What happens after the PhD?

People will work several years to obtain a PhD, sometimes with the goal of becoming a  researcher in academia or the industry, or a lecturer. Some think that getting a PhD is  enough to become a successful researcher. But obtaining a PhD is not enough to ensure that.

For example, when I was doing my PhD in Canada, I noticed that there was a huge difference between the best and the worst students who completed their PhD studies. Some students would finish a PhD without publishing a paper (only a thesis), while other had scholarships and dozen of papers and awards, and had multiple collaborations with international researchers. All these students received the same Ph.D. diploma. But their CV were not equal and it made a big difference when it was time to apply for a job, and how successfully they would establish a research career.

I also noticed that some students would finish their PhD in the minimum amount of time, while in some case a student finished in ten years due to a lack of motivation, a part-time job, not producing meaningful research, and perhaps a lack of support from his advisor. This latter student was then unable to pursue a research career despite having  finally obtained his PhD. In fact, he should have perhaps chosen another career path earlier.

Another problem that some PhD students face is that they would wait perhaps just a month before graduating to look for a job. But finding a good research position after the PhD is not always easy and require preparation.

So how to ensure a successful career after the PhD?

I will give some advices:

  • Try to find a mentor which has research experience to give you advices about how to succeed in your field, and overcome the challenges that you are facing to establish your career. This can greatly help as you will avoid making some errors that other people have made.
  • Set a clear goal for your career as early as possible, then think about the milestones or subgoals that you need to attain to succeed.
  • Make a realistic plan of how to attain your goals as early as possible.
  • Build a network of contacts and collaborators in your field. This can help you to find opportunities and bring other benefits. Attend conferences, talk with other researchers online, in your university, etc.
  • Create a website, and online profile on research oriented social networks  like ResearchGate, and a Linkedin profile. This can help to promote your research and keep contact with other researchers. Share your papers online.
  • Publish your data, or software programs that you developed as open source. People who will use them will cite you.
  • Find an important research problem to work on and develop something innovative. Choose a project that is realistic (will not likely lead to failure), not too long (will not likely delay your PhD), and can lead to good publications.
  • Improve your writing skills. This is a key aspect for researchers in academia as writing papers and grant proposals is something researchers always do. A well-written paper or grant proposal that is convincing has always more chance to be accepted/funded.
  • Aim at publishing in good journals and conferences. Getting your papers accepted there will show that your research is recognized by your peers. Publishing in unknown conferences and journals, or not having publiciations  will not convince anyone of your research abilities when it is time to look for a job or apply for funding. Often, publishing good papers is more important than publishing many papers.
  • Improve your presentation skills. As a researcher, you will often need to present your research and deliver talks. A good presentation can make an enormous difference. Besides, when it is time to apply for a job in academia, the hiring committee will likely ask you to present your work and give a teaching demo to evaluate your teaching skills. A poor presenter may not be hired even if he is a good researcher. And an average researcher with poor presentation skills will likely not be hired. Here are some tips for improving your presentation skills.
  • Choose a good PhD supervisor, with a strong team. A good team will give you a good environment for your research and bring opportunities. Working with a famous researcher in your field may bring various benefits, including learning from successful researchers.
  • Don’t be afraid to go abroad or in other cities to find better opportunities. For researchers, having experience abroad generally looks good on a CV, and is even a criterion for hiring in some universities. If no suitable jobs are available in your countries, looking abroad may help find one. I for example did my PhD in Canada, my postdoc in Taiwan, moved to another province in Canada, before going to back to China. And this strategy of going abroad has paid off well as it opened new opportunies that I would not have if I always stayed in the same city.

Conclusion

That is all for today, as I am writing this on the airplane and it will soon land. If you have comments, please share them in the comment section below. I will be happy to read them.

Philippe Fournier-Viger is a full professor working in China and founder of the SPMF open source data mining software.

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