Dr Louisa Hotson
I wrote a doctorate on the history of the academic discipline of American Political Science from the Gilded Age to the Great Society. But since last September I have been working for Ernst & Young. I work in Public Sector audit, and my clients are primarily Government and Public Sector institutions – NHS trusts, local councils, police and fire services, higher education institutions and some corporate clients. I am also taking the ACA exams which will (hopefully!) lead to me qualifying as a chartered accountant in a few more years.
I don’t think that many PhD historians think about a career in accountancy or finance – but I have been enjoying it and think others with my background would too. We deal with numbers, but it’s much more than maths! I’ve been struck by how much of the job involves understanding institutions and processes – which are aspects of the job for which I feel that my DPhil gave me an advantage.
For me, one of the biggest challenges in leaving academia was starting ‘at the bottom’ having spent ten or so years perfecting something else. But, as I would remind myself, gaining the DPhil is fantastic, but even if you stay in academia it is a milestone that marks the beginning, not the end, of a career! And, most importantly, I enjoy learning new things.
I will always be grateful for the time spent doing my doctorate studies and it will always be part of my life even if not my profession. I’m married to a fellow DPhil in American history who doesn’t work as an academic and we still share our interest and enjoy reading and talking about history. Ultimately, I feel that I gained more than I lost by leaving academia. Not least because I like the feeling of my future being open. It’s a source of comfort and satisfaction to me that there are jobs for chartered accountants in different organisations, places and locations. I don’t yet have a roadmap for the future – but I feel that there are exciting possibilities ahead.
I would be pleased to speak to anyone contemplating taking the plunge from twentieth century US History to the non-academic job market, particularly to those interested in jobs in finance, whether this be the accountancy profession or other similar roles.
Dr Kate Nowicki
I currently work as a TV producer, mainly specialising in historical drama documentaries and crime. My role mainly involves interviewing contributors, researching and scripting for episodes. I also work on planning for and going on shoots with a small crew, often to the USA.
My PhD was about the early civil rights movement in the South and the negotiation of black and white spaces in public recreation. Understanding the key points of what I am writing about and presenting it in the strongest way possible was a valuable lesson I learnt during my PhD, particularly after working with Alison Firbank at Sussex’s Student Support Unit. Often I am writing documents which rely on presenting the information quickly and succinctly to very busy people. Research skills at academic and local archives, along with knowing also where to look to trace people and families was again another important skill which transferred well from my PhD to my working environment.
My industry can be very challenging to enter, as it appeals to a lot of people, so breaking into it is hard. Often you have to take low paid positions in order to work up to the position you want, the hours can be long and you have to prove yourself quickly. It can also be very challenging working as a freelancer both financially and emotionally. However, as you gain experience and start to understand what is required you get to work in some amazing roles, go fantastic places and meet fascinating people. During one of my most recent shoots I was lucky enough to film in some fascinating locations in Washington and meet some of the major politicians from the Reagan Administration; people who literally made history.
The diversity of my roles and also being able to move from contract to contract keeps my interest and mind fresh, I also enjoy working as part of a team. I am able and happy to speak to anyone who is thinking about pursuing a career in TV. Offering practical pointers on how the industry works, the types of roles available, where to look for their first position, and how to structure a CV.
Dr Andrew Scott
I am currently a Conflict Advisor in the UK Government’s Stabilisation Unit based in the Foreign Office. In my role, I cover West Africa, providing analysis and policy advice on areas affected by conflict and instability. Previously, I’ve held a number of positions in government, including as political secretary at our embassies in Sudan and Libya, and working as both a policy advisor and analyst in the Cabinet Office. My PhD examined relations between Britain and America during the Heath-Nixon years, covering Britain’s entrance into the European Community, along with détente and a number of international crises. Completing a PhD helped to develop my skills in research, analysis and critical thinking, which have been important in all of my roles. However, having spent four years looking at a relatively narrow topic, it took some time to adjust to a very different working environment. I now work in a team, have to function in noisy offices and move quickly from issue to issue without much time to think, often relying on less information than I’d like. For me, the biggest challenge entering the job market was learning how to pitch myself at interviews and getting used to presenting behavioural competencies, rather than relying on my academic expertise and achievements. In many ways, I will always be an academic at heart, but I have enjoyed my career outside. As well as getting my weekends back (mostly), I’ve had the opportunity to work on a whole range of issues, gained an insight into the realities of policy-making and travelled all over. I’ve also enjoyed mixing with the different people that you find in government. Outside, I continue to pursue my own research projects, writing popular non-fiction books. I’d be happy to advise on careers in government and can give some insights into publishing.