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Sticking up for STEM women

uczjsdd22 May 2015

Displaying Studies show that women leave academic research in larger numbers than men, and are poorly represented at higher academic levels. Initiatives like Athena SWAN have been set up to address the problem, but there are other sources of support out there too. One example is STEM women.

The site was put together by Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe, Professor Rajini Rao, and Dr Zuleyka Zevallos, three women with PhDs who wanted to generate open debate around how to improve the situation for women in STEM. Over the next few days, we will hear from each of these women about their own career journeys. Here, Buddhini tells us a little more about the site.

How did you first start the website?

Back in 2012, I think it was on International Women’s Day, someone on Facebook shared a list of female scientists whom you may or may not have heard of. Obviously Marie Curie was in it, and there were lots of other black and white photos of women who were mostly already dead. Great that such a list is being shared, but I figured I should put together a list of more current female scientists to whom people could better relate. I used Google +, which was pretty new at that time and had lots of female engineers and scientists who were posting publicly about their work. So I started compiling a list of their names and ‘shared’ them around, making a group of strong female role models who could inspire people. Off the back of that, I teamed up with two other female researchers and launched a website to celebrate females in STEM, and to comment on the current issues they face.

What kind of things does your website cover?

We profile successful female scientists, and host Q&As with them, to help inspire the next generation of female scientists. For example, we featured an amazing woman called Annika O’Brien who runs robotics workshops in disadvantaged areas in LA, and has her own company now. And we also talk to high-profile male scientists to try to get their input in how to improve the STEM environment for women.

And we call out and comment on current issues that are relevant to women in STEM, such as sexism. As an example, last year the journal of Proteomics published a paper on the sequencing of the coconut genome, and the picture that accompanied a link to the article featured a scantily-clad woman holding coconuts in front of her breasts, which was extremely inappropriate. One of my fellow website authors wrote to the journal’s editor to complain, and she received a less-than-satisfactory response from him, telling her it was all normal, and as a physiology Professor she should be familiar with female physiology!

The photo has since been taken down in response to a twitter storm involving outraged people like us. But I think this perfectly highlights why a site like ours is needed. Firstly, the picture went up when it absolutely shouldn’t have. But secondly, when it was taken down, the apology was far too wishy-washy; they were sorry we’re offended, but they didn’t really acknowledge what they’d done wrong. Which is why things like this keep happening e.g. The Rosetta-landing shirt controversy. Some people think it’s silly to focus on these things, that at least the situation today is better than it used to be. But these are the microaggressions that make women feel less welcome in the male-dominated scientific space. We want to shine a light on sexism within STEM, to help the women facing it know they’re not alone, and to try to move the field forward.

Picture courtesy of STEM women, taken from their Nature blog article.

Transitioning from PhD to consulting

uczjsdd24 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!

What can you expect at an academic interview?

uczjvwa1 December 2014

Academic interviews can take a number of different forms and the sort of questions you’re likely to be asked will depend on the role you’re going for and the level you’re interviewing at. That said, interviews make almost everyone anxious and part of managing your nerves is in knowing what’s likely to happen on the big day. Let’s have a look at three of the most likely interview scenarios you’ll come across.

  1. The panel interview

Panel interviews are the norm for academic interviews. For postdocs and junior lecturer positions you’re likely to have a panel of three or four; for more senior positions, people from other departments and even experts from other institutions might also be included.  For some very senior posts we’ve heard of panels of up to twenty – an intimidating prospect no matter how much experience you’ve got!

At an earlier stage in your career questions are likely to focus on your research, teaching and administrative experience. The panel will also want to know about your plans for the future, and how this fits in with the goals of the department, which gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve researched the institution that you’re interviewing with. If you progress into more senior management roles you’re also likely to be asked to demonstrate that you’re a leader, which means providing evidence of the ability to motivate, inspire and give strategic direction.

Tip: You’ll feel a lot more confident if you’ve done some research on the people who’ll be interviewing you. HR should send you a list of who will be on the panel but if they don’t, call and ask for one.

  1. The presentation

Many interviews will ask you to deliver a presentation.   Depending on the requirements of the job, this could be about your research or your teaching. You might even be asked to deliver a sample lesson to an audience of staff and students.

You’ll certainly be warned in advance about this and it’s important that you plan meticulously for it, taking into account the fact that your audience will have different levels of understanding. This should give you a clue about how much technical detail to include: as a general rule, interviewers want to know that you can see the bigger picture and that you can convey information effectively no matter who’s listening.

Tip: You’ll be expected to respond to questions at the end of your presentation, so rehearsing with friends and colleagues beforehand can be a useful way to anticipate the kind of queries that might come up.

  1. The ‘meet and greet’

Again depending on the job and level you’re interviewing at, it’s quite possible that you’ll be expected to spend some time in a social situation with other members of the department – and possibly also with other shortlisted candidates.

There’s a reason for this kind of ‘meet and greet’: it gives the interviewers a chance to see how well you get on with others in a more relaxed setting. They’ll certainly gather feedback from those you meet so it’s important to be nice to everyone from the receptionist to the Head of Department.

