- What Do PhDs Do?
- What Do PhDs Do? Case Studies
- Case studies in social sciences
- Chris, manager, PhD in politics
Chris, manager, PhD in politics
Occupation: Policy and Research Manager
Sector: Public (North Tyneside Council)
PhD subject: Politics
Why did you do a PhD?
After graduating I had returned to my department to do some seminar teaching for undergraduates and was strongly encouraged to continue my studies. During my teaching contract I was enrolled as a PhD student and started applying for funding for research. I was awarded a university scholarship and was fully funded for three years. My motivation for doing research was my interest in the subject and a realisation that my career wasn’t really progressing. I felt that doing a PhD was the best option.
Describe your current job briefly:
I manage the Policy Team and Research and Intelligence Team at North Tyneside Council. The Policy Team is there to help individuals and the council identify future issues and develop strategic plans to address these. The Research and Intelligence Team carries out consultation exercises and market research as well as managing and interpreting statistical information.
Why did you decide on this career?
After completing my PhD I did consider academic positions but was put off by the insecurity of fixed-term contracts. I saw an advert for “Value for Money” Auditors with the Audit Commission which seemed to be asking for all the skills and knowledge that I had developed during my PhD (interviewing skills, making sense of complex data etc). Although they were recruiting at a more senior level than I was qualified for, they were interested enough to create a job for me. I was recruited as a trainee, but given exemption from the first two years of the 4 year training programme. Although the job should have been based in the Midlands, I was asked if I had a geographical preference, (which was for the North East) and a position in this office was made for me. My job involved assessing local authority services against national guides to best practice, identifying any shortfalls and suggesting improvements.
After four years I realised that not having experience of working in a local authority was going to affect my long term prospects and was already affecting my credibility with certain projects, so I moved first to Wear Valley District Council, then after 18 months to my current post.
What was your job search strategy and how were you recruited?
My job search focussed on Tuesday’s Guardian, stretching to Wednesday’s Guardian when I realised that I was missing many of posts that could be relevant! I did visit the university Careers Service to identify local employers. My main problem was working out which of my skills might be relevant outside academia. Now I can see that most of the skills I developed through doing research have wider applications, but at the time, I couldn’t see this.
I was recruited through interviews and an assessment centre which simulated elements of the job. I remember one case study which was about hospital equipment purchasing. As well as working through data we also had to interview a “doctor” and “ hospital supply manager” to establish the facts. After this I had an additional interview with the office I hoped to be based with during which time I had to convince them they needed me as they didn’t actually have a vacancy!
Why do you think you got the job?
My PhD gave me the right transferable skills for the work that interested me– I’d done a lot of interviewing, participant observation. Because I wanted to remain in the North East, I’d made sure my research was relevant and applicable and was conducted using methodologies which were relevant outside academia.
Do you think a PhD has had a positive impact on your career?
Yes, although it is a qualified yes. I think it has helped me to make faster progress, but it isn’t something I always publicise because some people have negative perceptions and imagine you to be an “egghead” who doesn’t really understand the real world. I don’t want people I’m working with; especially councillors who may not be familiar with higher level qualifications, to be intimidated by my title or think I’m an intellectual rather than someone who has progressed on merit. Of course, the professional competences that I developed during my PhD have been essential in certain situations – giving presentations at conference (and handling hostile questions – local government staff are pussy cats compared to academics!); report writing and defending arguments.
What advice do you have for PhD students to boost their employability?
I’d suggest that you think carefully about the methodology you use to do research as well as the subject you decide to investigate. Would anyone outside academia (or even your institution) use this? Develop a range of skills and knowledge and build experience with a number of methodologies. If you are planning to leave academia, HOW you’ve done research is likely to be more important than WHAT you’ve studied.