Careers and career planning
By choosing to do a PhD in the TSM-CDT the number of career options available to you is significantly greater than with most PhDs. Every technology ultimately rests on materials. Just try to think of a technology that does not use them. Theory and simulation play crucial roles in the selection of materials, in the design and optimization of processes for manufacturing materials with desired properties, and predicting service life and failures. The Government has acknowledged the crucial importance of manufacturing for wealth creation and the national economy. Manufacturing industries will want to meet you. The CDT has strong links with a number of materials companies. They include Element 6, Johnson-Matthey, Unilever and Materials Design. Some of the PhD projects you will be offered will be collaborations with these companies, where the supervision involves industrialists as well as academics. These are outstanding opportunities to get involved in intellectually challenging, high impact research projects, and to develop a strong working relationship with a potential employer during your PhD.
In the second year after starting your PhD research you are invited to undertake a two-day residential course on Career Planning entitled “PhD - What Next?”. The purpose of this course is to help you begin the process of thinking through what you want to do after your PhD. The course is organised by Adrian Sutton working closely with Dr Helen Goulding, a freelance careers consultant, and Jane Pooler from the Imperial College Careers Service.
Many students believe their research topics are what make them attractive to employers. In fact this is very rarely true. It is much more the skills acquired as a result of undertaking a PhD that make you more attractive than candidates with just a Bachelors or Masters degree. These skills include written and oral communication, team-working and working independently, the ability to break down complex problems into manageable bits, working to deadlines, computational skills, thinking outside the box, thinking critically, supporting others and being aware of one’s personal impact. These are all skills that are developed during a PhD and which take you beyond your first degree. One of the aims of the course is to make you aware of how you are acquiring these skills during your PhD so that you can provide evidence for them in your CV. It also becomes clear that many of the opportunities presented to you in the CDT to become involved in activities beyond your research enhance your employability, such as outreach and public engagement, organising meetings, conferences and social events, networking, editing and writing the annual report and so on.
It is quite possible that you have no idea what you want to do after your PhD. This is to be expected because you have probably not been exposed to career opportunities beyond academe, and even for academic careers most students have little real understanding of what is involved. A centre-piece of the course is when you meet six scientifically trained PhD professionals engaged in a wide range of careers who will talk very openly and candidly about the ups and downs of their careers. One of them is a successful young academic, the rest are doing very different things. The purpose here is for you to hear how these successful professionals got started in their diverse careers, and the nature of their working lives, to stimulate and broaden your own thinking about what you might consider doing after your PhD.
The course also contains practical help with how to write a CV, interviews and assessment centres. Students from other CDTs across the country also attend the course, and new contacts and friendships are made. This is a very popular course, with almost all students saying they find it useful, stimulating and enjoyable.
We are also keen to encourage you to think about careers in the media. Imperial is well known in the media for the MSc on Science Communication run by the Humanities Faculty. You will receive training in science communication from these experts. You will also have plenty of opportunities to engage in outreach activities to share your knowledge and passion for science with school children, teachers and other members of the public. Communication is at the heart of these outreach activities, and our Outreach Officer, Nic Harrigan, will provide you with superb one-to-one training in these activities.
Another career which might interest you is science policy. The Government and learned societies, such as the Royal Society, rely heavily on individuals who can advise them about the ever-changing roles of science in society. They include ethical issues arising in science, technology transfer from universities, issues of national strategic significance such as education and energy supply, mitigating the consequences of climate change, raising the profile and funding of science, the supply of scientists and engineers for the economy, and so on. This is extremely important work, and it affects the lives of everyone throughout the country.
Many other careers will be available to you once you graduate. You will hear about some of them in master classes given by extraordinary people who have had very distinguished careers. You will discover how these people got started in their careers, what motivated them, how they created the opportunities which enabled them to progress so far, the pitfalls they avoided, and so on.
One of the most widespread aspirations many science PhD students share is to become academics, ultimately professors. It is likely this aspiration is widespread because so many students are unaware of the enormous range of fulfilling and influential careers available outside academe. This appears to be a systemic failure of higher education in the UK. In the TSM-CDT we will encourage you to think about alternatives. We certainly do not wish to deflect the most academically inclined students from an academic career path. But a decision to try to become an academic is not to be taken lightly. A central aim of the TSM-CDT is to put you in a position where the widest possible range of rewarding and enjoyable careers is within your grasp, to enable you to make a more informed decision and fulfill your potential.