Researcher reflections on the Career Planning Beyond Academia Retreat 2024 by Nick Von Behr

I attended this excellent event for two days of stimulating activities designed to help finishing PhD students at the University of Kent work out their next steps in employment outside academia. We were hosted by the Graduate and Researcher College and the Careers Department, as well as an external facilitator, who all kept us literally on our toes from the first morning session of the conference.

We started with group interactive sessions that helped break down any initial nerves and introduce us to each other in a light-hearted way. Then we were asked to challenge our conventional thinking and reflect on how this had shaped our own approaches to our lives and careers. After that we set about recognising and converting the skills we had acquired during our PhDs so that we might become more desirable employees.

There was plenty of team work during the day, an important work-related skill, as well as an increasing focus on our ideals and values for the perfect job. We were invited to set ourselves big challenges for the future, stretching our imagination. All this hard work was topped off with pizzas and one-to-one sessions with advisors – mine helped me tailor my CV better to the needs of future non-academic employees, who don’t want pages of detail (like mini theses), but focused messages.

On the second day of the conference some of us first relaxed in a yoga session, while the rest joined them afterwards to reflection on our collective achievements on Day 1, which seemed considerable! We then examined our transferable skills in more detail to see how they could be highlighted in job applications, particularly covering letters, using the STAR(R) method (situation, task, action, result and reflection). This was followed by sessions on:

  • making the most of Linked In as a search tool for career opportunities;
  • assessing model CVs and cover letters to understand better the employer perspective, and;
  • networking approaches to connecting more and building closer relationships with key people who might have a decisive impact on your career.

Having been an engaged student member of my own specialist international associations for the length of my doctoral studies, I would certainly recommend this as a good way of networking widely, even globally if that fits your career needs.

But for me one of the simplest but stand out features of the whole conference was having to write a letter to myself which would be posted to my home address. What would I tell my other self in three months? What was I expecting to have changed as a result of all this new knowledge gradually seeping in over time?

Nick von Behr, Doctoral Researcher, University of Kent School of Architecture, Design and Planning