Changes Afoot On The Postgraduate Blog

We’re setting up a new “über-blog” for the Careers Service, incorporating our five most active blogs into one new blog site.

This means you will still be able to see all the Postgraduate posts together on one page, but you will also be able to access our international posts, graduate and undergraduate posts and media careers posts on the same site – particularly handy if you’re an international postgrad who’s already graduated and is interested in the media.

Blog posts by email – your views needed
One complication is that it’s going to be more difficult for us to send you just the postgraduate posts by email, for those who have subscribed this way, although it will be easy to send you all the blog posts, and you should be able to choose between daily or weekly updates.

Other Careers Service emails
If you’re a current University of Manchester postgrad, you will still get the monthly postgrad emails from the Careers Service where we tell you about what’s been on the blog along with all the other careers events coming up. (OK, some of your are rolling your eyes and muttering stuff about spam emails, but I know a lot of you read them, because I get a big boost to my blog views every time I send that e-mail out!)

Your views: For those of you who subscribe to postgrad blog posts by e-mail, do you still need the facility to see only the postgrad blog posts? If so, please reply to the email in which you received this post.

If sufficient numbers want just the postgrad posts, I’ll continue looking for a free/low-cost option for sending out “postgrad blog only” emails.

RSS and other feeds
Shouldn’t be any problems here, although the address will change when we move to the new site. You should be able to take a feed for a specific category of posts, so if you use a feedreader, you’ll still be able to subscribe to only the postgrad posts.

The future
Whatever happens with the look and additional content available on the blog, rest assured that there are no plans to make any changes to the type of posts I’ll be writing. It will still be the postgrad careers blog talking about postgrad careers stuff, just in a shiny new package with easy access to all our other blog posts.

A Tale of Two Coke Cans

Here’s a question for all you scientists, engineers and humanities polymaths with enquiring minds.We’ve found two cans of coke lurking at the back of a Careers Service cupboard, with “Best Before” dates of January 2006. They’re unopened, no evidence of leakage – but they’ve only got a bit of liquid left. Any ideas why?

(NB. There’s no tenuous careers link in this post – if that’s what you’re after, just move along to the next post.)

I asked this question on Twitter to both postgrads (from @ManPGCareers) and to my careers contacts (from @eawilkinson). Here’s what the postgrads said:

and here’s what one of my careers contacts added:

So, is it evaporation – and if so how? There’s no evidence of a broken seal, and although one can (the right hand one in the picture – we dented it to test it out) has lost pressure,  the lighter of the two is still pressurised.

Does this mean the water’s got out and left the carbon dioxide (CO2 being a larger molecule than H2O – clutching at straws here…)?

Come on all you researchers – answers, please!

And if you can come up with the answer to this one, have a go at the last summer experiment I did – Why does adding water cooler water to tea makes it go darker?

UPDATE: 28th June

Adolfo (see the comments) has come up with a good suggestion – leakage through a microhole. Even better, he suggested an experiment to test this out. So, this lunchtime, our Careers Service Experimental Officers gathered in the kitchen, to plunge the warmed up “empty” coke cans into a washing-up bowl of hot water to see if we could see any bubbles escaping. Here’s the evidence from the can which had lost pressure (only 5 seconds long):

Definitely lots of bubbles, and eventually we located the tiny hole. However, for the other can, which still seems to be pressurised, we couldn’t see or hear anything. Seems there’s still a mystery – unless you know better …?

Landing a Job Requires Good Luck or Hard Work?

Guess what? We’d love the answer to that one as well.

That’s one reason we’ve just launched a short survey to find out what our students have done before and during their current degree to improve their chances of moving into a great career.

There’s the usual prize draw for current University of Manchester students (undergraduates or postgraduates) to win one of four £50 Amazon vouchers if you respond by 18th May.

To complete the survey, click here.

We’ve also asked whether you’ve already been offered a job or a place on a further postgrad study course. This means that for those of you in your final year, we can see if there’s any correlation between doing stuff in the early years of a degree and later career success, or whether you can leave it all until the year before you graduate **.

I’d love to get a good response from postgraduates as well as undergraduates, to give me some real data to work with (ooh, lovely data – om nom nom) rather than relying on anecdote and instinct.

Expect the results to feature on this blog and in my postgrad careers talks in the future.

(** Yes I know it’s often more complicated than that. For example, many of our international PhDs have a job to go back to before they even join us in the first year. However, we can factor that in, and figure out if we need to do further surveys to tease out some of the nuances for particular groups.)

Queen In Three …

Here’s a Jubilee networking challenge for you, inspired by my other half announcing this weekend that he was three connections away from all the world’s leaders.

I was sceptical until he pointed out that through his voluntary work, he knew the Lord-Lieutenants for two counties. They represent the Queen in their county … and she’s got everyone on speed-dial.

