The big question mark over our heads: What comes next? Venturing out of our comfort zone of being a student, because let’s be real this is what we have mostly experienced over the past few years, can be daunting. Even for students who returned to academia after years spent in the working world going back to a normal 9 to 5 can be a challenge. But fear not – the SAS Careers Service Team is here to help. And let me tell you, there are so many options out there!
To help us find our way through the jungle of opportunities, sectors, and routes, Lucy Hawkins is leading three webinars on career options for Master and PhD grads over the next three weeks. The first webinar starts tomorrow, Tuesday, 15th at 1-2 pm and will be on career options for Masters and PhD grads in HE & Education. So, if you don’t feel ready to leave homely academia or maybe a career in teaching and education has been your goal all along why not come along?
SASiety’s blog editor Monja talked to Lucy in advance and asked her a few questions about her career path and gained a bit of insight into her work as a careers consultant.
Monja: Tell us a bit about yourself. What was the career path that brought you here?
Lucy: I studied English as an undergraduate at the University of Oxford, before going on to work in outreach teams for the University’s widening participation initiatives, travelling all over the UK and running projects with high-achieving students in underrepresented areas. All through school and university I had volunteered for work that involved ‘helping’ others, and ‘helping’ has been a consistent theme in my professional life.
I then started training as a school English teacher, and during that training seriously struggled with my mental health. It was a challenging time, but taught me a lot about myself, and led to a lasting professional interest in helping others overcome challenges with both work and mental health.
After leaving the teacher training programme once I realised it was unlikely to support my recovery in the short term, I contacted my old outreach teams who still needed help, and I was re-recruited! After a couple more years in outreach, I moved to work in progressively more senior roles for national education charities, the last being the National Literacy Trust, where I ran nationwide projects supporting children and families in areas of low book ownership.
Monja: How did you decide on becoming a Careers Adviser in HE?
Lucy: As I got more senior, I enjoyed how I could have more impact through the work I managed but found that I did miss working with individuals and delivering events and workshops. I was just realising this, when I met my (now) husband. I was living in London, he lived in Oxford, and I soon decided to move back and look for a new job, which involved more face-to-face ‘helping’. I’d seen the Careers Adviser job advertised in the past at the University of Oxford, and this time felt that it offered what I was looking for, and that I had the life experience and industry knowledge of non-profits to bring to the role. I got the job, and completed my professional training on the job, achieving a Distinction in my Postgraduate Diploma.
Monja: You mentioned your interest in mental health and helping others as well as industry knowledge of non-profits. Do you have a special area of expertise?
Lucy: Since 2011 I’ve worked across lots of different industries, faculties and departments at Oxford, in the US during a job swap I set up with the University of California, Berkeley, and while managing the Careers Consultants at the University of Reading (I eventually missed the management skills I’d used to use in non-profits!)
During this time, I’ve learnt lots about lots of different fields! Most recently I’ve completed some deeper research projects into the heritage and museums sector, positive action hiring schemes for postgraduate students, governance, compliance and financial regulation roles, as well as writing some national guidance around work in special effects and clinical technology. I’ve often supported arts and humanities, and social science students too in my careers work, given my background, although I’ve also conducted lots of research into evolving IT careers. So, it’s fair to say I’m a generalist really!
Monja: Mental Health in academia is becoming a more widely discussed subject. Do you have any personal hacks or tips for maintaining a healthy work-life-balance?
Lucy: After my maternity leave in 2018 I decided to set up as a freelance careers consultant, so that I could work around my son’s needs a bit more. As well as contracts with universities (like this one with the School of Advanced Studies!), I have a private client practice, run a social enterprise supporting new parents in Oxford, and have just 18 hours of childcare a week. I still feel like work-life is something I struggle with, but I’ve learnt some lessons!
The first is to interrupt some of the narratives or unhelpful thoughts that can fuel unhappiness! Sometimes that’s noticing the unhelpful thinking styles we can be prone to and viewing them more critically. Sometimes it’s noticing whole stories we can get mentally engaged in that are set in the future or the past (‘when I’ve got xyz done, then it will be better’, ‘this is all because I didn’t do x when I was younger…’). This thinking often doesn’t really help at all.
Instead I find myself coming back to a few ideas which do help:
- (If I’m worrying about something) Is there anything I can practically do about this in the next 24 hours? If not, then I write it down and move on with my day. Every day I look back at anything I’ve written down. Most of the time it’s already become a moot point.
- (If I’m struggling to get things done) Can I just do this in less than 3 minutes? If so, just do it right now if possible. Only write it on a to do list if it can’t get done in 3 minutes now, and only ever have one to do list. Write only on it things that can get definitely ticked off (so ‘figure out xyz’ might become ‘spend 30 minutes researching xyz’).
- Respecting boundaries – I have defined ‘work times’. I have work time blocked out a couple of evenings a week, 3 days 9-3 and a weekend afternoon each week, plus a half hour of admin time early each morning. It works at the moment, and gets tweaked when it doesn’t, but there’s no blur – I’m either ‘working’ or I’m not.
The School is dedicated to supporting the career and personal development of its students and graduates. The SAS Careers Service provides support for students and recent graduates across all the SAS institutes. We offer one to one careers advice and coaching, as well as providing workshops and careers events.
SAS students can access a 1-2-1 appointment with the SAS Careers Consultant, Liz Wilkinson. Liz has 30 years of HE careers experience in supporting masters and PhD students and graduates to achieve career success.
1-2-1 guidance will help you plan your next steps and give you support and advice to achieve your career goals, whatever they might be. All careers sessions are currently offered remotely via phone or MS Teams, depending on your preference. Advice and guidance is also available by email. To book a 1-2-1 appointment please email firstname.lastname@example.org
We offer both all student and targeted seminars with topics including ‘Writing a Successful PhD application’, ‘Hone Your Writing Skills for Job Applications & Funding Proposals’, ‘Moving On Your Career in Human Rights’. Seminars will be advertised via email to your SAS email in the preceding weeks.