E039 From PhD in Medieval Studies to Project Management for the Europe's Largest Sustainable Bank

February 7th 2021

Dr Christopher Humphrey holds a BA in English Studies and an MA in Culture and Social Change, both from the University of Southampton. He completed his PhD in Medieval Studies at the University of York in 1997 and held a post-doctoral fellowship there until 2000. Since leaving academia, Chris has worked as a project and program manager in the private sector, specializing in technology, transport, financial services and sustainability. Today, he works as a team leader and project manager for a leading European sustainable bank.

In 2012 Chris founded the website Jobs on Toast as a way to help Master’s students and doctoral graduates access the abundant career opportunities available outside of higher education. The popularity of the site is shown by the fact that Jobs on Toast attracts over 40,000 unique visitors a year, as well as having thousands of followers on social media channels including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Jobs on Toast website: http://jobsontoast.com/ 🔥

Jobs on Toast Twitter profile: https://twitter.com/jobsontoast/

Chris’ Twitter profile: https://twitter.com/chrishumphrey/

Chris’ LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drchrishumphrey/

The episode was recorded on February 6th, 2021. This material represents the speaker’s personal views and not the opinions of their current or former employer(s). 

Natalia Bielczyk 00:09 Hello, everyone. Welcome to yet another episode of Career Talks by Welcome Solutions. And in these meetings, we talk with professionals who have interesting career paths, who share their career hacks with us. And today I have a great pleasure to introduce Dr. Christopher Humphrey. Chris holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Studies and Masters of Arts in Cultural and Social Change, both from the University of Southampton.

Natalia Bielczyk 00:35 He completed his PhD in Medieval Studies at the University of York in 1997, and held a post-doctoral fellowship there until 2000. Since leaving academia, Chris has worked as a project and program manager in the private sector, specializing in technology, transport, financial services and sustainability. Today, he works as a team leader and project manager for a leading European sustainable bank.

Natalia Bielczyk 01:00 Since 2012, he’s been leading Jobs on Toast platform as a way to help Master’s students and doctoral graduates access the abundant career opportunities available outside of higher education. Thank you so much for joining us today, Chris. I’m looking forward to hearing your story from your own perspective.

Christopher Humphrey 01:21 Well, thanks so much Natalia for having me on. Yeah, so just to give a little bit more of a background, as you’ve introduced me there. My first degree was in English. I guess when I was at school, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I didn’t really have a strong desire for any particular career. And sort of advice that our teachers gave us was to do something that you love, do something that you enjoy a subject, and I was always really good at writing and enjoy reading.

Christopher Humphrey 01:50 That’s one reason why I started off on the course of doing an English literature degree. And as you said, I sort of followed a typical kind of academic track. I was lucky enough to be funded for a Master’s degree and a PhD in Medieval Studies. And in the course of that PhD, I guess I started to think about, you know, what am I going to do next, and career, options and opportunities.

Christopher Humphrey 02:20 And to me, the obvious thing seemed to become an academic. It seemed that that’s the logical thing of using my PhD, and it was something that I enjoyed as well. I went on to get a postdoctoral fellowship, to carry on my research for another three years. During that time, I did apply for a number of academic jobs at different UK universities. But how it turned out, I was unsuccessful in getting a job every time. And it really made me think, you know, where is this going? What happens when my funding runs out? And so that’s really when I decided, ‘Okay, I need to come up with a plan B, if this an academic career doesn’t work out.’

Christopher Humphrey 03:04 I need to come up with a plan B, so that I can find a job outside of academia. And so that’s what I went on to do. And for the past 20 years, I’ve worked in business and in industry. And today, I work as a project manager and the team leader, as you’ve said, in a UK bank.

Natalia Bielczyk 03:25 Okay, fantastic. My first question that came to my mind, when you were speaking about your career so far was … There are a lot of stereotypes about careers for PhDs in Humanities, one of them is that there are not many opportunities out there and it’s really hard to start. Because what most recruiters are looking forward to are the hard skills, the technical skills. Some core competencies that are related to stem sciences, or laboratory skills or engineering skills. And these are what humanities PhDs are missing.

