Peter Burch - How PhD training provides you with transferable skills


Peter Burch

Dr Peter Burch - Project Manager

AHRC-funded doctoral award holder, Dr Peter Burch completed his PhD at the University of Manchester in 2015 on ‘The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingship’. Whilst being interviewed by the AHRC, Peter spoke about how his intellectual journey had progressed through undergraduate, masters and then PhD-level study. He spoke about how he’d refer back to knowledge gained and disciplines studied in previous degrees and explained that things became particularly interesting when he addressed Archaeology, in a theoretical sense, as part of his PhD.

After completing his PhD, Peter decided to leave academia to take up a post as a Project Manager with a global design and consultancy firm, where he is still employed now. When asked how he came to his to decision to leave academia Peter explained that “I wanted to have a certain degree of stability which I knew I wouldn’t get in academia. And it was also because I could… I knew I had multiple interests”. Peter continued to say that he always separated the choice of doing a PhD from the choice to be an academic. “It’s probably the single most useful thing I’ve done both on a personal and professional level”, he added.

Peter says his employer completely understood why an Anglo Saxonist might want to become a project manager for a construction consultancy. Peter explained that, because the organisation was looking for a broader skillset, they were deliberately recruiting from the arts and humanities well as the sciences. “I knew that the analytical skills, the planning skills, and all the thinking skills that I’d developed doing a PhD would tie right in to that sort of activity, and actually, that I would have a different perspective because I hadn’t come from an engineering or project management background”.

Peter spoke more broadly about his training during his PhD and how it benefitted his career. “Professionally, the quality of thinking that it allowed me to develop… the rigour with which I was able to approach things… has stood me in tremendous stead for where I’ve gone on to. It’s something different that I bring. Because I’ve had that training, I am able to look at a situation, think about it from different angles simultaneously and hold all these mutually contradictory things in my head”. Peter went on to explain how his doctoral research background allows him to understand and deal with complex situations, and how it enables him to make decisions. He said: “Life is not made up of black and white scenarios, and construction certainly isn’t either. In particular, in large construction programmes, you’ve got all sorts of competing, mutually contradictory, and ambiguous problems. Being trained at a high level in History allows me to deal with that almost instinctively”. 

Peter continued by saying: “Having studied History, which is effectively a textual discipline, I have the ability to not only write to a high and professional standard, which is used everywhere, but also to understand and analyse texts”. He pointed out that being able to extract key information was an invaluable, transferable skill.

On why he applied for AHRC funding, Peter said: “Some of the universities offer funding, but it tends to be tied to teaching and tends to be less. The AHRC funding, which is generous and isn’t tied to teaching, was the top choice on that pragmatic basis”.

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