I wish my podcasts page looked like this… Beyond the PhD

9 Jul

Beyond the PhD screenshotI have been an admirer of the Beyond the PhD site for a little while, and I nearly wrote this post once before. What I had hoped was that I would have  a podcasts page of my own to show off with at least some images and a Flash player, but time and our CMS has conspired against me so far. However yesterday at the AGCAS Technology in Careers Work conference, Beyond the PhD was once again brought to mind as Dr Julia Horn gave us a short presentation on the site.

What is Beyond the PhD?

  • Who is it for? Beyond the PhD is aimed at Arts and Humanities postgraduate students who are considering their options post-PhD. While the majority go into academia (60-80% was quoted), Beyond the PhD captures the stories of those who didn’t, as well as personal reflections on life as a PhD student.
  • Who made it? A team from the Centre for Career Management Skills (CCMS) a HEFCE funded Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Reading.
  • Who is on it? The team interviewed postdocs from a range of backgrounds and ages, aiming to build a bank of real experience. As Julia stated today, they capture the downs as well as the ups to give a true picture.

Beyond the PhD: a profile pageThe podcasts really are engaging to listen to. The clips can be streamed from the site, downloaded or subscribed to as the user chooses, and are accompanied by a transcript for accessibility. They can be dipped into, topic-by-topic, in bitesize chunks. Alternatively, you can trace them back to one individual and follow their story. Their career path is represented visually through a linear arrow giving the standard list of jobs and progressions, accompanied by a winding river representing the turning points, the hidden story where babies, moving house and personal changes impacted on career decisions.

How did they do it?

  • Great news, all the podcasts were recorded using a straightforward, easy-to-use, mid-range Dictaphone (value estimated ~£100). Julia noted that the small size of the Dictaphone made it unobtrusive, interviewees would relax and forget it was there. I certainly agree with this view – I have both a Dictaphone and a larger USB mic to use with a laptop. While the big mic can get slightly better quality recording, the Dictaphone sound is perfectly good and people do seem much more comfortable with it.
  • A recent PhD graduate was hired(?) to do the interviews, so she could draw on her own experiences. It proved to be good personal development for her too, and she gained technical skills.
  • Interviews were kept anonymous (and captured audio-only), to encourage complete honesty. I hadn’t thought of this approach before and I think it is great. While my focus on interviewing employers so far has been to identify them, promote to students the companies we are working with and give context, it has meant that my interviewees are very aware that they are representing their company. While some have been confident to go ahead, it can put some off from participating at all, at the very least they want to review it (which can slow turnaround, but is perfectly understandable). The podcasts tend to be positive and stick to the party-line. By going anonymous (and changing names), Beyond the Phd have been able to capture the full story, the doubts, the criticisms, as well as the successes, without ruining people’s careers.

So at the end of the session, Julia was asked about the future of the site, the updating. She said yes, she could confidently say it will be here for a couple of years, but where they would be in six she didn’t know. I really hope they can keep it up, I love it!

I now have renewed enthusiasm to develop my podcasts page again, get the Flash streaming players going. When I do I will put the how-to up here on the blog.


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