Melissa Dalgleish, PhD, OCT, is the Program Coordinator for the Research Training Centre at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada. While pursuing her doctoral work, Melissa took a unique and courageous path that led her to explore her skills assisting trainees with career development. An advocate and a writer, Melissa shared her insights with TDC chair, Monika Schmidt on pursuing non-traditional career paths after (or during) graduate studies.
Melissa advises trainees to get involved in organizing professional development programs. At her Research Institute [SickKids], the Trainee Career Development Program is almost entirely run by and for students and fellows, while she takes an advisory role. Melissa elaborated that, “trainees are increasingly working to create for themselves the professional and career development opportunities they want to see offered, and doing that work is a great way to build toward running larger programs like I do.”
Given that a large part of graduate training is winning funding, Melissa also does “a lot of research funding administration (running scholarship and fellowship competitions, helping people apply for funding from the government, agencies, or foundations)”. Thus, for those moving into a trainee advisory role or research funding administration position after their degree, be sure to seek opportunities navigating the funding scene.
In a nutshell:
Find opportunities to help coordinate and run graduate professional development activities at your Research Institute.
Write scholarship and fellowship applications, help your PI write grants, and teach junior students how to navigate the funding landscape.
Melissa made a smooth transition from an academic career in the humanities to her current position as a Program Coordinator in trainee education – no small feat to accomplish. How did she do it? Read on!
Melissa:“My PhD is in the humanities, and we typically get our graduate funding from teaching. Partway through my degree, the faculty of graduate studies at my university decided to hire a PhD student to write a white paper about graduate professional development that would launch the creation of a university-wide program. I was already interested in professional and career development issues, and so I applied for the position and spent a year researching instead of teaching. At the end of that academic year, the faculty had a full-time position come open doing similar work, and I got it. I finished my PhD part-time while working for the university doing research funding administration and launching the graduate professional development program. I now do the same work at the SickKids Research Institute.”
Melissa:“Don't assume that you're going to become a professor or a PI… Work to find ways to fit career exploration and skill building into your graduate studies. It's easy to get emotionally invested in the idea of becoming a full-time academic researcher, and that can have negative impacts on your decision-making…and your ability to transition smoothly into a post-PhD career that you find fulfilling.”
DON’T take a postdoc as a way to give yourself more time to explore other careers (puts you behind financially and you lose practical experience time).
DO make time to explore other careers and develop new skills that will be useful in a research or in a non-academic career. This will broaden your horizons to make life and career building post-PhD less stressful.