Emily Quigley is a fourth-year PhD student in Medieval History at the University of Nottingham. She will complete her thesis on eighth-century English ecclesiastical literature in early 2023.
Alongside her research, she has been working part-time with the team at Research Consulting through the university’s Productivity in Innovation scheme. Here, she explores the benefits of combining a doctoral degree with a paid work placement and how this has developed her research skills.
It’s unusual for PhD students to take up a work placement in their final year, supervisors rarely recommend this as an option whilst writing a thesis! Fortunately, I found myself in a solid position and had made enough progress toward writing up my final submission to be able to commit to a part time role in parallel to my own academic research.
I joined the team in May 2022 and the timing was right for both of us. Research Consulting had started to see an increase in requests for their services and some exciting new projects emerging after the pandemic. Whilst they already had an established and experienced team in place, they were looking for additional research and analytical capacity to meet the needs of their clients more flexibly and release specialist resource for complex tasks.
Whilst my PhD is funded there’s little room for manoeuvre once you’ve covered general living and accommodation costs. Many PhD students look for opportunities to top up their financial income, but these are often weekend or evening jobs unrelated to research or future career aspirations.
The university routinely advertises postgraduate placements internally, but so many require a background in STEM subjects rather than Humanities. Research Consulting were advertising something refreshingly different to lab work or IT placements. It’s worth exploring opportunities even if you are not sure that you meet all the criteria; sometimes a good fit within the team and a complementary skill set can open a door.
The qualitative research for my PhD has predominantly involved analysing historical texts and archive accounts. Focus groups aren’t so useful in the study of Medieval History as the people you would really like to speak to are no longer available! I have however been able to use the same research expertise to draw insights from the transcripts of focus groups and undertake thematic reviews, examining multiple information sources and filtering out the nuggets that add richness to our outputs.
I work 15 hours a week and over the two days I can be pulled into four or five tasks across any number of different projects. With the more scientific or technical briefs I make sure that I have thoroughly understood the proposal and have done plenty of background reading to grasp the wider context.
I’ve been pleasantly challenged in expanding my quantitative research and analytical skills and have also learned new methods of coding and categorising qualitative data using NVivo software. The team at Research Consulting have been very supportive, they are always willing to take the time to talk you through something or explain a new technique.
It’s been fascinating to see the HE sector from a completely different angle – obviously I’m used to an academic environment but editing interview transcriptions has provided a real insight into the hidden context that impacts on the research culture of different institutions.
I’ll have completed my thesis by March and will be looking for a Post-Doctoral Fellowship, ideally in London or here in Nottingham. However, there is significant competition for academic posts so I’m also open to other opportunities. I wasn’t necessarily aware that research and academic consultancy services existed before I applied for this role; it has really opened my eyes to alternative post-doctoral careers outside academia.