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Fellowship application tips from UCL Research Facilitators

By Sophia Donaldson, on 10 June 2019

Money is crucial in research, and fellowships are a great mechanism to secure the money to pursue your own research ideas. In May four of UCL’s research facilitators kindly came to UCL Careers to deliver a workshop on “Writing a Successful Fellowship Application”. All three of UCL’s Schools were covered by Dr Jen Hazelton, Jacob Leveridge, Dr Melanie Bradnam, and Pascale Fanning-Tichborne, who also brought in two current fellowship holders, Dr Miranda Sheild Johansson (Leverhulme fellow) and Dr Lluís Masanes (EPSRC Early Career Research fellow). If you missed the event, they plan to run a similar workshop with us once a term – so check out our website for updates. But in the meantime, here are 5 top tips I took away from the session:

1) Know your funders

Perhaps it sounds obvious, but you need be aware of everyone who might be keen to give you money, whether they be Research Councils, charities, trusts, societies, the EU, your home country’s government etc. You should also know how they and their various funding streams differ in their focus, their reviewers, and their approach. Some may require very scientific applications, others may prefer a lay style. If you don’t do your homework, you risk missing opportunities and pitching your project ineffectually.

To help you, UCL subscribes to GrantFinder (https://search.grantfinder.co.uk/education), which you can use to research possible funding sources. And the research facilitation offices offer one-to-one appointments where you can chat through your options (as well as get feedback on your applications – see contacts for your school here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/research/about/contact), and newsletters to which you can sign-up to ensure you don’t miss deadlines.

2) Know the deadlines. ALL the deadlines.

Some funding streams have limits on the number of applications that can be sent per institution. For these, UCL operates an internal triage system where applications are first sent to research facilitation offices who will oversee a process to determine which applications get developed for submission to the funder. The internal deadline is (obviously) before the funder deadline – so if you don’t investigate this and only work to the funder deadline, you may find you’re too late. To avoid disappointment, sign up to research facilitator newsletters, check their websites and ask around your department to see which schemes operate an internal triage system.

3) Seek collaborations, partnerships, and support BEFORE you apply

The majority of funding applications will be rejected, so it can be tempting not to approach potential academic collaborators and industry partners until you know you’ve secured the money. But this is NOT the most sensible plan. Your applications have to seem well researched and doable to convince funders to hand over their cash – if you don’t actually have collaborators on board yet, your project may not happen. And just as importantly, your collaborators may offer valuable insights and advice to strengthen your applications. Rest assured, people understand funding may not come through first time, so aim to convince people that you and your project are worthwhile, and build good working relationships that can last through more than one funding call.

4) Be specific

About everything. We all know research methods and ideas can evolve over the course of a project, but funders want to know exactly how you’re going to be spending your time and their money. It makes you seem like a good bet. Those collaborators and partners you’ve already secured (a la point 3)? What exactly will they offer you? Support? Training? Expertise? Access to equipment? Why do you need it? And why are they the right people to offer it? Which methods will you use exactly, and why? What are your key outputs? And when will they be completed? And if you really don’t know yet, then be clear how you will decide and what will influence your decision. This doesn’t mean being overly technical (unless the funder requires it). It means showing you have a clear plan.

5) Interviews really count

If a funding application process involves an interview, said interview really counts. Applications will likely be given scores/ranked in the first round, but the message from the workshop was that the scores are almost reset for the interview. So everyone is on an equal footing and in with a shot. If reviewers have highlighted weaknesses in your application, be ready to address these in your interview (and always address them in writing too if given the chance). If progress has been made in your research/plan since you first submitted the application (and these processes can take a while, so interviewers might expect progress!), this is your chance to update the panel. And practice! We offer practice interviews, and even more importantly when it comes to funding interviews, so do the research facilitators, and your supervisors/departments may well do too if you ask!

Best of luck with your applications!

Many thanks for the workshop go to:

Dr Jen Hazelton, Senior School Research Facilitator, for The Bartlett, Engineering, and Mathematical & Physical Sciences, Jacob Leveridge, Deputy Director of Research Facilitation for UCL Arts & Humanities, UCL Laws, UCL Social & Historical Sciences, the UCL School of Slavonic & East European Studies and the UCL Institute of Education, and Dr Melanie Bradnam and Pascale Fanning-Tichborne, Strategic Research Facilitators for the School of Life and Medical Sciences.

Professional Careers Beyond Academia Conference – Breakout Sessions

By Isobel E Powell, on 3 June 2019

Professional Careers Beyond Academia Conference

Conference Schedule:

9.30 – 10.00 Registration

10.00 – 13.00 Introducing Life & Health Sciences outside of Academia
Welcome by Institute of Child Health and an Introduction to UCL Careers
Keynote – GSK “Research: Bio Tech/Pharma”
Keynote – Medpace “Clinical Trials”
Keynote – Costello Medical “Science Communication”
Keynote – EY Parthenon “Life & Health Sciences Consultancy”
Q&A Session with keynotes

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch Break

14.00 – 15.15 Breakout Session
Option 1: Forum – Careers in UK and Global Health
Option 2: Forum – Careers in Government & Policy
Option 3: Workshop –  The (Career)Path Less Travelled

15.30 – 16.00 Closing Remarks
16.00 – 17.30 Networking Drinks

Last chance to sign up:

Meet your afternoon speakers!

 The breakout sessions are an opportunity to learn more about a specific area of health and life sciences. Choose between three great sessions covering careers in UK & Global Health, Government & Policy and a workshop on Entrepreneurial thinking. Interested in a career in public health, or becoming an advisor? The session on UK and Global Health could be for you. Fancy devising policy or working to support the healthcare system? Then our Government and Policy session could be your fit. Want to become an entrepreneur or learn key business skills? The workshop is an opportunity to hear from a UCL start-up.

Not sure which session to choose?  Find out more below:

2pm – 3.15pm: Breakout Session

  • Option 1: UK and Global Health Forum
  • Option 2: Government and Policy Forum
  • Option 3: The (Career)Path Less Travelled

UK & Global Health Forum

Speakers will be covering areas including research, public protection, global health and public health modelling:

Dr Laura Webber

Dr Laura Webber is co-founder and COO of HealthLumen, a global population health company that uses computer simulation models to build virtual populations to quantify the long-term impact of different policy, screening and treatment interventions.

HealthLumen acquired the modelling unit of the UK Health Forum (UKHF), a policy and advocacy organisation focused on the prevention of chronic diseases. At UKHF Laura was Director of Public Health Modelling, and led a multi-disciplinary team of epidemiologists, mathematicians, analysts, and computer programmers, co-ordinating global, European and national projects. Projects included the European Commission funded project ‘EConDA’ (Economics of Chronic Diseases), the Trust For America’s Health project ‘F as in Fat’, modelling obesity across each US state (http://healthyamericans.org/assets/files/TFAH2012FasInFatFnlRv.pdf), as well as various projects for Public Health England, Cancer Research UK, and the World Bank.

Laura holds an MA (Hons) from Cambridge University and a PhD in childhood obesity from University College London (Cancer Research UK studentship). She is honorary Assistant Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine within the Health Protection Research Unit, and an occasional advisor to the World Health Organization and World Bank. She is lead author and co-author on a number of peer-reviewed publications and major reports. Laura was nominated for the Young Investigator of the year at Europrevent, Amsterdam (2015) and recently won the Open University Future Leader Award (2018), where she is studying for an MBA.

