Career Planning in the Research Sector

Crowd of people at a Latin American festival in Melbourne

I’m sharing the resource I created for the Association of Iberian and Latin American Studies of Australasia (AILASA) Conference. I am leading a workshop on ‘Career Planning in the Research Sector.’ This presentation is intended for early career researchers who may be near completion of a postgraduate degree, or recently completed a Masters or PhD. Specifically, I look at how Latin American Studies scholars can market their skills, especially in current times following the bushfire disaster in late 2019 to early 2020, and the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, which led to significant restrictions and socio-economic disruption from the end of March 2020 to the present day in July (and ongoing). The job market poses many challenges. The lessons here are applicable for other early career researchers.

You can flick through my slides below, or download my slides as a PDF. Further down, there are links to resources for how to look for work, preparing a CV and interview. Accessible descriptions of slides at the end.


How to Look for Work in Applied Sociology: how to find graduate opportunities and optimise your job search

Creating a CV and Resume for Applied Sociology Jobs: tips for how to write and samples

Applying for an Applied Sociology Job: how to prepare your application, equity and diversity considerations, how to market your skills, how to write your cover letter

Descriptions of slides

Slide 1: Career Planning in the Research Sector

Dr Zuleyka Zevallos @OtherSociology

[Background: image of crowd at a Latin American festival in Melbourne]

Slide 2: Outline

Aim: to help you consider how to position yourself for a meaningful career over the next five years

  1. Navigating opportunities in the current job market
  2. Preparing for work across sectors
    1. Marketing your skills
    2. General skills as ECRs HDRs
  3. Specialist skills as Latin American scholars
  4. Tips for navigating challenges

Slide 3: Poll

What is your ideal job, or place to work?

[Slide is blank with ready for a Mentimeter poll to be filled in by participants]

Slide 4: Navigating opportunities in the current job market

Slide 5: Navigating opportunities

What is an applied research career?

[Icon of staked books]

Using theories and methods outside academic settings ‘to produce positive social change through active intervention’*

This is the definition of applied sociology. Adapted from Bruhn 1999: 1 and Steele and Price 2007: 4. See:

Academic careers

[Icon of a person pointing at a board with three figures watching the presentation]

➡️Driven by researcher’s focus
➡️Theory-focused, primarily generating knowledge that contributes to academic literature
➡️Longer-term, more comprehensive projects (often 3-5 years)
➡️Focus on publications, grants and further research

Applied research careers

➡️Shaped by client’s needs
➡️Solutions-focused, concerned with practical outcomes that can be directly measured
➡️Shorter time frames, bounded projects (a few weeks to 2 years)
➡️Focus on measuring impact (e.g. increased program sign-ups, lower rates of violence, return on investment)

Slide 6: Navigating opportunities


  • Recession and budget constraints
  • Stepping back to move forward
  • Grants and subsidies

Career Planning

  • Build your public portfolio
  • Use social media strategically

Explore new options at entry-level

  • Social marketing
  • Graduate programs

Slide 7: Navigating opportunities

  • Consider how your skills can contribute to pressing social issues
  • Review organisational mission to see how your work fits in
  • Consider federal and state priorities and local council plans
  • Practice your “1-minute thesis” explanation
  • Perfect your “2-minute elevator pitch” about the benefits of your research

Slide 8: Preparing for work across sectors

Slide 9: Poll

Thinking beyond acadmeia, what sector would you most like to work in?

  • Not for profit, such as a community organisation
  • Government, such as doing social policy work
  • Industry, for example, working at a consultancy firm
  • Owning your own business

[Slide is blank with ready for a Mentimeter poll to be filled in by participants]

Slide 10 Preparing for work

Example activitiesNot-for-profitGovernmentIndustryOwn business
RoleProgram & service deliverySocial policy development & program evaluationLarge-scale consultancy & auditsStand-alone deliverables & facilitation
ProjectSupporting youth program to reduce binge drinkingEvaluation of effectiveness of rehabilitation services across the stateReducing cost and time taken on customer transactionsDevelop social impact assessment for local council
TeamMultidisciplinaryInterdisciplinary or multidisciplinaryGeneralistSolo specialist
Literature skills“Grey literature”&  public sources“Grey lit” & policy reportsAcademic & “grey lit”Public sources
Research activitiesCommunity engagement Surveys WorkshopsQuick turnaround primary research Quant analysis of administrative data Scaling programsStakeholder engagement Market research Focus groupsDevelop internal procedures

