Kyla Reid earned her PhD in philosophy from the University of Sydney. She’s currently a research facilitator in the Faculty of Public Affairs at Carleton University. Follow her @kylareid.
What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your PhD?
To be completely honest, I wanted a job, of any kind. In my final year of my PhD I was lucky to be asked to be the instructor for a second year philosophy of law course and while I think I was a pretty good lecturer, I found I wasn’t fulfilled by teaching in the way I thought I would be. I loved small-group teaching and facilitating discussion between students, but the lecture format was very alienating for me. So while I wasn’t thrilled with teaching, I really had little idea about what else I could do with my skill set. So despite my ambivalence, in my final year of study, I applied for over sixty tenure-track, post-doctoral fellowships and short-term contractor positions. My very lovely dissertation supervisor wrote me countless many letters. I did get offered a couple of short-term, albeit full-time positions to cover for sabbaticals but the teaching duties were insane and all over the map. So I began to investigate other options and I knew loved working at a university, but didn’t really want to teach or do my own research and I knew I wanted to return to Canada, so I started investigating what in Canada we call “support staff” or “professional services” positions at universities.
What was your first post-PhD job?
I was hired as a “Social Sciences and Humanities Research Facilitator” at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, ON, pretty much right out of my PhD. It was a job that I didn’t know existed until I had applied for it. At Lakehead I assisted faculty members right across the social sciences and humanities conceptualize their research projects within the “grant application” form and then I worked with them, in a somewhat editorial capacity, to improve those applications.
What do you do now?
I am still a research facilitator, except I’ve moved from Lakehead to Carleton University in Ottawa. The duties are very much the same but I work exclusively with faculty members in the Faculty of Public Affairs, which including disciplines such as political science, economics, international affairs, social work and many more.
What kind of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?
I meet with faculty to discuss their research ideas and possible funding opportunities. I plan and deliver workshops on general grant writing skills as well as particular funding opportunities. I use a number of databases to research and evaluate funding opportunities from across the world. I liaise with the central Research Office here at Carleton to coordinate submission and mitigate any liability to the university as part of funding applications. I review grant applications and provide substantive and administrative review. Finally, under the direction of the senior research administration, I implement strategies to improve research impact here at Carleton. If you’ve followed me on Twitter you probably are aware that I have a relevant but tangential interest in “knowledge mobilization,” which is a fancy word for research that either co-creates knowledge with non-academic partners or the dissemination of existing research to non-academic individuals and organizations in forms that are accessible and interesting to them.
What most surprises you about your job?
The close professional relationships I develop with faculty members and other university staff. Carleton really is a great place to work as there is a good cohort of younger energized support staff. In my position, I kind of cross the faculty-staff divide and I’ve been lucky enough to develop good working relationships right across the university. Also, given the increasing tendency to work from home, I think, at least anecdotally, the academic life has become a lot more solitary. So I am sometimes surprised that faculty members will come and bounce ideas off of me at quite an early stage. I am honoured to be involved in their own idea development.
What are your favourite parts of your job?
I am still involved with the research enterprise in an intimate way. When I was in my PhD, I was always more interested in others’ research than my own. I still get to immerse myself in other scholars’ exciting work. Additionally, because of the nature of my job, the projects and people I am working with are always changing so there is a tremendous amount of variety.
What would you change about it if you could?
Like all jobs, there’s administrative tasks such as data entry, filing, and a LOT of email. I think everyone, including the faculty members who I work with closely, would like to spend less time on these sorts of administrative tasks but, I doubt there’s any escape. Additionally, the work is very cyclical, which is good because there’s a lot of variety throughout the year. That said, between late August and mid December, the workload is overwhelming – there’s enough work for two of us during that time.
What’s next for you, career-wise?
I love what I am doing and I think I am a convert to the administrative side of the university. I’m looking forward to continuing to grow as a research administrator and I look forward to any opportunities I may have to gain new skills. I’d also love to do some leadership and/or project management training at some point.
What advice or thoughts do you have for post-PhDs in transition now?
Don’t make assumptions about what “administrative” jobs are like–us administrators get to do a lot of really interesting work. There just may be an administrative job out there for you. But most importantly, do not discount the skills you have gained through your PhD. Do remember that often the best people to turn to for advice on applying your skills to non-academic work is not necessarily your fellow PhDs or other faculty members, as they don’t always have the best sense of the non-academic job market. For example, in my particular kind of work, my PhD definitely makes me better at my job and it also makes it easier to gain credibly with faculty members when I am supporting them on their grant proposals. You need to figure out a way to translate your skills into examples of experience employers are seeking. I was lucky to fall into my job but if I were to do it again, I would probably seek out some CV advice from my university’s career centre or friends in non-academic jobs to help me re-formulate my CV into a more traditional skill-based resume.