Since a very young age I’ve always found other people interesting. This lead me on a long and interesting path down the field of psychology. I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology here in the UK, before continuing on to complete a Masters in Mental Health.
Throughout this journey I was set on becoming a clinical psychologist, which is a job which enables you to deliver psychological therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to those with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Throughout my undergraduate and master’s degree, I sought to obtain as much clinical experience as possible. I volunteered in multiple mental health charities, had some work experience within a few psychiatric hospitals, completed additional counselling qualifications, and was fortunate enough to be offered a job as a research assistant immediately after completing my masters.
I always liked doing research. Plus, I was doing research on two big European projects that gave me a lot of exposure to adults and adolescents with mental health difficulties – so this was only adding to my CV. However, after 12-months in this role I was no longer happy. It was extremely stressful, but the tipping point for me was when I was split managing two multi-site European projects on my own (despite two people being required to do the job) and was denied a free trip abroad to attend one of the training conferences for one of the European projects.
Luckily enough the university I was working at sent an email call out for fully funded PhD scholarships. One of the potential PhD calls was in an area I was always interested in, men’s mental health. I gave it a shot and was offered an interview. The interview coincides on the day I should have been at the conference I mentioned earlier (maybe it was fate?). It went well and I had an official place for a PhD!
Great news! Right?…. not exactly. From the outset I was apprehensive of even starting because my plan was to do the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (DClin) in order to be a qualified Clinical Psychologist. The DClin is a three-year training programme where you have on-the-job training across various mental health services. This created a big dilemma for me because if I accepted the three-year PhD, I would then have to do the DClin after finishing my PhD – totalling to 6years of study combined. So, as anyone in my situation would, I panicked, booked myself onto a 4-week mental health placement in Bali and left.
Bali was incredible. Only problem was I didn’t think about whether I should or shouldn’t accept my PhD! When I got home, I just couldn’t bring myself to turn down the opportunity – especially as it was free, and I’d be getting paid. I started my PhD in September 2017, which in hindsight, I think was the right decision (the fate thing is growing on me).
As I worked on my PhD, I started to realise that I preferred working at a desk and doing research on a topic I was interested in. Then quite early on, maybe a year in, I decided that I wouldn’t stay in academia as I wanted to see if there was anything else that I would also enjoy. I was also keen to find a job that had better work conditions! I mean, decent central heating, windows that open, a better work-life balance and reasonable pay isn’t a lot to ask for!
After I got my head in the right frame of mind, I started to look for advice and guidance on what to do with my PhD in Psychology. This was exhausting. It was difficult to speak to my family and friends about it as they found it hard to understand what I was going through. Everywhere else I looked didn’t give me any concrete guidance either. I couldn’t talk to anyone at my university about it (or at least so I thought), as it’s still very much a taboo subject in the academic world. When eventually I did speak to others about it, they were quite receptive, however they weren’t able to give me any constructive advice either. Also, any training courses, blogs or articles on the internet were all tailored towards the hard-sciences and talked about lab work (I have no idea what a western blot is for crying out loud), or much of the information was for an American audience. This was helpful to some extent but not all of the advice translated perfectly to my ‘social-science’ PhD in the UK. Certainly, there are cultural differences in how industry and society view PhD’s and this made it hard for me to take anything constructive on board.
I’m now in my third and final year of my PhD and it’s that time where I’m thinking a lot more about my career afterwards. I’m still muddling through this journey but I’m in a much better place than I was. I’ve decided to start a blog about my thoughts, attitudes and understanding on how to leave academia and get a job in industry from a British and non-‘hard’-science perspective. Even if your PhD isn’t in a science, much of the topics I aim to cover will be relevant to you!
It’s my aim to help other PhD students from any discipline who want to leave academia but don’t know where to start. I hope that you find my content useful and we can work through this together!
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