Boutique training
Reporting outputPublic reportCabinet briefs or Government reportsBlog posts and client reportsClient reports

SLide 11: Preparing for work

Pros and consNot-for-profitGovernmentIndustryOwn business
BudgetLow: short-term contracts, fundraising is time-consumingMedium: fixed but enables longer-term projectsHigh: well resourced but projects have rapid turnaroundLow: you wear all costs & profits must be re-invested
Project choiceMedium: some autonomy to shape projects. Satisfying to see immediate benefits to publicLow: you can choose your portfolio, but policy remit determines focusMedium: broader repertoire of projectsHigh: you choose your clients, but market may drive demand
Work/ life balanceMedium: orgs value balanceHigh: flexible hours & work arrangements. Can build up flexLow: rapid pace, often lots of travelLow: there’s no one to relieve you unless you plan forced breaks
Stakeholder varietyHigh: local communities or disadvantaged groups, but driven by org missionLow: mostly deal with other Gov agencies unless working in front line servicesHigh: mostly corporate clients but across many sectorsMedium: mostly sole business owners or small businesses, but you learn a lot about many industries
Career opportunitiesHigh: many opportunities to build experience and move into leadershipHigh: strong professional  development, acting up, secondments, subsidised studyMedium: move up swiftly, but long hours. Experience highly regarded in other sectorsLow: you’re your own boss, and success of your business can be precarious and stressful
PayLow: lower earning potential and job insecurityMed-high: guaranteed pay increases and job securityHigh: large salary, bonuses & perks. Strong surveillance of your timeMedium: you set your rates but can be tricky to get right. Personally satisfying to provide NFP discounts
ChallengesVocational burn-outConstant restructureCompetitive cultureProfessional isolation

Slide 12: Preparing for work

2001: Start PhD

  • Academic sessional and research assistant (5yrs); manager of supermarket deli & seafood department (3yrs)
  • Teaching, interviewing (one-on-one, CATI), setting up database and resources; teamwork, managing staff, budgeting

Output: PhD Latin American and Turkish women

2005: 1-year post PhD

  • Course convenor & research assistant (1 yr)
  • Time planning, coordinating teaching program, leadership, qualitative research

Output: Vulnerable consumers and debt study.

2006: 2 years post PhD – federal government

  • Social scientist in social modelling team (APS6 – 3 years) & (EL1 – 2 years) (2 yrs+)
  • Leading interdisciplinary research projects (20 people), managing student and mentoring staff, co-developing social models, research reports
  • 2012: 8 years post PhD – Industry (for state government)

Output: Guide to intercultural communication. Social model of political violence.

Senior analyst managing research team as part of independent investigation (6 mth)

  • Managing multidisciplinary team (23 people), setting up databases, qualitative analysis, reporting

Output: Chapter on management of health and safety

2012: Consultancy

  • Principal providing research and social media services (~2yrs)
  • Website, graphic design, social media writing, marketing plan, philanthropic partnerships, research reports

Output: Marketing plan for health business. Discourse analysis of equity & diversity

2015: 11 years post PhD – Not for profit

  • Project Manager establishing national gender equity program/ research program manager (~2yrs)
  • Managing team (2 people), senior stakeholder liaison, research and implementing program, training workshops, communications and events coordination, developing guidelines, contracts

Output: Evaluation program and training materials

2017: 13 years post PhD – state government

  • Senior policy advisor in behavioural insights (3 yrs)
  • Managing research and scaling projects to improve policy and programs, co-facilitating workshops, communications management, reports

Output: Managing randomised control trials, plus scaling education & training projects

2020: 19 years total as a research practitioner

[Each year is set up as a diagram of text boxes and arrows leading from the left-handside to the right]

Slide 13: Preparing for work

During PhD

➡️2-year leadership residential course

1 year post PhD

2 years post PhD

➡️2-year leadership course & secondments to other agencies

➡️Started a blog

8 years post PhD

➡️Expanded blogging & social media

➡️Self-taught graphic design

8 years post PhD

➡️Certificate III in micro-business operations
➡️Self-taught video & multimedia content

11 years post PhD

➡️Co-managed multidisciplinary science communities

17 years post PhD

➡️Secondment to NFP community org

[The same diagram as the previous slide, with text boxes and arrows, but less text, as above]i

Slide 14: Marketing your skills

Slide 15: Marketing your skills: generalist

➡️Time planning
➡️Project management
➡️Synthesise relevant insights from available evidence