Lukasz Aleksandrowicz

Lukasz is a Portfolio Manager at Wellcome, alongside finishing a part-time PhD at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Wellcome is a major health research funder, and Lukasz works specifically on the Our Planet, Our Health team, which funds research on the connections between global environmental change (like climate change and its impact on food systems) and human health. In his role, Lukasz is responsible for managing a portfolio of research, developing new funding initiatives, and helping define the Wellcome Trusts funding strategy.

Before this, Lukasz worked in a number of research roles across various parts of global health, though the majority of his experience was working at the Centre for Global Health Research in Toronto, Canada. Many deaths in low- and middle-income countries happen outside the health sector and are therefore not registered, leading to a lack of basic data on which disease burdens are most prominent. The centres focus was on tracking this “invisible mortality”. In that role, Lukasz helped develop the tools and surveys that were used in fieldwork, and helped analyse the trends in data.

Lukasz’s PhD is in the area of sustainable diets and uses an interdisciplinary approach (including data on nutrition, environment and economics), to investigate how food consumption in India can be both healthy and environmentally sustainable. Lukasz’s PhD did not start his career in global health, but has rather been on-going in parallel to it. Even in his current non-academic role, the PhD has proved to be valuable training. It has built his expertise in a topic area (food systems and environment), which he now use in his role funding projects on this theme. It has also developed his ability to critically evaluate many aspects of research: how research questions are defined, how projects and teams are built around them, and whether the methods and approaches used are appropriate.

Dr Elizabeth Goodburn MBBCh DRCOG DFSRH MSc PhD FRCGP

Elizabeth is a medical doctor with wide-ranging experience in international health focusing especially on maternal and reproductive health and primary care.  After completing UK GP Training in 1985 she worked for 4 years as a Provincial Medical Officer in the Solomon Islands. Elizabeth’s subsequent international career included both long and short term assignments in Asia and Africa. Elizabeth’s research work, based at LSHTM, included collaborative health studies focusing on MCH and Reproductive Health among low income groups in W Bengal and rural Bangladesh. Elizabeth has worked for a variety of agencies, including DfID and the UN, on policy and strategy development with international partners, including several years as Chief Technical Advisor for UNFPA in Cambodia.

Elizabeth returned to UK General Practice in 2002 and was a GP Partner and Trainer in the James Wigg Practice serving a diverse inner city population in London until 2015. Elizabeth’s international work continued during this period on a consultancy basis.  From 2013 to 2017, she was Medical Director for International Programmes (S& SE Asia) at the RCGP. Since January 2018 Elizabeth has worked as a Senior Technical Advisor for the SoapBox Collaborative as part of a partnership with WaterAid in Myanmar to improve IPC in health facilities.  Elizabeth’s varied career has led to a strong commitment to health services development both in the UK NHS and internationally. Elizabeth’s work ethos is always to share experiences and foster productive partnerships based on mutual learning and respect with the aim of making good quality health care available to all.                                               

Careers in Government & Policy

Our speakers will be covering areas including medical policy, regulation, health governance and policy consultancy from organisations including:

Dr Francisco de Matos Afonso Pereira

Pharmaceutical Assessor at the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)

The MHRA is responsible for the regulation of medicines and medical devices used in the UK. This includes the authorisation of clinical trials and the evaluation and granting of Marketing Authorisation (licences) for medicinal products.

A Pharmaceutical assessor carries out the assessment of data provided in marketing authorisation initial and variation applications including those with new, wide-ranging or complex issues making appropriate recommendations and decisions in line with the protection of public health. We also provide scientific and regulatory advice to companies. Participation in international bodies such as the European Medicines Agency is common.

Francisco is a Portuguese and UK registered Pharmacist. Francisco did his undergraduate degree in Portugal and moved to London to pursue a PhD. His PhD thesis is entitled: “Sex, Drugs and Excipients: PEG 400 enhances the bioavailability of BCS class III drugs via P-glycoprotein inhibition”. The research work was conducted at the UCL School of Pharmacy and this was joint PhD with the University of Coimbra in Portugal. In this work he discussed how excipients are capable of changing drug disposition. Their role should not be underestimated. The degree to which excipients modulate drug bioavailability may be modified by sex. It is important that regulatory authorities and pharmaceutical industry take this knowledge into account during the pharmaceutical development stages of pharmaceutical products. This subject, closely related to drug product formulation, provided me with a strong foundation for my work as an assessor at the UK Regulatory Authority.

Dr Sara C Marques

Sara is a Senior Researcher at the Health Policy Partnership (HPP), a consulting company specialised in health policy. HPP works on a range of short-term projects and runs the secretariat for two well-established multidisciplinary networks, All.Can and The Heart Failure Policy Network (HFPN).

Sara’s work at HPP involves researching and writing about healthcare environments, in areas including cardiovascular disease, women’s health and personalised healthcare. Some of the reports Sara writes are external-facing, others for internal use. Sara is the Head of Programme of HFPN, an independent and multidisciplinary platform focused on raising awareness of the challenge heart failure poses to healthcare systems across Europe, and on the presentation of possible solutions to address the challenge.

Sara has a Master of Sciences of Pharmacy from the University of Lisbon, Portugal, and a PhD in Molecular Medicine from the University of Aarhus, Denmark. Sara’s PhD focused on response to treatment with doxorubicin in people living with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, specifically on the impact of microRNA and RNA expression on the development of resistance to treatment. Towards the end of her PhD, Sara realised she didn’t want to continue working in Academia, and moved on to the health policy sector. Sara took on a role of Health Research Analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit, where she worked in the development of value-based healthcare frameworks and studies of burden of disease in Europe, Canada and Latin America. Sara also wrote critical appraisals of health research for the National Institute for Health Research. This position led Sara to her current role at HPP.

 “Academia researchers often develop a wide range of skills without even realising it – a comprehensive ‘toolbox’ that can be used across sectors. If you’re considering leaving Academia, identify your ‘toolbox’ and focus on your strengths. Put your research skills to use and identify the areas that seem to be a good fit!”

Dr Susannah Cleary

In her current role at NHS England and NHS Improvement Susannah leads or contributes to the development and delivery of strategic projects as a part of the Strategy directorate, drawing on problem-solving, project management and stakeholder engagement skills to plan and deliver work. This includes advising the CEO of the NHS and various NHS executive directors on strategy, tactics and messaging for issues affecting the NHS and its staff. Examples of specific projects Susannah has led include: benchmarking NHS hospitals’ compliance with nationally-defined cyber security standards and assessing the NHS’s cyber vulnerabilities. Susannah is currently part of the team developing the processes and implementation framework that will allow frontline NHS organisations and commissioners to implement the recommendations of the NHS Long Term Plan, the NHS’s 10-year strategic vision, which was published in January 2019.

Susannah’s PhD took her to the National Institutes of Health, NIH, the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and public health research, where she conducted the bulk of the primary research for her thesis. After doing a PhD, Susannah returned to the NIH for a postdoctoral fellowship, working on drug development for kidney cancer. During her NIH fellowship she undertook a detail in one of the NIH’s health policy shops, which turned into a year working at the Fogarty International Centre, the NIH’s global health institute. During that year Susannah evaluated the impact of US Government-funded training programmes to demonstrate that Fogarty-funded activity is building research capacity in recipient countries and is effecting change in country-level and international health policy. Susannah also developed and implemented a global health training course to promote awareness of global health amongst NIH staff and students and raised the profile of Fogarty International Centre. Susannah’s experience at the Fogarty International Centre led her to enroll in an MSc in International Public Policy at University College London.

