UCL Researchers
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    The UCL Careers team use this Blog to share their ‘news and views’ about careers with you. You will find snippets about a whole range of career related issues, news from recruiters and links to interesting articles in the media.

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    Archive for June, 2015

    Using a science PhD to build a marketing career

    By S Donaldson, on 12 June 2015

    John Paul gained a PhD in Cell Biology from Manchester University. Here he tells us about his current role in pharmaceutical marketing, as an account manager at Circa Healthcare.

    How did you move from academic research to marketing?

    After my PhD I worked for three and a half years as a post-doctoral researcher. In the last year of my post-doc contract I started to weigh up my options. My boss had offered me a contract extension and future assistance in developing grant proposals to obtain my own funding so I could start the process of being independent/having my own projects and students. However, I was having reservations that setting up my own research group and constantly applying for grants wasn’t for me. Having an outgoing and sociable personality, I decided that I should look for a role that would use my scientific background but also allow me to interact with people rather than with plastic dishes and cells (I spent lots of hours in cell culture labs!).

    I looked into many roles in which scientific knowledge would be useful in communications; advertising/marketing was just one. I was very lucky in that I obtained a job in a pharmaceutical advertising agency due to a family connection.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    I’m generally office based, although I probably travel to meet clients or attend extended brand meetings at least once a month. I work within the accounts team and am a point person for both national and global pharmaceutical brand managers. My roles include developing strategic (short and long-term) marketing plans for the products and defining the tactics that need to be developed to drive the marketing initiatives. I then work with my creative team (writers, designers, web developers etc) to create the tactics, on time and within budget, and liaise with our clients to ensure, prior to being released to market, the content created communicates the messaging they desire.

    What are the best things about working in your role?

    No two days are the same; working on a variety of products with different marketing campaigns and product life cycles ensures there is a variety in my workload, which keeps things interesting.

    What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

    All clients have budget limitations and it is often challenging to manage expectations, or to explain to clients that when they change the project scope and we need to do something different to meet the new needs, that we most likely need to re-estimate the project or adjust timelines – although this may sound like what would be expected, it is often not the case. Ensuring projects stay on budget (and on timeline) is essential not only for clients but also for your team and your agency’s business – if you constantly go over budget you are a less profitable company, and if you constantly fall behind timelines your clients will not be happy for very long. As such keeping projects on budget and on timelines is challenging but essential to maintaining good business practice.

    Is a PhD essential for your role?

    No, although a scientific background has been very useful to help understand on a molecular level how products work/how they stimulate their effect in comparison to competition (helps to define differentiating factors). Although a science degree is not essential, all employees need a degree; most of my colleagues in the accounts team hold business and/or marketing degrees.

    What skills do you use from your PhD in your current role?

    The majority of the marketing managers I work with are doctors, and some are even specialists (e.g. cardiologists), who have transitioned into a business and marketing role. As such my degree allows me to engage in detailed scientific discussions on the products and the market competition with clients, which I believe they appreciate, as many account leads do not have a scientific background. Also being able to develop concise but detailed presentations (verbal and written) are skills I refined during my PhD studies and use regularly now.

    Where do you see yourself going from here?

    Becoming an account supervisor, and so being responsible for more strategic development projects/less tactical projects, leading pitch projects and presentations and managing a team of lower level account personnel. Following this, progression to director of client services – i.e. overseeing all account personnel and management of client relations.

    What top tips would you pass on to a PhD student/post-doc interested in this type of work?

    More and more pharmaceutical and healthcare agencies are looking for people with science degrees when recruiting for new account team members so just apply! Be confident and direct; demonstrate your passion to join the organization and the ability to communicate scientific matters clearly. Although having a science background is great, having some knowledge of business practice and basic marketing would be very helpful and also very appealing for employers. If time permits there are great courses online which can assist with this, and there are some great books out there for people who need to know the basics.

    Tinder for Jobs!

    By S Donaldson, on 8 June 2015

    Too tired to network? Too attention-depleted to read a job description? Too busy/lazy to fill in a job application? Well SelfieJobs may be the answer. It’s like Tinder, but for jobs.

    For those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar with Tinder, it’s a startlingly honest dating app, where you swiftly swipe potential dates into yes and no piles based almost entirely on your initial reaction to their physical appearance. If speed-shopping for people sounds fun to you, then perhaps you’ll like it for jobs too. Check out this Guardian article on the app for more details.