➡️Qual: #interviews
➡️Quant: data sources
➡️Data privacy, confidentiality, ethics
➡️Translate theory into practice
➡️Presenting to different audiences

Interpersonal skills
➡️Conflict resolution
➡️People management
➡️Stakeholder engagement
➡️Equity and diversity
➡️Communication skills

Slide 16: Types of careers

  • NFP: “Social science” – Women’s Counsellor (Brisbane)
    • Tertiary qualifications in Behavioural or Social Science
    • Knowledge, skills and services relating to women’s health
    • Effective in networking, collaboration and communication skills
    • Demonstrated commitment to maintaining confidentiality
  • Local Gov: “Social science” – Health Promotion Officer (Regional Vic)
    • A tertiary or higher degree in health promotion or related field
    • Knowledge of public health in local government environment
    • Evidence of participation in effective partnerships
    • Understanding of research, policy and community outcomes
  • Fed Gov: “Policy officer” – Graduate Policy Officer (Tasmania)
    • Ability to undertake research and analysis
    • Commitment to personal development
    • Ability to build relationships and relate to people at all levels
  • Industry: “Social research” – Research Consultant (Melbourne)
    • 3-4 years Market and/or Social Research experience
    • Experienced in using Q or SPSS for analysis
    • Excellent communication skills
    • Research project management experience
    • Desirable: Qualitative research experience

[There are arrows on the left and right sides of the list above which say “thesis,” “research” or “interpersonal” depending on the skill]

Slide 17: Marketing your skills: specialist

  • Cultural analysis
    • How does your analysis of Latin groups relate to the advertised role?
    • (E.g. culture, religion, potential clients, program delivery)
    • What are some similarities between multiculturalism in Latin America and Australia? (E.g. refugee resettlement, social welfare, communicating with diverse audiences)
    • How could your work support the organisation’s mission? (E.g. healthcare responses, innovation and technology, global social movements)
  • Socioeconomics
    • How does your thesis framework help us understand patterns of inequality?
    • Identify one clear example of how your thesis illustrates political relations
    • What economic factors impact decision-making among Latin populations and why is this relevant here?
    • What behavioural change opportunities can we see from your findings?
  • Policy context
    • In lay language, how could your thesis methods benefit policy analysis?
    • How does Latin American scholarship support practical solutions to social problems? (Hint: provide an example of potential social change)
    • What is your one top recommendation from your project that decision-makers can start implementing today?

[The slide is arranged as a two coloumn table, with the heading on the left, and dot points on the right]

Slide 18: Break out group activity

Slide 19: Break out (20 mins)

Think about how your thesis can contribute to policy or community outcomes in the sector you most want to work in


  1. Working solo, come up with one example of how your specialist skills fits the job description above (5 mins)
  2. Discuss your skills with the group (10 mins total)
  3. As a group, write down one thing you have in common or found most interesting about your collective skills (5 mins)

Slide 20: Tips for navigating challenges

  • Negotiating salary.
  • Expectations on promotions and career progression

[An icon of money is on the left, above “negotiating…” An icon of a target is on the right, above, “Expectations…”

Slide 22: Tips

  • Weigh up the pros & cons before diving in. E.g. project satisfaction vs sector contribution
  • Build in “career health” check-ins
  • Prioritise your wellbeing as much as possible
  • Remember your degree can have an impact outside of your paid work

Slide 23: Checklist: equity and diversity in career planning

  • Does the organisation make their equity & diversity policies public?
  • Are there Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other minorities in Executive and senior roles?
  • Does the company blog and social media meaningfully address multiculturalism and other forms of inclusion?
  • Does their website reflect diversity? (E.g. inclusive language, accessibility)
  • Does the job ad include a useful statement on workplace adjustments?
  • Is the job role able to be made part-time and do they outline policies of work/ life balance?

Slide 24: Resources

Resources as above “Learn more”

Slide 25: Questions?

Thank you!

2 thoughts on “Career Planning in the Research Sector

  1. Dear Dr. Zuleyka

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information and recent developments.

    Best regards Nauroz

    On Thu, 9 Jul 2020, 02:27 The Other Sociologist, wrote:

    > Dr Zuleyka Zevallos posted: ” I’m sharing the resource I created for the > Association of Iberian and Latin American Studies of Australasia (AILASA) > Conference. I am leading a workshop on ‘Career Planning in the Research > Sector.’ This presentation is intended for early career researche” >


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