Natalia Bielczyk 04:13 Also, for most PhD programs in Humanities are quite individualistic. You research a certain topic, you read through a number of materials, like source materials. And then you make certain statements and combine literature together, like come up with an original outlook at a problem and write that as a dissertation or articles.

Natalia Bielczyk 04:46 But this is a very different working scheme. The working style in most companies these days where it’s a very fast working pace and teamwork. First of all, like how did you originally get into industry? Do you still remember the successful job interview that you went through when you got your first job? And also, what kind of advice could you give to PhD graduates in humanities who are looking for jobs today? What type of strategies do you think work best, when you pitch to recruiters as a PhD in humanities?

Christopher Humphrey 05:32 Just to tell you a little bit about my first job. The first job I got, I applied for it while I was doing my postdoctoral fellowship was working for an E-Learning Company. I was, at the same time as doing my academic studies, I was really interested in the late 90s in the internet and everything that was taking off at that time. And I really thought, I could see how this would really change the face of education, away from face-to-face kind of teaching, you know, to distance type of learning.

Christopher Humphrey 06:05 And so, I thought that would be a great way to kind of make a bridge between my academic background and shift into industry, if I could go and work into a in an E-Learning Company. And maybe that could be a career for me, or maybe that could be the first step. I applied for a couple of jobs, working in E-Learning type of roles. I think one was with the university, and one was with a private company.

Christopher Humphrey 06:26 I went for an interview with this private company, and they really liked me; my background. They were mainly sort of more technical people, software developers, software programmers, who were making all the kind of E-Learning platform and system. But they didn’t have such a knowledge of education of how to structure knowledge for learners, and this type of thing. That’s really where they like to me.

Christopher Humphrey 06:29 And I think because they were a startup as well, they didn’t have a lot of … I think one of the things when you’re applying in a big company is you have to kind of get through the HR system. Because it was just them hiring people that they liked. It could be much more on an individualistic basis of face-to-face basis, and I clicked with them. That was my first job working in an E-Learning company.

Christopher Humphrey 07:15 I guess if I then reflect a little bit on, what are some of the strategies that humanities PhDs can use. Like I mentioned, if you go for a typical normal company, application route, you can’t get knocked out, maybe because you haven’t got some of the industry experience necessarily. And so, that’s why I think it’s really good to focus on things like smaller companies, startups. May be things where there’s more in alignment with your values, like non-profits and charities or government roles. Because there’s more of a connection between you and the person that you’re hiring.

Natalia Bielczyk 07:58 I also hear this opinion quite often that business development is one area where PhDs in humanities might find the place for themselves. Because it’s very … In this area, skills such as writing skills, and secondly, communication skills matter. You know, the ability to work with people and understand, even like empathy and understanding emotions is very important when it comes to sales. Okay, great.

Natalia Bielczyk 08:33 Thank you so much for this advice. Let me ask a question from the audience that I have. Joanna is asking, ‘Did the job market for PhDs change in the last decade since you started working on this topic and launched Jobs on Toast?’ Do you see any, like major changes within the last decade?

Christopher Humphrey 08:58 I think I definitely do. I can see much more how the PhD itself is recognized by employers. And you can see in companies like Google or Amazon, actively recruiting PhDs, even humanities PhDs. I think the sort of skill sets that PhDs bring, and like you say there, attitude interpersonal skills, is something that’s quite recognized certainly within some of those bigger companies, probably in the US.

Christopher Humphrey 09:28 But I think also the other flipside to it is, I think, with the greater awareness now amongst PhDs of career options outside academia. I think PhDs are also preparing themselves better for the job market. I think they’re also having success that way, in the way that they’re better able to market themselves to employees outside of academia.

Natalia Bielczyk 09:52 That’s great to hear. My contract was expired in 2017 and I have to say that, I was not thinking ahead back then. But I think indeed, in the last years, this is changing. I can see that trend as well. I think within the last few months most PhD candidates who were contacting me regarding what I do for Welcome Solutions were PhD candidates that are halfway through their PhD programs, or even first year PhD students.

Natalia Bielczyk 10:31 For me, it was an abstraction to think about jobs beyond academia at that point when I was a first-year student. But it becomes a standard today to think about Plan B from the very start and that’s good news.

