Kim Johnston

Posted May 8 2018

Faculty: QUT Business School
Year graduated: 2011
Thesis: The influence of cultural selection on strategic communication
Career category: academic

 In 2011, Dr Kim Johnston received an Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award for her PhD Thesis. After graduating she focused on publishing, networking, and using the skills and knowledge she’d developed through her PhD to benefit real-world organisations.

Seven years post graduation, Dr Johnston is a senior lecturer and researcher in QUT’s Business School, and a contributing author and editor of numerous prestigious journals and books. She says being proactive, focused, and brave are key to developing a successful career in academia.

What opportunities did you look for after your graduation in 2011?

“After graduating I focused on three key areas. First, publishing and building collaborative links and relationships with other like-minded scholars, domestically and internationally. Second, applying what I had learned from my PhD to real world organisations. This included both providing advice to organisations and undertaking funded research to address key organisational problems. And third, through integrating and sharing my work into my teaching, and encouraging students to pursue further studies.”

What interests or research questions are driving your work right now?

“I have been focused on engagement (community, employee, stakeholder) for several years now and this is driving all of my research interests, partnerships, and funding applications. In addition, I have tried to influence my discipline’s body of knowledge in ‘engagement’ through a range of leadership opportunities, such as editing a special issue on engagement in a key journal, editing a Wiley Handbook of Communication Engagement (with Professor Maureen Taylor from UTK), developing an engagement research group, and pursuing grants and funding with key research partners in stakeholder engagement and social impact across a range of industry and government settings.”

What is your current career goal?

“My main goals are to continue to research and teach in ways that have impact, and to constantly improve what I do, and how I do it. I would also like to achieve a better work-life balance.”

What advice would you give to someone who has recently completed their doctorate at QUT? 

“My advice to new PhD graduates is to be strategic in how you use your time, be focused, and be brave. Being strategic means that everything you do needs to be linked to an impact or outcome aligned with your “area”. Understand what is valued by your institution in terms of performance, what is valued by your discipline, and what is valued by the end users of your research. The university environment is rapidly changing, so find a mentor who can help you navigate and make career decisions.

Being focused means that after your PhD, many opportunities will come across your desk. Only take opportunities that ultimately contribute to the area that you want to specialise in, or is one of your performance criteria (teaching/research/service). Build relationships with key people in your discipline. For example, email leading journal editors in your discipline and offer to review, submit your work to key conferences and seek out people whose work you follow and who you would like to work with, and be prepared to talk about your research with industry in terms of the value it contributes to society/industry.

Finally, being an academic is hard. Our research is reviewed, our teaching is reviewed, and it can be ruthless. However, this is part of academic life. As a QUT graduate, you have received excellent research training that gives you the foundation for an exceptional career and standing in the academic community. Use this foundation to proactively, and bravely, seek opportunities.”


Dr Johnston stresses the importance of being strategic after you graduate in order to build your profile and employability in your chosen field. The following resources will assist you to identify your skills, develop a career plan, and build your profile after you graduate:

  • GRE+D’s Careers page (login required) lists seminars such as ‘Life after a PhD’, useful links and downloadable resources;
  • QUT Careers & Employment services include resume advice, drop-in sessions where you can seek advice and discuss your options, plus online tools;
  • The Graduate Career Consortium provides career and professional development for doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars. While you have to be a paid member to access all resources, the GCC website lists useful career resources you can access for free.