Build the foundations of your career

During your postgraduate research programme, you will obviously build a very specific set of skills and knowledge related to your field.

In addition, there are many opportunities to build a strong foundation for your career beyond your subject knowledge. This list suggests some of the skills, experiences and insights which you might overlook but which could be valuable in a wide range of future careers.

  • If you are at the start of your research degree, use this list as a prompt to make the most of all the opportunities which being a postgraduate at the University of Manchester offers.
  • If you are at the end of your research degree, use this list to reflect on your time as a postgraduate, realise how you’ve added to your experience and consider how you can communicate this to potential (or current) employers.

Want to know where to find opportunities for training, PGR events, support?

  • PGR Life Includes real-time news and information about events for PGRs plus links to a wide range of PGR support and resources open to you

Experience

Being courageous is part of the postgraduate experience – it’s a time to dare to try things which may not succeed but from which you’ll learn.

As a bonus, future employers may be more interested in how you have applied your knowledge and what you learned from the experience than your ability to write a thesis.

Opportunities to learn from experience

  • During your research degree – volunteering for roles which stretch you, in your group, your professional association, PGR activities; setting up journal clubs for you and others on your programme; trying out new ways to learn; supporting or mentoring others in your School.
  • Experience at work - you are likely to have limited time available during your research degree but may be able to consider - part-time work eg graduate teaching assistant or external tutoring; short pieces of freelance or temporary work eg. at weekends or evenings; if you are currently employed, applying your research directly in your current role (research methods, newly acquired skills, access to library resources including databases etc).
  • Voluntary experience – many personal and business skills can be applied in a voluntary capacity – it all counts for future employers; volunteer outside the campus community – also a great way to get to know Manchester as a city, or your local community if you are based outside Manchester; volunteer to support the university community eg as a PGR rep, a wellbeing champion, an environmental rep.
  • Social and extracurricular activities – leadership roles in societies and sports teams; campaigns for issues which are important to you; group activities where you have to support and rely on others eg rock climbing, playing in an orchestra; setting up activities and inspiring others to take part.

Skills

Take advantage of the opportunities all around you during your time at Manchester and you will build a formidable set of skills to use in whatever comes next.

Here are some of the skills you will naturally acquire as an integral part of being a researcher, plus others you can add with some action on your part.

  • How to learn - how to identify, assess and draw from expert sources; how to learn from others; how to learn from experimentation; how to learn from feedback - or even failure
  • Personal skills – communication, both written (academic reports and non-academic material) and verbal (presenting persuasive arguments in meetings etc, presenting to groups, communicating clearly to international audiences, young people, non-experts); influencing others; helping others succeed; using initiative; independent thinking; taking decisive action; taking responsibility for your decisions; recognising others’ perspectives; finding mutually acceptable solutions ie negotiating.
  • Research, technical and vocational skills – managing a project; finding sources; analytical techniques including qualitative and quantitative approaches, surveys, interviews, interrogating large data sets, coding and statistics; lab skills (not just specific techniques but the broader skills of safe working, observation, spotting anomalies, presenting and interpreting results); using archival sources; workplace skills (working with clients and colleagues, understanding cultural norms & business etiquette, understanding legislative and policy environment)
  • Career transition skills – presenting yourself in writing (CVs, covering letters, application forms); presenting yourself in person (interviews, presentations, group assessment exercises); exploring career options (attending career, employer and alumni events, reviewing careers and employer information and profiles, considering future prospects of particular jobs and sectors); understanding yourself and making career decisions; understanding the job market and job hunting tactics; understanding academic research and research career paths

Connections

Think you don’t have contacts? Make the most of the connections open to you as a University of Manchester postgraduate.

Making lasting connections is not about being manipulative or a smooth talker, but being curious, asking questions, learning from others and offering support to others wherever you can.

You never know who or what your friends know until you ask, and they don’t know what might help your future until you let them know what you’d love to do - dare to share!

Think about connecting with:

  • Fellow students – also look beyond your research group; develop a genuine interest in those whose experience of the world differs widely from your own – you’ll never have a better opportunity to gain a global perspective than being part of the University of Manchester.
  • Academics – your supervisor and others in your supervisory team are good starting points; if other academics have research interests which overlap with your research, approach them (Not sure what to say? Just ask about their research - they love talking about that); if you are hoping to do post-doctoral research, start to make informal contacts with potential PIs well before you complete your thesis.
  • Alumni – come along to the Meet the Professionals events throughout the year; join the Manchester Network, our online alumni network which is open to current students too, where you can search for alumni who are open to answering career questions; search for alumni on LinkedIn
  • Employers – attend employer events, both virtual and in person (employers come to Manchester because they actively want to talk to you - that’s networking made easy); see if any employers are linked with your research group or your School and ask to make contact; see if your research project has potential for creating links with employers.

Knowledge

  • Subject knowledge - if your research is related to the type of work or research you would like to do in future, think beyond your thesis and explore how your subject knowledge is applied in the workplace or in academic research outside your immediate research group.
  • Academic information resources – unless you make a career in academia, you may never again have freely available access to such a wide range of library, database and other information resources (including archive materials at the beautiful John Rylands Library on Deansgate) so make the most of them while you are here.
  • Careers and employer knowledge – dig below the surface and find out about niche roles you didn’t know existed and specialist employers you’ve never heard of – it’s likely that others don’t know about these either so the competition is less fierce and you may find the role you're uniquely well placed to fill.
  • News and future focus – an up-to-date knowledge of world affairs and current business and economic trends could really help your search for jobs, and help you target sectors with a strong future or spot emerging research topics.
  • Global perspective – gain a global understanding of the way the world works from first hand accounts from your fellow students and academics, to take you beyond anything you could read online.