Helen: The big concern I think that I've noticed from PhD
students is how employers might value or perceive the PhD. Is there anything
you would like to say about that?
Catherine: I think it is really important how you present it
to an employer, isn't it, because they all come with very different sets of
assumptions about what a PhD involves and means and has meant to you for the
past three or four years. And so being able to clearly articulate it in their
terms, their language, that is going to mean something to them, which is going
to often take quite a big shift from the art historian who has been studying a
particular architect for the last three years and feels very deeply ingrained
in that particular subject. Or the music student who knows the work of somebody
terribly, terribly well to be able to move away from that very particular set
of knowledge to applying it to a set of employers’ requirements which are going
to be possibly quite different, unless you are being recruited for your very
particular subject knowledge, which, to be honest, doesn't happen all that
often. We’re talking about transferring your set of skills and experiences into
somebody else’s language, setting, context, their vernacular, and it is quite a
big translation process I think.
Helen: Yeah, I mean the semantics are absolutely key, really,
aren't they? And particularly when it comes to the stage of preparing an
application or a CV; thinking very clearly about what might be valuable to you
about the PhD process is not going to have the same resonance outside of
academic circles. And perhaps using things like employer terminology and job
specifications to help guide and frame your own application, and so you are
speaking in a slightly different language.
Catherine: And sometimes there is a sort of resistance on a
student’s part to do that because it feels like denying the work that they’ve
done for the past however many years. But I don’t see that it needs to be like
that; it's not denying it, it's rephrasing it temporarily, just to get you
through the door, to get to that interview when you then might be able to talk
about if differently then.
Helen: You have probably noticed, I certainly have, that
there is a real reluctance sometimes to sort of let go of the accoutrements of
the publications list, their conference attendance, and while those
achievements should never be sidelined, it is important they understand they
are not always the most appropriate things to emphasise about your personal
Catherine: You can think about it very crudely, I think, in terms of column inches; where do you want your column inches to go? If it's an academic CV or a CV for a different context then you’re going to want to shrink and expand different sections of your CV accordingly.
Helen: I mean, one interesting thing – I know a PhD graduate who is long out of the labour market now but one thing that he found really useful actually when trying to market himself to employers outside of academia was actually fitting together just a vast CV. Just almost seeing it as a biography of everything he had done and then using that as the sort of master copy and then taking out sections and emphasising the relevant points depending on the requirements of the job that he was applying for.
Catherine: I think that aide memoire, that is only personal, that you could never show to anyone else but it’s got everything on it, is a very useful template, isn't it, to start from and then you extract…
Helen: Because you can edit and prune it
Catherine: And isn’t it interesting how so many people can
tell their stories in so many different ways? It’s a fascinating thing for me.
Helen: It’s having the multiple narratives and understanding
which one to utilise at any given time
Phil: Yeah, yeah I think the idea that there are many
stories out there is a useful one to hang onto. I think many careers advisors
get used to the idea… there were claims made about the labour market – we're
very used to hearing these claims – and that's one of the ways we can help
students, is to interpret and understand these claims. And so very often you
will hear stories about, oh, you know, PhD students aren't wanted by certain
employers and it's not just that particular group of students that that’s said
about; it is rumoured there are some employers that say that they don't accept,
or are not interested in, people with firsts. And there are rumours that some
employers, SMEs, aren't interested in graduates, and so on and so forth down
Catherine: It’s like the urban myth
Helen: It is isn't it
Phil: And equally you will hear exaggerated tales about how we’re living in a knowledge economy and how we’re living in a service economy and so on. You know, you must get more and more qualifications, higher qualifications, to get into your job and so forth. And it's sifting out those different claims and perhaps using skills that PhD students are particularly able to do. Being able to analyse and reflect upon is a very useful exercise I think.