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Studying and working on freelance projects: Exploring the benefits

Working on short-term projects or in an interim role whilst you study is a great way to gain practical commercial experience before setting out into employed life. As well as getting exposure to interesting companies and positions, it can also help expand your skill set to add to your CV, as well as adding to some extra income along the way.

At Freshminds, we work with some of Europe’s leading business on short to medium term projects for various commercial roles. Part of our core network includes many people who are working towards their PhD or obtaining a Master’s degree and are looking to boost their commercial profile.

We asked Ceyhun, a PhD student, who has been working as a freelance researcher for the last 3 years, to share his experience. Whilst completing his qualification, Ceyhun has worked on more than 30 short-term research based projects, using his analytical and quantitative skills to build an impressive profile of commercial experience.

Hear what he had to say about managing the study/ work split and the skills he’s gained.

How did you move from a PhD to your current role?

I’m still in the process of moving as I’m currently finishing up my PhD. I was surprised by how welcoming the consultancy job market is towards PhD graduates and that they really admire the research skills and the analytical thinking.

What does an average working day look like?

It usually starts with an overall plan that gives me a good idea of what the goals are for today’s work and how I can organise the tasks of the day. These can include meetings with colleagues or checking the outcome of yesterday’s work. In most cases, the overall plan doesn’t work out and it’s is important to have the ability to be flexible and adapt. The job is not just sitting in front of a computer but includes a lot of collaborative thinking and collective activities, such as developing ideas through open discussions.

How does your PhD help you in your job?

My PhD in Food Policy is very practical and focuses on real-world problems rather than abstract theoretical models. This is particularly relevant when you have to understand the scope of problems and the value chain on a process or product. The methods I use are very useful to understand how data has been collected and can be used in a project. My PhD skills also include practice in having strong evaluating logic and drawing clear conclusions, which is transferable to convincing clients about the research outcomes of the project.

What are the best things about your job?

The best thing is the variety and breadth of work. For example, today, you may be working on the South American window market, and next week it’s about a struggling chocolate factory in Italy. There are no limits and there is no set daily routine for projects. You learn so much every day, and it’s not just about the products, but also about the culture of certain markets and countries. In this sense, the work stays interesting and never gets boring.

What are the downsides?

As mentioned earlier, you need to be flexible and you need to be able to adapt to the needs of the project and team. This can also include days where you can’t just leave after 6 or 7pm, and that’s something I was totally aware of. So far, from my experience, there are times where you have to stay late to get the project done which is not always ideal.

What tips would you give researchers wanting to move into the same, or similar, role?

If you want to go towards consultancy, it is important you can demonstrate that you have some degree of relevant experience. In my case, employees were keen on my practical research and communication skills, as well as my analytical approach to problems, but less about the number of articles I have published or the number of conferences I have been to.

Instead of working for many months on one publication, I use my time constructively and may split my time by working on a short-term project role at a consultancy.

Ceyhun obtained his Master’s degree in Human Geography at Eberhard Karls University Tubingen in Germany and is now undertaking his PhD in Food Policy at London City University. Through this, he looks at governance and policy structures for methods of boosting food sustainability policy.

You can also have a read on his PhD page for more details.