Fatma Seyma Keskin

Training Hub Postdoctoral Researcher at the C-Dice project at Cranfield University   
PhD Civil Engineering, 2021


Please tell us a bit about your current role

I am a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Training Hub of the C-DICE (Centre for Postdoctoral Development in Infrastructure, Cities and Energy) project at Cranfield University, working on postdoctoral development to progress postdocs’ expertise in contributing to a net-zero future. This is not my first job ever, but it is my first job after my PhD. My PhD looked at Life Cycle Analysis of vulnerable buildings.

I was not expecting to continue in the exact same discipline and areas after my PhD, because the skills I gained during my career journey are not limited to technical or research skills, and I know novel works need multidisciplinarity, innovation and multiple skills. Therefore, teaching and academic mentoring as a postgraduate teaching assistant and organising events and symposiums were only some of the areas I developed during my PhD, and these experiences were in the same line as my planned academic career.

This was my first job application in the UK so the recruitment process was very new for me, I had not even graduated yet. I saw the job advertisement on Linkedln and it took my attention because I knew about the project and had three hours left to apply! I was thinking I would only need to send a CV and cover letter, but it took the whole 3 hours because I had to answer some specific questions to be able to send the application.

Then I got selected and they wanted me to prepare a video presentation and complete a test. Honestly, I did everything at the last minute because I needed to encourage myself for such a challenging and unknown process! But I was successful and was invited to the interview. After the interview, I got the job offer.

What motivated you to do your postgraduate research course?

My main motivations were academic career aspirations which started to frame during my masters study (I wanted to do further research on the sustainability of buildings) and after experiencing a non-academic job.

What do you enjoy most and what do you find challenging about your role?

I worked more independently in my PhD because my research was not part of a group project and I enjoyed having the freedom of controlling my research project. My current job is more team-oriented and less isolated which helps me to learn how to work with different groups of people from different areas of expertise. Being a postdoc or working in academia does not have a limit for working hours, but my team is very disciplined in maintaining a work-life balance. I also need to travel sometimes I think this is the most enjoyable part of doing research.

Moving on from PhD into real-world work takes time and motivation to adapt. It is called pain and gain: we are getting the opportunity to be a professional. Being patient and a good observer can help you with such transitions. Overall, I know this experience will be a unique and rewarding gain for my academic career.

Have you faced any barriers during your career journey, if so, how did you overcome them?

International students who plan to work in the UK can now apply for a graduate route visa, but I did not have this opportunity, so I applied for the skilled worker visa after getting the job. Getting the visa was not a difficulty, but the process was stressful. So, when planning a career, I always find it useful to have a few backup plans.

How did your time at Birmingham help you prepare for this role?

I had a chance to develop myself in several areas during my PhD and that paid off with gaining new experiences and skills and seeing the outcome of my efforts. I should also highlight training opportunities from Library Services, the University Graduate School, the School of Engineering, and Careers Network.

Even though this job was my first application, I had all the resources ready (CV, cover letter) thanks to Careers Network workshops. But I also needed further support, and Careers Network was a godsend, especially in preparing for the interview process. Without this support, my application process would not have been easy; that means a lot. I deeply felt the privilege of being an alumnus of the University of Birmingham, and that is always with me.

What advice would you give to students interested in further study?

A PhD shouldn’t be considered as only a research project and completing a thesis, it is quite a long process. Students can gain several experiences that help to develop their professional and personal skills so they can graduate as talented, highly skilled, well-educated PhD researchers if they invest in that. With the development of countries, the criteria sought in scientific sectors is increasing and new doctorates should adapt to this.

What advice would you give to students interested in getting into your industry or role?

Many PhDs feel it is difficult to build a network or even ignore the power of doing so, but now is the right time to start. Also, the career process should not be limited to just finding a job; it is a development process and the opportunities that you will encounter will be your development pathway, developing you as a person rather than just as a path to a certain career.







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