Headshot of Sarah Finnegan

Life after a PhD – Sarah’s path to success

Our fifth blog, as part of our PhD Horizons series, continues with an excellent contribution from Sarah Finnegan. Sarah graduated from Edinburgh with a PhD in Physics in 2021 and has since moved into nuclear safety analysis. In this blog, Sarah shares the approach she took to explore options, her insight into current opportunities and some good advice on timelines.

Sarah’s journey post-PhD

In August 2021, I started a position as an Assistant Nuclear Safety Analyst in the Nuclear and Power sector of Atkins, an engineering consultancy firm. My main tasks include conducting hazard assessments and writing safety case reports for civil and defence nuclear clients. Both these tasks draw from my undergraduate degree as having the fundamental understanding of physics and, in particular, of nuclear processes gives me an excellent working knowledge and foundation in nuclear safety.

The most significant skill I can apply to my position is in the authoring and structuring of scientific reports. This is a skill cemented by the production of any PhD thesis – whether good or bad! Having spent four years writing and critically analysing reports, applications for beam times, presentations at conferences and my PhD thesis, it has become second nature to write and critically analyse any text.

Exploring options

After finishing my undergraduate masters degree, I knew I wanted to study for a PhD, but I also knew I would likely not want to pursue a career in academia. At the start of each year, I attended the careers fairs organised by The University of Edinburgh to see what was out there and networked to discover what way physicists were diversifying into physics-related or non-physics roles.

During the last year of my PhD, I started looking at various pathways through which I could develop my career outside of academia. For instance, I signed up to alerts for graduate and experienced hire roles on Gradcracker, Indeed and LinkedIn for anything from ‘Physics’ and ‘Nuclear’ to ‘Data Analyst’ and ‘Defence’. These four areas are heavily recruiting at the moment.

The independent thinking and assertive characteristics you gain from your PhD will help you further your career in the private sector and other sectors. The skills gained in networking, data analysing and report authoring are invaluable to most sectors outside of academia.

Parting advice…

The best piece of advice I can offer to PhD students considering a career outside of academia is to start job hunting at least six months before you’re due to hand in your thesis. The job market is difficult and you will have to spend some time convincing people why you are worth more than your counterparts with masters degrees and a few years of industrial experience. So, start looking, start applying and good luck!

Thanks Sarah.

We hope you’ve been enjoying our spotlight on PhD Horizons. Good news! We’ve still got more blogs to publish. You can use the PhD Horizons tag to search and find the blogs and other posts related to the event.

We also have webinars taking place this week – view our PhD Horizons webpage to find out more and book your place.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *