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1st February, 2023

Transitioning Beyond Academia

Dr Gemma Outen

A career beyond academia is an increasingly common proposition. In 2020, The Higher Education Policy Institute found that although the majority of doctoral students wanted to stay in academia, only 30% remained in academia three years after completing their PhD. For several years, the number of people leaving the sector has increased with precarity, work-life balance and the political / funding climate of UK HE all given as reasons for leaving academia. The huge amount of quit-lit published in recent years only supports this notion. 

However, even when the decision to leave academia has been made, it can be difficult to access support and advice and know exactly what to do and how to do it. Therefore, in a recent TCCE lunchtime skills session, Dr Naomi Tyrrell and myself, both of whom have left academia, shared our experiences providing attendees with advice on mindset, networking, social media presence, and selling your skills. 


Both Naomi and myself spoke about the issue of framing your mindset and moving past any potential grief over leaving academia and moving swiftly to a positive perspective. In doing so, you’ll be better placed to sell your skills and experiences, as these are most certainly valued across other sectors. In fact, in other sectors, your experience will stand out from others, potentially giving you a solid starting point for your career development. If you leave academia, it is perhaps tempting to view your PhD in a negative light due to the time taken to complete and no longer working in the sector where it seems most relevant, but in fact, the opposite is true and undertaking such a substantial project can stand you in good stead for dealing with the challenges a different sector can throw your way. 


Using your existing networks and also developing new ones is key to a successful transition beyond academia. Joining alt-ac or non-ac groups on social media, reaching out and speaking to people who’ve made the move already is incredibly important. Crucially, understand that whilst careers advice provided by colleagues still working in academia can be useful, they have not trodden the path you are on. You can of course stay connected within academia and with friends and colleagues working within the sector, and this may also be a selling point in your new career path as you remain plugged into research networks and projects. 

Social media presence 

Having a social media presence is crucial. Be strategic about which platforms you use; think about where your target audience is located and how they’re using social media and adjust your offering accordingly. Be active on social media; it’s not enough to just post material, instead engage with others’ content and be present with a social media strategy. In using social media, you make yourself and your situation visible, and are able to more easily plug into those networks beyond academia.

Selling your skills 

Finally, sell yourself! Undertake an audit of your skills and achievements and keep an up to date record of these. This will help you in crafting your CV (whether that be chronological or competency based) and in turn to tailor applications to specific jobs. Finally, ensure that you present your transferable skills in language which is relevant to the sector you wish to move into. Academic language can be opaque and difficult to understand so ensure you talk about yourself and your skills in clear, easy to understand language. 

This blog provides a snapshot of the ‘Transitioning beyond Academia’ lunchtime skills session, which offered support and advice for those seeking to explore a portfolio career beyond academia. It was led by Dr Naomi Tyrrell and Dr Gemma Outen and you can listen to it in full here

Speaker Biographies 

Dr Naomi Tyrrell is Managing Director of Research Your Way Ltd and a Career & Impact Coach for researchers. Having spent two decades moving up the academic ranks and gaining permanency, Naomi realised she wanted to use her skills and knowledge in ways which are more aligned with her values. She left academia and now provides research, evaluation, impact assessment, knowledge exchange and training services to charities, social purpose organisations and universities. She also fulfilled her dream of publishing a best-selling children’s book, which draws upon both her passion for impact and her extensive research of child migration. She runs Alt Ac Careers UK, a Facebook Group to support people exploring their alt-ac options.

Dr Gemma Outen is Programme Manager for The Culture Capital Exchange, an organisation promoting knowledge exchange and partnership working between Higher Education and the arts and cultural industries. After spending 11 years in UK HE, with experience across several HEIs, she left academia in summer 2020. Since then, she has worked as a freelance researcher, writer, and project manager. 

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