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From PhD to Life

Transition Q & A: Sarah-Louise Quinnell


Sarah-Louise Quinnell earned her PhD in geography from King’s College London. She’s now the learning and development manager for the online tutoring service Mactrac, which is part of Macmillan Digital Education.  Follow Sarah @sarahthesheepu.

What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your PhD?

I had expected, like I am sure a number of PhDs do, to go into an academic teaching and research position. However, I realized very quickly that this would be hard going to achieve. At the same time I realized that when I looked at my PhD as a whole I had a number of transferable skills around using digital media in research and for my own development. These skills were in high demand so I looked at what I could do with those.

What was your first post-PhD job?

I was an e-learning development advisor in the graduate school at King’s supporting PhD students and postdoctoral staff wanting to engage with digital technology for their research and their professional development.

What do you do now?

I am now a learning and development manager for the Mactrac group which is part of Macmillan Publishers Ltd Digital Education Portfolio. I am based on the campus of Sussex University (where I did my undergrad and two Masters programs) as well as in London where I get to work with the Institute of Education as well.

What kind of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?

I am responsible for the training and development of all our online tutors. So, teaching undergraduates how to teach and enabling retired tutors to make the most out of their engagement with technology. I am working on ensuring we have the correct accreditation and am developing our quality assessment processes. I design training materials — at the moment I am working on materials relating to child protection. I am also looking at establishing a community of practice for our tutors using social media.

What most surprises you about your job?

How much I can draw from my PhD in geography, and how applying spatial and behavioural geographic techniques can give you an, interesting skill set and perspective from which to view learning. Also the sheer variety of things I get involved with. Every day really is different.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

Getting people engaged with how technology can enhance and enable learning. Seeing a tutor who was scared or reticent to engage with technology and see what can be achieved. Also seeing students get successful results through our intervention, especially in the STEM area.

What would you change about it if you could?

Erm, possibly how L&D (learning and development) is perceived as just another facet of human resources, and this really isn’t . . . well, it isn’t for me!

What’s next for you, career-wise?

I am now working for an academic publishing company so what’s next is ensuring the connection between industry and academia. Enabling PhDs to feel better about the transition. And I’m working on my own publications.

What advice or thoughts do you have for post-PhDs in transition now?

Grab any opportunities by both hands. Just because you have left academia doesn’t mean you have to stop being an academic. You can work outside and still publish and engage in debate.

Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
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