Research reflection – Careers Conference for PhDs (ANU)

Stephanie Henkel (HU)

Published June 22, 2019


The ANU offers many different workshops for PhD students, and because I am still not sure about what I want to do after my PhD, I decided to join the Careers Conference for PhDs - Beyond the Professoriate. This online careers conference focused on potential jobs beyond academia and took place over two days, during which we watched recorded sessions of several people talking about their specific subjects.


The topics of the first day focused on strategies for career success, and started with a session called ‘dealing with the emotional aspects of leaving academia’. If I had to summarize this session in one sentence, I would say it was extremely negative, pessimistic and shocking. It was a one hour presentation about negative emotions ‘you will go through when leaving academia’. These emotions include grief, failure, fear, anger, shame and compassion. Afterwards, I felt kind of depressed, since the talk conveyed such a negative perspective on leaving academia. In my opinion, this is not a good way to show PhDs what life after leaving academia could look like. I am sure there are many people who had more positive emotions and it would be fair to hear those experiences to avoid this negative view. 


After this slightly disturbing presentation, Joseph Barber spoke about ‘how to network for career success’. In contrast to the talk before, this was really interesting and helpful. At first, he pointed out why networking is so important; firstly to get information and secondly (of course) to get a job with help from other people. Networking is not as easy as one might think, I would say. He gave a good structured overview of what one should consider before starting to network at a conference, for example. Of course, one should inform themselves about the person of interest in advance. The most important advice he gave was practice for presenting a confident version of yourself when reaching out to contacts in-person! In addition, he highly recommended creating an account on ‘LinkedIn’, which is a business and employment-oriented online network platform. I followed his advice, created an account and it turns out that none of the researchers I know so far (at least 15) are registered on this platform. So I realized that this is obviously not a platform for networking within the field of academia (probably this would be ‘Research gate’). Anyway, I am sure LinkedIn could be helpful for finding a job after the PhD.


The session afterwards, Leveraging Your Graduate Education & Experience to Research Careers, was the most interesting presentation during the whole workshop from my point of view. Stephanie Warner (PhD Career Development Specialist) pointed out how important self-assessment is for evaluation and reflection on job options. For doing the assessment, she told us some key questions: 1.) What is important to you? (values); 2.) What are you good at? (skills); 3.) What do you like to do?; 4.) What are your personally traits?; 5.) What are your needs/constraints?. I think it’s quite difficult to find a job (you will be happy with) when you can’t answer these questions. So I would say it is really important to take your time to evaluate yourself, especially in order to find out if you want to gain some additional skills you could need. There are some websites, which can help with self-assessment: O*net interest profiler and myIDP. I tried both and can highly recommend the myIDP science career website (! It is really detailed; you go separately through skills, interests and a value assessment and afterwards you get up to 20 different career path matches that suit you best. I was really surprised at how many different options there are. I still need to read about the several opportunities that would suit me to find out which is my favourite and which skills I need to improve to achieve that goal. The website has many more useful features, which include networking, attending events, setting goals and so on, whereby every section has an additional tab for taking notes. I am really happy that I had a look at the myIDP website, because there are so many useful tips and I think it will be very helpful for planning my future after the PhD and thinking about it in a structured and organized way. In summary, regarding identifying future directions, the presenter recommended to be smartspecific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bond. 


The last presentation of the first day was about ‘How to Effectively Present Your Strengths and Skills in Resumes & Cover Letters’. Here, Clarence Anthony (Assistant Director of Graduate Career Development) talked about the need for transferable skills and how to highlight them in resumes and cover letters. For an effective resume ‘the three C’s should be considered, which means be clear, concise and consistent’. In addition, he gave the advice to make use of the ‘STAR method’ for the CV; STAR being an acronym for ‘Situation, Task, Activity and Result’. By considering all of these points, you show that your qualification has a real-world value and many follow up questions will be answered. In my view, this was a really helpful presentation. I had never heard about the STAR method, and it was good to reactivate the knowledge about transferable skills because I almost forgot how many skills I actually already have.


On the second day several people talked about their day-to-day work and how they got jobs in different areas (higher education, non-profit organisations, business and government). There is too much information to go into detail here. However, there was one panellist who had a really interesting job in my opinion. Jennifer Chain (PhD in Microbiology & Immunology) works as a Science Officer for Cellular Therapies at Oklahoma Blood Institute. Her daily work is quite diverse; she works in the lab, but also writes grants and helps with trouble shooting of experiments. In her view, she got that job because she learned a wide array of techniques, and this is what’s so special about her. To sum up the second day, all presenters shared some experiences and gave similar advice: You are never 100% prepared for a specific future job; you will always learn new things (so don’t be afraid) and you need to be flexible and open.



Even though it was a bit difficult to follow some of the presenters because of the sound quality of some of the recordings, this career conference was overall really helpful and I took a lot of the advice with me.