In the afternoon of our second day at the 2017 GO-GN seminar in Cape Town, our group turned to address the ideas I brought up in my GO-GN blog post last fall about post-PhD careers in open education. I opened the session by refreshing everyone about the post, and then turned to our panel from the OER Hub, Bea, Beck, Martin, Rob, as well as our guest Rory McGreal, the UNESCO Chair in OER. Basically, we wanted to bring career and job search strategies to the fore. Just what do we do with ourselves after we complete our PhDs? Everyone keeps telling us that it’s true, we will finish one day! Below I have highlighted many of the points from our conversation, drawing out key passages in bold. I offer a summary reflection at the end.
Martin was first to chime in, and recommends widening our view of potential work, positions, and job searches to include monikers such as “digital“, “technology” to find situations for novel applications of “open” approaches. Bea admitted to not studying open education in her doctorate, and shifting to open ed was a surprise for her too. Beck studied philosophy in her PhD studies, during which she chased opportunities for admin work. She emphasized the importance of not underselling our other professional skills (in addition to research) for cornerstones of a career.
GO-GNer Janesh Sanzgiri asked about quantitative versus qualitative research methods and employability, thinking that a lack of quantitative skills could be a hindrance to the largely qualitative work presented by GO-GN researchers at the seminar. Rory offered his insights about the Canadian perspective, and has noticed a rise in interest in qualitative research, and that when a quantitative approach is implemented there are calls for mixed methods and qualitative analysis. Towards career advancement, Rory emphasized the importance in demonstrating that you can get grant money. SSHRC grants, for instance, are highly respected over private grants. He would recommend veering away from branding ourselves in open education explicitly, and instead emphasize our expertise in ed tech more broadly.
Rob agreed. In his experience, he started on an OU position on mobile learning, and he spun himself, his CV, to get that position. His success in that showed the potential for career building, because of the funding surrounding ed tech. He recognized that if he could position himself within this field he could have a career, and that being extremely flexible is key. Rob said:
Listen and gain awareness of where the opportunities are. Look for ways to gain new skills and new knowledge and find where these align with your own interests. Look for a common thread, recognize that building a professional identity is a cumulative process.
Martin highlighted the opportunity to leverage our position as “early career researcher”. Don’t undersell our skills; we are ALL quantitative and qualitative researchers for instance. Be willing to shape our identity for opportunities we find attractive or a good fit. Flexibility is key.
Portfolios. GO-GNer alumni (PhD in hand!) Anne Algers commented that in Sweden, students need to build a teaching and scholarship portfolio. In it, people are expected to reflexively record processes to publication and demonstrate their criticality. Rory cautioned on portfolios, that they should not be shared with potential employers until explicitly asked. For Rory and his experience in Canada, instead apply only with a CV. However, GO-GNer Michael Paskevicius who works at Vancouver Island University pushed back, saying that portfolios were mandatory for academic developer jobs in BC.
GO-GNer Sarah Lambert has been in ed tech in Australia for 18 years, has noticed that the ed tech work is being shifted from professional positions to academic positions, and that PhDs are becoming the norm for ed tech positions–especially leadership–leveraging the importance of practical work experience but with the added expectation to hold doctorates. She stressed that this is worth examining within your own context. GO-GNer Chrissy Nerantzi supported these observations from the UK context, finding that PhDs are required for her position of an academic lecturer now, and she could not be on the short list for her own job today without a PhD. Further, Sarah knows that she wants to cultivate relationships with institutions where people work who want to collaborate in open and safe ways. A culture of trust, for instance, is important to her for work and thus her personal health. And finding an culture/environment that is a good fit for your working life is paramount to the sustainability of your career.
Further, GO-GNer Judith Pete highlighted the Kenyan context. By law, there will be no instructors in higher ed without a PhD by 2018–but how that actually plays out is to be seen. Judith’s own PhD has been rooted in her personal interest in open education rather than as a career strategy. She has found her PhD to be a way to build professional networks and as a means to achieving her personal social justice goals. However, she acknowledges that many other Kenyans are only looking to earn a credential in order to appease the commission.
Rob shifted the conversation to introduce the possibility of working outside of the university and academia. This is a great point but it’s hard to think of how to look for those positions. These ideas prompted GO-GNer Jenni Hayman to ask about working with OEPScotland as an example of community work. Beck, who has been working quite a bit on the project, commented that working with OEPS has been fruitful; she highlighted the courses that the OER Hub have developed and engaging with collaboration with an inter-institutional community. Martin thought to highlight the importance of digital identity and networking, and how tenured professors and PhD students most leverage them. His student Katie, for example, published a visualization of MOOC completion rates, and Phil Hill picked up on it, and it became the defacto reference, and she leveraged that for a Gates Foundation grant. You never know!
Rob commented, “a phd is often regarded as a very solo endeavor“, but that using the networks and teaming up with people in your networks can help lighten the load of authoring and working.
This inspired GO-GNer Chrissi Nerantzi to share a proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Vivian followed that her work in Brazil is absolutely reliant on collaboration and making connections. It is absolutely necessary for her persistence professionally and personally. Catherine emphasized the emotional support through collaboration as of profound import to her persistence in her program.
Bea then asked us to consider how to get our dissertations published, and that getting on that editing is crucial, do so immediately. Rory emphasized that we, as PhDs we are the experts, and fight to get our names out there and in the first author position. Rob emphasized the need of a mix of solo authored and co-authored work. It is important to demonstrate that you can collaborate.
In our final minutes, Michael shifted to academic networking platforms, and asked if they are worth it. OER Hubbers use Orcid and Google Scholar to communicate their work. Catherine made an excellent point in recommending that we look to our hero(ine) authors as models, where do they post? How? She affirmed that it is a very personal experience. Martin recommends looking into altmetrics. Rob highlighted Slideshare as an important record of his conference presentation.
So, many ideas surfaced through our conversation with many things to consider in our post-PhD lives. The only certainty that emerged is that there is no single path forward. Rather, we will all need to rely on the networks we build throughout our graduate studies. By listening for potential opportunities and with a willingness to be flexible and take risks, we’ll all be able to explore a variety of career opportunities. While I had hoped that Martin would be passing around a hat with an array of job offers we could all pull from, we’re going to have to this work ourselves. However, we won’t be alone. We can always reach out to GO-GN for advice and support.
Good luck to all of us!