Often a PhD is a pathway into a long term career in academia, but there are many who come to the realisation during their PhD that they would like to consider other options. I am one of those people. Once I came to realise this, I was left unsure of how to translate my passions and skills into a career outside of the academic bubble. This led me into a journey of trying to figure out how best to find some industrial connections and experience.
Earlier last year, the Bristol Doctoral College announced that there would be funding from EPSRC available for PhD students to go on a placement for up to three months. When this was brought to my attention, I started looking for companies that align with my passion for contributing to STEM education and my desire to widen my scope outside of the traditional research environment. Luckily I remembered LearnSci from a careers talk. To cut the long story short, I started with my placement with LearnSci in January this year, not quite knowing how I would fit in and what skills I would be able to bring to the table.
Due to the niche nature of a PhD, students often struggle to pinpoint the transferable skills learnt during a PhD that would be very well suited to a job in industry. However, there are many overlapping skills that can be learnt, whilst doing a PhD, that could be easily applicable to non-traditional science careers. Some examples of these skills include project management, problem solving, oral and written communication. It was only after starting work at LearnSci, that I realised the importance of these skills in a company reliant on teamwork, individual accountability and collaboration. During my time at the company, I’ve had several projects on the go at the same time, so just like you would in a PhD, it was important to prioritise, organise and set realistic timelines. I have also been made to feel very much part of a team, by working on specific topics and testing complex products together.
Even though my research expertise has a narrow scope, I have specific insight that has helped shape my placement experience. Coding and teaching are two such examples of abilities that I have been able to develop and focus on during my PhD. These have been put to good use when designing and building Smart Worksheets, reviewing simulations and mapping resources for different universities. Before starting this placement, I was not quite sure how to apply my PhD in a scenario outside of academia, but my time with LearnSci has opened my eyes to how versatile my knowledge and experience can be.
Reflecting on my placement itself, I have picked up knowledge and skills that I would not have learnt without the freedom of being on placement at a company like LearnSci. For example, I have not only become competent in using concepts from HTML, CSS and JS, I have also personally developed resources using these skills. One of the most memorable lessons is to be comfortable enough to ask for help and not automatically say sorry when I need it. This is often forgotten during a PhD as it can quickly become a very individual and singular journey. My growth, in the short placement period, is a testament to the cooperative, encouraging environment of the company, which in turn promotes personal progress and a proactive attitude. Problems are shared and solved together.
All in all, this placement has really helped me understand whether and how I could fit into a company, like LearnSci, that aligns with my ethos. I will be taking the experiences, lessons and skills from this placement to finish my PhD and beyond. It has also helped me narrow down where I see my career going afterwards. So if you are a PhD student wondering whether to go on a placement, or an academic wondering if it’s worth it, without a doubt yes.
Working at LearnSci has left me with a great sense of hope, optimism and enthusiasm for my career outside of academia. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for both the company and myself.
Thanks again for your help Ange, it’s been excellent having you on board!
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