It brought it home to me that it’s really not that hard to find some sort of connection with whoever you want, and that links with the high and mighty may come through social contacts as much as through senior work contacts. Of course, whether those long-range connections could actually put you in contact with the people you’d like to meet is another matter. (I suspect HRM may not be passing on Mandela’s mobile number to me any time soon.)

Even so, it suddenly felt quite impressive to realise that the Queen was one of my third level contacts

  • Me → 1st level: other half → 2nd: Lord-Lieutenant → 3rd: Queen

This also means that if you know me, you’re at least within four contacts, maybe fewer if you have any closer connections.

So, to make this international, how many contacts would it take to get to your chosen Head of State?

Rules are that your contact has to know you by name and would be able to pick you out of a police line-up! Can anyone else beat “Queen in three”?

Love ‘Em Or Loathe ‘Em – Which Employers’ Social Media Do You Rate ?

Image courtesy of

  • Are there any employers whose tweets make you smile, think – or even take action?
  • Do you always check out Facebook updates from a particular employer when they appear in your newsfeed?
  • Have you come across employers making really effective use of webinars, blogs, forums, online chats or other interactive media in your travels across t’Interweb?
  • … or do you have examples which make you cringe, or frustrate you with their clunky interfaces or stuff which gets in the way of you finding the information you want?


[Image is from the ever-reliable]

I Feel Your Pain …

Just thought I’d share some New Year careers adviser problems with you – if you’re not interested, just skip this. Have a look at some of the nice new vacancies on the Twitter feed instead.

New Year, New Challenge
I’m grappling with some challenging career issues at the moment, particularly around

  • how people choose which career to go into, and
  • why they are sometimes reluctant to let go of one “identity” and consider other possible “future selves”

In particular, I’m looking at PhDs who don’t want to think of themselves as being anything other than “an academic-in-waiting”, even when they know the stats.

I’m also pondering about all those undergrads who cling to the identity of “student” as long as possible and don’t apply for jobs before they graduate, even though that inevitably means their identity changes to “unemployed” (or sometimes “Masters postgrad”… don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone if that’s the reason why you’re doing your Masters – we all know it happens).

There are lots of careers theories, and I’ve had some good advice on starting points for journal articles on identity, career decision making and employability.

How to choose?
The problem is, I’m on unfamiliar territory with careers theory, and I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the choices in front of me; the unfamiliar jargon they use; the sometimes conflicting information. I’ve got loads of information and keep on finding more, but how can I tell which one is “the best”, and what do other people think are the good theories, and what if I choose the wrong one? That’s only the start though – once I find a theory I like, how do I actually use the information to solve the problem I’ve got?

And then I realised that whatever I choose to do, I’m getting an insight into what our students have to struggle with when trying to choose a career – all the careers information we fling at you; employer presentations which sound like so much corporate jargon; what your parents, friends, fellow students say are “the best jobs” (all different, of course); how on earth you get into those jobs from where you are now.

I’m feeling suitable chastened, and I think I’d recommend a crash course in trying to make use of careers theory for any careers person who’s getting exasperated at the lack of direction or action from their students.

Good luck to those of you making those difficult career decisions in 2012, and if it’s all getting a bit overwhelming, come and have a chat with a careers adviser. Some of us do know what it’s like to be lost in a sea of information with a difficult decision to make.


On a philosophical note, having seen the return of recruitment to the banking sector, it’s been interesting to note a change of emphasis in some quarters. Seems to be less focus on the size of the bonus you get (though some students do still seem to be fixated on this) and more questioning of the role the banks and their regulators could or should play.

The BBC programme, “When Bankers Were Good” was a reminder that old school banking was about more than personal gain, with some arguing that those with ethical concerns about the financial system are exactly the kind of people who should go into banking (“Banking can be an ethical career choice” from the BBC News website – and if you missed their original programme, you might try here – though not sure how long that link will work 🙂 )

With this in mind, one of my favourite quotes which I kept coming back to this year is a poem by Kurt Vonnegut, written as an obituary to his friend, Joseph Heller. (I’ll give you the gist as I can’t quote for copyright reasons, but you can find the full text, legitimately reproduced, here.)

It tells of them attending a party at the home of a wealthy banker. When Vonnegut asked Heller if it bothered him that their host probably earned more in a day than Heller earned for writing his classic novel, “Catch 22”, Heller replied that he had something their host could never have: “Enough”.

Having “enough” seems to be one of the key factors in whether you are content with your career. There’s a very interesting, if lengthy, blog post from journalist, David McRaney, which explores the psychology behind the subtle relationship between reward (financial or otherwise) and loving what you do. I’d recommend reading it if you’re interested in figuring out what will make you happy in your career: The Overjustification Effect.