Tip: Steer clear of alcohol at this kind of event. It might be a tempting way to deal with a slightly stressful situation, but a clear head will deliver a better performance overall, and overdoing the wine at dinner isn’t a way to endear yourself to anyone!

Whatever the position, preparation is key for effective interviews and practising beforehand can help enormously. You can arrange a practice interview session via the UCL Careers website.

– Hilary Moor, Careers Consultant, Careers Group, University of London

Bookings open for Careers in the Education Sector Employer Forum

uczjvwa3 November 2014

Careers in the Education Sector: Employer Forum for PhDs and Researchers

27th November 2014 – 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 Education 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:

Mark Llewellyn – Director of Research, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

Marek Kukula – Public Astronomer, Royal Observatory Greenwich

Mary Henes – London Regional Director, The Brilliant Club

Rosalind Mist – Head of Education Policy, The Royal Society

Steve Heggie – Institute Manager, UCL Eastman Dental Institute

Steve Cross – Head of Public Engagement, UCL Public and Cultural Engagement

To find out more and to read the speakers’ biographies please go to: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2462

Research Students book here

Research Staff book here

Bookings open for Careers in Technology Forum

uczjvwa6 October 2014

Careers in Technology: Employer Forum for PhDs and Researchers

SONY DSC5:30pm – 7:30pm on 28th October 2014

The aim of this event is to help PhD and other research students with their career planning by providing an opportunity to hear from and network with employers from the IT & Technology 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:

Jonathan Nelson, Sports Statistician, ATASS Sports

Salvatore Scellato – Software Engineer, Google

David Houseman – Quantitative Analyst, G-Research

Jack Wright – Strategic Analytics Consultant in Business Dynamics, IBM

Robert Sackin – Patent Attorney, Reddie & Grose LLP

David Snoswell – Senior Research Scientist, Schlumberger

To find out more and to read the speakers’ biographies please go to: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2193

PhD students can book a place via the following link : http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2193

Research Staff can book a place via the following link : http://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/researchers/events

Book a one to one appointment with Deallus Consulting on 7th October

uczjvwa17 September 2014

Deallus Consulting is an energetic Competitive Strategy Consultancy creating value for over 30 Life Science organisations worldwide, ranging from global blue chip pharmaceuticals to smaller specialist biotechnology companies. With rapid growth and change in this sector, we are continuously expanding our scope and client base.

Each year we have a number of vacancies at Business Analyst or Associate level for PhD graduates to join us. New recruits have a passion for their scientific specialism but also have commercial flair and a desire to add insight to client’s decisions. They usually speak one or more languages fluently other than English. These exceptional individuals have the opportunity to build and blend their skills amongst global colleagues from a variety of backgrounds in academia or other consulting organisations.

We will be present at the UCL main campus for one-to-one appointments on Tuesday 7th October from 11:30am till 12.30pm for those of you interested to learn more and for our recruiter to provide CV advice.

To make a booking for a 15 minute appointment, please email: OpportunitiesinEMEA@deallusconsulting.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Employer Led Career Skills Workshop Programme for Researchers – Open For Booking!

uczjvwa12 September 2014

These workshops, arranged by UCL Careers in collaboration with the Doctoral Skills Development Programme, will introduce you to the employability skills that are required in today’s workplace and provide opportunities for you to develop and practice these skills. They will also demonstrate the transferable nature of the research skills you have acquired during your PhD, from an employer’s perspective. You can find out more information about the range of workshops available here.

Upcoming workshops

Networking Skills with Citi – Tuesday 30th September – 5:30pm to 7:30pm

Venue: UCL Careers Seminar Room, 4th Floor, ULU Building, Malet Street, WC1E 7HY

The ability to network productively is a key skill in academic and industry settings. This session will help you to understand what effective networking involves and will enable you to identify and make the most of networking situations. You will have the opportunity to practice some techniques within the workshop.

Learning Outcomes

• Recognise the importance of networking when looking for work and in the workplace
• Understand what networking involves and demonstrate your networking skills
• Develop some techniques for connecting with new people
• Develop some techniques for leveraging existing contacts

Research Students book a place here

Research Staff book a here

 

Commercial Awareness with PwC – Thursday 2nd October – 2:00pm to 4:00pm

Venue: UCL Conference Suite, Seminar Room 2, 188 Tottenham Court Road, W1T 7PH

Commercial awareness is about having a complete understanding of the career sector, company and job that you are applying for. It is the ability to view events and circumstances from a business perspective. This session is designed to help students understand the importance of commercial awareness when making the transition from their studies to the workplace. The session will focus on the methods through which students can build their commercial awareness in the run up to job applications, and the benefits to be gained from this.

Learning Outcomes

• Recognise why and how graduate employers look for commercial awareness in their recruitment processes
• Develop techniques for increasing commercial awareness in order to apply for jobs and attend interviews
• Communicate your commercial awareness more effectively to graduate recruiters
• Gain the tools to evaluate your level of commercial awareness when applying for your next role

Research Students book a place here

Research Staff book a here

The Brilliant Club: teaching opportunities for doctoral and post-doctoral researchers

uczjvwa2 September 2014

The Brilliant Club is an award winning charity that recruits, trains and places doctoral and post-doctoral researchers in low participation schools to deliver programmes of university-style tutorials to small groups of high performing pupils.

