Careers in the Time of Covid: Nine Tips for Postgrad Researchers

Greetings from the dinner table, or as it has been for 46 (?!) weeks now, ‘the office.’ Wherever in the world you are, I hope you’re safe and keeping as well as possible.

These are uncertain times for us all, and things in the UK have changed rapidly over the past year. There was March – May 2020: full on lockdown, banging pans for the NHS. Then there was August, when I finally got back on a train and in a restaurant and things seemed, dare I say it, a bit normal. Fast forward to February 2021 and it’s these four walls again… and a broken set of pans.

For job hunters, there’s the added level of uncertainty. Will there be jobs? How do I cope? Can I even job hunt right now whilst the kids are at home, I’m trying to write up and I’m struggling to get out of the house for essentials? Just a few of the questions coming thick and fast out of the hinterland of PhD lockdown.

Some voices have told us that a global pandemic might naturally lead some people to reassess their own career ideas; others are keen for Covid-19 to encourage us to consider the responsibility we have towards our communities and social justice in the work that we do. For some though, it’s been a real slog. I’ve spoken to many Postgraduate Researchers over the past months who have had job offers rescinded, or have even had to rethink their entire PhD projects. However, I’ve also seen some get jobs. So what can you do to uncover the opportunities that are still out there? Whilst I can’t offer a guaranteed blueprint to stay-at-home-job-hunt success, here are a few suggestions to help maintain some balance whilst considering your next move in these strange times:

  1. Slow down. Be aware of making ‘big’ long-term decisions whilst you are experiencing high anxiety and there are so many ‘unknowns.’ Focus on what you can control, and take ‘baby-steps’;
  2. Stay connected. Try to stay in touch with your peers who are in similar job-hunting situation and share tips and support with each other, either by email or over virtual coffee. You might know of a job board or an opportunity that one of them doesn’t, and vice-versa;
  3. Stay up-to-date. Keep up with what’s going on with the wider labour market from reliable sources. A great place to start is with Dr Charlie Ball’s UK Graduate Labour Market updates on Prospects Luminate;
  4. Go back in time. The Way Back Machine lets you look at snapshots of websites taken months or years ago. Type in the job board URLs that you use to see how many jobs were on there this time last year compared with today. For example, here’s how looked a year ago compared to right now. Keep your eye on these over time to see how the market may be changing, or whether there are certain aspects of your sector(s) of interest that are cutting back less than others;
  5. Fill in the details. If you’re interested in a particular sector, use relevant professional bodies, LinkedIn groups and other content like industry podcasts to keep up with how that sector is responding. Follow relevant companies and organisations on social media to keep track of the impact of Covid-19 on their industry;
  6. Let the experts do the work. Large professional services firms map the impact of social, political and economic upheaval on different work sectors so they can help client companies to respond effectively. This makes them a hive of information on how different industries are faring, such as PwC’s Covid-19 Industry Focus series and Accenture’s Industry Impact reports;
  7. Think laterally. As an interim option, think if there are any services or contributions you can offer on a freelance basis, e.g. online tutoring or mentoring;
  8. Trust in your abilities as a researcher. Grayce Consulting note that people likely to manage best in the pandemic are those who demonstrate that they can manage uncertainty, and ‘who are adaptable and able to respond when faced with problems.’ As a researcher, you’re always working within a constantly evolving landscape, keeping up-to-date, adapting when things don’t work and teaching yourself new approaches. So don’t forget: job hunting is a research project. And although the sources, jargon and experts might be different, your research skills can go a long way in helping you navigate the choppy waters;
  9. Remember, whatever you do next won’t be forever: it’s your next step, not your final destination.

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