What do Employers ‘out there’ think of Arts PhD students?

Our guest post today comes from Katrina Gardner, Careers Manager  for Research Staff and Students at the University of Glasgow. Find out more about the University of Glasgow careers services here.

Today I have that feeling of contentment that comes with a job well done, having just organised another very successful mock interviews and networking event for our Arts PGRs. This is run for students who are considering careers outside of academic teaching and research. We have been running this for a good few years and as with past events, the participating students and the employers involved found it to be a very useful and enjoyable event.

This success is by no means due to my events organisation skills but just that it is very easy to find a really interesting range of employers who are extremely keen to come along and give their time to support our PhD students in their transition to the next stage in their career. The employers give interview practice to students followed by an informal networking session where they chat to students about options – so it does involve a fair amount of work for the employers. And it is due to the strong impression that our PhD students make that means that the employers are willing to return year after year. In fact, one of the returning employers this time said that she really ought to pass on this lovely opportunity to one of her colleagues but she just enjoys meeting our Arts PhD students so much.


The employers attending the event this year included representatives from Citizens Theatre, Glasgow Life, Northlight Heritage and the National Trust for Scotland. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Arts PhD students are hugely employable outside of academia and make a favourable impression on employers in many competitive sectors including heritage, arts, communications, media and policy to name a few.  It might be hard to imagine the possibilities out there if you look around you and see many people carrying on from their PhD into university teaching and/or research roles. Certainly ‘What do Researchers do?’ shows that year on year Arts PhD graduates are the largest group to stay on working in academic roles compared to other disciplines (based on the DHLE survey undertaken 6 months after graduation).

If you are unsure of how to sell your PhD to non-academic employers, bear in mind that many in competitive sectors have already recruited many PhD graduates in the past, and a fair amount of the recruiters will have a PhD themselves. So they have a good understanding of what you have to offer and love your myriad in-depth transferable skills including communication developed through teaching, public engagement and conference presentations; organisation skills development running conferences and events; ability to work both alone and in a team; resilience and project management…I honestly could go on and on. A few things mentioned by employers at the event yesterday that they felt made you stand out included a clear ability to think around a problem, strong analysis and reflection skills, academic rigour and strong research skills that are easily transferable to other professional jobs. ‘10 Career Paths for PhDs’ may help you to reflect on the transferable nature of your PhD experience.

Some Arts PhD graduates that carry on in academia will not have a full-time job so many decide to develop a portfolio career perhaps combining academic teaching with other professional roles. This is more common in Arts than many of the scientific disciplines and is workable if you are prepared to be flexible. And in the long term, a large number who initially stayed in academia will move into other professional roles that may connect to their research or to another interesting aspect of their research career such as teaching roles or jobs where your research skills will be paramount such as journalism, publishing, curatorial, policy jobs or consulting (to name just a few).


The portfolio career, AKA the wearing of many hats. Image via Wikimedia Commons

You can at any point after your PhD head off in a completely new direction by joining a graduate scheme to train in a new career.  The UK graduate labour market is very flexible with many graduate roles open to all disciplines with selection based on demonstration of competencies or strengths. PhD graduates tend to do well in these recruitment processes when they fully articulate their excellent transferable skills to the employer. You can find out more about graduate schemes here.

So coming to specific employer events run for PhD students is a really good way of finding out where your wide range of skills and experiences will be appreciated and will increase your confidence. SGSAH of course provide some great networking opportunities but there may also be useful events on campus. Most Careers Services in Scottish universities don’t provide a specialist support for their PGRs but they do still offer you 1-to-1 guidance and access to careers fairs – these are not just for undergraduates! Also make time for networking opportunities with other PhD students as your peer network will give you access to lots of careers information as well as useful contacts. And remember, it is never too early to get started building these networks!

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