How many jobs did you have in your first seven years working in the university sector?
For Catherine Fletcher, who in September will take up the post of associate professor in history and heritage at Swansea University, the answer is seven. In five different cities (and two different countries).
In a post on her eponymous blog, which also featured on the Times Higher Education blog page, Dr Fletcher outlined a number of lessons that she has learned during her years as an itinerant early career researcher.
“The point is that this career track would have been close to impossible for anyone with caring responsibilities, or whose well-being relied on stability and routine,” she writes. “Five cities in seven years? This is not a good way to run things.”
However, it does seem that many early career researchers are facing similar challenges – and Dr Fletcher offers them words of advice.
“Bad things will happen – they are not your fault,” she says. “Don’t fall into thinking ‘if only I’d got X on my CV it would all have been different’.”
“Work out your strengths and play to them,” she continues. “There are certain basics that academics need to deliver: research, teaching, willingness to do the necessary admin. But within that, try to work out what you do best, and what you enjoy, and make that ‘your thing’.”
Most important, perhaps, is remembering that there is more to life than work.
“I started my PhD age 29, having done lots of other things already,” Dr Fletcher says. “I’ve found that outside perspective really helpful (did you know, there are jobs out there where people don’t work ridiculous overtime?!). There are lovely things about academia, and most of the time I enjoy my job. But I also know that the system could work oh, so much better.”
Nessa Adams (@NessCeCe) tweeted that the blog offered “a great read for anyone dreaming of what life can be like post-PhD”, while Joanne Paul (@Joanne_Paul_) described it as a “very good & important read”.
Dr Fletcher’s points are all very sensible and there will be no shortage of recipients for her words of wisdom if a separate blog, written by THE reporter Holly Else, about the isolation felt by PhD students is anything to go by.
Ms Else was writing after attending the UK Council for Graduate Education’s annual conference, held this year in Glasgow, and she picked up on an emerging issue: the social isolation that doctoral candidates can feel.
“Some PhD students find the experience of attaining a doctorate cripplingly isolating, and institutions are now increasingly aware of the role they must play in addressing these issues,” she writes, adding that some universities have already “adapted to the changing postgraduate environment”.
Among them is the University of Sheffield, “which has recently created a Doctoral Academy”, she writes. Indeed, Gavin Boyce, doctoral development team leader at Sheffield, told the conference “about the need to create a supportive community for research students”.
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