Why Interdisciplinary Researchers will never be Unemployed
In our Zoom for Thought on March 16th, 2021, UCD Discovery Director Prof. Patricia Maguire spoke to Naoimh O’Connor, Research Careers Manager at University College Dublin, on the topic, “Why Interdisciplinary Researchers will Never be Unemployed.” In case you missed it, here are our Top Takeaway Thoughts.
Naoimh works with UCD postdoctoral researchers across all disciplines, helping them to transition to satisfying careers in academia or industry. Working closely with colleagues in HR and UCD Research she is responsible for designing and delivering services such as one-to-one coaching, training, workshops and networking events with a wide range of interested partners including alumni Postdocs, current academics, funding agencies, policy organisations, SMEs, start-ups and larger.
Postdocs often want her help in formulating a career plan. Sometimes they don’t know where to start; other times they feel stuck at a certain level. Naoimh likes to liaise with postdocs as early as possible, ideally meeting them at a Postdoc Career Orientation event within three months of their start date. “We introduce them to a lot of professionals around the university who work to support them in their job but also in their longer-term career. I think the earlier that people are aware of the pitfalls and the issues that can arise throughout the postdoc contract, the more prepared they are to be successful.”
Flexibility of Thinking
Postdoc researchers often enter an uncertain employment market. A common narrative suggests it is increasingly difficult to secure a permanent academic job. But “the reality is that if you have a PhD you are statistically one of the least likely people to end up unemployed”. The role you get may not be what you expected - and Naoimh can help you to pivot towards opportunities that best align with your unique skill set.
“A lot of the work that we are doing is looking at what are your transferable skills and what else have you got to bring to either an academic or a cross-sectoral role.”
The main difference between interdisciplinary researchers and single discipline researchers is “flexibility of thinking to work from a different paradigm”. Interdisciplinary researchers “bring a fresh approach” to a job application and are able to “align themselves to the work of the recruiter, and that's really exciting for a recruiter to see”.
CV or not CV
The last thing that you need to worry about as a researcher is getting your CV right. It is more important to reflect on what you actually would like to do with your life and then what is required for a role like that in order to articulate why you meet that need. “Once you know what you want to do, and you know how the role will bring you there, then everything gets much easier.”
Instead of profiling or defining yourself - or using general language such as ‘project management skills’ and ‘communication skills’ - you need to look at the specific job spec and demonstrate, with evidence, how your skills, experience and values align with that organisation and its needs. To give a clearer picture of paths available to you, Naoimh organises talks by Postdocs who have successfully moved on to work in different areas, such as policy or funding organisations, SMEs, start-ups or larger companies.
Researchers are now considering jobs that they wouldn't have before because of the convenient opportunity to work from home. “Part of the postdoc profile is maybe wanting to settle down or wanting to find a place to build your career and your life, and not having to take another temporary contract on the other side of the world. Having the opportunity to work from home means that researchers are now considering and being successful at securing roles across sectors, from home. I think that's a really interesting development.”
Horizon Europe funding appreciates interdisciplinary researchers but individual university departments have not “necessarily caught up to that yet”. It is very important for interdisciplinary researchers to “get really good mentorship on where to publish”. It is also important to make sure your area of research is recognised by the department you hope to work with. You need to think ahead, and strategically. Don’t simply decide to “do this interdisciplinary PhD and then see where it takes you”. Instead ask yourself what you would like your profile to look like at the other end of it. In applications and for interviews, instead of focusing too heavily on just how your research is cutting-edge, reflect on how it helps to solve an existing problem within a department or how it adds value to work already ongoing there.
If you have any questions for Naoimh, or would like more information about the full remit of support the Careers Network Team offers all UCD students and graduates right up to PhD level through to Postdoc staff, contact the Careers Network Team at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was brought to you by UCD Discovery - fuelling interdisciplinary collaborations.
Naoimh O'Connor is Research Careers Manager in UCD.
She is responsible for developing services that support the Postdoctoral researcher’s career development both inside and out of the Academy. This includes providing one-to-one career coaching, facilitating workshops on job seeking strategies and career-plans for funding applications as well as hosting academia-to-industry networking events with PhD employers and alumni Postdocs. She enjoys working with lots of different partner groups across and beyond the University to do her job and continue to develop herself personally and professionally.
Naoimh’s undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications are both in Psychology (UCD) and she has a HDip in Business and Executive Coaching from the Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. She also has a Masters of Philosophy in Creative Writing (TCD), is a certified MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) practitioner, a qualified kinesiologist (complementary wellness practitioner) and a Touch for Health™ kinesiology instructor.