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Archive for February, 2015

Moving from Research to Research Funding

By uczjsdd, on 27 February 2015


Dr Caroline Dalton has a PhD in Cell Biology from UCL. In this interview, Caroline tells us about her decision to leave academia, and her current role as a Research Funding Manager at Cancer Research UK.


How did you move from academia to your current role?

I had a bit of an ongoing battle inside myself during my PhD. I really enjoyed being in the lab, and the whole concept of science; finding a question that I’d like to answer, and working out the best way to answer it. But as I got further through my PhD, I became aware of the realities of a life in academia – the poor work/life balance, the lack of stability, and the scarcity of permanent higher-level positions – and I realised that a research career probably wasn’t for me.

So alongside my PhD and post-doc, I tried to get a sense of what else was out there. I knew I wanted to get out of the lab, but I also wanted to stay in science somehow, and by doing internet research, and going along to careers talks and events, I found out I had lots of options. I also tried a few things out to gage what I’d like most; I did a bit of public engagement in the form of ‘I’m a scientist, get me out of here’, I volunteered at a science festival, I went to a science policy workshop at Westminster, and attended various policy debates.

It turned out that I enjoyed all of these experiences, so when it came to job-hunting, my applications were actually fairly broad. But trying new things helped me to better understand the job roles that I was going for, and it also looked great on my CV and in interviews, as it demonstrated that I’d investigated the world outside of the lab. My first job coming out of research was working in policy for Breakthrough Breast Cancer for just under a year and a half. I liked the policy aspects of that role, however, I found I wasn’t using my science background enough, as the role was more health-service-focused. That’s why I moved into my current role as Research Funding Manager at CRUK – to get back in touch with the science.

Is having a PhD necessary for working in your current role?

A PhD isn’t essential for becoming a CRUK Research Funding Manager, but as it helps to have an understanding of the research environment, many of my colleagues do have PhDs. The role involves reading, understanding, summarising, and critically appraising research proposals, so I’m using a lot of the scientific skills I picked up in research. I also communicate with many different people and coordinate a variety of activities, so I’m using the project-management, organisation, and communication skills I developed in research too.

What does a normal working day look like for you?

I work on CRUK’s Clinical Trials Awards Advisory Committee, so the bulk of my role involves processing funding applications, and organising the scientific committee meeting that determines how funding will be awarded. Exactly what I’m doing each day depends very much on where we are in the review cycle, but it will usually entail things like answering queries from researchers hoping to apply for funding, reading research applications and writing an office summary of each one, sourcing appropriate peer reviewers for each application, checking the peer-reviewers’ responses, getting reviews back to applicants so they can respond, processing those responses, then preparing for and coordinating the actual committee meeting, and writing to applicants with committee feedback. There’s a fair bit of admin involved, but we’re assisted by Grants Officers who deal with a lot of the more basic administrative elements of the process.

What are the best things about working in your role?

It’s exciting to see the latest developments in science before they’ve even happened/been funded, and to be privy to the high-level discussions that happen at the committee meetings, and the expert reviewer comments on cutting-edge science. That’s the main thing that attracted me to the role. I also enjoy using my writing skills to craft responses to applicants reflecting the committee’s feedback on their proposals.

This is probably more team-, or CRUK-specific, than a part of the role per se, but the working environment is great. Everyone’s really helpful and open to suggestions for new ways of doing things, whatever level they or you are at. And there’s a much better work/life balance in this role than I would have had in academia, and it’s a permanent role, which obviously adds an element of stability that was lacking in research.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

In research I was extremely independent. It’s actually quite nice being part of a team now that’s trying to achieve something, as opposed to a single person trying to achieve something. But it does mean that there are a lot more people and processes involved in decision-making. In research, you’re pretty much free to try new things, as long as money and your supervisor allows. But outside of academia there are usually far more levels of bureaucracy involved.