Christopher Humphrey 10:47 That is definitely good news. I mean, it’s developing a little bit of a kind of like a career consciousness. You know, and sometimes people don’t necessarily think. The PhD is such a big responsibility and take such a focus of all your energy. You know, but you don’t want to be wait until you hand in your dissertation before you think about this stuff.

Christopher Humphrey 11:10 And you really want to be thinking, I think 18 months or two years, even before you complete it. If you’re going to try and accumulate some of the other types of things on your CV or resume, the employers are going to want, say things like work experience. If you can gain some work experience outside of academia, for instance.

Christopher Humphrey 11:30 You know, you can’t get that. It’s too late, once you’ve handed in to suddenly try and find that. That’s really encouraging. If that’s what people are saying to you as well, this is definitely what I’m hearing.

Natalia Bielczyk 11:44 Can you tell us a little bit more about Jobs on Toast? How did this project come about? What does this project entail? What is the scope of your activities? And also, what are your plans for the future?

Christopher Humphrey 12:05 How it started is, back in 2009, my old dissertation supervisor from York got in contact with me. And said, ‘Dude, I want to come up to York and give a talk about my experiences of making the transition out of academia.’ Up till then, I’d never really thought anything about it. And so, I went up to York friend gave this talk to some PhD students in the Centre for Medieval Studies there.

Christopher Humphrey 12:30 And it was really amazing to me that in sort of, in talking for about 40 minutes about my experiences, how different the mood and the energy in the room changed. And I’ve already hadn’t really been aware at the beginning, but there was a real change in the feeling of people feeling optimistic. And, ‘Wow, I’ve never heard about this type of stuff before’, which really made an impact on me.

Christopher Humphrey 12:53 And thinking, ‘Okay, so I’ve just given this talk to say, 12-15 people. But what could I do with this same material, if I could get it out onto the internet and spread it to more people.’ Because I think at that time, more than 10 years ago, there was very little in the way of advice available for PhDs on careers. I think there was “The Versatile PhD” in the States (US), but there wasn’t really much else.

Christopher Humphrey 13:14 I thought, if I could build a website and put this information out, that would be really beneficial. And it would feel to me like giving something back to the PhD community. Because I still feel a connection with other PhDs, even though it’s a long time since I completed mine. I think it’s such an experience that you go through that you have a kind of bonding or a feeling of community with those people.

Christopher Humphrey 13:34 It took me a while to learn about how to build a website and HTML and all these types of tools. But yes, in 2012, I launched Jobs on Toast, just really as a blog and trying to summarize some of the information that I’d given in that presentation. But also, to build it out into articles and that type of thing. And it was interesting at the beginning, because sometimes I got like zero visitors, you know; some days would go by and there were no visitors to the site.

Christopher Humphrey 14:04 And then gradually, I started to get some traction and more visitors. It has just really grown every two months; I add another article on. It’s been going for about … Next year, I will be going for 10 years.

Natalia Bielczyk 14:23 That’s a long time. Indeed. That’s one thing I also learned about blogging that consequence and systematic posting is very important than learning about SEO these days. I can see that. To grow a blog, like you can’t do it overnight, it’s a systematic work for many years. I see way too many people who drop out way too soon. You’re a great example that it requires systematic effort for a prolonged period of time to see the results.

Christopher Humphrey 15:01 Yeah, and I think that is one interesting thing. I mean, coming back to people who’ve done PhDs, you know, that’s one of the things that we’re good at as PhDs. We do have to be in it for the long run, we do have to stick at it and just work incrementally every day to move something on without necessarily seeing immediate results. But to think that’s something that’s served me well with Jobs on Toast.

Christopher Humphrey 15:23 Also in my job today as a project manager, you know, I run projects that might take 18 months, 2 years from the inception to the delivery. And some people really don’t like that, they want to do something and get results. Again, I think it’s something where PhDs have a good skill set that does align quite well to project management and change management. And that ability to see something through a whole lifecycle, but also the patience and resilience to get a big get a bigger result. But in the longer-term.

Natalia Bielczyk 16:02 Yeah, indeed. And I also feel that there are some career advisors these days that pitch to PhD graduates, promising them that 100k jobs are waiting for them, you know. There’s a mismatch between expectations and reality. When you build a career outside academia, you kind of have to start from scratch. You have to build your name, your recognition.

