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Reap what you sow

Dr Jo Watts earned her PhD in Astronomy from Edinburgh in 2000. She spoke to current candidates at last year's PhD Horizons event - taking place again on 6 June - and tells us why she feels it's important that alumni engage with students.

Jo Watts

Why have you chosen to take part in these events? Is alumni advice something you benefitted from while a student?

I believe we only reap what we sow. Having recently set up my own data consultancy business, I am the recipient of lots of really valuable advice from experienced entrepreneurs and mentors. I just aim to return the favour, wherever possible. 

I took part in the PhD Horizons event last year and it made me realise actually how important it is to have a full view of the breadth of career paths that are out there at such a critical life decision point. I didn't have anything like this available to me when I finished my PhD, but I wish I had.

Why do you think it is so important that students hear from graduates?

I've been on quite a convoluted career journey to date as I've never been sure what I want to do "when I grow up". However that variety of roles I've undertaken since graduation have actually added to the breadth of my skillset, possibly giving me a fairly unique experience. Its important for students to see that everyone's career is an individual journey and whilst they are currently at an important decision point, every career decision they make will add up to make them the professionals they become.  

Why would you like to help Edinburgh students? Do you believe our Edinburgh education is a unique one?

Having moved away from Edinburgh during my twenties, I chose to move back after I started a family. It’s always been the only city I've ever wanted to live in permanently. There are so many different opportunities available for such a relatively small city, that there is never the need to move away to explore new ones. I would like Edinburgh students to feel that if they want to, they can stay here to do whatever they want.

Which moments or activities during your studies really influenced your subsequent career choices and opportunities?

I was planning to go to Leeds and do a PGCE after my degree, so the biggest moment for me came when I decided to come to Edinburgh instead and do a PhD. Part of that change of direction definitely revolved around putting off any big career decisions for a bit longer. However, at the end of my PhD I still didn't have much idea what I wanted to do next, just a slightly longer list of things I didn't want to do. I spent one holiday as a chambermaid, which I absolutely hated. That experience probably had the biggest impact on me ensuring I worked as hard as I could.

What do you wish you’d known as a student?

I wish I'd realised that there was a full and satisfying world of work outside academia. The decision to leave academia is not a negative step, but just a different one.

Your insights

If you are interested in offering advice and career support to current students, please contact CJ Cochran, Alumni Manager:

CJ Cochran

Alumni Manager, Schools & Colleges

  • Development and Alumni
  • Alumni Engagement

Contact details

Related links

PhD Horizons Careers Conference