Postgraduate Researcher Administrative Assistant at the University of Birmingham

Ashleigh Skelhorn

Ashleigh SkelhornMasters programme, year of graduation and current role

After studying for a BA in Hispanic Studies and History at Nottingham, I moved to Birmingham and did my MA in International Relations (Terrorism and Political Violence). I studied a variety of topics encompassing the world of terrorism and political violence, from case studies of particular types of political violence to the broader themes that were covered in a module on US Foreign and Defence Policy. My research for my dissertation was focused on some of the legal, ethical, and philosophical problems related to torture. I completed my Masters in September 2016 and managed to immediately get a job working on the team preparing for a Home Office audit at the University on a casual basis. Working on this team gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of the people who work in Academic Services at the University, one of whom then recommended that I apply for my current role. I now work on a full time, contracted basis in Student Services as the Postgraduate Researcher Administrative Assistant. The role is split between the University Graduate School and Careers Network, and I deal with queries that come in from students regarding anything from organising events for PGRs to a programme called the Postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Research Methods and Skills, which some students take alongside their PhD. I am also involved in the organisation and promotion of PGR careers events. The University is a great place to work, and staying here feels less scary than leaving the campus and going out into “the real world”!

How has your Masters prepared you and given you relevant transferable skills for your current role?

My Masters, far more than my undergraduate degree, allowed me to develop the ability to work under pressure and still produce excellent results. The ability to work to meet multiple deadlines at once and manage my time well is definitely something that has come out of my Masters and helped me in this job. It is especially important in this role because of its dual nature, and I have to be able to switch between Graduate School work and Careers Network tasks and keep track of where I’m up to.

What support have you had to help you make the move from your Masters to your job? For example from mentors, academics or Careers Network?

Getting the job working on the audit was incredibly helpful for me as it put me in contact with so many staff at the university. My manager in particular was incredibly helpful and supportive, and was in fact the person who recommended that I apply for my current role. She provided me with interview preparation tips as I was very nervous – it was my first job interview – and she also gave me a reference.

The academic staff who I worked with during my Masters were all very keen that I apply for a PhD, and I do intend to do so within the next 12 months.

Please add any tips or advice for postgraduates looking to enter the job market

I would recommend that you use the services available from Careers Network much more than I did! During the year of my Masters I was very focused on the academic side of things and I didn’t really think about what would come afterwards, and so I didn’t pay much attention to Careers Network and everything they offer. This was probably not the best way of doing things though – if I hadn’t managed to get the audit job who knows what I would be doing now!

Take advantage of the courses and events that the University offers, both free and otherwise. I took part in the Trust, Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation professional training programme with the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security which provided participants with training in mediation and diplomacy and was a really great week – I would recommend signing up this year, the programme is annual! It gave me a chance to acquire skills that look really good on my CV and translate well over to working life. It was also an amazing opportunity to network, which is so important when looking to enter the job market.


Professional Services