I recently wrote a blog for the Warwick University ‘researcher life’ blog called variety is the spice of life and it looked at my weird and wonderful career trajectory to date. I have written many times about the fact that my career path has not taken the trajectory I expected when I embarked on my PhD. I have also written talking about how much I have learnt from this magical mystery tour and how I wouldn’t have it any other way. In the main I’ve received either positive, supportive comments or nothing. This time however, it was different …
The blog was published and all was well, it was being nicely retweeted and a useful discussion about what you can do with a PhD, particularly as a Social Scientist was developing until BANG the criticism started! I was apparently a sell out, I had taken the almighty dollar, ok in this case pound, rather than follow my vocation and the associated struggles. I can only surmise that these comments came from someone with a permanent job inside academia rather than a post-doc going from contract to contract with a bit of freelance here and there in order to make ends meet. It was surreal and quite hurtful and certainly distracted from the purpose of the blog which was that there are lots of different things we, as PhD graduates, can do and lots of different roads to take all of which are very rewarding.
I was going to use this blog to talk about how much Social Scientists can offer the world beyond the ivory tower and the different skills you can learn whilst being ‘out’, however, Mark Carrigan has done that very well already and so I would point you in the direction of his blog here.
So instead I consider whether my position and what I do is really that different from an academic in a University. I am the Learning Technology Manager at Maudsley Learning. My role has two parts; I am designing and building our virtual learning environment Ortus Online and also developing digital learning content on mental health and well being. As part of that I have to run user studies and evaluations, record, reflect and analyse how learners use the space for learning, how communities form and what impact the learning has on their lives outside of our learning space.
My academic background is as a Behavioural Geographer. I am interested in digital space and how it is used for learning and professional development. In my academic life I created spaces, watched how communities developed, undertook user studies and evaluations and looked at how the learning was employed in peoples non virtual lives … Do you see any similarities here? As a Social Scientist, specifically a Geographer I look at how society interacts with different types of space for different purposes. I am doing the same thing outside of academia as I was inside. Yes I am earning more money but that was not my motivation to doing it. It was outside of academia where I could find the illusive “permanent” contract!
I have argued repeatedly that Social Scientists have a lot to offer sectors outside of the Ivory Tower and as this is the way that more PhD graduates will go (there are more of us than there are academic jobs) and so it is time we stopped associating these negative words like failure and selling out to people who go on to have successful careers outside of academia. You don’t need to be brave to do so you just need to recognise that there are many ways to make a difference once you have your PhD. Showing that our studies our directly relevant to today’s society is incredibly important for the future of our discipline.
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