"For my undergraduate degree, I studied maths and philosophy at the University of Liverpool. I knew by the end of my second year that I wanted to go on to study for a PhD in Mathematics, but I hadn’t taken enough maths – so went on to study for a Masters. It was my supervisor's interest that originally introduced me to knot theory, a branch of pure maths concerned with describing and distinguishing knotted structures. Among other things, knot theory can model solar flare activity and the paths of robotic arms.
"As well as developing my technical skills and specialist knowledge about the area, I think my doctorate was extremely useful in developing my project management skills. When I first started my doctorate, I would lose myself in one task, plugging away at one thing and losing track of other areas. By the end of my study, I felt much more able to take a step back and see what I was missing. I made a plan for the final three months of my research and ended up finishing the final draft of my thesis with 5 days to spare!
"During the third and fourth years of my PhD study, I worked as a course administrator on residential Career Skills Workshops run by the Graduate School Skills Team for postgraduate researchers. During this time I had a lot of positive feedback from the skills team and the other tutors, and it felt good to be supporting their work. For a later workshop I was asked to create resources for one of the sessions. I had encouragement from several members of staff and course tutors that I would be good at skills training. I met a freelance tutor on one of the programmes who described herself as having a ‘portfolio career’. From this inspiration and encouragement, I started to have the romantic notion that I could be doing lots of different things for a career, and started to more seriously assess what career I might develop.
"I enjoyed research but thought my skills were more in teaching, and towards the end of my doctorate I applied for various teaching fellowships. I got a limited response to my applications, and decided that the following summer I would travel for a few months. In the time between the end of my PhD and the start of my road trip across the USA, I reasoned that temporary work would be selling myself short, and I decided to take the chance of being self-employed.
"The month after I finished my corrections, I spoke to Richard Hinchcliffe from the Graduate School Skills Team, who gave me my first break – and the Team continued to invite me back to facilitate on skills workshops and create resources. Another trainer asked me to manage a Career Skills Workshop that they were directing, which was a fantastic opportunity that I feel very lucky to have been given. Since coming back from my road trip in the USA, I have taken more charge of my career, providing facilitation for other institutions and on Vitae's Effective Researcher course.
"If you're self-employed, you miss the security of a steady paycheck. You have to make sure you keep networking, trying to make new opportunities as well as find out about projects and opportunities that are available. It's really important to build your reputation and get yourself known. Sometimes running my own business is difficult, because nothing else I’ve done previously is comparable! I have set up my own website, which will act as a showcase for the services that I provide. I'm now starting to think about going beyond the higher education sector to provide skills training. The doctoral training was excellent for enabling me to switch from the big picture back to the small detail of a problem or issue, however I would say that being proactive is the most useful trait for a postgraduate researcher to have – if I was to study for my PhD again, I would be so much more effective!"