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Sophie - deciding against an academic career
Name: Sophie
PhD discipline: French
Area(s) of work: Parliament; civil service
Year of graduation: 2004
Date of Interview: 03/06/2008

Now Playing: Sophie - deciding against an academic career
Sophie explains why she moved out of academia, and reflects on her feelings then and now.

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When you embarked on a PhD, were you anticipating an academic career? Or hadn't you really thought through what you'd do at the end?

I was anticipating an academic career, I would say I was; I thought that was quite likely. I'd never really, even growing up, had any burning desire to be one thing or another thing and, to be honest, until I got to university I never really knew you could have a career in academia. When you're at school it's not some something they generally present to you as an option. I'd always thought about careers and when I started my PhD I'd also previously applied to the civil service Fast Stream at that point in case I didn't get funding for the PhD then I would have an option to do something else. So it wasn't that I wasn't bothered, it wasn't that I was too relaxed and thought 'mañana, it'll all be ok.' It was just that I hadn't ruled anything out or in definitively.

Did you do anything during the PhD that you could consider in retrospect was career-building?

I didn't go to any of these week away things that they do, I didn't go to any of that. I did go to some conferences which I guess is career-building for academia. It depends what kind of a career you think that you are building, because if you think you're building an academic career then I did conferences and I published papers. I guess the public speaking experience is quite nice to have because I used to be quite terrified of doing public speaking and I got over it a bit during that time.

Any teaching?

Oh I did do teaching but I hated it. I'm not a natural teacher and I think to an extent you do have to have a natural gift for it. I find it quite uncomfortable to be stood in front of a class and them all writing down what you're saying. You think 'don't write it down, I'm just thinking off the top of my head.' But they're all writing it down faithfully and that bothered me. I've never been that interested in teaching it was the research aspect that was more interesting for me.

So was that partly why you decided against going down the academic route?

I would say it was a factor, it wouldn't be the main factor. The main factor why I didn't go down the academic route was because I didn't get an academic job. I did apply for them and if I had got one I almost certainly would've accepted it and done it. I would be carrying on doing it.

When did you start applying for academic jobs?

Well, it would've been about a year before my funding ran out, so at the end of the second year which is not terribly good time because most places want you to have already finished your PhD.

What kind of academic jobs were they? Were they junior research fellowships?

They were junior research fellowships and general posts because there wasn't anything that was specific to my area that was advertised. So I think to be honest, it was mainly the economic situation because I knew that the day that my funding ran out after the three years, I didn't have anything to live on. I had to be doing something the next day that would be earning me money. I know people scratch around and do teaching for a year and wait for something else to come up but that didn't appeal to me at all. 

And did you get any help from anybody in thinking about what you'd do if you didn't do an academic job?

Yes, I went to see the careers advisor at my university. This is about the same time, when I realised that most academic jobs start advertising about a year before they start. I went to see the careers advisor about non-academic options which was the Fast Stream which is what ended up bringing me here.

Do you have any regrets about not pursuing an academic career? It was something that you were at one point quite interested in…

Yeah, it was, I don't regret it at all now because I think I'm enjoying my current job and I can see things in my personality that wouldn't have tallied very well with the academic side of things like I don't like teaching and that would have ended up being quite a big part of the job. But at the time, I would have to say that it was a bit of a wrench, mainly because of momentum; so much of what you're expected to do, is carry on in academia. It seems like you're doing the weird thing by leaving so, at the time, I did feel a bit, not exactly upset but wondering whether I should have given it more time. If I'd done this or that or applied for this or that other job maybe I could have carried on but in retrospect I'm quite glad I didn't.


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