Workshop: The (Career)Path Less Travelled

Entrepreneurial thinking and how it will shape your future

Envisaging your career beyond the academic sphere is not necessarily the hardest part; unravelling how to get there can be far more challenging. Despite being involved in activities that make them core sources of new knowledge and cutting-edge technology, few UCL researchers will take the time to recognise the extent to which their skills and experiences are entrepreneurial by nature. Even fewer will stop to acknowledge that being entrepreneurial is just as much about adopting a certain approach to your thinking and behaviour as it is about creating a new business or venture.

This workshop will focus on both of these elements, helping you to gain an understanding of what it means to be entrepreneurial as a researcher and how you should be capitalising on these traits to self-direct your career management. For those who are interested in creating spin-outs or their own start-ups, the workshop will provide practical advice and insight on how to move an idea forward and how UCL can help you to do so.

Janette Junghaus – Senior Programme Officer for Entrepreneurship, UCL Innovation & Enteprise

Janette coordinates a dynamic entrepreneurship skills programme for UCL’s doctoral and early career researcher communities, and builds relationships across the university to foster the development of entrepreneurial mind sets. Her professional background is rooted in fast-paced environments in the private sector, having worked in professional network management, PR, international architecture and design practices, and private equity. After completing a part-time MSc in Neuroscience, Language & Communication at UCL, she spent two years being part of a multi-disciplinary dementia research and public engagement project funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Dr Vassilis Georgiadis – Senior Partnerships Manager (Pharma & Healthcare), UCL Innovation & Enterprise

Vassilis is responsible for developing strategic partnerships between UCL researchers and external commercial partners, with a focus on pharma and healthcare sectors. Before joining UCL Innovation & Enterprise he was a Business and Innovation manager at UCL’s Translation Research Office, supporting industrial research collaboration activities through a faculty-facing role. Prior to that he was one of the founding members of Molecular Warehouse, a UK diagnostics and digital health startup.He’s a molecular and cell biologist by training, with more than 10 years of academic research in various biomedical areas. Vassilis studied for a BSc in Genetics at Queen Mary University, followed by an MSc in Clinical Neurosciences at UCL and a DPhil in Cell Biology at the University of Sussex

 

Dr Rebecca McKelvey – Founder and Director, in2scienceUK

Rebecca has a PhD in neuroscience from UCL and during her PhD she founded the social enterprise in2scienceUK. In2scienceUK’s mission is to improve social mobility and diversity in the STEM sector and works with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds helping them to achieve their potential and progress to top universities and research careers. The programme works by leveraging the skills and passion of researchers who give summer work placements and workshops to students. To date in2scienceuk has supported over 1,000 students in London, The South East and South West of England.

Want to learn more about the Keynote speakers? See our blog post on them here!

Professional Careers Beyond Academia Conference – Keynotes

By Sophia Donaldson, on 23 May 2019

Booking is now open and free to research staff and students:

Research Staff book your place via MyUCLCareers

Research Students book your place via the Doctoral Skills website

Talking us through the Life and Health Sciences pipeline, we will have keynotes from:

  • An Investigator in the Novel Human Genetics Research Unit (NHG-RU) for GSK,
  • A Clinical Trials Manager for Medpace,
  • The Head of the Multidisciplinary Division at Costello Medical
  • A Senior Consultant, in the EMEIA Life Sciences Strategy Centre of Excellence EY-Parthenon

Alongside the keynotes, we have two great forums with speakers including:

We also have an Entrepreneurship workshop led by in2scienceUK – an award winning charity which empowers students from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve their potential and progress to STEM and research careers through high quality work placements and careers guidance.

Conference Schedule: Thursday 6th June, 10am – 5.30pm


9.30 – 10.00 Registration

10.00 – 13.00 Introducing Life & Health Sciences outside of Academia: Keynotes and Q&A

Welcome by Institute of Child Health and an Introduction to UCL Careers

Keynote – GSK “Research: Bio Tech/Pharma”

Keynote – Medpace “Clinical Trials”

Keynote – Costello Medical “Science Communication”

Keynote – EY Parthenon “Life & Health Sciences Consultancy”

Q&A Session with keynotes

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch Break

14.00 – 15.15 Breakout Session

Option 1: Forum Careers in UK and Global Health

Option 2: ForumCareers in Government & Policy

Option 3: WorkshopEntrepreneurship

15.30 – 16.00 Closing Remarks

16.00 – 17.30 Networking Drinks

 

Want to learn more about our keynotes before the conference? Read below:

GSK
Dr. James Porter, Investigator
Novel Human Genetics Research Unit (NHG-RU).

James obtained a BSc in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Bristol followed by an MSc (Immunology) and PhD (Innate immunology of asthma exacerbations) at Imperial College London before joining GSK in 2014. At GSK he has led and contributed to numerous early-stage target validation campaigns, novel target ID studies and more recently supported late-stage programmes. James also acts as an industry supervisor to undergraduate (industrial-placement) and PhD (CASE) students and serves as a data integrity representative, ensuring scientific data meets the high standards that GSK sets out to achieve.

What is your key tip for researchers?

“Scientific techniques are generally the same in industry and in academia, if you’re considering a career in industry think about what skills you can apply to an industry setting.” 

Company Bio: The Novel Human Genetics Research Unit (NHG-RU) is one of the four key research units within the GSK R&D organisation. With access to multiple genetic databases (23andMe, UK Biobank, Finngen etc.) and GSK expertise (Human Genetics and Functional Genomics), the NHG-RU is poised to identify, validate and progress novel targets with strong genetic association to diseases, with significant unmet medical need and commercial opportunity.

 

Medpace
Dr. Stephanie Millin, Clinical Trial Manager

 

Stephanie Millin completed her PhD from the University of Oxford in 2017, having studied genetic modelling and molecular pathways in Parkinson’s disease. After taking a break to surf and scuba dive in Australia, she returned to the UK straight into her current job at Medpace. Stephanie’s PhD contributed to her fast-tracking from an entry-level position as a Project Coordinator to her current role as Clinical Trial Manager within a year, a transition that could normally span several years. Stephanie is now responsible for overseeing and managing all aspects of Clinical Trials with a focus specialism on Nuclear Medicine.

What is your key tip for researchers?

“Don’t let failures get you down! They’re disheartening and inevitable, but each one takes you a small step closer to success.”

Company Bio: Medpace are a leading mid-size clinical Contract Research Organisation (CRO) that operates globally within a range of therapeutic areas. “Our unique global partnering philosophy emphasizes an uncompromising commitment to clinical research and to the highest level of ethical standards and performance in our jobs.”

 

Costello Medical
Dr. Lucy Eddowes, Head of Multidisciplinary Division

Lucy has led a wide variety of projects since joining Costello Medical, covering the majority of core services that Costello Medical offers, leading to her establishing a team in 2017 that is dedicated to providing multidisciplinary support to clients. In her role as Head of the Multidisciplinary Division, Lucy is particularly focused on continuing to diversify and grow the service offerings at Costello Medical. Lucy also oversees Costello Medical’s pro bono project activities, collaborating with non-profit organisations to expand work in this area.

