Tuesday, 3 September 2019

A PhD as a career path: expect the unexpected (Jade Sleeman)

Photo by Stephen Leonardi | unsplash.com

As I near the end of my PhD studies, I’ve been reflecting on where this journey has led me, and have realised that even though my career goals were not exactly strictly laid out at the start, I am still surprised by how it has helped me end up where I am today.

Now that may be surprising to those of you who know exactly where you want your higher education studies to take you. But for me, I have never really had a clear idea of exactly where I wanted to go, I just knew I wanted to go somewhere.


I started my PhD in what feels like another lifetime ago, but is actually only coming up to five years. I had just finished my Master degree, was working as an academic English language teacher and juggling some sessional lecturer work in a Master of Teaching program, when my previous supervisor suggested that I do a PhD.

Along with the commitments I already had, in addition to caring for 2 kids and 4 chickens, I thought “Sure, why not give it a go!”.

At times, I regretted that decision when the dishes were piling up, and I had to contend with my own kids’ homework in addition to what they called my “big homework”. But I stayed the course because I was sure that all my big homework was leading to something, even though it wasn’t really clear for me what the something was.

It may seem strange that someone studying a Doctor of Philosophy in the field of Education didn’t know what they would use their qualification for (you may be shrieking as you read this, “good gracious woman, you shall be an academic!”). But as I juggled the commitments of an early career academic, I suspected that it was perhaps not really a career that would allow enough of me to stretch across all the commitments in my life while still leaving me some sanity.

As mountains of marking of other people’s academic work started to pile up, while I stared at the beckoning of my own academic work and my anxiety grew, I realised that perhaps there were other ‘somethings’ I could investigate as career options.

So I started looking at what other careers in the field of Education were out there, preferably where I wouldn’t have to spend evenings marking essays. And lo and behold, I found exactly that - a professional, rather than an academic, role at a university. In fact, it was a role which I would never even have known existed, if I hadn’t looked, and probably wouldn’t have got if it were not for the research I had worked on in my PhD.

Cutting a long story short, I got the role of a Transition Advisor because I was able to demonstrate my knowledge of the research on student transition to university, which was the basis of my PhD project. I also believe that it didn’t hurt that I was able to list on my resume a journal publication of my literature review!

This is a job that I love, which I can balance with the other important parts of my life, and that I would never have expected to find.

And as for my PhD, I am very close to finishing now and even have a submission date in sight!

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Jade Sleeman is a PhD candidate in the School of Education, La Trobe University, looking at the use of social media in transition experiences of international students in higher education.

She is also now the Transition Advisor in the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce.

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