Advanced search
What kinds of work are arts and humanities PhD researchers drawn to?
Now Playing: What kinds of work are arts and humanities PhD researchers drawn to?
The group discusses the types of work that PhD researchers are often attracted to, including working with words, and analysing or articulating complex arguments. They give some examples of people who have moved on to work in these areas. Finally, the group discusses the attractions of work in academic-related, administrative and management roles in higher education.


Helen: When I think of the variety of roles that PhD students have managed to acquire outside of academia, it is really quite a broad and diverse list. I mean, I don't know if you've got any particular examples that…  

Catherine: I know that one particularly common area that we often find ourselves talking about is a whole set of work that's to do with working with words. And so it might be through using words, through writing, through broadcasting, through talking, through presenting material in certain ways. Even advertising, you know, that end of the labour market. But be able to use your skill with words in a way that's going to be satisfying for you and make ends meet financially.  

Helen: And it’s not just about the written word either, is it? It’s about sort verbal communication as well, being able to articulate ideas and thoughts  

Catherine: Yeah, which cuts across the labour market in so many different ways, we’re finding that role required in lots of different organisations. People often think of the civil service because of its sort of drafting nature, you know, writing a well-honed policy document is something that some PhD students might want to do. But on the other hand, doing some external affairs role that involves communicating a complicated message terribly, terribly simply, might be satisfying for other people.  

Helen: I certainly know of one PhD student that we've invited back actually to talk to our current cohort about her job role. And she has had quite an interesting path because she completed a PhD in history and has actually ended up in a very senior policy role in a communications division of a major sort of quango, which doesn't actually have any particular relation to her discipline. But in relation to the skills that she’s using on a day-to-day basis, being able to acutely analyse minute details, process information and present it to a variety of audiences in very meaningful terms.  

Catherine: Does she say she misses her PhD topic now?  

Helen: No she doesn't at all and she was quite clear and quite candid about the fact that she didn't have academic aspirations; she recognised that the environment was not a good fit for her. But she’s also been very clear that the skills that she can draw upon are very much those that are grounded in the PhD experience. And she said it is something that she utilises on a day-to-day basis and is quite confident in asserting that had she not had that research experience, she probably would not be in such a senior role.  

Catherine: But interesting that she is working very happily in that type of organisation  

Helen: Yeah  

Catherine: And I think people don't know about the types of organisations that will suit them until they’ve tried out a few things  

Helen: Absolutely, and it is quite easy to have a very narrow view and think about things that are very closely aligned to your discipline  

Catherine: And perhaps that's why people stay in academia for a while afterwards; they make the transition step by step away from the academic environment as they test out their identity in different sectors and realise they can be comfortable.  

Helen: And it's not necessarily a bad thing because actually, when you think of the variety of roles that you could deploy within high education institutions, it is really quite surprising and I think people aren’t aware of how easy it is to actually make transitions within departments within the educational framework.  

Catherine: And how well qualified the staff at universities are  

Helen: And I have to say, it is no accident; thinking about my own experience with some of the staff that work in university, there is a significant minority that do have PhDs and, interestingly, most of them are from are from an art and humanities background that have had success in those roles.  

Catherine: Yes