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Thing 19: Planning your Career

Rana Marrington, Researcher Careers & Employability Consultant, University of Surrey and Yvonne Gaut, Postgraduate and International Career Adviser, University of Otago


Where are the jobs? Be guided by the skills…


A black-and-white photo of a pottery being formed by two hands on a wheel
Shape your career (Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash)

Where are the jobs? How do I identify suitable employers? Can you provide a list? These are familiar questions for careers advisers – deceptively straightforward questions, more complex to answer. Because it depends…It depends on exactly what you want to do; it depends on the skills you offer; it depends on who is recruiting, and how they like to recruit. In previous contributions to 23 Things our focus has been on self-reflection, looking inwards to clarify goals to act as a compass to explore career opportunities. This year we want to focus on looking outwards for inspiration and insights.


The world has opened again after COVID, some things returning to the way they were, whilst other aspects have been transformed. We have had to reacclimatize ourselves to in-person engagement. Getting out and about again has been refreshing but is tinged by subtle changes in the ways we engage. Remote teaching and hybrid working are more integrated. We have noticed that this has given some researchers, wanting more flexibility in terms of location and work / life balance, for example, more choice and helped promote some aspects of inclusivity. However, it has obliged others to engage with technology in ways they might prefer to avoid, and in turn added to workloads. Digital skills are more highly valued than ever by an even broader range of employers.


The Systems Theory Framework for Career Development (learn more about it through the article 'Development of a Systems Theory of Career Development: A Brief Overview') highlights how none of us operate completely in isolation, and our experience and influence is dependent on a range of cultural, economic, political and technological factors, most beyond individual control. As researchers you will be acutely conscious of the ways in which these factors affect research funding and industry investment and how this impacts on your discipline. Identifying trends illuminates opportunities to contribute research and labour. These insights, gaps in the market, problems to be solved, can make all the difference to our response to the challenges of career planning. It is what inspires innovators to risk their own capital to start an enterprise and can provide that motivation to put yourself out there, wherever there is.


By scanning the horizon we ensure we are aware of all options and understand labour market demands, enabling us to be proactive when searching for an ideal next role, able to formulate a strategy for progression, and identify skills and experience needed to facilitate transitions. According to Fortune Business Insights, for example, the global online recruitment market is estimated to reach $43.39 billion by 2027. Machine learning has directly impacted recruitment, with algorithms applied to candidate searches, focusing on skills and key words to source talent, meaning that it is crucial for job seekers to help online recruiters find them by using key words (e.g. skills, terminology) when building social media presence and applying for jobs. Think back to our Things about your online presence and LinkedIn.


New possibilities may come into view, particularly if, with an open mind, we venture beyond the bounds of niche interests. For example, the World Economic Forum explores ideas for future jobs suggesting Smart Design Home Managers and XR Immersion Counsellors (read this article, 'Top 10 Jobs of the Future - For 2030 And Beyond,' to explore more). Humans prosper in our collective strengths capitalising on the insights and wisdom of each other; interdisciplinary connections provide opportunities for collaboration, leading to innovation and development. Informal conversations in particular offer important insights that help promote innovation and uncover job opportunities sometimes in advance of them being publicised.


A Honda Asimo robot waving
I can’t believe robots even muscled in on the lucrative waving-from-a-balcony industry that used to be the preserve of royals and Oscar winners (Photo by Maximalfocus on Unsplash)

Here are some of the strategies we recommend to broaden horizons and explore opportunities:


  • Who sponsors and attends conferences related to your research area and where do they work? Those people and organisations, research centres and industry partners, are likely to value your knowledge. Are they on Twitter, LinkedIn or other forums? Are there opportunities to engage with them and comment on their posts? Which other associations do they have? What are their current concerns and strategy for the future? This can offer insights into future employment possibilities. Is there any synergy between your research and theirs which could facilitate a connection? Who can you reach out to?


  • Join professional associations related to your research interests. Have they a list of members and do they provide networks you can join? Do they offer formal mentorship? Fellow professionals can advise on usual sector recruitment practice. Are roles handled by agencies and if so which ones, or are roles more often found though personal networks? Association events and discussion forums, many now online, provide opportunities to build connections and discover which skills are most in demand.


  • Attend events run by local business groups, such as Chambers of Commerce or Local Enterprise Partnerships to build connections. At the University of Surrey, for example, there is an affiliated Research Park which runs networking events. Search the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation (IASP) for similar networks. If seeking work globally, connecting with alumni working abroad can be invaluable in understanding opportunities and recruitment practices in other countries.


  • Research organisations of interest by exploring the careers section of their website, reading related articles, and if you can, building connections with employees for inside insights. Do your values align with those of the company or research centre? It sounds obvious, but the more you understand an organisation in depth the more effectively you can tailor applications.


  • Explore connections between different sectors and issues driving global change using this tool: Strategic Intelligence. Follow key words in the transformation map relating to your area of expertise and examine the complementary information in the right-hand side panel. Are you inspired to follow up on any ideas or organisations? You may already be part of the change.


  • Make use of the Lightcast library of 32,000 skills. You do not need access, just scroll down, and click on the red box related to your interests, then subcategories, and then skills, to lead to data on related job postings such as top companies, job titles, trends, and live job adverts to help identify who is hiring researchers. Lightcast, previously Broken Glass, specialise in labour market analytics.


  • Search on skills to find suitable roles, a strategy employed by PostAc who use artificial intelligence to search for suitable roles and analyse the labour market for researchers. There may be a limited number of roles which call for a doctorate but significantly more call for the advanced transferable skills that researchers offer. For examples of how this works in practice, find out who is hiring in Australia and New Zealand based on PostAc’s research in this article from the Thesis Whisperer, and in the UK from the research from Vitae.



  • Follow your instincts Self-reflection is still important. Notice any intuitions or hunches you experience when exploring the labour market. This is fundamentally about pattern recognition which is not always obvious to the conscious mind.


Kiakaha, kia māia, kia manawanui - Be strong, be brave, be steadfast.


In your pods

Ask each other:

  • What is your experience of building connections and seeking opportunities?

  • What do researcher career trajectories look like in your university / country and how does that compare to others?

  • What is the greatest trend / change that my sector will experience in the next 5 years?

  • What implications are there for the job market both in academia and beyond?

Further Support


Auckland University of Technology offers dedicated careers and employability support for researchers.


King's College London Careers & Employability works closely with the Centre for Doctoral Studies to provide bespoke careers support. Visit Careers Support for Researchers


Swansea University:

Swansea Employability Academy (SEA) offer careers advice and employability support for all Swansea students as well as graduates. All Swansea students can access the Swansea Employability Academy's Career Development Course via Canvas.


Royal Holloway Careers Page for Postgraduate Researchers.


University College Dublin

Graduate Researchers can book individual 1-1 Career Advice and Guidance sessions and workshops at the Careers Centre platform. UCD Graduate Studies has a wealth of information relating to the PhD journey at UCD.


University of Otago

Online career guidance appointment bookings and career and employment events at Career Hub.


University of Surrey

PGRs can access individual careers guidance and coaching through Pathfinder. ECRs please email rdp@surrey.ac.uk to request a meeting.


Victoria University of Wellington

Online career guidance appointment bookings and career and employment events at Career Hub.

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