Case study

Researcher — Sarah

Sarah has found that her PhD in English and film has provided her with a variety of transferable skills useful in many sectors and highly sought after by employers

How did you get your job?

I wanted to stay to academia; however, I found that there were very few jobs in the subject that I had completed my doctorate in. As a result, I started looking for research opportunities outside of my discipline, in a more commercial environment. I began keeping an eye on key research organisation websites and waited for a job to come up.

I currently work in research at the Learning and Work Institute.

I enjoy the variety of tasks. I can be doing fieldwork one day and interpreting reports the next

How relevant is your degree to your job?

My doctorate was in English and film, which doesn't seem that relevant to social research. However, I found as I looked through job descriptions and person specifications that my PhD had developed a lot of research skills.

I was good at handling vast amounts of information; I could identify key themes for a semantic or linguistic analysis; I could critique data, opinions and other scholars' work systematically, and I could write up findings coherently and persuasively.

How do you use your degree in your current job?

I use the skills I developed in the PhD nearly every day. We have a lot of research projects that are coming to the reporting stage. One of the biggest advantages of doing my doctorate, in my opinion, is the ability to communicate clearly but very accurately the findings of our research projects.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the variety of tasks. I can be doing fieldwork one day and interpreting reports the next.

I also enjoy writing the reports and producing a piece of research that is accurate, honest and hopefully useful to people working in the sector, and people deciding the policy that affects it.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

The timescales can be challenging sometimes. Our work is project based and many of those projects run on the same timelines. It takes a lot of organisation and forward planning to ensure that each project is given the right amount of time and that each one stays on track.

I think in this respect, the experience of handling a three-year PhD, writing conference papers, journal articles, teaching at the university as well as privately, and having to juggle all those commitments helps me out a lot.

Any advice for other students and graduates who would like to get into this career?

When you’re thinking of applying to jobs that are outside of your specialism, look at the vocabulary used in those job advertisements and think about what that really means. 'Handling large amounts of data', for example, makes you think of numbers and statistics but in reality, language is data too.

My advice would be, really think about the skills you gained during your studies and take out all of the context-specific words and replace them with general words - then you'll get a good idea of what kinds of jobs you can do.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I hope to still be in social research. I'm considering looking at postgraduate certificates in research methods or social policy, something that I can do alongside my work that will just shore-up my skills and experience a little more.

I'd like to have established a network that will allow me to develop really robust and rigorous research projects that make an impact in the adult education sector.