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

I don’t know if there’s necessarily a ‘typical’ career path in research funding – there are lots of options. You could progress upwards in the team by applying for vacancies when they come up, like my managers have done. Or some people go on to do similar jobs in other charities and research funders, while others move to universities to manage grant applications from that side. Some people move on to more research-policy-focused roles, and potentially that might be a future direction that I might like to take. It also seems to be fairly common for people to move around and try new things within CRUK – I think that’s positively encouraged here.

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

If you think you might want to work in research funding, I’d advise speaking to people in the area, and making sure you know what the funding landscape looks like. It can also help if you’ve been involved in the peer-review process before, so volunteer to review papers for journals, or ask your supervisor if you can help with reviews they’re doing.

And I’d definitely recommend using the UCL careers service! They made me far less terrified of the task ahead, helping me to identify and sell the skills that employers care about, which really boosted my confidence.

Transitioning from PhD to consulting

By uczjsdd, on 24 February 2015

Bernardo FotoBernardo Alvares is a final year PhD student in Cancer Immunology at UCL who is passionate about entrepreneurship and social-impact projects. Prior to joining UCL, he completed a BSc in Biomedical Science at Cardiff University and worked at GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. Bernardo has recently secured a full-time position with the management consultancy firm McKinsey and Company, in the Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) office. In this article, he shares some tips for PhD students thinking about transitioning from academia into business.

How did you make the decision to leave academia?  

Whilst working at GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals, I enjoyed working as part of a vibrant team where scientists put their knowledge and skills together to deliver results. I also found it extremely rewarding to understand the relevance of my project in the context of the company’s drug-development strategy. I felt that my future career needed to have elements of teamwork, fast-pace and a strong customer focus.

After my participation in extracurricular activities whilst at UCL, in addition to personal experiences such as travelling and team sports, I discovered my leadership abilities and realised that my excellent interpersonal skills were not being fully utilised in academic research. Moreover, I attended a range of business and entrepreneurship courses at UCL and enjoyed reading about business, psychology and management, and realised that my interests are not limited to science, which made me really curious about exploring other career options.

Why management consultancy?

I first learned about Management Consulting at the UCL Management Consultancy fair, and the diversity and fast-paced nature of the career really attracted me. I followed up this initial interest by attending additional company presentations (at UCL and off-campus) and speaking with current consultants. I realised that a career in Management Consultancy would allow me to build on the skills developed during my PhD, such as problem-solving and delivering effective presentations, combined with the opportunity to developing leadership and project management skills.

I also strongly believe that understanding how organisations are structured, the challenges they face and how to improve their performance will equip me with the skills and contacts to build my own venture in the future. Strategic consulting offered an excellent match as it addresses the important questions that can change the direction of the world’s biggest organisations.

How do you think the skills you learned during your PhD will help you in the role?

In my opinion, running a PhD project is analogous to managing a small company, where you need to spot a “gap in the market” (something unique in your research area), plan a strategy to tackle the issue, mobilise resources, meet deadlines, manage expectations and communicate clearly with your stakeholders (such as the PhD supervisor). I feel that overcoming the uncertainties and complexities of a PhD helped me build the strength and endurance to tackle any challenge in my life. I came out of my PhD as a more entrepreneurial and confident individual, ready to make something new happen and embark in new challenges!

A series of skills developed during my PhD are extremely relevant to consulting. For instance, breaking down complex problems into manageable solutions, and then putting the parts together and reaching conclusions in the context of the overall problem. In addition, communicating research findings in a clear and effective manner to audiences who are not necessarily familiar with details of your work (such as the CEO of a major corporation) is part of a daily life of a consultant.

Are the skills acquired during your PhD enough to break into business?

The simple answer is: NO. I have met several PhD students who decided to move into business towards the end of their PhDs without having complemented their CVs in order to get there. Although some organisations do hire PhD students primarily based on the analytical/research component of their PhD (eg. maths/physics students who can develop ultra-robust algorithms for trade modelling in finance), most companies are looking for a broader skill-set in addition to the problem solving, self-motivation and attention to detail PhD students usually excel at. Relevant skills include leadership, commercial awareness and teamwork – which can all be developed through both your research and extracurricular activities.