We will be running a drop-in centre at UCL to introduce researchers to the programme on the morning of Tuesday 23rd September. To book a slot, please email Dr Mary Henes at mary@thebrilliantclub.org.

During our autumn placements, our PhD Tutors will work with twelve high-performing 10-13 year old pupils, delivering a series of six tutorials that takes them beyond the curriculum and helps them to develop the knowledge, skills and ambition necessary to secure places at top universities. Successful candidates typically deliver a pre-designed course and modify it to include aspects of their own research interests. Courses include ‘Evolution’, ’Turning Points in English History’ and ‘Could the stars float in the bath?’

Our training programme is delivered by qualified teachers and focuses on learning theory and teaching technique. The first tutorial takes place at our launch trips, where tutors accompany pupils on a visit to a highly-selective university. The in-school tutorials are each one hour long, and pupils complete the programme with an extended assignment which tutors mark before delivering the final tutorial.

Tutors are paid £450 for a single placement, and there are opportunities to take part in more than one placement in the autumn and over the following terms with older pupils.

To find out more or apply now, please visit www.thebrilliantclub.org/apply

Helpful tips for choosing between academia and industry

uczjvwa6 August 2014

From Open Clipart: http://openclipart.org/detail/11500/rpg-map-symbols:-crossroads-sign-by-nicubunu

Coming to the end of your PhD or a postdoc position means thinking about the future and potentially making choices about whether to stay in academia or move into industry.  This is a decision that’s harder for some than others, but some thorough research will help you to choose the most appropriate fit.

As with any career decision, it’s best to start with yourself:  specifically, what you really want from a career, what you need from a career, and the kind of personality you have.  It helps to be really specific when you’re thinking about this, so as far as possible approach this task with the same rigour you apply to research questions.   

1)      What do you want from your career?  To put it another way, how exactly do you want to spend your days at work?  This might seem like an obvious question, but it’s one that is often overlooked.  For example, do you want to spend much of your time teaching?  Are you happy to devote a large amount of time to building your network with the knowledge that “publish or perish” will always be at the heart of an academic career?  Or are you more interested in a career in industry that will potentially allow you to strategise, plan and manage from an early stage, placing a greater emphasis on your softer ‘people’ skills?  The idea here is to get a clear sense of what really drives you. 

2)       What do you need from a career?  This question relates specifically to the kind of compensation you’re looking for, opportunities for promotion and any other specific needs you have.  These tend to become more complex if you have a partner and family – geographical limitations, for instance.  Higher salaries are still to be found in industry and compensation is considerably more complicated than in academia, so if you’re considering an offer make sure you understand an organisation’s compensation structure: bonuses, for example, can make a big difference to your total package.

3)      What’s your personality like – and where might you find your best ‘fit’?  Try to think objectively about the kind of person you are in order to determine where you’re most likely to thrive.  It is still possible to make some generalisations about the differences between academia and industry.  The latter generally works at a faster pace and decisions are made quickly (there’s money riding on it!) so if you’re goal-oriented and impatient, industry could offer the sort of variety and change you’ll enjoy.  On the other hand, academia offers a high degree of independence and suits maverick personalities well; industry is well-suited to natural team players and those who are seeking managerial responsibilities early on.  Wherever you are it’s important to realise that you can’t escape organisational politics – although these are sometimes thought to be more immediately apparent in industry.

As you gather information about yourself and your options, keep an open mind.  The decision between academia and industry is not black and white, and within each is a spectrum of many different possibilities.  It’s also possible to find roles which allow you to move between academia and industry.  The crucial thing is to identify your own priorities and be honest with yourself in order to find the path that will bring you both satisfaction and success.

– Hilary Moor, Careers Consultant, Careers Group University of London

Book a one to one appointment with Deallus Consulting on 29th July

uczjvwa4 July 2014

Deallus Consulting is an energetic Competitive Strategy Consultancy creating value for over 30 Life Science organisations worldwide, ranging from global blue chip pharmaceuticals to smaller specialist biotechnology companies. With rapid growth and change in this sector, we are continuously expanding our scope and client base.

Each year we have a number of vacancies at Business Analyst or Associate level for PhD graduates to join us. New recruits have a passion for their scientific specialism but also have commercial flair and a desire to add insight to client’s decisions. They usually speak one or more languages fluently other than English. These exceptional individuals have the opportunity to build and blend their skills amongst global colleagues from a variety of backgrounds in academia or other consulting organisations.

We will be present at the UCL main campus for one-to-one appointments on Tuesday 29th July from 10:00am till 12.30pm for those of you interested to learn more and for our recruiter to provide CV advice.

To make a booking for a 15 minute appointment, please email: OpportunitiesinEMEA@deallusconsulting.com. We look forward to hearing from you.