    A professor’s take on academic careers

    By S Donaldson, on 5 June 2015

    Professor Rajini Rao gained her PhD in Biochemistry from Rochester University before moving to Yale to obtain postdoctoral training in Genetics. In 1993, she moved to Johns Hopkins to take up a role as assistant professor in Physiology, and rose through the ranks to full professor in 2004. Currently, Rajini runs a research laboratory, teaches medical and graduate students, and directs a PhD program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. We spoke to Rajini about her career, and how to succeed in academia.

    Professor Rajini Rao

    What qualities do you think academics must have to be successful?

    To be successful in an academic research career, you must think of yourself as an entrepreneur. Your research should not only be productive, as evidenced by numerous peer-reviewed publications in high quality journals, but also innovative and at the leading edge of the field. Research requires funds, and success in fund raising requires persuasive writing skills, and the ability to “sell” your project. Good communication skills are important for presentations at seminars and conferences and in teaching. Networking skills are critical for setting up collaborations and extending the reach of your influence. Because academics work closely with student and postdoctoral trainees, good mentoring and lab management skills are essential.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    My schedule is never the same from one day to another. That’s what keeps me from being stuck in a rut or losing motivation. In my lab, I interact with my students and postdocs daily, and keep up to date on their research. I travel often, to conferences or other universities, where I am lucky enough to present our work. Some days, I teach PhD or medical students. I may attend a thesis committee meeting, or be an examiner on an oral qualifying exam. Frequently, I advise students in the graduate program I direct, or work on program policy and administration.

    As a member of a journal editorial board I review many papers in my field. I also serve on study sections for the National Institutes of Health where I review grant applications. I organize conferences, and that requires planning and fund raising. I’m active in professional societies where I’m involved in developing opportunities for women and increasing diversity. All of this keeps me busy and I love my job!

    What are the best things about your role?

    The best things about my job are flexibility, the thrill of discovery and the opportunity to innovate. I am constantly learning, and growing my potential as a scientist and person. I keep flexible hours at work and I try to arrange my schedule to accommodate the demands of both work and home. I see my life as a mother, mentor and scientist as one harmonious whole. That’s why I don’t compartmentalize: rather, I try to move seamlessly from one role to another. For example, I’m just as happy to work from home as I am in my lab. I’m always approachable by email or online by my students regardless of the time of day or week. Conversely, I don’t feel guilty leaving work early when my family needs me at home. I recall one incident when my kids were young and my husband was called away to India on a family emergency just before I had to give an important presentation at a national conference. I took my kids to New Orleans, and a dear friend baby-sat them right outside the lecture hall. My talk went off well, and later I soothed my friend’s frazzled nerves over a glass of wine! It’s a system that works for me and I rarely find myself conflicted by multiple demands. Sometimes, family comes first and I drop everything to attend to demands at home. Other times, I may have a grant deadline and I completely ignore the laundry and the kitchen! Fortunately, my family knows me well and seemingly adapt to my schedule without too many complaints!

    What are the downsides of academia?

    What keeps me up at night is science funding. All the work that is done at academic research institutes depends on grants from government agencies or private foundations, which are increasingly competitive. These days, only one in ten grant applications is successful, and too many important research projects are abandoned because they are not funded. Rather than keeping up with technology advances, NIH funding has decreased in purchasing power by 25% over the past decade. It’s a heavy responsibility (not to mention, an ineffective use of my time) to constantly apply for funding not only for our research, but also for the salaries of my students and postdoctoral fellows.

    Where do you see yourself going from here?

    Potentially, I could take on leadership roles in administrative or organizational capacities, although I am not keen on giving up my research career at this time.

    What job do you think you might do if you weren’t a Professor?

    I’ve always wanted to be a scientist. But I love many forms of communication, so I could be a writer or public speaker. Secretly, I’ve wanted to be a stand up comic!

    What tips would you give our PhD students and early-career researchers trying to forge an academic career?

    I would advice them to build a strong support network of family, friends and colleagues, and to seek role models and mentors. They will need to have the confidence to keep a high bar of achievement, and the strength to accept challenges and make hard choices. It’s just as important to work “smart” as it is to work hard, so they should choose their battles wisely. Remember that an academic career is a marathon and not a sprint!

    Rajini is one of the three founders of STEM Women, a blog set up to address gender inequality in science. You can read more about the blog here.