Natalia Bielczyk 16:28 It’s often the case that you have to start from traineeship or entry level positions, where you have to take a pay cut initially and just invest in yourself for a while. And then eventually, you will be well off in the long-term. But you have to take this dive first. And I have a feeling that many PhD graduates are not prepared for it. Outside academia, you also have to build a career, you just kind of relaunch your career from the start.

Natalia Bielczyk 17:02 And it takes many years. You know, it’s sometimes hard to, …. You know, when you speak the truth, to people who are kind of living in this bubble that, you know, 100k jobs are everywhere, waiting for them. Sometimes it’s really hard, because, you know, you’re the truth teller, but that’s not what people want to hear.

Christopher Humphrey 17:30 No, but I think we do. We have a responsibility to be honest and transparent about what those early months and years after the PhD looked like. You know, and I think you often say to people, you have to kind of take a little bit of a step down before you step up, like what you’ve said. You do have to maybe take, not necessarily, a graduate trainee sort of job. But maybe something a little bit lower than other people of your same age, for instance, you know, within the organization might be on.

Christopher Humphrey 17:58 But usually my experience with PhDs like myself is you accelerate quite quickly. Even though for short periods, you might be taking something you know, a little bit lower to build up your experience. Because of your skill set that you’ve got, you’ve got much more potential to accelerate within the organization or to get a different job. I think it’s like one of those things just like you say too, except for one or two years, that you’re going to be in this position. But not really seeing that long-term.

Christopher Humphrey 18:31 Which is the opposite of what people think, but it’s borne out in the statistics. These are all things to sort of be weighing up when you’re thinking about careers outside of academia, you know. What would you do if you didn’t do that?

Christopher Humphrey 18:31 And also seeing that in contrast to what would be the position if you stayed in academia. Because certain people, especially in the US, will maybe stay in academia after their PhD doing adjunct in or temporary types of work. But where is that really leading you as well? Because is that really leading you to a full-time position? It’s shown in the statistics that the longer a period it’s been after your PhD, the less likely you are to get a job.

Natalia Bielczyk 19:20 Exactly. And also, time passes by very quickly. You might go for a high paycheck, and just disregard jobs that might be potentially more rewarding and give you more opportunities for growth. But then, after a year or two, this time will pass by in a blink of an eye. And then, you might regret that you disregarded jobs that would bring you farther in the long run, just for this quick gratification.

Natalia Bielczyk 19:52 I totally agree with you. But looking back at your career, so far again, it’s been a while since you left academia. And it seems that ever since, you had a really interesting career path. And you attached many disciplines within the time. Could you maybe tell a story of how you grew from working for this E-Learning company that you first work for, to where you are now?

Christopher Humphrey 20:26 Yeah, sure. I work for the E-Learning Company for about two years. And then one day, I got a bit of shock because the managing director came in. And as he always did in the morning, and say, ‘Oh, morning, Chris.’ And I just say, ‘Morning, Nigel. Good morning, Nigel.’ And then he said, ‘Well, it’s not a good day this morning, Chris.’

Christopher Humphrey 20:46 Because the company, the venture capitalists who fund the company, have decided not to renew the next round of funding. The company is closed today now. Just pack up your desk and go home. That’s it. And there’s not even any, like a notice period that you would serve or redundancy pay or anything like that. And so, it was a bit of a shock to me, because I had a, you know, … being married for a long time, but had a new baby and everything like that.

Christopher Humphrey 21:15 And so, it was quite a shock. But it was, I think the thing that was beneficial is having already been able to sort of repurpose myself to go from academia into this E-Learning job. Also, I just really kicked back onto that it’s like, ‘Okay, I probably need to repurpose myself again’. Because the E-Learning industry itself was really struggling in the early 2000s, after the tech bubble had burst and this type of thing.

Christopher Humphrey 21:45 It wasn’t very easy to go into another job like that either. But luckily, I just really sort of fell back onto my network and people that I knew. I spoke to my dad and he knew a consultant, he said, ‘Why don’t just speak to this guy, see if he might know of any opportunities.’ And so, I did that. And he said, ‘Yeah, it could be. There’s another company that I know about. I know the managing director; he might be looking for some good people.’

