PhD Title, Location, Date of Award:
My PhD topic looked at the depiction of weight loss and size acceptance in North American Fiction, 1976-2013 (University of Nottingham, 2019).
Current Role and Brief Description:
I am a Research Development Officer at a university, and I support impact, research plans, and digital communications. I help academic researchers plan, deliver, measure and prove that they have shared specialist knowledge with politicians, charities, schools, professionals, the general public, and others. Moreover, I help researchers show how this has contributed to a benefit or change in how things are done.
I research the impact of research and help academics write the story of civic change. This change can be in law, policy, professional and industry practice, public understanding of issues, and others. But it is usually in at least three of these areas.
Other roles (if any) post PhD, not including your current role:
Prior to my current position, I worked for two years as a Research Assistant for Nottingham Trent University’s in-house fiction press, Trent Editions. Trent Editions is a really interesting and worthwhile publication that publishes new and out-of-circulation radical works from underappreciated writers and neglected groups, like working-class writers such as Ellen Wilkinson, the first woman Labour MP, and socialist landmark texts. In doing so the imprint also showcases the research specialisms of NTU’s English department – it’s a fantastic initiative.
At Trent Editions I had the opportunity to develop some important transferable skills that contributed to my move into research development. This includes contributing to short-term and long-term project plans. For example, I fed into the imprint’s operating plan, built strong relationships with internal and external partners, completed an audit on sales and other data, created a digital and marketing agenda, and drafted a sustainability plan.
One example (if relevant) of how you are able to use your PhD skills/expertise in your current role:
I have found my academic research background to be hugely valuable for my current role in research development and impact. If I had to boil it down into one key example, I would choose critical thinking and analysis. I assist researchers with their research and public dissemination plans on a day to day basis, and in order to do an excellent job I usually have to have a good understanding of their research and help them to figure out the most worthwhile routes to take in circulating that to publics that need that specialist knowledge. My ability to demonstrate a flexible, insightful intelligence by adjusting to different academics specialisms has been crucial to the value I can bring in their research and impact plans.
My academic background also means I feel confident in asking questions that probe deeper to get different ways of articulating research. This is useful for me in terms of thinking about wider publics, but also provides clarity to the wider teams I work with.
One piece of job advice you wish you'd had prior to finishing your PhD:
Focus less on knowledge and more on skillsets and personal characteristics. Get into the habit of reflecting on the processes and aspects you enjoyed about a project, start to finish. What was a problem you enjoyed solving and how did you go about it? Are you overlooking or under-appreciating other strengths and motivations you have?
I have noticed that the current advice in alt-ac culture is to write various ‘stories of self’ to open minds to different paths. However, I’d say let’s move away from stories of self to stories of skillsets. Let’s stop feeding narratives that what you do is what you are. Instead, think about how your ability to plan long projects, work across teams with various objectives, or build strong working relationships has developed over your life. What high points recur? What new steps can you see ahead? What are you proud of? See good solutions and better working relationships as comparable to research outputs.
And finally, be realistic and draw on the resilience that took you through the PhD process – accept that whatever career track you embark on, you will have to do more training and adapt. People rarely finish doctoral training prepared for all aspects of academia. A move into a different career won’t be the huge ‘re-training’ challenge you might fear.
Thanks to funding from the British Association of American Studies (BAAS) and the US Embassy in London, we are able to move ahead with The Change Up!
This podcast is based around interviews with former PhD candidates in American Studies or affiliated disciplines who have either moved into an 'academic-adjacent' position, or who have moved out of the academy altogether.
We hope that this project will provide readers and listeners with some practical advice on how to develop their careers post-PhD - whether this is through careers outside of academia, or through roles within academia but not as part of the 'professoriate'.
As this series will showcase, doctoral degrees in American Studies (or in subjects related to American Studies) can provide a great basis for other careers. We want to be able to showcase some of the great things people are doing after completing their doctoral work - and, in the process, highlight some potential options for current PhD students or precarious ECR faculty.
At the same time, its important to acknowledge the systemic problems within academia that are seeing increasing numbers of researchers seek careers in other fields, or which are forcing talented early career Americanists out of the profession.