Pros and cons of attending virtual GRADnet summer school

This year’s summer school at Herstmonceux Castle was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. GRADnet in collaboration with Skillfluence was swiftly able to offer the Careers Accelerator Online Masterclass in August.

A Southampton final year PhD student gives his perspective on attending both and the pros and cons.

Why I decided to attend the Careers Accelerator Online Masterclass: As I am coming to the end of my 3rd year as a theory PhD from the University of Southampton theory group I now have a little over a year left of my PhD. I am now looking at what to pursue post my PhD. I had little to no idea what I want to pursue as a career and I was interested in the Skillfluence online course as it covered a lot of different aspects of choosing a career and how to transition into work in industry successfully.

How was this year’s online masterclass?: The course was very enjoyable and gave a good introduction to a lot of different aspects to consider when finishing a PhD and starting a non-academic career. Some parts such as the importance of networking and how best to prepare a presentation of a task for an interview were things I had not considered in so much depth and the course covered them well. I also enjoyed the regular Q&A sessions with employers as it gave me the opportunity to ask the exact questions I wanted to ask and get more information as they were former SEPnet PhD students. This included the relevance of Graduate Schemes for PhD graduates and the role/importance of coding for different sectors. I would definitely recommend the online course for the future if GRADnet offer it in 2021 due to the current coronavirus restrictions.

Physical summer school versus virtual: I attended the 2018 SEPnet summer school at Herstmonceux Castle at the end of my first year as I felt at the time it was good to explore all these options early in my PhD when I had fewer commitments and more ‘free-time’ as it were. Given the Careers Accelerator Online Masterclass was so different as it was online as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, I felt it was worth attending as being closer to the end of my PhD, there were different questions I wanted ask employers this time around.

There are pros and cons to hosting the course online and ‘in-person’ (for want of a better term). Attending the course in person gave me a better opportunity to meet other young PhD students and network and also it was exciting to stay at Herstmonceux Castle with the Observatory Science Centre on the doorstep. As the in-person conference was over several days the amount of time working on the subject of careers was a lot more intense than the weekly 1.5 hour sessions of the online course. However, as the online course was spread over four weeks I found it gave me the opportunity to really focus during the 1.5 hour sessions and also read through the online material on the Skillfluence learning platform at my own pace and remain focused.

Given the online courses were ‘attended’ at my PC it also meant that I could complete assignments and joint tasks using my PC which I feel is probably more relevant to actual interview preparation and general careers-related tasks.

I feel both are definitely worth attending and I have encouraged my younger PhD colleagues to attend the SEPnet professional skills schools in their first year if they can.