Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Is There a Life Beyond Academics?

Stephenie McGucken - PhD History of Art 

When you are knee deep in academic life with tutorials, researching, writing, and the myriad of other things that go along with life as a postgraduate, life beyond academia can seem intimidating. But does it have to be that way? Can anything be done now, in the midst of the postgraduate hustle and bustle, to help prepare us for a life beyond?

Some LAMPS members feeling the angst of postgraduate study at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Jeff Sanders (DigIt! Project Manager) and Devon McHugh (Relationships and Partnerships Development Manager for Museums Galleries Scotland) answered these questions, and more, at a recent Monday night seminar. In their joint talk, Jeff and Devon shed light on what it is to live beyond academia. The assumption for most of us at the talk – and likely most PhD Candidates – is that we would stay in academia after graduation. But we quickly realised that may not, and does not, have to be the case. A lot of the skills we are developing are equally applicable to the heritage and museum sectors.

Jeff started the evening talking about the difference between the academic world and heritage work. He noted that in academia, we are rewarded for a depth of knowledge, whereas outside of academia, it is breadth that is often needed. This was not to say that depth is necessarily a bad thing, but that we also have to show a familiarity with subjects outside our immediate research area. In addition to that, he highlighted a range of things that heritage work might include: networking, research, outreach, tourism, artistic endeavours. And with each of these – as well as with our own research – Jeff reminded us we have to be able to articulate a social impact. Why is it important to a broad audience?

Jeff also talked about how collaboration is gaining importance in academia, but has always been important outside of it. This had several members of LAMPS excited as we thought about our current and developing collaborations with the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the Friends of Granton Castle Garden, and the Edinburgh Medieval Pigment Project in association with Edinburgh College of Art.

Before handing over to Devon, Jeff gave his One Thing for life beyond academia: Networking. Making connections throughout an academic career both in academia and outside of it is key. Maintaining those connections is even more important. He also flagged blogs such as theprofessorisin.com as a valuable source for tips about life in and outside of academia, stressing the need for everyone to think about their future paths and consider different parts of each possible one.

Devon echoed some of what Jeff said, but from a museums perspective. Curation, events, retail, and administration are just a part of the museum world. Curation can be a more diverse position than one might think: it all depends on the organisation.

After discussing her own experience in the museum world, and how she got there, Devon gave us some CV tips. She stressed the need to create a balance between academic and professional experience as part of tailoring your CV for each job you apply for. Each employer is going to want different things from a CV, and so it is key to re-frame your experience just a bit to show how you would suit their needs. Devon also stressed the importance of showing familiarity – if not always success – with funding applications. She talked about the difference in wording of applied for funding and successfully applied for funding. While success is always great, sometimes the experience of the process is just as important.

This was just a bit of what Jeff and Devon talked about. Hearing two Edinburgh alumni talk about their lives after PhD was helpful to everyone there, and provided a measure of relief, that, while it might not be as straightforward as we might think it is, there is life beyond academia. (And your life in academia will help you with it!)

A couple of other thoughts on the evening:

'This was a really fantastic informal opportunity to get some tips about finding non-academic jobs. I took away some ways to market myself and my PhD on my CV and beyond.'
- Danielle, LAMPS Secretary

‘It can be difficult to get a straight answer from professionals about how to find a job and market yourself. Both Jeff and Devon were so helpful and straightforward. Their ability to look back to our current positions in study and life made them incredibly relatable, and I feel much more confident now about how to cater my CVs and public outreach!’
-  Morgan, LAMPS Seminar Secretary & former Events Secretary