What is your key tip for researchers?

“In terms of taking the first step outside of academia, deciding what to try can be challenging. But don’t forget that you are surrounded by colleagues having the exact same thoughts and facing the same dilemmas so group together to share, learn and keep each other motivated on your career searches.”

Company Bio: Costello Medical provides scientific support in the analysis, interpretation and communication of clinical and health economic data. “Our vision is to be a community of the very best people, constantly challenging ourselves to make meaningful and outstanding contributions to improving healthcare.

 

EY Parthenon
Dr. Sami Jaffar, Senior Consultant
EMEIA Life Sciences Strategy Center of Excellence

 

Sami has over 4 years of life sciences strategy consulting experience for established and emerging pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and has worked across different therapeutic areas. His core expertise is in portfolio and disease area strategy, due diligence evaluations and opportunity assessments for BD&L.Prior to EY-Parthenon, Sami was a Senior Consultant at Navigant Consulting, focusing on life sciences commercial strategy projects and developing expertise in IBD and oncology therapeutics and diagnostics.

What is your key tip for researchers?

“Consulting is a difficult industry to enter. It requires appropriate preparation and that can be daunting, but do not be afraid of failure. As Henry Ford once said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Company Bio: EY-Parthenon is the Strategy Consultancy arm of the EY brand (which covers Tax, Audit, Accounting, Assurance). The EY-Parthenon Life Sciences Strategy Center of Excellence works with the leading Global Biopharma & Biotech companies to solve complex issues through innovative strategic solutions.

Don’t miss our Academic Careers in the USA Event – 5pm Monday 20th May

By Sophia Donaldson, on 14 May 2019

We often get asked (by you) about getting into academia in the US, so we’re shipping in a real expert to give you the lowdown. After spending 15 years as a tenured professor, department head, and university advisor, Karen is now an academic careers coach. Join us at the below event to get the benefit of her advice! Sign up via the links below.

‘Hacking the Job Market’: Academic Careers in USA

Lucas Lecture Theatre Strand Building KCL

Mon 20 May 2019, 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM

Sign up here: https://uclcareers.targetconnect.net/leap/event.html?id=3273&service=Careers+Service

Dr Karen Kelsky, author of The Professor is in will speak about the current American academic job market and offer tips for getting on to the much coveted tenure track. The event will begin with an interactive session by Kellee Weinhold (strategic communications and academic productivity coach for the Professor is In).

5.00pm- 6.00pm – Acing academic interviews

Kellee will move through standard interview questions, explaining common errors and weaknesses and providing examples of effective answers with attention to brevity, spin, word choice, tone, body language, and more in an interactive session

6.00pm-7.30pm – The US job market and how to hack it

Karen will walk you through the conditions of the current American job market, the most common mistakes made by job-seekers, and the ways you can maximize your chances of success while looking for a tenure-track job in a lecture style session.

Karen will cover:

-The big-picture conditions of the U.S. tenure track job market

-How to think like a search committee

-The four core qualities of a successful tenure track job candidate

-The all-important 5-Year Plan

-The ethos of job market documents

-The most common mistakes made by job seekers

-The three keys to academic interviewing

-The non-academic option

Karen also examines the pervasive intangible pitfalls that can bedevil job documents and interviewing, including narcissism, excessive humility, and hyper-emotionalism. You’ll leave with a broad understanding of the real (as opposed to fantasy) criteria of tenure track hiring, and how to tailor your record and application materials to maximize your chances of success. Finally, she will also touch on the current political situation and outlooks for US academia.

Sign up here: https://uclcareers.targetconnect.net/leap/event.html?id=3273&service=Careers+Service

Don’t miss our Arts and Cultural Heritage event for researchers!

By Sophia Donaldson, on 7 May 2019

Here are the details of a not-to-be-missed event just for PhDs and Research Staff:

Title: UCL Careers Employer-led Forum: Careers in Arts & Cultural Heritage

Date: Thursday 23rd May 2019

Time:  6pm–7.30pm

Location: Seminar Room, UCL Careers, 4th Floor, Student Central, Malet Street, London

Overview:

The aim of this event is to help PhD students and other researchers with their career planning by providing an opportunity to hear from, and network with, employers from the Arts & Cultural Heritage sectors who are PhD holders themselves.

Our guest speakers, from Historic Royal PalacesBritish Museum and Battersea Arts Centre, will offer tips on how researchers can use their qualifications and experiences to enter this field, as well as giving information about their sector.

Participating in this event will enable you to:

  • Gain awareness of career options for researchers in the Arts and Cultural Heritage sectors
  • Engage with professionals from within these sectors with Q&A and informal networking
  • Understand how to use your qualifications and experience to your advantage in this field

This event is open to all research students and research staff with an interest in this area.

Speaker information:

 

Dr Meg Peterson: Project Manager for Research & Partnerships at Battersea Arts Centre

Meg Peterson, Ph.D. is the Founder of 21 Artists, a company focused on fostering, documenting and evaluating art and social change through artist development, social impact evaluation and consultancy. Meg is also the Project Manager for Research & Partnerships at Battersea Arts Centre, working to foster learning and collaboration through exchange programmes, research projects, courses, workshops and seminars with universities and other institutions along with designing and managing the social impact evaluation for various social change programmes. She has just completed her degree at the University of Exeter’s Business School researching cultural entrepreneurship, combining business model innovation with social entrepreneurship and cultural policy to develop a new model for innovative value creation in the creative industries. Meg also works as a practising illustrator, painter and photographer to augment the work she does as a curator, evaluator and academic.

 

Dr Helen Anderson: Project Curator, British Museum

Helen Anderson has a background in Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History from the University of East Anglia, gaining her doctorate in art and neuroscience in 2010. Following her PhD she worked as a Research Officer at the Rock Art Research Institute at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg before taking up a post at the British Museum working on a four year digital humanities project in African Rock Art. She is currently working as a Project Curator in the Africa department at the British Museum with a focus on the early photographic archives from West Africa.

 

Dr Constantina Vlachou-Mogire: ACR Conservation Science Manager for Historic Royal Palaces

Constantina worked for 10 years in Greece in object conservation before moving to the UK to do a PhD at University of Bradford, focusing on the production of late Roman coins using analytical and experimental archaeology techniques. In her current role as Conservation Science Manager for Historic Royal Palaces Constantina is responsible for the planning and execution of research projects informing the preservation of the diverse objects and interiors of the Palaces. This is primarily a cross disciplinary work involving bringing arts and science together and collaborating with colleagues from different departments within the organisation or external partners such as UCL. Constantina is also a Trustee of the National Heritage Science Forum and since 2010 has been member of the BSI Committee B/560 Conservation of Tangible Cultural Heritage.

 

Booking information for Research Staff

Bookings for this event must be made using the myUCLCareers booking system – you will not be able to book via DocSkills.

Book via myUCLCareers

 

Booking information for Research Students

You can book through the DocSkills Employer-led careers events page

Book via DocSkill

How can you use your research skills in Academic Publishing?

By Sophia Donaldson, on 1 February 2019

Anouska Bharath is completing a PhD in Mechanical Engineering and is now a Market Intelligence Research Analyst at Springer Nature. Here she kindly shares her career journey, and some useful tips she’s picked up along the way.

