ASCoR Career Event - What the future might bring

What am I going to do after my PhD? Should I stay in academia or am I maybe better suited for the private sector? What are my chances to get a job after obtaining my degree?

Every PhD faces questions like these at some point in time. Facing a highly competitive job market, there is a growing concern among PhDs about their future career. But it’s not only PhDs who are aware, academic institutions, including the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR), increasingly pay attention to the career development of their PhDs.

As a reaction to these developments, ASCoR and its PhDs at the University of Amsterdam organized a career event last Friday (06/11/2015) to address these concerns from different perspectives. The aim was to provide current PhDs information on career opportunities, advice on career planning, and directions on how and where to find help and information when starting their search for a job.

After receiving lively interest from our PhDs beforehand, we started in the morning with individual career consultations with Annemiek Sterk from ProActief, an expert in career planning for academic professionals in the Netherlands. She gave our PhDs personalised advice on how to find out for oneself what to expect from one’s future career, how to boost one’s LinkedIn profile, and highlighting the importance of maintaining and expanding existing job networks.

“Real talents are easily identified.”

The afternoon session begun with presentations on career orientation from experts in the field. Pleun van Arensbergen, postdoctoral researcher at the Radboud University Nijmegen, started with a talk on her PhD project “Academic Careers and Talent Selection.” By investigating the grant selection process at the Nederlands Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO) she shared interesting insights on how academic talent is perceived and how it is actually selected. And, in fact, she gave us a reality check in pointing out that only “about 30% of us will eventually stay in academia.”

To make us feel a little more optimistic, she emphasized that talents are identified quickly and that most of us already have the skills to be seen as attractive future employees by organizations –thinking analytically, having statistical knowledge, or being able to manage projects.

(graph by Pleun van Arensbergen)

That is good news so far! But Pleun also highlighted that luck and taking opportunities can sometimes help career progression as much as systematic planning, expertise, or knowledge.

“It’s all about being at the right place at the right time.”

Next, Gareth O’Neill took the stage and presented the organization “Promovendi Netwerk Nederland (PNN)”. Oddly enough, most of us hadn’t heard about the organization and its function before. All the better, then, that Gareth introduced us to the Professional PhD Program. Within this program PNN offers PhDs the opportunity to obtain practical experience during their doctorate in cooperation with organizations outside academia. Obviously, this program drew great interest from our PhDs and has led some of us to sincerely consider such an excursion in the future.

Afterwards, Annemiek Sterk rounded up the presentation part of the career event by making us aware of the changing job market environment – such as digitalization, globalization, or being more flexible – and reminding us not to wait too long with our personal career planning.

”PhDs are often too late in starting to look for a job.”

While we were digesting this new information in the coffee break – chatting with friends and networking, clearly – Claire Segijn (PhD representative within ASCoR) surprised us. She gave us an impromptu workshop on how to improve our networking in conferences or (business) meetings, including tricks, tips and techniques, for example, on how to remember someone’s name and make a lasting first impression.

The event closed with a lively panel discussion with experts from the academic, public, and private sector, including Yael de Haan (senior researcher at Hogeschool Utrecht), Bert Bakker (assistant professor in political communication at ASCoR), Anoeska Schipper (senior consultant at Deloitte in the forensic & dispute services team), and Kerstin Dörflinger (media analyst at the European Commission).

During the discussion the PhDs learned about the panelists’ personal experiences on career development, the transition from a PhD to the public or academic sector, practical experiences, and again – who would have thought it – the significance of networking for future job opportunities.

When talking with the PhDs in the post-event drinks, it seemed that at least a few had gotten something out of the career event and had a clearer idea of what his/her future might bring.

Concluding, one last nugget of advice for PhDs looking for a job - to cite one of our panelists:

“Don’t worry too much.”

(written with the help of Tom Powell)

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