Let’s talk about: Life after the PhD

Two weeks ago we, ArcTrainees (ArcTrain PhD students), went on our yearly retreat (re-read about our 2018 and 2017 retreat). This time we went on a four-day trip to Sylt, one of the islands in the Wadden Sea. You might wonder, is this some sort of holiday? I can tell you, even though I enjoy these retreats a lot, it is not like a holiday. During the retreats we organize ourselves as PhD students within ArcTrain and have workshops related to soft skills. Every year the retreat has a different focus. Because most of us are in the final year of their PhD this retreat was used to prepare for the future. Two fellow ArcTrainees arranged a workshop on “Finding the right career path” and invited guest speakers that found a job outside academia and PIs (= principal investigators, basically our supervisors), who talked about their career in science. For an outsider this might seem like a weird choice for a workshop at first sight. You might think, didn’t you already made that choice before you started your PhD? Don’t you want to become a professor? No matter what one might think at the start of the PhD, in reality many people leave science after their PhD. There are not enough jobs in academia for every person with a PhD and definitely not everybody with a PhD can become a professor. A professor has many PhD students during his or her career, but can only be replaced by one person. On the other hand not everyone likes to stay in science.

During the workshop we learned that also for those that leave the academic world having done a PhD can still be valuable. This was to myself a little bit surprising. I thought that might be the case for engineers and people in computer sciences, but not for people like us. I never see job adds for positions in industry stating, glacier modeling experience required or so. I thought we might be to specialized in a field that is not interesting for employers outside of science. Still there is a number of skills that we acquired during those years that can be very valuable to a future employer, skills that seem so obvious to us that you can lose awareness of them. Therefore it was interesting to learn what your colleagues think you’re good at. In addition we had exercises that helped on identifying what we look for in a job. It was great that we got the opportunity to ask many questions to the PI’s and our guest speakers, also the ones that normally seem inappropriate to ask. All together, the retreat gave quite some insights and some additional motivation for this final stage of the PhD. Thanks again to Hannah and Jens for organizing this retreat!

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