Tell us about your current role and organisation.

My role at Springer Nature is not what I assumed before joining the firm actually. Being in academia for some time, and especially in research, my view of this industry was much like that of a fan-girl! I was in awe of the glamorous and intelligent work that scientific editors and analysts do in big publishers, and my academic career fed increasingly into this vision. Having started as a research analyst, I couldn’t progress to an editor’s role until my PhD was complete (and this is still in completion stage). As my first year passed however, I realised that my analyst role in scientific research is actually exactly what I love! Dealing with data, finding trends, and ultimately discovering stories that really propel our position as a global research hub.

How did you move from academia to your current role?

I love the academic environment, and furthermore I love the journey that I had from my BSc in Statistics to my (almost) PhD in Engineering. Academia is an industry that you really cannot describe to others who haven’t themselves experienced it. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions and you constantly question how “good” you are at what you do every day. It definitely built me to withstand those emotions when they pop up outside of work. The application process wasn’t easy, nor was it straightforward. While UCL has lots of support services for career moves, as a PhD student you really don’t have any time to put toward even thinking about life after thesis submission! Well I didn’t anyway. I decided that I needed to experience something other than academia however, as it just felt healthier to branch out into one of my “passions” for a bit. My passion has always been writing, so this company seemed ideal – mixing science with writing. The problem of course was that without my PhD complete, I was disadvantaged applying to a publishing firm like Springer Nature. Many applications, LinkedIn stalks, interviews, and cries later, I secured a role as a research analyst here. The process was gruelling, but so worth it.

What does a normal working day look like for you?

I don’t get to do much scientific writing. I focus a lot more on creating analytical reports that go out to help keep our journals in universities and hospitals. I analyse scientific papers and themes, funding streams, and big institutional users, in order to create reports and critical analyses for business strategy. A typical day would be me interacting with my sales team to figure out what strategic move to make analytically in the regions I cover, catching myself up on the latest trends in science, and keeping an eye on new data streams in scientific funding, publications, journal usage, and submissions.

What are the best things about working in your role?

I have to say the best part of being at Springer Nature is the support I get every day. Academic settings truthfully aren’t as conducive to such cohesive support; just because of the nature of your goal in academia. My team here has always been so supportive and accommodating as I transition from “student” to “analyst”. Otherwise, Springer Nature is also a very diverse platform in itself – allowing me to be a part of the “larger picture” in the research industry. As a big player in scientific research, we have a scheme called Grand Challenges whereby we target research features toward tackling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. I recently actually set up a fruitful relationship with UCL’s Grand Challenges committee as they are also doing the same. Watch this space I guess! I love how much the company invests in employee wellbeing – it’s like being on a really cool “bridge” between university campus and industry. We actually even call it the Springer Nature campus! The amount of clubs and societies is amazing, and the initiatives taken toward personal and professional development are unmatched. There’s even a wellbeing committee (of which I am a member) that ensure we maintain interactive wellbeing schemes – like sports challenges, bake sales, on-campus movie screenings, and charity events. I feel so lucky!

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

The biggest challenge I faced when starting, was the added element of time pressure to my work. Being a research student, the time pressure was always from my own clock (so to speak). My deadlines impacted no one else but myself. In an environment where the deadline affects the next person in the process chain, the need to be accurate yet timely became very important – but this was new. It took a while, but I think I finally started to strike the balance! Of course the need to get up at the same time every day was also new and never became easier…. J I also had a hard time communicating in way that non-academics would understand. In fact, communication in general was never a big part of my academic journey. For me specifically, the added commitment in the evenings/weekend of my thesis write-up remains. The strain here however will not be applicable to other new starters.

Is a PhD essential for your role? What skills do you use from your PhD in your current role?

For my “role-on-paper”, a Masters would suffice. But for what my role has become, my PhD has been invaluable. From increasing my speed/capability in analysing large datasets, to just knowing the science industry – it’s been really useful. Of course, the qualification itself would help more in editing arms of the company.

What’s the progression like/where do you see yourself going from here?

The progression in this role would take me into more top-level business strategy, and probably further away from the science! PhD-telling, this will be decided once I qualify 🙂

What top tips would you pass on to researchers interested in this type of work?

Hmm tough one…there are so many things! But you know what? Learning as you go has never been more accurate for skills like these. Communication, team-work, presentation, listening….they’re all the standard “application fillers” we all used! But they mean nothing until you really have to put them into practice. If you’re looking to work in an industry like this, I would apply to Springer Nature purely because I have had such a wonderful time so far (unbiased I promise). Network yourself crazy – even just online. I remember I followed lots of Springer Nature employees, and even reached out to one who helped me prepare for the interview. Building a network was invaluable when preparing. Also be prepared to get a few rejections – I even got one from this company at first! But realise that it’s all part of the process, and it WILL make the next one even better. Good luck!

 

Taking a PhD into Clinical Trials

By Sophia Donaldson, on 17 December 2018

Dr Mariam Al-Laith has a PhD in immunopharmacology from UCL, and is now a Clinical Trials Manager at King’s College London. Many PhDs speak to us about moving into clinical trials, so we asked Mariam to give us the lowdown on her role and how she got there.

Hi Mariam, what are you up to now?

I manage a large multi-site (30 hospitals in the UK, 3 in the Netherlands) CTIMP clinical trial. As part of the study we collect samples to analyse and store in a biobank, therefore the trial also involves five university labs. These labs are based in different areas of the country because the samples need to reach the lab within four hours of being taken from a patient.  Part of my role is to coordinate all of the logistics.

Walk us through your journey from PhD to your current role.

After my PhD, I was awarded a one-year Royal Society fellowship which allowed me to conduct research in France, and this was then extended by 6 months with a French fellowship.  When I came back to the UK, I was a post-doc for three years in the Department of Pharmacology at Cambridge.  After that I started a family, and at that point gave up lab research. When I returned to work less than a year after having my first child, I took up a desk job as a Research Development Officer at UCL’s Department of Oncology. The role was part-time, three days a week, which worked well for me with my new family. After another break to have my second child, I moved into a Campus Manager role at the Whittington Hospital for UCL’s Medical School. I was in this post for seven years and then I worked for a year as an Executive Researcher for UCL’s Department of Speech and Language Therapy, all part time.

When I decided to start working full time again, I decided I also wanted to move into clinical trials. It was quite tough to get into because everyone was asking for experience. I had a lot of work experience of course, of management and research, as well as finance management, but none in clinical trials directly. It might have been easier to get in as a Trial Administrator or an Assistant Clinical Trial Manager, but because I had so much experience I wanted to go in at a more senior level.  So, to upskill, I attended courses that were offered to staff at UCL about clinical trials and Good Clinical Practice (GCP). I made a lot of applications and eventually, helped by the extra courses as well as my experience in management, research, universities, and the hospital environment, I was luckily able to secure my current role. I have been in post for five years now. I joined the team from the start of the project, so I had to amend the protocol, submit the ethics and MHRA approval documents, and prepare all of the associated paperwork for running a multi-centre clinical trial.

What does an average day look like?

It’s very busy and varied, as I’m entirely responsible for all aspects of the trial management, including the finances. At the beginning of a trial there is a lot of documentation to prepare. Now as the trial is underway, I’m monitoring progress, making sure the data is clean, organising training sessions for sites to help them follow the protocol, liaising with people working on the trial, arranging for samples to be stored at the biobank, managing the trial medication and the randomisation system, documenting what is happening on the trial, writing reports for the Trial Steering Committee meetings, and managing the trial assistant and trial monitor. It’s never boring!

