looking for the 'dream job' fresh out of PhD (not sure if that's what you're getting at @dailymailsuckswails?).

I am sure @accept is right, but I would say, don't assume you must publish before being employable - just look for the kinds of temp jobs that will give you time to publish. I got a two-year teaching job post-PhD, with no publications, and it gave me vital space to publish while earning enough money to stay afloat.

DailyMailSucksWails Fri 05-Apr-19 22:13:26

I was thinking what path OP might want to follow to get to dream job; how 2 figure out what that path could be.
Not clear OP would want to work in a university, for instance.

lookingouttosea Sun 07-Apr-19 16:16:35

@SarahAndQuack thank you. That's very kind. And yes your advice is more than welcome!

@AcceptAcceptAccept thank you. Good practical advice there. I definitely need to get more proactive. I've made the mistake of waiting for my supervisors to suggest things for me rather than reaching out.

@DailyMailSucksWails thanks, I don't have a dream job as such, or if I did I wouldn't be confident about getting it in my geographical area. If I could, as the other poster said, find some sort of postdoc or research project that would allow me to commute a couple of days a week and/or work from home that would be amazing. I did secondary analysis of nationally-representative datasets (census, labour force survey etc).

SarahAndQuack Sun 07-Apr-19 16:33:04

Ok! grin

What you say about feeling isolated resonates with me. I'm guessing right now you just do not feel you have time or energy for applying for jobs because it takes ages. But you will, and you will publish. Meantime, you need to feel in the loop. TBH, your supervisors might be assuming because you are a bit older than their other students, you have it all sorted out. They might not realise you could use a bit of support. I've kicked myself over how little support I got, just because I didn't know to ask for it. I remember emailing my supervisor apologetically at the end of my PhD, saying I knew I wasn't really her job any more. She replied I absolutely was and that the mentoring I was asking for was part of what she would expect to do.

I think you need to meet with your supervisors and ask them exactly what they think you should be doing right now to maximise chances of getting a job, and to discuss what support they'll be providing. Ask them where they think you might publish, and what is your strongest possible paper.

Some people (who are confident or were lucky in their supervisors!) seem to know, from early on, how to get into a conversation with a more senior academic. But no one tells you how much mentoring and support is out there.

I would say apply for things, even if they seem like long shots. That helps to get your name out there. I still feel like a huge imposter cold-emailing people and asking if they'd sponsor me this or that fellowship at their institution, but I swear, it is totally normal. And the worst anyone will do is reply that they're not interested/busy, or fail to reply at all. At best, applying for jobs can be the beginning of a new mentoring relationship.

For example, I recently applied for a fellowship (which I did not get) by emailing a prof I had never met, who doesn't even work precisely in my area. And obviously I was super polite and made clear I did not want to waste her time, and understood she might not want to sponsor me, but she did, and we wrote the application together, and even though I didn't get the fellowship, it hugely helped me with subsequent applications.

I've also made contact with potential mentors by emailing to ask for a copy of a paper I can't access (most people like it when someone's interested!). It is doable, and gradually you get better at finding the right tone to email people with, that makes you feel comfortable and comes across as confident.

AcceptAcceptAccept Sun 07-Apr-19 17:20:17

Interesting that you define as being in the humanities rather than as a social scientist. There's a job advert which I will send via DM but you would have to move promptly.

impostersyndrome Sun 07-Apr-19 17:38:18

Don’t be hard on yourself. Sounds like you’ve achieved loads given you’ve had two kids in this short space of time.

Make sure you’re making the most of networking online to match where you want to find a job. You might want to sign up to list services in your area (, join Twitter if only to lurk, following academics you admire. That way you’ll start to get a feel for networks you can tap into, perhaps workshops or seminars you can attend locally, and thus start to get known in local circles. That’ll help you get a sense of available openings rather than just applying cold, as it were. And yes, do make the most of what your supervisors can help you with. Do they know what you’re looking to do? They should have you in mind for when they hear about jobs on the grapevine.

lookingouttosea Mon 08-Apr-19 14:51:34

@AcceptAcceptAccept thank you, that's very thoughtful of you. Just to say though I'm not in the UK, I'm in Ireland!

murmuration Mon 08-Apr-19 15:53:09

Aw, I was going to send you a job advert too, but in Scotland... guessing you're not geographically portable?

Definitely look around, and keep looking. The advert I didn't send (unless you say, actually you can relocate) was advertised originally for only 2 weeks, and we just extended as we only got one ineligible applicant. I imagine a lot of them are like that, especially ones that are not salaried high enough to support a visa (which then requires longer advertising). We get a lot of pressure here to advertise for very short periods, which I try to push back against, but 4 weeks is the absolute max our Uni will do (I guess it costs? I get around it sometimes by delaying the "official" advert for a while, and sending around unofficial ones and direct people to the proper application once it's up - but this one needs a post holder asap). So there will be jobs popping up and vanishing with regularity.

About confidence: you have done an amazing thing, finishing a PhD in 4 years while having two children (my husband's PhD took an extra year because of our one child! and he wasn't the one who gave birth). And doing it remotely shows amazing ability to self-motivate and keep on track. These are definitely qualities you can highlight and feel confident about!

And yeah, you know your supervisors, but if you were more mature they probably did assume you knew your stuff and didn't need the extra "help" younger people need. Especially if you have a history in the workplace. If they seem nice, you might ask for some further advice, or also anyone else at your Uni/dept that seems approachable.

AcceptAcceptAccept Wed 10-Apr-19 12:58:47

I know of colleagues who fly 1-2 times a month to research-based institutions for meetings, with small children. You have to be very creative and resourceful though. It's hard!

Fellowships where you have considerable freedom to turn your PhD into a book (etc) rather than working on other people's projects would obviously help with minimising travel.

Besides the obvious sources, there are offbeat schemes - the ISRF is worth a look - they are open to independent scholars too.

If you can commute to Dublin the ESRI and CSO hire good analysts, but you will know all this.

lookingouttosea Wed 10-Apr-19 14:29:09

@AcceptAcceptAccept thank you! You're a great help :-)

stucknoue Wed 10-Apr-19 14:43:20

If you want to be in academia I think you need to accept the hours will be whatever is timetabled and you will need childcare pt. look for contracts beginning in September (should be advertising now) where you can get to, generally they are for x hours a week but rarely can they promise which days until just before term starts. Alternatively apply for research grants, a fellowship makes you an excellent person to hire.

Summer19 Sat 13-Apr-19 07:02:44

IRC (Irish Research Council) do one and two year postdoc research fellowships which are completely flexible. You could stay where you are and commute to your chosen institution once a month for meetings. QUB also have a number of post doc fellowships eg Leverhume and some aimed particularly at women. If your PhD is from a Southern university you could technically apply for a Marie Curie post doc in the North and vice versa.

lookingouttosea Sat 13-Apr-19 16:46:16

@Murmuration thank you. Yes the extent to which I'm geographically portable is something I'm trying to figure out. We rent, and can't afford to buy where we are anyway and husband say's he'll move (perhaps reluctantly) but...yea...where and how are things I'm working through. I'm just so bloody tired I can barely get to Aldi for the shopping let alone plan a relocation :-) My 3 month old is teething and both kids have been sick for a week so I'm looking at job applications through a fog of utter confusion!

@stucknoue thank you for the response. Yes all the job ads for September are coming up now so it's sort of all-systems-go trying to figure out how I can afford/manage childcare by then (Ireland not great on that front). I'm taking the approach of applying for anything that I fit the job spec for and seeing from there. Probably not very strategic...

@Summer19 thank you. I'll definitely keep an eye out for those.

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