Christopher Humphrey 22:09 And so, I put my CV through to them and got hired to work as a technical author and trainer for a software company. Who make, you know … When you go to a bus stop, you see a sign and it says, ‘The bus will be here in 10 seconds, 9 seconds,’ and that type of thing counts down. They made the software for that. And so, I got a job with them working for a while as a technical author, and trainer.

Christopher Humphrey 22:37 And so that was kind of using, like you said before, my writing skills from academia. Also using my teaching skills, but more like in a training role. That was the sort of another springboard into that type of work. And when I was working for that company, I got offered a job as a manager; and I also did some project management for them. And then that really made me think, probably slightly arrogantly that I could do a better job in some of the project management that I saw.

Christopher Humphrey 23:06 Especially from people outside the company that we worked with. I thought I could do a better job on project management maybe than they were doing. And it really got me interested in a project management career. And so after that, I left that company to start working as a consultant project manager. I work for a consultancy, but then will be hired out to other organizations to manage projects for them. That’s really how I got started on this project management path.

Natalia Bielczyk 23:35 That’s very interesting. Because I feel that project manager is one of the hot jobs that’s fancied by many PhD graduates today. Although, at least here in the Netherlands, it’s often hard for PhD graduates to hop in straight away before they prove themselves within the company. The more typical path is to start from specialistic position and make your way, like pave your way, up to project management position.

Natalia Bielczyk 24:09 Yeah, definitely. And because you know, myself as a manager, I hire project managers myself. You know, obviously I am going to look for somebody with experience doing the same; a track record of doing the thing that I want them to do when they work for me. And so, I’m naturally going to look for industry experience, you know, because I work in a bank; experience in financial services.

Natalia Bielczyk 24:09 Without prior experience in this area, it’s really hard to make this transition from academia straight to project management. Although, you know, this is possible. But usually, like realistically, most of the PhDs who managed to learn these positions have some personal networking opportunities and just know someone who can recommend them. Without having the right network and the right contact, it’s very hard to make this transition straight away. It usually has more steps in the process.

Christopher Humphrey 25:14 It is a tricky one to go into straightaway. And I think that’s exactly right. If you build up a bit of specialist knowledge first, and then get some experience of projects and change, that’s an easier way to then, you know, segue into project management a little bit later. And project managers typically are also can typically be older, generally. You know, it’s not necessarily something that you go into straightaway, because you need that experience, like what you’ve said.

Natalia Bielczyk 25:44 And I have another question related to this, and I would like to hear your opinion here. I also encounter many PhD graduates who experienced the ceiling effect when they go work in a startup. Because in startups, what you often encounter is this oligarchy. People who are there from the very start, who are shareholders, they hold all the management positions and this is not negotiable.

Natalia Bielczyk 26:13 When you enter as a PhD graduate with a lot of knowledge, and you learn everything about the company within the first year or two. And then you might be potentially a very good manager, but all the management positions already taken by the early incomers. The people who were initially the core team, and they might be much less competent than you are. But since they were first, they are not removable.

Natalia Bielczyk 26:41 This is often the case with startups. Since startups, this type of company where it’s easiest for PhDs to transfer right after academia, then it’s a very common problem. Whereas, you know, in corporations, you have much more space for yourself and many more routes to go. And if you enter as a specialist, your talent will likely be on notice at some point, and you might have these opportunities to be promoted for a project manager.

Natalia Bielczyk 27:20 Or you don’t have the barriers to entry, and it’s easier to get jobs, but then all the management positions are already taken. I feel that’s the major difficulty with transitioning from academia to project management positions.

Natalia Bielczyk 27:20 But at the same time, you have this barrier to entry. These corporate procedures, like they are really hard to overcome for fresh PhD graduates when it comes to hiring people. Corporations have those procedures for recruitment that are hard for PhDs to pass. That’s the whole problem. Because it’s either that you have barriers to entry, and it’s hard to get yourself into this environment where you might become a project manager in the short time.