What are the best bits?

I like that the work is very varied. And the most rewarding part is when people come back to me and comment that the trial documents have been well written, that everything has been well run and explained, and that the sites have been well supported. People are appreciative of what I do, which feels very nice.

What are the downsides?

At times it can be overwhelming, so a good trial manager must keep calm. Sometimes people do the wrong thing over and over again, or College Finance Departments are under pressure and so they don’t process invoices for payment on time, making hospitals and other stakeholders complain because they haven’t been paid. All of that can be very frustrating, but you must keep a cool head.

Is a PhD required for this role?

It’s preferable for you to have a science background so you understand some of the terminology. A PhD is not required, but it does help you develop a range of skills, such as analytical and writing skills, writing documents, manuals, SOPs etc. – as well as a good understanding of how research works, which you need for this role. For these reasons, a PhD graduate can likely enter clinical trials work at a higher level, maybe an Assistant Trial Manager, than someone without a PhD, who may have to begin by processing samples for clinical trials in the lab.

Whether you have a PhD or not, you must be dedicated in this role, and you must have a good eye for detail. You have to be a careful reader, and be able to write very clear, logical, precise, accurate documents that people can follow. You have to submit a lot of documentation to various bodies, and the information you submit has to be accurate. A single small mistake, even just a typo, can lead to you having to revise and submit again.

Where do people tend to go if they move on from a Clinical Trials Manager role?

There are a lot of opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry, contract research organizations (CROs), university clinical departments, Clinical Trials Units, hospital Research and Development Departments etc. You could move on to a senior role, manage several trials, or manage a clinical trial unit.

What tips do you have for researchers wanting to move into Clinical Trials Management?

It’s a really good idea to learn more about clinical trials. There are loads of courses, and especially if you’re already in the university sector they should be easy to access. The first thing you should seek out is a Good Clinical Practice (GCP) session, for which you get a certificate. And ask to follow/shadow someone who is running a clinical trial. There are many people out there who are quite willing to mentor or at least have a one-off conversation to offer advice. And if you don’t feel you have enough experience yet to get in at the manager level, then try for an assistant level, or a sample processing or administrative role, and work your way up from there. You should also try to gain relevant experience while in your current role, such as project management, management of people, and finance management experience.

Festive career lessons from Home Alone

By Sophia Donaldson, on 14 December 2018

 

How many times have I seen Home Alone? I couldn’t tell you for sure. But I know the number is big because it’s a blooming Christmas classic. When I first watched it I was but a stupid little child, so I thought the key themes of the film were about not taking your family for granted, good triumphing over evil, Christmas miracles etc. etc. etc. But last weekend I watched it through the wisened (wrinkly) eyes of a UCL Careers Consultant, and I was finally able to discern its true meaning. And as luck would have it, it’s actually all about careers. Below are the top three career messages I took away from this festive favourite. They contain spoilers…but come on, who hasn’t seen Home Alone?!

 

1. Build a brand

When Harry and Marv get their comeuppance at the hands of Kevin, they pay not only for breaking and entering the house in which they were found, but also for all the previous houses they’ve burgled. This is because they have a calling card, an MO, a brand: they are the Wet Bandits.

So ok, if you’re committing crimes, maybe a brand isn’t such a sensible idea. But when you’re looking for a job, having an MO can be very attractive to employers. It tells them who you are, and what you can contribute. So what brand are you building? If an employer googles you or peruses your LinkedIn page, what picture will they get? Is it clear enough? In your application documents and on LinkedIn, make sure you mention all of your interesting projects and achievements, and even include links to relevant work, like presentations you’ve given, code you’ve created, blogs you’ve written (hopefully about subjects that reflect your brand) etc. Then you too may be as recognisable to an employer as a Wet Bandit is to the cops.

 

2. Get organised

Kate and Peter McCallister seem like nice enough people with a very lovely house, but they certainly wouldn’t win the award for Best Parents Of The ‘90s. Their problem boiled down to a lack of organisation. They woke up late, took their eyes off the ball, and ended up flying to Paris without their youngest son. Oops.

Just like Kate and Peter, jobhunters often learn the hard way that it’s good to be organised. Well, not quite like Kate and Peter. They rarely inadvertently abandon their children. But instead they find themselves in a pickle when they’re called to interview for a job they have little recollection of applying for, and the job advert has now disappeared. What’s more, they’ve sent off so many applications they’re not sure exactly what they said in this particular one. They then have a decision to make: ask for the job advert to be sent over, thereby admitting their disorganised approach to the employer, or face an interview underprepared. Awkward.

So don’t learn the hard way. Learn the easy way: from this blog about Home Alone. When you’re in jobhunting mode, keep clear records – maybe even in a spreadsheet – of where you’ve applied. And save every job advert, person specification, and application, ready for when you’re called to impress in person.

 

3. Make time for fun – it may even help your career

Home Alone’s Kevin knows how to enjoy himself. He plays with BB guns, seesaws, and Micro Machines, and he watches gangster movies. He does these things because they’re fun, but they also turn out to be pretty handy when he has two burglars to tackle.

At UCL Careers, we may be guilty of making you think your career plans should motivate every choice you make. Actually, that’s not really how life works. Often you have to put yourself out there, do what you enjoy, and work out how that might be useful in your career later down the line. This is exactly what a UCL PhD-turned Life Sciences Consultant told us when we interviewed him a few months ago. He loves theatre, so he got involved in writing show reviews. When applying for Consultant roles, he used this as evidence of his written communication skills: he can put together accessible and persuasive writing about a show, even with the limitation that he couldn’t reveal the plot to his readers. And clearly it worked – he got the job! His advice is “Although to some degree you should cover the bases, do what you enjoy, and figure out how to tell the story in your CV along the way”. Great message….even if it was obviously nicked from Home Alone.

 

 

 

What’s a Medical Science Liaison and how do I become one?

By Sophia Donaldson, on 12 November 2018

Dr Rachel Greig has a PhD in Immunology and is now a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) at Incyte, a pharmaceutical company. We know a lot of you are interested in MSL roles, so we asked Rachel to tell us all about her job and how she got there.

What are you up to now?

I’m a Medical Science Liaison at Incyte, so I build and maintain relationships with key healthcare professionals in my therapy area, which is oncology.

Walk us through your journey from PhD to your current role.

At first I loved my PhD. But after 18 months, I became disillusioned with the fact that you can be plugging away at things for a really long time and they can still not work. I also saw colleagues who were really good scientists getting knocked back for grants, and that seemed an incredibly hard path to follow without much gain. So I started to think academia wasn’t for me, but I had no idea what else was out there. I finished my PhD without a plan, and it was 2008 so the recession had hit. I decided to just try to get any job in any office, but I couldn’t get anything because there were no jobs going. It was quite a weird time for me.

I ended up getting a job temping in an office for an organisation called the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), who regulates certain healthcare professionals such as paramedics and physiotherapists. I started off answering phones, but because I got on well with them and they could see that I was ready for more, I secured a higher level permanent role in the Education team. I was visiting universities that offered relevant healthcare courses and ensuring they were good enough to produce a professional in that field.

