Hello! I’m Sarah Blackford and I’m a PhD career consultant with over 25 years’ experience working in the field of Higher Education career development. I qualified with a master’s degree in career education and guidance in Higher Education (MA CIEGHE) from Warwick University in 2010, and also hold a postgraduate diploma in coaching and mentoring (Lancaster University) and am a professional MBTI practitioner (Levels I & II). In 2013, I published my first book entitled, ‘Career planning for research bioscientists‘. I say it’s my first book, but being realistic and considering the time and effort involved, I think it will probably be my last! I’ll keep on writing, but it’ll be short blogs, rather than long tomes 🙂
My PhD Career Consultancy specialises in career development and coaching for PhD and early career researchers, as well as junior academics looking for professional assistance with their careers, whether it’s planning for a career move, considering career options or improving professional performance. Through individualized career guidance interviews or bespoke career development workshops, hosted by universities and research institutes and delivered face-to-face or online, my aim is to provide an opportunity for academic researchers to learn about career planning and management skills, so that they are more self-reliant to develop their own careers, move forward and take positive action.
Delivery of services
Most of my customers are based in European universities and research institutes, but with the advent of on-line workshops, I have extended my services further afield, depending on the time zone (I’m not generally keen to stay up beyond 10pm!). I usually have an initial discussion with the host, e.g. researcher development managers, Doctoral Training networks and grad school coordinators, academics, PhD and postdoctoral associations, after which I send a proposal for consideration. After that, we just need to find suitable day/times that are convenient for everyone to attend and we’re up and running 🙂
My career development courses cover a range of topics (see ‘Career Services‘ for a full list) including the following:
- Job-seeking strategies for non-academic careers including increasing familiarity with the non-academic career sector, understanding what employers want and what you have to offer as well as how to find and secure a position.
- How to make informed decisions about your next career transition and career choice.
- Enhancing self-awareness: professional and personal skills analysis; personality [I am a qualified MBTI practitioner (Steps I and II); work values; considering other career decision influences].
- Effective networking, self-presentation and communication skills;
- How to write a CV and cover letter for different types of jobs and roles.
- Successful interview technique, including the purpose and types of interviews, how to respond to questions in an impactful way with plenty of opportunity for practice and peer learning.
- Newly added: Using AI tools to augment your career planning and management
All courses are underpinned by recognised career theory and with plenty of interactive discussion and exercises.
For more information and to discuss training opportunities please contact me at: email@example.com
Examples of feedback
I just wanted to say again how helpful I found the conversation we had. I thought you were really insightful not just about the process of a PhD and what it takes to be an academic, but also about me as a person.
I really enjoyed the webinar yesterday, I’ve attended a lot of webinars over the past few weeks and you are definitely the most engaging presenter so far! Not an easy thing to do during a webinar.
I would like to thank you so much for all the advice about CV and cover letters. It has made quite a difference with my job hunting (I have received a few phone calls). I have just landed my first interview, which I am quite impressed since I have seriously started applying for about 2 weeks.
I found the webinar to be very interesting and useful and was very grateful for the opportunity to speak to Sarah one on one to discuss my career progression and the options available to me.
I liked the tools as a ready reference scheme for identifying our core strengths and application areas.
Thanks again for the tips and advice regarding job search and interview techniques. I am very glad to tell you that I have been called in for an interview next week. I wanted to thank you again for you guidance – it was very useful to get the CV in a suitable format.
Affiliations and Executive responsibilities
I have a number of professional affiliations: I’m a certified, registered member of the Career Development Institute (CDI) and Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS) and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA), which guarantees that my training is all conducted within a professional and ethical code of practice. In addition to all of this, I’m lucky enough to have an Honorary Teaching Fellow position with my former employer, Lancaster University, which keeps me in touch with my former department and colleagues.
With the aim of bringing together career professionals specialising in working with researchers from around Europe and beyond, in 2014 I co-founded Careers Advisers supporting Researchers in Europe (CARE), with Dr Barbara Janssens (DKFZ, Heidelberg). I’ve also published several research papers, and authored my first book in 2013, ‘Career Planning for Research Bioscientists’. I’ve served on a number of advisory and policy committees, including the AGCAS Learning committee and Researcher Task group, BBSRC Researcher Careers committee and the Royal Society of Biology Careers group.
My Career Background
Having started my career in research at York University, followed by five years in scientific publishing, I switched career paths into careers advisory work in Higher Education working as a careers adviser at Lancaster and Leeds University Career Services. Between 1998 and 2017, I worked as the Head of Education and Public Affairs for a scientific learned society where I was responsible for education, policy, science communication and career development. During this time, I built up a wealth of knowledge and expertise, delivering career workshops and offering coaching and guidance primarily to PhD students and postdoctoral researchers.
In 2017 I left my post to set up my PhD career Consultancy, so that I could focus on my passion for career development. Self-employment is challenging, but also exhilarating and rewarding. It gives you the opportunity to be creative and adventurous, whilst developing your business acumen. It’s important to engage and collaborate with others when you’re self-employed, so that you don’t get isolated or fall behind with latest advances in your specialist field. I attend meetings and conferences to keep in touch with others in my profession and have been an invited speaker at several career events.
In 2018, I moved to live in Germany with my husband, who works as a science teacher at an international school. It’s a convenient location allowing me to take the train to many of my customers or, occasionally, flying out of Frankfurt airport. Of course, online learning means I only have to concern myself with the time zone. Living in Germany has been a great experience, but not without its difficulties. It’s made me appreciate more the challenges that academic mobility brings to researchers. That said, I’m very happy to say that very recently I added an achievement to my Top 5 life-time list when I passed my B1 German exam!
Please feel free to get in touch with me to discuss career support opportunities I may be able to assist you with: firstname.lastname@example.org
SIGNIFICANT IMAGES ASSOCIATED WITH MY WORK
The picture on the front cover of my book is an image very kindly gifted to me by photographer, Tom Donald. This bird, flapping hard and just in the process of taking off, I thought represents a great metaphor for the work we put in to get our careers off the ground and flying !
My logo was created by Promotional Gods, a graphic design company based in the city of Lancaster and conveniently located next door to where I was living at the time 🙂 They have also produced branded merchandise for me, such as pens, T-shirts, bags and key fobs.