Christopher Humphrey 28:19 Yeah, it’s a good way to put it. And I think the key thing there is, then to have the flexibility to be able to move jobs, which is ultimately, I guess, what happened in my own case. I was in a couple of smaller companies at the beginning of my career. But then once I built up that experience, and then I could move into other companies into sort of more senior and better paid roles.

Christopher Humphrey 28:45 It depends on people want. I mean, some people might really enjoy the startup and that kind of atmosphere and things. But it depends if you want to progress your career, you know, financially and in terms of responsibility and contribution. You do have to be prepared to kind of, you know, hop onto the next step or step of the ladder really.

Christopher Humphrey 29:08 Just be aware, I guess, that especially in today’s world, companies don’t always necessarily have like a plan for you. Maybe in the old days, companies could be a bit more paternalistic, and, you know, prepare progression routes and that type of thing. But I think in the modern world, like you say in startups. And also, even in bigger organizations, that they’re much flatter now and they’ve got rid of management layers.

Christopher Humphrey 29:35 And so, you’ve got to be prepared to take responsibility for your own career developments. Not expect the company to come to you with a ready-made plan of, ‘Chris, this is how you’re going to develop through, you know, through all these years or whatever’. No, you’ve got to take that responsibility yourself and see how you can develop within the organization or be prepared to go to another organization if they offer you those opportunities.

Natalia Bielczyk 29:56 Fantastic, I couldn’t agree more. I have a question related to you yourself as a manager. Which management style would you relate to when it comes to your personal experience? How would you describe yourself as a manager?

Christopher Humphrey 30:19 Yes, that’s an interesting one. Probably be best to ask the people in my team that. I guess from my point of view, it’s about authenticity. It’s about being present to people for who I am, why I’m doing the job and what lies ahead, and what are the responsibilities of that person. And then just to have a really honest and open kind of conversation and dialogue about that.

Christopher Humphrey 30:50 And so, you know, setting expectations of what I would like them to achieve, but also understanding what it is that they would like to achieve as well. And trying to obviously, dovetail those things as close together as possible. And then being always available and supportive. That if there is a sort of dilemma or problem that anyone’s got that I’m available, I’ll talk it through. It’s still your responsibility, unless you need to really escalate it to me. But I want to support you in working things through. I guess that’s really how I try to do it.

Natalia Bielczyk 31:30 That sounds a bit like the academic style of managing people, isn’t it?

Christopher Humphrey 31:35 Maybe yeah, essentially, I hadn’t thought about that. But yeah, it could well be. I think, yeah, it could well be. It’s a very, … I can’t think of it as a very Humanities way of doing it, if you know what I mean. Having been somebody from a Humanities background, and really, in my view it’s about … In a job, you have to do tasks, but it’s people that do the tasks.

Christopher Humphrey 31:57 You’ve got to put the person in the center and support the person in what they need as a person, I think. And then the tasks will flow from the supported person. And I think one of the problems in management has been that we’re very task-focused. Like, you’ve got to hit a certain number of sales, or this has got to be done by a certain time. It has, but it’s people that do that. And so, I think the more you can invest in the person, the better the performance against all those kind of business metrics becomes.

Natalia Bielczyk 32:34 I still have a question about your current job for a bank, as you have a very high opinion of your workplace. I know that you enjoy the fact that your employer is big on sustainability. And I would like to cover this topic. Because I think there’s the stereotypical view of banks as, you know, bloodsuckers and not very good, you know, place for an idealistic person, especially a person with a PhD.

Natalia Bielczyk 33:10 But perhaps we could debunk this myth, and talk a little bit about what you do right now and how it might fit with PhD mindset. The joining your working environment and working with you and with your colleagues on your projects. I’m very curious how it looks and how does your work week look like? And also, what are the objectives of your projects? And like for what reasons would you advise PhDs to consider working in your work environment?

Christopher Humphrey 33:45 Yeah, no, it’s a great question. Just to give a little bit of background, I guess, before I joined the bank. I had been a manager in an engineering consultancy, and I’ve been made redundant. That was for the second time in my career. And so, I was really, at that point, looking for another job. But I also had developed I guess, more of a kind of consciousness about the environment and sustainability.