After a year I wanted a new challenge, so I took a job at the charity Breast Cancer Now. The job required a PhD, as I was evaluating science to help inform everything the charity said and did, including commenting to the media, giving health information to the public, or putting together political campaigns. It was very varied, I did a lot of work with the media, I met patients, and I went to events at the House of Commons for policy work. But after a few years there I wanted to try a new environment, and I focused on pharma. I’d been working alongside the pharmaceutical industry for a while, and I’d always been interested in drug access. Plus, to be frank, I was at a stage where I was interested in earning a higher salary than charities can pay, so that was factor.

I was drawn to MSL roles as they would use my PhD, are very science-focused, and need someone personable who likes being out and about talking to doctors. So I applied for lots of MSL roles within Contract Research Organisations and Pharmaceutical companies, but I kept getting turned down because I didn’t have experience as an MSL or within pharma. In the meantime I went to a meeting with the ABPI, the body that represents the UK pharma industry. There I met a woman who worked at Lilly who was running a corporate affairs project in the cancer team, which seemed like much the kind of work I had been involved with at the charity – working with different groups involved in cancer-related policy. She mentioned there would be roles coming up in her team soon and asked for my CV, and they took me on as an Oncology Public Affairs Manager. I loved that job, I worked with different charities and the ABPI, with NHS England and the Department of Health, trying to find sustainable ways to fund cancer services and medicines. I’m pretty political anyway, so I really enjoyed the role, however, policy work can be frustrating, as ultimately the government doesn’t have to listen to the campaigning of charities and companies, and can make decisions based on other political factors.

After three years I felt it was time to have a different kind of conversation, so when my Medical Director offered me the opportunity to move into the MSL role at Lilly, I took it. The MSL role is far more about scientific conversations; talking about the data behind drugs, the benefit drugs provide versus the risks; talking about research that’s needed and how doctors and researchers can help with that, and how you can offer your drugs to fund their research projects. I did that role for about a year, at which point some restructuring changes at Lilly prompted me to find a new opportunity, and led me to my current MSL role at Incyte.

What does a normal working day look like for you?

One of the good things about the MSL role is there is no normal day. Today I’m in the office organising an Investigator Meeting for a clinical study Incyte are sponsoring.  We’re hoping to have 50 or 60 investigators there so together we can share and discuss data from our study so far. Yesterday I went to a one-day conference in central London about graft-versus-host disease. Last Wednesday I was visiting a hospital in Cardiff, talking to a team working on one of our clinical studies. Last Thursday I was at another study site in Cambridge. Next week I’m going to a large cancer conference in Munich, and in preparation I’m reaching out to investigators on our clinical studies to see if they’ll be there so we can catch up. Last week I organised for one of the doctors we work with to speak at a range of hospitals in Dublin, which benefits the hospitals to hear from an expert speaker, and benefits him and us in sourcing potential collaborators for his research. Tomorrow I have a meeting at another hospital to propose an add-on to a study an investigator is already doing. So there’s always different conversations you’re having. I also need to keep on top of the literature, and there is support for that internally.

What are the best bits?

For me it’s that I’m always on the go, often out and about chatting to people. And because Incyte is a small company I get lots of opportunities to travel, so I’m abroad at least once a month. That wouldn’t necessarily happen in a large company as they have more employees doing similar jobs. I’m also constantly learning, and I’m doing a job that helps cancer patients get access to medicines.

What are the downsides?

The amount of travel would put some people off, although I personally enjoy it. Another difficult aspect is doctors are very busy people, and sometimes we need data and updates but we can’t get in touch with them. It’s not nice to feel you’re bothering people who are doing such an important job, and sometimes no matter how much you chase you just can’t get what you need, and that’s tough. There is also a lot of compliance in pharmaceutical companies, as we’re a heavily regulated industry. That’s obviously for a good reason, but it can take a while to get used to, especially if someone comes in straight from academia.

Is a PhD Essential for your role?

It depends on the company, but you usually either need a PhD or to be a doctor or nurse, because you’re talking about science at a high level with key consultants, often leaders in their fields. In terms of skills, the PhD teaches you how to manage projects, understand data, and critique studies, which are all skills I use as an MSL.

What’s the progression like?

I’m not a very good person to ask, because I’ve never planned far ahead, but rather taken opportunities as they come! But in general, some people love the role of MSL and will stay with it. Or, depending on how the particular company is structured, someone could become a Senior Medical Science Liaison, and even a Medical Director. Or people might choose to move around. One of the good things about the pharmaceutical industry is once you’re in, they provide opportunities for trying different roles, and my movement from corporate affairs to the medical team is an example of that. For me, long-term I think I’d like to try something a little more strategic, something where I may be on the road a little less eventually.

What tips would you give to researchers who want to become MSLs?

If you’re sure an MSL role is for you, then probably relax out of that! The way I got into this, along with every other MSL I’ve met (bearing in mind they’re all in the oncology therapy area), is by transitioning from a different role within pharma. Most companies want to know their MSLs understand their company and the pharma industry. Now I’m an MSL with experience, I get emails about new MSL roles almost every day – so there are a lot out there, but you just need your break to get in. If you’re sure you’d like to be an MSL, obviously still try for the MSL role, but you might want to widen the net a bit too, and focus on getting into pharma first.

In terms of getting into pharma, I had a bit of luck, but I also put myself in positions where I could capitalise on that luck. For example, I went to a pharma networking event, and within my charity I was pushing for more pharma-related work. So I’d advise doing the same. There’s an MSL conference that a lot of aspiring MSLs attend, as getting to know current MSLs can be very helpful, so you might like to attend that. You should also recognise how important relationship-building qualities are to the role. If you can work in roles within academia, the NHS, or charities where you are building relationships with doctors, you can use that evidence to sell yourself for MSL roles.

Finally, if you’re a PhD or post-doc and you’re reading this because you’re considering MSL roles and your wider options, then rest assured you’re going to be ok! I left academia not knowing what I wanted to do, and without even knowing what an MSL was, so you’re doing the right things – well done!

A PhD’s experience in Life Science Consulting

By Sophia Donaldson, on 18 October 2018

Dr Xun Yu Choong has a PhD in Neuroscience from UCL’s Institute of Neurology and is now a Life Sciences Strategy Consultant at IQVIA. Xun had some great insights to share when we sat down and chatted about his career.

What are you up to now?

I’m an Associate Consultant working for IQVIA, which was formerly known as IMS and Quintiles before these companies merged. IQVIA as a company offers a whole range of services for the healthcare industry from R&D to commercialisation, and as part of Consulting Services we do a broad range of strategy consulting work relating to Life Sciences and Healthcare. This could relate to anything from early stage product development all the way to understanding the best way to commercialise and launch a product around the world.

How did you get here?

I realised at the end of the second year of my PhD that I didn’t want to continue in academia, for a bunch of reasons, but mainly because I wanted to try something outside basic research that may translate more immediately to impacts in the shorter term. As one of the preparations  I started going to UCL’s grad school courses, and my first role I took was actually a direct result of UCL Careers’ Focus on Management which had brought in four major employers, one of which was GSK. During the course I found out about GSK’s Business and Technology Consulting Future Leaders Programme, which was looking for people to bridge the technical and commercial needs of the business, without needing a computer science background. That appealed to me as I wanted to see different parts of the business and learn about different aspects of technology in a large healthcare company.

