Interview series ‘life after the PhD’: Marion Greziller

by | Oct 25, 2022 | Interview, Short form | 0 comments

Author: Charlotte Weatherill

This interview is the first in a series that Political Perspectives are running on the subject of life after the PhD. This conversation is between University of Manchester’s Charlotte Weatherill and Marion Greziller and focuses on Marion’s recent submission, and her thoughts on entering the job market.

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself and explain where you are in your (post) PhD journey?
I’m Marion, I submitted my PhD thesis at the end of August 2022 and I am expecting to have my viva within the autumn term. My PhD looks at the role of Gender Advisors and Gender Focal Points as key actors for implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security agenda and argues, in a nutshell, that taking their day-to-day practices seriously complicates what we know about the dynamics of the WPS agenda, its successes and its failures. I’m currently working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant while I tie up the last bits of work related to the PhD, but I am ultimately looking for opportunities outside of academia.

What approach have you taken to the job hunt: when did you start, and where are you looking?
I’ve certainly taken a ‘one thing at a time’ approach to the past few months! I realised I really needed to get the thesis out of the way for me to be able to even think clearly about what was next. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and dealing with that uncertainty alongside the thesis was just too much. So, in the six months or so before I ended up submitting, I chose to aggressively protect my writing time: no teaching, no side projects, no job hunting, and no concern about publications. It was definitely a drastic choice because I knew I’d lose out on the academic job market for this year and would have to make do with at least a few months of job precarity and financial uncertainty after submitting the thesis, so I understand that may not be an option for everyone. But had I not made this choice, I am convinced I would still be writing the thesis and still be none the wiser about what to do now.

Going back to the job hunt, that meant that I only started applying for jobs after submitting my thesis. I’ve now decided that the academic career track is not for me, and I am not particularly interested in the practical work that is directly related to my PhD. So, I’ve been exploring what is out there by talking to a lot of people who have done the transition to non-academic careers post PhDs and basically applying to any job that sounds interesting. I have learned a lot in the process, like how to frame PhD skills in ways that appeal to recruiters beyond academia, how to perform well in competency-based interviews, or just how much possibility there is for a PhD graduate outside of the postdoc/lectureship route. It’s definitely quite an overwhelming process, especially because there are so many directions you could go to with non-academic careers.

I’ve spoken to people with a PhD in Politics that have gone on to HE administration roles, business consulting, investment banking, civil service, non-profit, you name it. It’s really easy to get lost in the amount of possibility, especially because I don’t really know what I would enjoy doing, what I’m qualified for, or even where to look for opportunities. So for example, I spent all my education thinking I would want to go work for international organisations like the EU and the UN, so I learned lots about where to find those jobs, I know the job boards that exist and roughly what to expect. Now that I’m not looking at that field, I don’t know where to look! I’ve used LinkedIn a lot, to try and figure out what sort of job titles would interest me and I try to do lots of research about companies or fields I’d be interested in. Right now, I’ve applied for roles mostly in the third sector or HE administration to do with widening participation, because I did some work around that during my PhD and enjoyed it. But I am not excluding anything: if it sounds interesting, I’ll give it a go. It’s time consuming, it takes a lot of self-reflection, and it is really stressful to not know where I am going, I won’t lie. That being said, I try to remind myself that whatever job I end up getting does not have to be my forever job or career, it’s just my first job. That’s something that is quite hard to let go of when I’ve spent the last four years thinking I’d want to be an academic, which has really clear career paths.

Do you think that a PhD is primarily training for an academic role?
That’s the big question, isn’t it! I think the PhD in itself, the research and writing part, does train you for an academic role, but only to a degree. It’s really rare now that a job ad specifically geared to post-PhDs (if you can find any!) will only ask for a completed thesis. Often, you’ll need teaching experience, publications from your PhD research, and a plan for future research, not to mention any other service experience. And to get that, you need to do all sorts of other things during your time as a PhD student on top of your own research. And that is really quite challenging because, at the end of the day, the PhD is a learning experience, so everything takes more time! That being said, all of the things that were not directly related to the research and writing of the thesis have been the most exciting part of the PhD experience for me, and also the ones I find myself drawing on in my job applications for non-academic jobs. So, I do think that all of the experience I acquired alongside the writing of the thesis has been useful training, whether for an academic role or for other types of work.

There is pressure to teach and publish during your PhD. Do you agree with this approach, or do you think there are other things we could be doing that would be more useful for approaching the job market?
I think teaching, publishing, and getting involved with the academic community more generally are really useful things to do as a PhD student, whether we want an academic career or not. What I don’t agree with are the time and financial constraints we are all placed under that force us to do all of those things and more within three years. To add to that, because the PhD is framed by many as a pipeline into academic work, the fact that we can take those skills and go and apply them to other sectors is really not emphasised. When I started considering non-academic careers, I realised it was really quite hard to find out about PhD graduates that did not go into academia. Once I started finding a few people and talking to them, or even asking academics very directly about whether they knew people who had done that, I found that actually there are a lot of them out there and they do all sorts of work. So, I think that PhD programmes really should highlight more that these people exist and make that alumni network accessible to current students. And just like we’re often told that papers are the ‘currency’ to get an academic career, then PhD students should be taught that the skills they acquire through the teaching, the publishing, and all the rest of it, can also be applied in other jobs.

Finally, any other tips or reflections that you think would be useful for current PhD students?
I think that, if like me you do decide that academic careers are not what you want, it can be really easy to feel like you’ve sort of ‘wasted’ three or four years doing the PhD. I’ve definitely felt that, especially as I am now applying to jobs I could have easily applied to straight out my masters. But actually, I think that the skills that I’ve learned over the past four years and knowing that I’ve got the sheer stubbornness and determination needed to get the thesis done even when I hated it will be really, really valuable in non-academic careers too. More practically, ask around about what other PhD graduates are up to and connect with them! You never know, this connection might help you with postdoc proposals, or introduce you to a whole different type of careers. I would also say keep a record of all the things you do alongside the thesis and reflect on what you learned and what you liked or disliked about it as you go. This is what is going to matter for recruiters on the non-academic job market, it’s not about the paper you wrote, but what you learned to do by writing that paper.


Marion’s bio

Marion has just submitted her PhD in Politics at the University of Manchester. During her PhD, she also worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant and as a Tutor for the Scholars Programme for the Brilliant Club. She was co-editor for Political Perspectives for two years, and was Elections and Funding Officer on the British International Studies Association Postgraduate Network Committee for the 2021-22 academic year. She tweets @mariongreziller & you can find her on Linkedin




Projects Marion has been involved in

As part of her role on the BISA Postgraduate Network Committee, Marion has been involved in several projects to help PhD students think about their future careers.

Marion organised the event ‘Pursuing non-academic careers post PhD’ in spring 2022 as part of her role on the BISA PGN committee:

She also led on this series of portraits, which spotlights post-PhD career paths:  


Charlotte’s bio

Photograph of Charley Weatherill

Charlotte Weatherill is a PhD student in the Politics department at the University of Manchester. She researches environmental and climate change politics, and her thesis is on the subject of climate change vulnerability and Pacific Islands.


Twitter: @CharleyLancs