A Letter to PhD Graduate: What Now and What Next?

Dear PhD Graduates,

First of all, let me congrats to everyone for your successfulness in fulfilling the PhD requirement of the university, from now on, and officially, I am pleased to call you Dr.

I believe none of you, awarded the Doctoral title through an easy journey. You may find that your supervisor has always emphasised on how important it is for you to publish and to perfect your CV throughout the PhD journey, by involving yourself in relevant projects and attending research training.

I will reveal the reasons behind these in the next few paragraphs.

The purpose for me to write this letter, beside to congrats to you, more likely, is to answer everyone question: What should I do next?

Even I have a general answer- to secure a job as soon as possible, but the answer itself raises another question – What should I do to get a job?

Compare to years ago; I found that PhD graduate nowadays is more challenging and struggling to obtain an academic post due to the market competitiveness. You are in the era of PhD boomers (if I can say so), therefore, how to excel among many PhD graduates and secure a relevant academic post remains as the immediate challenge for those who graduated recently.

Again, I don’t have a direct answer on how to obtain an academic post, but there are five things that you should do immediately after graduation, which I believe that they are helpful in assisting you to secure a job:

  1. Prepare a CV

Sit down, take a sip of coffee and a take a deep breath and look at your CV. If you don’t have any, prepare them immediately. Your CV should consist of the following:

  • Personal details
  • Academic qualification
  • Awards
  • Selected Experience (Both professional and at University)
  • International and national committee (if any)
  • Professional membership and association
  • Teaching experience (if any, said tutor)
  • Involvement in the Research Activities
  • Involvement in the Consultation Projects
  • Patent/Grant
  • Publication of Paper (Thesis, Book, Book Chapter, Expert or Technical Report, Journal (ISI), Journal (Scopus), Non-index Journal)
  • Proceeding
  • Seminar Workshop
  • Invited Speaker
  • Refereed Conference
  • Media and Press
  • Any specific highlighted training

You may soon find out how empty and how blank is your CV, unless previously, you have published papers in the good journal, involved in multiple research projects, received awards, and have appointed as tutor or teaching assistant or research assistant, throughout your study.

 

  1. Look at the CV and ask yourself: What is my uniqueness?

Your Uniqueness defines you, what would people recall when they read your name?

A researcher? Well, too general

An excellent researcher? Sound better, but still general

An excellent researcher in the real estate? Sound even better, but still common.

An excellent researcher in the real estate behavioural studies? Sound great and almost there.

What you need to know is that your uniqueness defined you and made you outstanding in comparing to other. Your publication and your involvement in the related research will help to shape your name.

This is the reason that I strongly against you to join name as a free rider in the conference and research paper unless the research is relevant to you. Notably, in a conference, the “I help you, and you help me” practice among the students by sharing their name in conference paper will not work. It is laughable to find a student name appear multiple times in different papers in the same conference (some simple paper have up to 6-9 names), in which each paper with different topics, in the long term- that will have an impact to your expertise, as recorded in the research gate, Scopus expertise and so forth, which you may not realize for now.

For that, count the paper that you are the first or corresponding author only, see how many you have. Your paper will say a lot about your niche area.

Highlight your uniqueness in the cover letter in applying for the job and if given the opportunity, do highlight your uniqueness to the interviewer too.

 

  1. Lecturer or Postdoc or full-time researcher in government and private institute

The perfect job is to be employed as a lecturer at a renowned university, as holding a PhD title is a ticket to teach. You have spent many years to learn to conduct research, to improve the writings skills, to perfect the presentation skills – for now, you ask for a job that you always perceive that you will passionate with, for a secure salary and a way to return the favours to the society.

However, be aware that the lecturer duties, besides research, it covers teaching, administration, consultancy, publication, networking, and community service, you may end up involved in multiple tasks, and have difficulty to focus what you like to do in the beginning.

Certainly, I am welcome everyone to become a lecturer, if you granted the opportunity and with a good CV. But if you are not impressed with the existing CV and looking forward to improving your CV within in foreseeable time, a postdoc is a good starting point.

A good postdoc period is about 1-2 years and should utilise the timeframe to the fullness in publishing paper. Giving the very short time, you must be very cautious to select the project that can finish with the short timeframe, meanwhile, applying for a permanent job in the process.

Working in research centre under the private and government agency (besides university) is another option, especially for those who do not have the intention to teach. Working in the research centre, you do not have to worry about the funding, which nowadays is always scarce. The only minor concern may due to that as most project in the research centre are funded according to the needs of the nation, you may have little control to do the research topic that you like.

 

  1. Apply as many as possible

If you have decided a position, then apply as many as possible, do not focus on only one. The route of success is through filling the application form (it sounds funny, but it is very true, I found some students do not like to fill up forms or did not pay attention when coming into the details).

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket; you learn this in investment class, that is relevant when you apply for a job as well. You would not know when the opportunity knocks unless you have tried all. Also, if you have received more than one offer, you can select the one that you prefer.

 

  1. Publish or perish

If the PhD is a ticket for you to get yourself employed, then publish journal paper will get you a fast lane ticket. Most university nowadays focuses on your publication record, in considering shall they employed you, notably for a young graduate, which usually lack of network and less likely to bring any grant to the university. The key criteria that the university can evaluate you are through the publication record.

Some PhD graduate has stop publishing on the date that they have completed the thesis, without aware that the publication is a life long process. Think about how to utilize your PhD research project fully, basically to squeeze more paper from it, usually, if the design of the thesis is correct in the beginning, each research objective should able to contribute one paper.

If you run out of published materials, speak to your supervisor, check if he or she can support you for an extended study for your previous topic, to boost up your publication.

In the end, you may argue, why some others who do not have publication, without industrial experience, lack of teaching experience, no consultation appointment, that they have been granted the opportunity to become a lecturer. Certainly, many reasons to explain these: luck, favouritism, networking, niche, but all of these are uncontrolled factors, which beyond your capabilities to control and change them, at least for now. In the end, you still follow and kowtow to the system. However, equipped with knowledge that you have today, you can help to make the system fairer in the future.

Dear Drs, the end of the PhD is the beginning of another journey; I am glad that you have climbed and arrived at the edge of the mountain. Now, the wind has arrived and is time to spread your wings to fly. Soar as high as possible, but remember, always keep your head down to earth.

Be excellent and be humble. For luck is a superpower, I wish you more than luck.

 

From your yesterday supervisor,

Choong Weng Wai

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