Postgraduate Skills Seminar: Nick Blackbourn, content strategist

Blog written by PhD student Konstantin Wertelecki

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Photo attrib. Neil Williamson, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

On Thursday April 12, former St Andrews Modern History PhD student Dr Nick Blackbourn, who currently serves as content strategist at FULL CREATIVE, addressed postgraduates on pursuing non-academic careers. This event was hosted under the sponsorship of the University’s Centre for Academic, Professional and Organisational Development (CAPOD) under the Quality Assurance Agency Scotland (QAA) thematic initiative ‘Transitions’. He discussed his own professional path to a non-academic career and offered advice to those unsure whether to remain in academia, or to seek a profession outside their doctoral training.  The central theme of his talk focused on the adoption of preparatory measures to successfully transition to non-academic careers.

Dr Blackbourn opened his talk with an exposition on the job problem, explaining that professional academic applicants grossly outnumber the available research positions. He offered a solution: in order to increase job opportunities for professional academic applicants, jobseekers need to widen the range of industries to which they apply and possess a strong understanding of their skillset and abilities. The discovery of his own skillset enabled Dr Blackbourn to smoothly transition into the non-academic industry. As a doctoral student, he was frequently pressured to raise his profile as a historian, so Dr Blackbourn began an online blog in which he could express much of his unused thesis ideas. As his thesis dealt with historical aspects of the Cold War, this website eventually morphed into a public history blog on the Cold War itself. Since this period was such a popular topic, the blog raised his profile so much that Dr Blackbourn was published on other high-traffic websites. In addition, the BBC found his blog and interviewed him on issues regarding the Brexit.

During this time, Dr Blackbourn also found himself interested in marketing analytics. He began to experiment and learn about how websites attracted specific readers and what variables influenced audience traffic. In addition, he began to outsource his skills to individuals and institutions who wished to create and successfully market their own blog. His growing work experience and marketing proficiency eventually granted him a position as a content strategist at the FULL CREATIVE software company.  He described his role as a liaison between the company and customers, ensuring that FULL CREATIVE understood the audiences’ demands, and never to overpromise the product’s ability . Though the fields of business and academia are vastly different, Dr Blackbourn expressed his enthusiasm for business due to its fast-paced work style. Describing business as pragmatic, Dr Blackbourn noted that he appreciated how business projects took no longer than necessary to complete, and that there was quick turnover time between projects. The contrast with the meticulous research of academia, conducted over long periods of time could not be greater. Dr Blackbourn asserted that holding a doctorate enhanced his position as a businessman, as it projected company credibility.

To PhD students considering a non-academic career, Dr Blackbourn offered three pieces of advice. First, he suggested that students should participate in non-academic events, so that they would begin to recognise outside interests that could potentially be used as a springboard into a different career. Second, he recommended that PhD students apply to all the CV-building opportunities possible, to show off a rich and diverse set of skills. Adding to this, he lastly stressed that PhD students should be thoroughly aware of their own skillset. He explained that companies will hire candidates who can demonstrate how their collected experience and skills that they possess will suit the specific demands of the company role. Despite this rigidity, he also noted that general doctoral skills, like the ability to read extensive amounts of text quickly, to understand and analyse complex ideas, and to produce high volumes of written reports, were valuable as well. Closing his talk, Dr Blackbourn stated that his transition from academia to business was highly rewarding, as it granted appreciation and respect.

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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