Showcasing careers beyond academia

Gosia Turner

PhD in Social Statistics, University of Southampton, 2012
Senior Statistical Analyst in the Student Data Management and Analysis team
University of Oxford

Year entered into a non-academic position: 2011

Job highlight: Every day is different!

My research training set me up to…Oh so many things! How to ask the right questions, how to find answers to them (operationalisation), how to get the most out of the data, how to write (especially how to write) as English is my second language.

Left academia after: During the write-up stage of my PhD


What’s your background?

My first degree is in sociology but I quickly realised that I am more interested in the quantitative side of research. My first job after my masters (Sociology and Panel Data Analysis at the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex) was working on student surveys and this is how I stayed close to higher education.


Why did you move away from academia?

I guess I was never properly in academia as I worked for four years before coming back to HE to do a PhD. The things I like to do are less academic and more applied, so I wanted to gain the necessary knowledge (and title) and then use them in ‘real life’. By the time I finished my PhD it was time to get a mortgage and start a family, both of which are more complicated if you rely on a string of research grants.


Is there anything you miss about academia?

I have a lot of research freedom in my current role.

I would like to say freedom and academic discourse, however, I have a lot of research freedom in my current role. It is very ‘researchy’ by nature, I cannot choose what I research (students) but I can choose how to do it. I think you potentially have more opportunities to develop and grow in academia for example by changing research teams and universities or working with a wider array of colleagues.


How did you get this job? Did you face any challenges when considering a move away from academia or applying for the role?

I just saw an advert and went for it.

I just saw an advert and went for it. There was a professor of statistics in the interview panel. The fact that I was still at University definitely helped me answer all of his questions, which were very academic in nature.


What motivated you to/why did you choose the sector you transitioned into?

I am very passionate about higher education and I love that my work helps to improve student experience.


Did you think you had the skills required for your current position before you started? Were you right?

Definitely! During my PhD I studied multilevel models which are very handy in educational research.


How did your PhD prepare you for your current job? For example, what were the transferable skills that you developed during your PhD that are most relevant to your current job?

My academic writing improved immensely. Also, it allowed me to get to know academics better. I work with many academics now and this experience definitely helped me speak their language. I also got better at designing a research project.


Did you have any preconceptions about your sector that proved to be wrong?

I am in an administrative role and they are often considered boring, but I disagree. My role is very research-based and no two days are the same. I have been in this role for over a decade and I still do work that is new and exciting to me. It is like doing research but you don’t have to worry about publications nor grant applications.


Can you describe a typical week in your job?

I probably spend one day a week in meetings, mostly with my team and doing some admin. Other than that I will be talking to stakeholders, e.g. a department, to understand their needs for analysis (e.g. the demographic profile of their students and their performance in exams) then I will do the analysis and write the report. Sometimes I get to present my report at various committees around the University. My projects may be as short as 1-2 weeks or can take up to 6 months.


What is the workplace culture like? Please include comments on work-life balance, flexibility, remote working?

I absolutely adore the department I work in (Student Registry). SDMA (Student Data Management and Analysis) is a small team of data geeks and like-minded people who inspire each other. My line manager and the head of department are very supportive and understanding and they always put people first.

After coming back from my second maternity leave, I worked 4 days in the office and 1 day from home on a permanent basis. During the pandemic and school closures there was the ‘best endeavours’ policy which was a godsend. Now I am back to the physical office twice a week, which I think creates a perfect work-life balance. I always feel ‘refreshed’ after a day in the office but don’t have to face the commute every day, whichwas really draining.


Do people with a PhD frequently get hired in the company/sector? 

Well, it is a HE sector so there are many people with a PhD. I work in a team of nine and there are three PhD     s here including myself. There are PhDs in other departments too and we had a fair share of PhDs in the team over the years including an Astrophysicist and an Archaeologist.


What are your favourite parts of your job?

The variety, as I work across the whole of university. I can look at what jobs our graduates go to on one day and look at selection algorithms for admissions on another.

I like that I am so close to teachers and students but I don’t have to do marking.


What are your reflections on your career path?

This is a tough one actually. I am in a highly specialised role and I love what I do so there are not many avenues for me to progress unless I am prepared to hand in my toys and go into management. I have not figured that one out yet.


Do you have any advice for current graduate students and postdocs considering a career outside of academia?

Do it and don’t look back! PhD is undoubtedly the hardest thing I did in my life so far (and I gave birth to two children) but I never regretted doing it and then not capitalising on it in academia. There are infinite career opportunities after a PhD as it provides you with the plethora of transferable skills. Academia was never for me and if you feel it may not be for you either, don’t be afraid to take a plunge.


What do you know now that you wish you’d known when exploring a transition?

 I don’t think there is anything.


Can you recommend any relevant resources, organisations or events that might help somebody new to the sector find out more about it?

Everybody with a PhD will be pretty familiar with my sector. I would urge people to explore the career opportunities in university administration. There are many interesting and senior positions and you can definitely have a career equally rewarding (to academia) both intellectually and financially.