    Turning social science into a business

    By S Donaldson, on 1 June 2015

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADr Zuleyka Zevallos earned a PhD in Sociology from Swinburne University, Melbourne, where she remains an Adjunct Research Fellow. She currently runs her own business, Social Science Insights, a Research and Social Media Consultancy working with small to medium businesses, government, and not-for-profits who require social research, training and policy advice. She also provides research-driven social media content to help public education and health campaigns. Here Zuleyka shares her career journey, and offers tips to researchers thinking of moving out of academia.

    How did you move from studying for a PhD to starting your own consultancy?

    After completing my PhD at the end of 2004, I continued to work as a lecturer. I left in 2006 because there was no job security in academia. I found it difficult to find full-time academic work in my field, but once I started looking in business and policy sectors, the job choices were surprisingly abundant. I’ve reflected on the fact that, at first, it was very disheartening to give up on my dream job in academia, but once I realised the multiple career possibilities in other industries, the decision to leave was empowering.

    A career beyond academia leads to diverse experiences, and the work will likely take you to places you may not have expected. Having had little luck for months trying to get an academic job, I decided to apply for unconventional roles that sounded interesting. I received a number of different offers, which showed me how valuable my PhD degree was to non-academic employers. I took a job in federal government as a Social Scientist. I moved interstate to take the position. Within five years, I had led two interdisciplinary team projects working on social modeling and intercultural communication, and I also conducted research on a range of topics, from political violence to media analysis to the socio-economic outcomes of migrants and refugees. The role was varied so that I worked with many different clients, and I also attended conferences and published articles, which kept me engaged with my academic peers.

    In late 2011, I decided to move back to my home state permanently. I worked as a Senior Analyst on an environmental health and safety investigation. I led a team of 23 researchers examining 30 years worth of reports and company data, as well as analysing interviews with 300 emergency service workers. We evaluated the connections between training and environmental practices, the chemicals used during exercises, and the high rate of cancer and other illnesses amongst emergency service workers.

    After the investigation ended, I decided to set up my business. I had plenty of leadership experience, and had worked autonomously in setting up various projects in my previous roles, plus I had worked with many different client groups. Setting up the business required a lot of research, and I also took a business management course. I’ve been working as a consultant for the past couple of years.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    There’s no normal working day for me, per se, but my days are long (I work late into the night) and I also work seven days per week. The only thing that’s constant is that I read a lot of research and media articles. When I’m working on social media, I spend the first half of the day liaising with clients or their partners and stakeholders if we’re collaborating on a community event, a product launch, or cross-promotions. I constantly monitor and analyse social media metrics (what works, what doesn’t, industry trends and so on). I write blog articles, which means conducting research and writing, or I otherwise write social media posts and respond to reader questions on Twitter, Facebook and so on. I tend to leave the second half of the day to work on design, like making posters and artwork for clients, as well as taking photographs and making videos for their Instagram and blogs. When I’m working on research articles and projects, my day is similar to my day as an academic: I spend most of the day reading and writing. In between, I am always working on future projects that I want to get off the ground, and I work towards applying for grants and otherwise seek funding for my own research.

    What are the best things about working in your role?

    I have a high degree of flexibility about how I structure my daily activities, but this depends on what work needs to be done. The best thing about the social media aspect of my role is the interaction with followers. I’ve worked with very different organisations and I never cease to be amazed by how generous people are in sharing their stories. As a sociologist, I’m invigorated by the opportunity to interact with different types of people and learn about their lives. I love answering their questions about science in particular. There’s a lot of misinformation on health issues, so it’s interesting to see how the public engages with lifestyle and health advice that they read in the news. I’ve also been very lucky to be able to work on research projects that directly speak to my passions, such as gender and diversity in the workplace.

    What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

    The toughest aspect of my job is that consultancy is contract-based and therefore ultimately impermanent (ironical, given I left academia for its casual contracts!). Being a woman of colour, and being relatively younger than my clients, my professional knowledge is often questioned in a way that would not happen if I was a White man. Most of my clients have been lovely, but I’ve unfortunately also faced many other pressures such as having my work plagiarised and misappropriated.

    It is difficult not having someone else to take over when you’re feeling ill or when you’re overwhelmed with work and other unforeseen issues. Working for yourself is a joy, but it’s also exhausting and it can be alienating. I’m constantly asked for professional advice by peers who think my work should be free, including friends, former colleagues and academics. Potential clients constantly ask for discounts or expect you to give away work “for exposure.” This is highly demoralising as it is a constant aspect of interaction; but unfortunately it is a common occurrence amongst consultants and freelancers, especially for women.

