PhD: the Research & Distractions!

As I approach the end of my time as a PhD student I’ve started looking for the next career move and update my extremely outdated CV. As I reflect on what I have done over the past three years, I’ve noticed that they roughly break down into three over-arching categories Professional Development, Research and possibly too many Distractions.

Professional Development is becoming an integral part of PhD training through the introduction of structured research programmes across Europe, with the aim of candidates developing a set of transferable skills applicable in both academia and industry. Teaching undergraduate students and presenting to peers both within and outside the statistics community has improved the quality of my delivery and explanation of advanced research topics. Taking courses outside my research area has given me a broader understanding of statistics and of the application areas in which my research has been applied. While becoming actively involved with the professional statistics community through the Royal Statistical Society has exposed me to a network of like-minded people and given me an understanding of the importance of statistics across all disciplines and industries.

Research is the key component of obtaining a PhD. On completion I’ll be one of the experts in the extremely minuscule area of the statistics landscape that I’ve been focused on for the last 3 years. Having developed statistical methodology to an applied research problem, I’ve gained statistical know-how and the ability to relate statistical models to real-life problems. The research has given me experience of presenting at international conferences, an acquaintance with the peer-review process through journal publications and exposure to collaboration in teams of statistics and non-statisticians.

Combining the skills obtained through Professional Development and Research activities makes me highly employable, but with the current trend on numbers of those achieving PhD’s, the pool of highly employable people just like me is getting larger. The more I think about this the more I wonder was the PhD really worth it all? 😩

However, all is not lost and the question I should be asking myself is what makes me different to everyone else? 🤔 Well that’s where all my Distractions come to the fore!

Throughout my PhD I’ve probably spent more time on Distractions than I have on my PhD research. From other research projects, to solving industry problems, to outreach activities aimed at encouraging teenagers to consider a career in mathematics and statistics. I’ve worked and published with sport scientists on the effects of rule changes in the governance of false starts in elite athletics, which was and still is largely a personal interest project. I’ve attended two European Study Groups with Industry (ESGI) and been part of a MACSI team who have offered one-day study groups to individual companies. As a result of one of the ESGIs I consulted for an Irish start-up in the insurance fraud space for 6 months, taking the company from concept to an automated algorithmic solution capable of identifying fraudulent claims. As part of the MACSI group I’ve often presented to teenagers on my work and have helped an activity for the Hands-On Statistics programme of the Royal Statistical Society.

Many people told me when I started out that my focus should be the research project I have been funded to complete. However, at conferences, industry workshops, or networking events I find myself talking about all the distractions instead. I won DatSci Student of the Year in 2016 for my sports science research and have been nominated for the KTI Consultancy Impact Award 2018 for the industry collaboration. The distractions have also helped to keep me sane, getting away from a 3-5 year research project if even for a day a week is worthwhile.

Distractions can of course have a negative impact on research outputs, but if managed correctly ultimately make you stand out from the crowd. My distractions are what fills most of the job applications I am currently filling up, so

get involved, get distracted and make yourself stand out! 😄
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