… and with that thought (and my 500th post on this blog – hooray!), I’m off to stuff my face with mince pies and the finest wines available to humanity. See you after the January sales …!

And The Winner Is … The University of Manchester

Absolutely delighted to report that this year’s “Times Higher Award for Outstanding Support for Early Career Researchers” went to our website, An Academic Career.

A big thank you to all the students and researchers who have asked me about academic careers over the years – this website was inspired by you, and written for all the future aspiring academics.

Any regular readers will know all about “An Academic Career” (don’t worry, I’ll stop going on about it soon!). For anyone else who hasn’t seen it yet, the website is aimed at anyone who is thinking about becoming an academic, whether they’re a University of Manchester student or from anywhere else – all users welcome.

To quote the judge for the award, Dr Janet Metcalfe, chair and head of Vitae, the website:

“reaches the parts of an academic career that others fear to tread. It suggests that existing researchers take a hard-headed look at their career potential and ask ‘Have you got what it takes?’ It is not about being very good, but about being better than all the other very good people trying to succeed in academia – on a global scale.”

That does make it sound rather scary, but we have included lots of encouraging actions you could take, to give yourself the best chance of being one of those who make it to Professor – because someone’s going to do it … why not you?

Glitz at the Grosvenor House Hotel
The awards ceremony itself was suitably star-studded – the very witty Rob Brydon was on-form hosting the event, and Edge Hill got our award for “the table most heads swivelled to look at” with their guests Jennifer Saunders, Stuart Maconie and Baroness Shirley Williams.

We might have had a less well-known bunch of guests on our table, but we had the best time. In particular, it was lovely to welcome back Yvonne Hung, one of our former PhDs who came to me for careers advice when she was a student. She’s now in business development for IBM and leads on Manchester campus careers links – you can read about her career in a previous blog post, From Fruit Flies to IBM.

 Other than the team who brought you “An Academic Career” (that’s me, Holly Seager & Tammy Goldfeld) the most excited person on the night was Ed Butcher, our guest from Teach First: he got his picture taken with Keith Chegwin who ran the after-dinner disco (yes, the Keith Chegwin – I’m guessing he’s a big favourite with academics who must remember him from their childhood?). The evidence of “when Ed met Keith” is on the Times Higher Education website.

I’ll add more photos to the slideshow below as they come in, but here’s what we’ve got so far:

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Thanks to Charles Fox, official photographer on the night for the pictures of our presentation and all the winners.

Now, normal postgrad careers service can be resumed.

New Look For The Blog?

I’ve been hankering after a new look for this blog for some time. Every so often, I try out the new themes which come out of WordPress – and I think I’ve finally found one I like.

If you read this blog through a feed, this post won’t mean anything to you (and even if you visit the site directly, you probably could care less what it looks like…) but I have to look at it everyday, so here’s my proposed new look:

If you click on the image, it takes you to a test site of old posts which I use when I want to play around with new features or themes.

The things I like about the new theme are:

  • It’s still a nice clear (sans serif) font – well, it matters to me!
  • Better presentation of the twitter feed – the tweets don’t all blur together.
  • You can cycle through the images at the top, which link to a selection of older posts which are still relevant – makes it easier to give you a choice of topics to read, depending on your interests.
  • It looks different – frankly, four years wearing the same old frock gets a bit boring!

Feel free to have a play with the test site – just remember, it’s only a mock-up using old content and I haven’t replicated all the sidebars etc. However, if you’ve got any comments, either leave them here or on the test site. If there are no big objections, expect a new look soon.

Postgrads’ Views Count!

Have you heard about the University of Manchester Student Barometer Survey? You know, the one you’ve probably been e-mailed about, telling you that if you fill it in, you can “enhance the teaching you receive, identify where better facilities are needed, better prepare you for your future career” and so on…

And you’ve thought, yet another survey – I’m all surveyed out.

Well this one’s serious.

Look, it’s got Nancy Rothwell’s face beaming out from it,

and Letty Newton, General Secretary of the Students’ Union – and they don’t put their names to any old thing.

(plus there’s Amazon vouchers up for grabs…)

If you want postgraduates to have their voice heard and have their say in how this university treats all of its students, think about

  • whether you could do with better facilities for your research (a phone – or a desk, anyone?)
  • how you felt when you arrived here from somewhere else in the world, late at night, in the rain – could we have done more to make you feel at home?
  • what you need to make your career dreams come true – you’ve got the Careers Service postgrad careers blog, twitter, website, slidecasts and all our events & services – but what else do you need from us, your School, or the university as a whole?

If you don’t have your say, the concern I have is that the university will be driven by the undergraduate agenda – and you don’t want that, do you?

So go on, press the big red button to fill in the survey now