    How is the role similar/different to your time in academia?

    The role is similar in that everything that I do requires research. Whether I’m writing a blog post, or putting together a report or creating images, I use social science concepts and research to guide my decisions and my writing. It’s different in practice because I cannot use jargon language. I’m answering everyday problems for the public, or addressing specific business and policy concerns. You can’t end a report or project saying, “More research is needed.” I need to give concrete answers and I’m expected to directly demonstrate the immediate benefit for clients. I rely more on visuals to convey ideas than I did as an academic. Businesses in particular do not like to read long reports with lots of text; they want succinct responses to specific problems.

    Where do you see yourself going from here?

    I’ve learned not to expect a clear trajectory as my career evolves. As a student, I had seen myself as having this neat career path from student to early career researcher, to lecturer, to senior lecturer and so on. Moving outside this academic path, I have gone on to work with many different organisations doing work I would have never imagined. I’ve learned to adapt wherever opportunities emerge. I’d like to focus more on my own research in the near future and ideally, I’d like to be in a position to work on longer-term public education campaigns.

    What top tips would you pass on to a PhD student/post-doc interested in this type of work?

    There are lots of opportunities in social media at the moment. The market is over-run by SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) hunters who may have some technical skills, but lack research training and strong writing and communication skills. This means there’s a niche for science writers. Many local governments and councils in particular are looking to hire people with degrees to run online public health and community engagement campaigns. Research opportunities in social policy have been shrinking in Australia and other countries due to funding cuts, but there is a higher demand for research skills in industry. One of the best things I did as a PhD is to take advantage of various interdisciplinary courses. I did a two-year leadership program with other postgraduate students from different fields. This helped me tremendously in getting my first job outside of academia, as I showed that I had experience working with different scientists, and I could speak with authority about how to navigate issues in cross-disciplinary collaborations. Most employers beyond academia are looking for researchers who can work with people from different fields, and who understand how to problem-solve across disciplines.

    While my specialty is in qualitative research, my degree also exposed me to quantitative research, and during my time as a student, I did short courses on running focus groups, working with analysis software (NVivo and SPSS) and bibliographic software (Endnote). University libraries run these courses free all the time; students should take advantage of these courses, and play around with as much software as possible, and it would be wise to take a coding course, even if it has nothing to do with your thesis. If you can weave these skills into your PhD research, all the better, as mixed methods are especially impressive to employers. If you’re able to do an internship, or address an applied research question, this will give you a competitive edge. Having a strong understating of the practical applications of your thesis will be a bonus at interviews.

    Students should also use social media but approach it professionally. This means being focused about what you write and share. Start working on the job you want at least a year before you finish your degree, using social media. Tweet about your research, share your papers and slides if you can online, write a focused blog and think about it as your online portfolio. Make sure you have a well-filled in LinkedIn profile, and be discerning about whom you connect with and what you share. Many employers explicitly ask for your LinkedIn profile, or at least use it to screen applicants and head-hunt talent. I’m always amazed at how poorly students use LinkedIn; it’s a great resource for job searching.

    My final piece of advice is to be open to change. Most students think of non-academic work as a failed career. The reality of the job market is that we have a surplus of PhD students and not enough academic jobs. The likelihood of needing to seek work beyond academia is a certainty for the overwhelming majority of graduates. Going into a PhD with this knowledge will save much heartache later on. This is why I set up Sociology at Work; as I met more applied researchers, I realised how poorly academia prepares researchers for an applied career. We are an international not-for-profit network offering articles and resources to support the career planning of students, and raise the professional esteem of practitioners.

    Science lets us answer lots of different problems; the world beyond academia is filled with many adventures and possibilities that should be savoured, not feared. My career beyond academia has made me a stronger sociologist by allowing me to work with, and help, people from many different walks of life. Applied science in action improves policies and processes, changing lives before your eyes. Make the most of your career by expanding your horizons early on!

    You can find Zuleyka’s professional writing on consultancy and social media on Social Science Insights, and her research blog is The Other Sociologist. Connect with her on Twitter @OtherSociology

    Zuleyka is one of the three founders of STEM Women, a site adressign gender inequality in science. You can read more about the site here.