As mentioned in the first post, one of the things I wanted to address in this blog was my own post-PhD journey, in the hope that it might be helpful to others considering options for transitioning out of traditional academic career path (however you define that to be, usually that’s the path leading to a permanent lectureship, a topic for another blog post). One thing is certain, for me, like for many others, the route into my current employment as an IT project manager working in the area of software development has not followed a very linear route. In fact, if six years ago somebody had told me that there was a way of translating a PhD in sociology/gender studies and a mostly humanities background into a career in technology, I would really struggle to believe that claim. So how did I get there?
My key motivation for undertaking the PhD was to find an outlet for political activism I had been involved in as an undergraduate student and I poured a lot of energy in securing funding first for a MA in Gender Studies at Central European University and then for a doctoral research project that built on the masters. About two years into the PhD I finally admitted to myself that despite all the effort and the time I put into building an academic career, deep down I was no longer sure I wanted it. It felt like the bar for even an entry-level position was constantly getting raised and I would be expected to somehow turn myself into a perfect candidate with publications, grant-writing and teaching experience, and the more the better. Except I discovered I wasn’t that keen on teaching and so the thought of putting in an awful lot of time and energy into getting positions that for the foreseeable future would involve quite a lot of teaching, well, that didn’t appeal so much anymore. I wasn’t exactly sure what I should be doing instead but I had the writing up period to distract me and luckily, a month before I was due to submit my thesis, my supervisor mentioned that a project she was involved in needed a research assistant and asked if I was interested. Given that my funding was running out, I was very interested and started working in a role that involved supporting e-learning projects and developing teaching resources. Unfortunately, the research unit became the victim of cuts but there was a bit of a silver lining there as in my last six months there I was informally promoted to the role of project manager as the other members of staff were leaving.
When the research unit closed, I was able to write myself into a role as project manager on a research grant for Sheffield Hallam University, where I worked on a variety of different projects (e-learning, business change and software) on a series of fixed-term contracts. I also made sure to take advantage of professional development opportunities and gained a number of professional qualifications in project management and coaching, all paid for by my employer. After four years of not having much job security beyond the immediate duration of my existing contract, I decided I learnt as much as I could but needed a permanent role somewhere else and was open to looking outside the university sector. I registered on a couple of recruitment sites and it turned out that the job I liked the look of was located in a university IT department that has recently undergone a major restructure. They were aware I didn’t have an IT background but what made the case for my hire, I believe, is that I understood the university sector very well, I had been involved in a number of change projects and the qualifications in project management and coaching were an additional bonus. The skills I gained when working on the e-learning projects didn’t hurt either. I’ve been in the role for two months now and have thoroughly enjoyed finally having a permanent home and being able to see a future with the organisation, even if there is still an awful lot I need to learn about IT and computing.
When told like that, the story from point A (the PhD) to point B (the permanent project manager position) makes into a fairly coherent narrative. In real life, it certainly didn’t feel that coherent and it took me six months of interviews and what felt like countless rejections and false starts to secure a job – and that is a story worth a forthcoming blog post.