Christopher Humphrey 34:10 And I really thought, ‘Okay, for my next job, I would really like to do something that more foregrounded that and was in closer connection with my personal values.’ And so, I looked around at some different organizations, and one of the ones I did see was the bank that I work for now. And the mission of the bank is to use money to work for positive social and culture, and environmental change.

Christopher Humphrey 34:37 When money is lent to customers, on loans for their business, it must always be doing good in the world. They don’t invest anything to do with fossil fuels, arms, tobacco, pornography, or gambling. And so, that’s really fitted with my own personal values of like, I want to make a difference in the world. I want to, obviously, work and fulfill my own personal potential but do good as well.

Christopher Humphrey 35:05 And so, I was fortunate enough to join the bank on a temporary basis and then get taken on permanently. But I think that’s the thing, it’s interesting, how I see it is in within each industry now. There are leaders who are trying to do something different in that industry. I mean, you can think of in automotive industry, say like electric cars like Tesla is most well-known.

Christopher Humphrey 35:28 But there are people within each industry who are saying, this is not business as usual, we’re going to be more responsible as a business, and we’re going to change how we do it. So, it’s a better fit with the environment, and also social outcomes as well. I feel although, I work for a bank that does that. And our mission is obviously to serve our customers and provide them with a safe place for their money and the right range of products.

Christopher Humphrey 35:53 But also to use money, use that activity to change finance as well. It’s not just business as usual. And so, I think if you’re a PhD, sometimes you have more of these ideals, and you want to do good in the world. And that was what I would really encourage people to search for organizations that have got this kind of mission that you can align with your own personal values.

Natalia Bielczyk 36:21 Can you tell us a little bit about your daily life, like, how your work week looks like? What types of projects you’re doing, if you can spill the beans a bit? Of course.

Christopher Humphrey 36:38 Yeah, I guess. I mean, at the moment, I work as a team leader, so more of my time is spent on the management side than so much on the project side. But just to give you a bit of an idea of the sorts of projects that you do within banks, I mean, a lot of the projects are really around the core banking system. Obviously, within a bank, there is a software system that administers all the customers’ money into transactions behind the scenes.

Christopher Humphrey 37:13 But they’re also front facing applications like a website or mobile app. And so, they’re mainly the sorts of projects that I would be involved in. It would be; there needs to be say, an upgrade to a software system behind the scenes, new products being launched and it needs new software functionality built. A lot of it is really developing the bank’s range of products and services and keeping pace in banking, with regulation.

Christopher Humphrey 37:46 Because as you appreciate, banking industry is really highly regulated, especially in the UK, since the financial crash. There’s a lot of strict rules on what banks can and can’t do and shouldn’t do. And so quite a lot of the time, also as well behind the scenes, is us bringing systems and also standards of conduct, reporting behavior, up to the new standards, and making sure that we’re adhering to those standards.

Christopher Humphrey 37:53 That’s also quite a lot of what you have to do as a project manager in banking is to ensure that we’re keeping within the sort of the regulatory regime. And, you know, so that you can continue to operate as a bank.

Natalia Bielczyk 38:31 Okay. And I’m tempted to ask you one more question, which is, you know, we live in the shadow of major correction of the American Stock Exchange. I mean, do you feel that sentiment when you, you know, come to work? And do you feel any anxiety coming from the fact that perhaps, in the next 2-3 years, we’ll experience a major financial crisis? Or doesn’t that affect you personally?

Christopher Humphrey 39:08 I guess it’s something that is always on your mind. But one of the things I take heart from is the bank that I work for, we invest in the real economy is one of the things that we that we say and do. Everything we invest is in real people, like a wind farm, or a farmer who’s growing organic crops, or a care home that’s looking after people.

Christopher Humphrey 39:36 Everything we do is in the real economy. It’s not financial speculation, or derivatives or all these types of things. I do take heart from the fact that it’s showing that banks that operates as more of a sustainable model, weather much better these kinds of financial shocks and crises. Give a really good return in the long-term versus some of the short-term behavior that received from other banks who are more speculative and chasing short-term gains. From a sort of job security and that type of point of view, I do feel quite comfortable.