During my year or so in GSK I learned a lot of seemingly obvious things that as a PhD student I hadn’t learned, such as what it’s like to work in a large open-plan office, and how to reply to emails in a business setting. It might sound silly, but these are habits and states of mind that are quite different between business and academia. For instance when you’re in academia there is less distinction between what is work and what isn’t, all the work is tied very closely to you, whether things move forward or not are frequently down to you to try pushing. Whereas in a large company everyone had an ascribed role, you are a part of a larger process, and it takes time to learn how to be part of that process. Naturally in my role as a Business Process Analyst I also learned a lot about the digital platform and how to be part of a team rolling out large scale programmes to a tight timeline.

However, at that point I realised I was again becoming a bit more specialised than I would have liked, and part of why I’d wanted to move away from academia was to try jobs that allowed a far broader view. So I started to look into other jobs, including consulting, and after going through rounds of applications again I fortunately ended up with three quite different job offers. Apart from consulting, one offer was in a smaller firm largely providing competitive intelligence services to pharma, which meant finding out information about the competition in a regulated way, while the other  involved internal risk auditing where I would have been part of a team visiting different parts of the business to assess how ready they were for different forms of risk. I went for IQVIA because it was the broadest and most commercial role, while I also had a good impression about the workplace, culture and opportunities to develop.

What does an average day look like?

In consulting, the “products” you deliver are the knowledge and recommendations present in your powerpoint slides, reports, spreadsheets and so on. Most of the time as an associate consultant I’m conducting primary or secondary research, creating project documents or helping to coordinate activities needed to deliver projects. The projects you have been assigned will define what the research part looks like, and these projects can last anything from a couple of weeks to 6-7 months. If you’ve got a project involving mostly qualitative research, say if a client wants to understand how payers in the NHS might think when faced with a certain drug’s performance data, then you might be on a phone call with an expert who used to make such decisions, interviewing them with a set of questions your team had devised. So these projects might involve more interviews, surveys,  transcription and analysis to understand what stories it presents. If you’re doing a more quantitative project, for example you may want to understand which regions in Italy we should focus on for a certain initiative, you might want some sort of quantitative data to collect and analyse, for example data on hospitals in the region. In those cases you’d be doing more analysis on Excel – nothing extremely technical – but the research you need to do for projects would depend on the questions posed. There are a broad range of other project types as well, such as organising and conducting workshops, expert panel discussions, mock negotiations and so on.

Generally speaking as a new joiner you would mostly be focusing on project delivery – conducting research and creating materials, for example – while a more experienced project manager will be the main point of contact with the client. Nonetheless, you are fully involved in contributing to the thinking and discussion on how the solutions eventually shape up, and you’ll often be on the client calls and have a chance to offer input. For some projects I have travelled to client offices to present, but so far I’m usually supporting on the phone when needed – this may vary between different projects and indeed between different companies.

What are the best bits?

The work is genuinely very interesting – if it weren’t an important problem for the client they would unlikely have paid for consultants to advise on it. I am happy that my role is focused on Life Science and Healthcare as that is where my interest lies, and within this industry there is still a huge variety in scopes of work, which consulting allows you to broadly explore. My colleagues are great, they come from varied backgrounds, are highly capable and most importantly are very lovely people. There are also very experienced principals whom you can learn a lot from. After a while you get used to switching between project teams, and it always makes for a very dynamic environment.

What are the worst bits?

Classically in consulting, schedules are less predictable as they depend on deadlines set by the client’s needs, and by how the research goes. In IQVIA we work on multiple projects at a time –  usually two, occasionally three – so sometimes it can get very busy if you happen to be on two projects with the same peak periods.

Saying that, from what I understand life sciences and healthcare-focused consulting generally offers more stable hours than some other forms of consulting. There’s also not a culture of showmanship in the sense where working longer is perceived more favourably – the main focus is to deliver project work on time and to a high quality. But because we often can’t fully predict when we will have to stay late, there needs to be some flexibility involved, though any challenges would be dealt with as a team. On the plus side, it also means that if you book time off way in advance it is most likely you can go as you are unlikely to have started a project yet, and your staffing can be built around those leave dates.

Do you need a PhD?

I think PhDs are undervalued. The technical expertise and in-depth knowledge doesn’t even cover half of what they can do, and PhDs often don’t realise how much more developed their PhD has made them in multiple ways. The classic selling points are that PhDs are analytical, they’ve been involved in problem-solving and can conduct research. Because of this most consultancies recognise the value of PhDs, and some consultancies, including IQVIA, accept PhDs  at a higher entry level that undergraduate or Masters students.

But I also think the softer skills developed in PhDs is important, and the challenge with most PhD students is being able to articulate this. For instance PhDs are incredibly resilient because research fails all the time, and you get used to failing and dealing with it. Consulting involves thoroughly addressing client questions, and sometimes these change quickly given new developments and you have to go back to the drawing board; PhDs will likely be able to deal with that situation.

One thing PhDs may struggle with if they enter consulting, and probably a lot of other non-academic workplaces, is the concept of things being “good enough”. There are more deadlines and more acute pressure to deliver, so you can’t be obsessed with doing everything absolutely perfectly, but rather learn to deliver projects that are of an excellent standard within the  limits set. It’s important to think about the big picture as well instead of getting bogged down in every detail, which can take time to adjust to.

What’s the progression like?

One of the good things about consulting is the clear frameworks for how consultants progress. Loosely speaking the more junior levels focus on project delivery and analysis, middle levels get involved with day-to-day project management of increasing complexity, while the more senior roles provide strategic leadership and advice. You are expected to progress within reasonable timeframes, with an industry average of around two years per level. If you demonstrate the qualities required consistently, there is little reason for you to be held back, so the progression opportunities are clear. In consulting in general there is a relatively high turnover of people who join for a few years and then move onto other roles. After being exposed to so many different projects, areas, and companies, part of the reason may be that you may hit upon an area that really appeals to you, and decide to focus on that as a next step.

What are your top tips for researchers wanting to get into this career?

Look at your CV as a character profile rather than a list of things you’ve done. The STAR [Situation Task Action Result] model is pretty useful, use it as a guide for each trait that you would like to tell an employer about. This involves not just describing what was actually done, but also the impact of your action, and what this shows about you.

It’s also useful to consider all the things you do as potential evidence of different abilities. There are no specific technical requirements for consulting, and there is a strong emphasis on transferable skills such as working in a team and being able to communicate effectively, which you can draw upon from any experiences that may be relevant. But because “anything goes” in a consulting CV, if justified, you need to be very clear about the profile you’re building up and what different items in your CV are meant to achieve in portraying your abilities. In other words, what does this item show about my abilities and are they combining to meet what the position is looking for?

As an example, I enjoy going to the theatre a lot and occasionally write assessments for shows, so I made the argument that writing these assessments requires conveying what was worthwhile in a show, without spoiling the plot, and this honed an ability to communicate opinions succinctly. So think about what your pursuits bring to your character, and you may be surprised how much can go in your consulting CV. On that note, it may be surprisingly useful in terms of supporting a future career to do stuff that you enjoy and that you find meaningful, instead of constantly tailoring what you do depending on what you think is “constructive”. So although to some degree you should cover the bases, you should also do what you enjoy, and figure out how to tell the story in the CV along the way.