Steve Hutchinson

Steve is a director of his own training and development consultancy, which works mainly with the academic sector.

"I got my doctorate from Liverpool University in behavioural ecology, looking at competition in insects and fish – looking at fish in tanks, dung flies on cow manure, and equations.

"Now I run my own company. It is a training and development consultancy, working mainly with the academic sector. I subcontract various elements of the company’s portfolio.

"I moved from academic research, despite being offered further posts, because, honestly, I didn’t love it enough. I realised that I liked universities, but I also liked people, and decided to branch out into staff development. I had been on a GRADschool, saw possibilities in those types of activities, and so found a job running training courses for UK GRAD Programme (now Vitae). I managed to actively take advantage of the policy shift in the area of graduate development. After a few years at York I moved to the University of Leeds, where I headed the unit responsible for postgraduate skills development, and coordinated the UK GRAD Programme in the north east of England. I was also freelancing a great deal (rather than taking holidays), so it was a short step to setting up by myself – which I did about three years ago.

"Honestly, I use precisely zero of the zoology that I learned. I use the management, writing, presenting and problem-solving skills that came with it every single minute. I also use the reserves of resilience and resourcefulness that being a researcher breeds. The ability to weigh up a big problem and deal with it in bits is highly prized in certain sectors. Also, the talent to conceive an original idea and follow it through for three years and be responsible for every stage is something that is pretty unique. I have never met anyone without a doctorate who does it as well as the researchers that I know. I gained independence and the critical ability to pause and think, without taking everything at face value. The other useful skill is networking. I cannot overstate how important this is for me, and I learned to do it on the conference circuit. It certainly reduces my marketing and advertising budget now!

"If I could do it again, I would get out of the academic environment more. I would disseminate what I did more widely and make it more real for anyone who might be interested. I would also be as efficient as I was in the final few months from the very beginning. Learn to speak the language of employers. A doctorate equips you to pretty much have a go at anything – as long as you can sell the skill set that you have. Always say yes to everything (professionally)… at least once. Offer to do things for nothing, and build a skill set and a network. If you are well networked and good at what you do, opportunities come along.

"Finally – and perhaps cynically – the PhD letters themselves open many doors..."