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Journey to an Analyst Position at the End of a PhD

·1040 words·5 mins
personal career
Martin Čadek
Author
Martin Čadek
Research | Healthcare | Data Science | R | Python
Table of Contents

What You Will Read…
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…is not another blog post about R; instead, I decided to share my personal journey of finding an analyst position during the COVID-19 period. It’s not intended to be a guide, tutorial, or how-to on securing a position. I’m merely going to provide some background about the situation I was in and a few points I think can apply in general that definitely helped me.

The Beginning
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It was the end of February 2020 when I decided to commit to seeking a position after a Ph.D. My Ph.D. funding was nearing the end, and I knew that in the upcoming months, I would need to secure myself financially. At that time, I was still relatively optimistic about everything and felt I could take my time. I was also confident that I could get a role in a side project as a research assistant at my university or through my network. The idea was that I would carry such a role until the end of my Ph.D., and it would be enough to secure myself.

However, my long-term ambition “beyond” my Ph.D. was to secure myself an analyst position (call it data science, call it statistician, call it whatever you want). So, I played around with my CV, created a LaTeX version of it, and sent my application to a Junior Data Scientist position in Leeds to test it. Nearing the end of February, I was invited to an informal interview.

At the interview, I was relatively easygoing at the time and honestly told the recruiter that I am looking to start a position maybe in June/July and “ideally” in London. This naturally led to them being unable to process my application further; we had a nice chit-chat, I got an invitation for coffee (as they told me multiple times they are keen to find out some role for me), and then never heard from them again. That wasn’t as surprising because things started to take a sudden turn in March 2020 (Yes, hello there COVID-19), and I realized that from a position where I can be relatively easygoing about looking for a job, I am suddenly facing an uphill battle to find a job during the nationwide crisis.

In a scope of a few weeks, no one knew what is going to happen; the research assistant positions at the university suddenly disappeared as many projects came to a halt (not everything can be carried out online). The academic sector slowed down, and most universities went into a hiring moratorium until further notice. I realized that things were getting a little out of hand. I found myself at the worst time to start applying for roles. Certainly, I wasn’t alone.

I had to plan out what to do. Working on a Ph.D. is a privilege. You realise this when your funding ends, and you start to slowly run out of funds, but you need to pay rent, buy food, and that’s just the beginning for some. My personal experience is that as an international Ph.D. student, you have a much looser net to fall into when things are like this. I could list many things I was thinking of doing, but in my case, I knew I had some budget, I had some time, and so I decided to do two things - 1) carry on with the Ph.D. as much as I could, and 2) start finding a job on a “full-time” basis (rather than just testing the waters). This post is about point number two and discusses several key experiences relevant to this journey.

Never Forget Your Towel
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“A towel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”

What was my towel? Social networks. Specifically, Twitter (nowadays it is called ‘X’ and I am no longer there…) and LinkedIn. However, these are simply platforms. What those platforms enabled me to do was to discuss the struggle with either people who knew how to apply for jobs outside academia or who were already in similar job positions and were willing to give me some advice. I could not do that without having at least some of them in my Twitter network; however, if I stumbled upon someone interesting on LinkedIn, I sent them a polite request (expecting they may decline) if they would be willing to share a few opinions about how to apply for this or that position. Few even went beyond that and scheduled a brief call with me.

Don’t Panic
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One of the realizations I had was that I was failing a lot. So, what is failure? Failure to me was when I did not get the job position I applied for. Ultimately, the only way I found myself able to cope with that was to redefine what failure was. I started thinking of the application process as a little journey or experience. As part of this journey, I wanted to learn about the position, people working in the company, and learn a thing or two. Maybe I did not get the post, but I always got a little better at doing something, expressing my aims, or seeing what was important. It was also crucial that I started realizing my rights in the process. For example, I always asked for feedback, tried to connect with the people, or at least made some notes about what went well and what did not. However, I was trying to be genuine. If someone took weeks to give me feedback or reply to a simple email, I thought that they don’t deserve my time.

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything
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It is 42. Well, maybe. The truth is that you are not on your own. Whatever you do, chances are someone already was there before you. That was also the case for me. To conclude this post, I will share a few resources that helped me on the journey. They are references to other blog posts, articles, guides, and such.