Natalia Bielczyk 40:14 That’s amazing. I didn’t know that there are banks … Because I think banks are still, at least in the Netherlands, banks still have bad press. And I think that they still suffer from, like low levels of public trust. The phrase ‘sustainable bank’ sounds like an oxymoron. It’s like, what? What does that mean? It’s good to probably increase awareness that there are banks out there that invest in sustainable projects. And indeed, as you’re saying, are not going after and chasing after short-term gains.

Christopher Humphrey 40:57 It is the way things are going that even some of the larger banks now are signing up to like Net-Zero Carbon programs. So that eventually they will have a Net-Zero Carbon impact based on their customers. And also, biodiversity targets as well that, you know, the money in organizations and projects they lend to will promote diversity rather than reduce it.

Christopher Humphrey 41:24 I think that’s one of the things looking back after nearly 10 years now is we can see, how some of the principles that we started within in quite a small, idealistic bank, as we’ve grown and the kind of climate awareness has grown and environmental awareness has grown. Other banks are now coming around to our way of thinking, which to me is like is an extremely fulfilling things. It’s not just about, my personal career.

Christopher Humphrey 41:49 But it’s about how my part of something that’s changing the world for the better. And I think that’s something that a lot of PhDs will have in mind, maybe idealistically. But it’s good to know and feel that you can put that into practice, you know, in your career

Natalia Bielczyk 42:06 And I’m very happy to hear all this. Because that means that there is yet another environment where PhDs can find satisfaction indeed. And I know how it feels when you get out of academia and you’re looking for this purpose, you know, for a type of job, which gives you that sense of fulfillment, that have an impact on society.

Natalia Bielczyk 42:32 It’s great to know that you’re in a place where you are right now, this is possible. Hopefully, some of the viewers of this episode might contact you after the episode and through LinkedIn and ask more questions. I hope that you’re open to questions because there might be more applications to your team after this.

Christopher Humphrey 42:56 Yeah, I’m always open to questions you can. You know, anyone can contact me through my website, www.jobsontoast.com. You’re welcome to drop me a line there or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Natalia Bielczyk 43:11 Great, and could you please share … Like lastly, could you please share some general advice you might have for PhD graduates who are now looking for their first jobs, outside academia?

Christopher Humphrey 43:25 I think as well as, … I think we’ve already mentioned about starting early, I think that’s absolutely key. But the key, I think the other thing is really to try and get away from a mindset of what academia values. Academia values, publications, teaching experience, papers given in academic forums, that type of thing. Really consider what is it that’s in business, or industry or government, what is it that is valued in those other types of jobs.

Christopher Humphrey 43:54 And really, that’s where I encourage people to look at their transferable skills. Do an audit of your skills. Try and work out what skills you’ve gained by doing your PhD. And there is an exercise on my website where you can do that. But you know, typically you’ve got project management skills, as we’ve already mentioned. Communication skills, often IT skills and ability to network and all these things.

Christopher Humphrey 44:19 They do an audit of your own skills, and really appreciate what you’ve got, and then be able to match those skills with the skills that are employers are looking for. And to me, it’s through that skill connection, that PhDs can really make that leap into their first job outside of academia. And you know, obviously you have got a lot of academic achievements, that’s all great. But they’re not something necessarily foreground or lead with, it’s your marketable skill set and what you can do for the employer. That’s the thing to really be focusing on.

Natalia Bielczyk 44:54 Thank you so much, Chris, for this insight and for all that you’re doing for PhDs since almost a decade. That’s amazing. And for all those who are watching us right now, thank you guys for your attention and for coming to the end of this episode. And Chris’s websites, Jobs on Toast is linked below, so please check it out.

Natalia Bielczyk 45:19 Thank you so much for being with us. And if you would like to get more of this type of content, then please subscribe to this channel. And thank you so much, Chris, for joining us today and for sharing your story and all these valuable insights. And hope to see you soon on some other occasion.

Christopher Humphrey 45:37 Thanks very much Natalia. Yeah, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you today. Thank you.

Natalia Bielczyk 45:41 Thank you so much. 

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Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2021, Feburary 7th). E039 From PhD in Medieval Studies to Project Management for Europe’s Largest Sustainable Bank? Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/career-development-strategies-e039-from-phd-in-medieval-studies-to-project-management-for-the-europes-largest-sustainable-bank/

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