I decided early on during my PhD to build my CV to make the transition into business. My first “target” was leadership skills. I joined a very entrepreneurial society called Enactus, which basically uses business skills to develop projects that bring benefit to society. I set up the UCL plus project and led a team of 9 students helping young people write CVs, prepare for interviews and develop transferable skills, in partnership with UCL Careers Services. We run over 50 hours of workshops in five schools and community organisations in deprived areas of Camden (North London). This project also served as a good example of Entrepreneurship since we did something no one at UCL had done before and received really good feedback from teachers and the young people.

I developed invaluable skills in business and management after attending a range of courses run by UCL Advances, such as Business Marketing, Enterprise Bootcamp and the Value Creation Workshop. I also attended a London Business School MBA elective course titled strategic innovation, where I learned about the challenges that businesses face and how decisions are made, in often ambiguous and uncertain scenarios. I would really recommend these courses. UCL is such a fantastic and entrepreneurial university and I feel very privileged to have had access to all these resources.

How did you make sure your applications and interview performance were as good as possible?

Put simply, the interviews for the most prestigious consulting companies are tough. The case-type interviews require a great deal of preparation. Although there are examples of students succeeding with only one-two weeks of preparation, I strongly believe those are exceptions. At the beginning I felt helpless at solving cases. However, with effort and preparation you can get there! I prepared for about 2 months (15 hours/week), initially by reading case books and then solving a total of about 30 to 40 one-to-one cases in the website Preplounge, which I would really recommend. I practiced with people from all over the world, including MBA students from the world’s top business schools.

In the case interview (which probably requires a separate blog article), the candidate is required to tackle a business problem in a structured and logical manner. You need breadth/creativity and depth. For instance, list a range of factors relevant to the given problem, but also justify why and prioritise (ie. which factors are the most important and why). When given graphs and tables, you need to identify the key drivers, perform some basic maths, relate your findings to the overall problem and suggest a course of action. The ability to summarise and communicate your findings at the end is also very important.

Regarding the competency part of the consulting interview, I was asked about examples of leadership and managing conflict in a team. Again, having a high-impact and interesting story (usually in the context of managing and working with people) will put you in a good spot. It is also important to structure the answer well, and you can book an appointment at UCL Careers to practice.

Any final thoughts?

My take-home message is: be curious, get out of the lab and try the amazing resources UCL has to offer, even if you are not sure if you want to leave academia. You never know what you may discover about yourself and the opportunities out there. I also strongly recommend the employer events run by UCL Careers service and the one-to-one appointments with the Careers Consultants, some of whom are ex-academics themselves and have experience supporting PhD students who are exploring alternative career options. Wish you the best of luck in finding the path that will help you shine!

Bookings open for UK and Global Health Sector Employer Forum

By uczjvwa, on 4 February 2015

Researchers forum pic for Viv








UK and Global Health Sector: Employer Forum for PhDs and Researchers

26th February 2015 – 5:30pm – 7:30pm

The aim of this event is to help PhD students and other researchers with their career planning by providing an opportunity to question, to hear from and network with employers that come from a variety of roles within the health sector, who are PhD holders themselves. The panel of speakers will give tips on how research students can use their qualifications and experiences to enter this field as well as information about their sector.

Panel of speakers will be:

Dr Barbara Byth – Director of Client Service, AXON Communications

Dr Claire Knight – Health Information Manager, Cancer Research UK

(Speaker to be confirmed), GlaxoSmithKline

Dr Charlotte Simpson – Junior Scientific Projects Manager, IMC Healthcare Communication

Dr Rachael Addicott – Senior Research Fellow, The King’s Fund

Dr Emily Richardson – Senior Portfolio Developer, Wellcome Trust

To find out more and to read the speakers’ biographies please go to: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2234

Research Students book here

Research Staff book here