UCL Researchers
  • Welcome

    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.

    We hope you enjoy reading the Blog and will be inspired to tell us your views.

    If you want to suggest things that students and graduates might find helpful, please let us know – we want to hear from you.

    Karen Barnard – Head of UCL Careers

    UCL Careers is part of The Careers Group, University of London

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    Is your CV boring? Naturejobs blog suggests an infographic approach.

    By S Donaldson, on 7 November 2017

    As careers consultants we see a lot of CVs. I mean, a lot. Every now and again (especially in the height of the Autumn term) it can make us a little CV blind. So we quite liked Dr Karin Bodewits and Philipp Gramlich’s recent Naturejobs blog on infographic CVs for researchers. They give three examples, including one we’ve pictured below, that tick the boxes of a good CV: clear structure and formatting, and all the important info is easy to access quickly. If you’re finding your CV a little boring and you love infographics, this might be worth a try. Just like Karin and Philipp though, we’d suggest really considering your target sector, organisation, and boss first, as this approach may not be suitable for the more traditional employer.

    K-Bodewits_CV_v3-smaller

     

    Behind the scenes of science: working in science funding at Wellcome Trust

    By S Donaldson, on 25 October 2017

    Wellcome

    Dr Dev Churamani completed his PhD in Cell Physiology at UCL (whoop whoop!) and is now a Senior Portfolio Developer at Wellcome Trust. He’s spoken at two of our careers events for researchers in the past, and now he’s kindly agreed to give us a careers case study for our blog.

    Tell us what you’re up to now

    I work as a Senior Portfolio Developer within Wellcome’s Science Integration, Structures team. We manage, oversee and co-ordinate some of our major initiatives and schemes. We also lead on cross-Science and cross-Wellcome projects, for example the Francis Crick Institute.

    How did you move from academia to your current role?

    I think I decided academia wasn’t for me during my PhD, which is a little ironic, because after my PhD I spent 6 years as a post-doc in a UCL lab! I enjoyed working at the bench, but I realised early on it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue long term. So for me it was always more about when was the right time to get out. I was enjoying the job and the lab. But after a few years it felt that if I knew academia wasn’t the career for me, that was the point I had to leave and move on to something that was. So I started looking for new challenges.

    My first non-academic job was with the Food Standards Agency. The role was part funding, part policy, but it was a fixed-term post, and a microbiology role, so didn’t fit perfectly with my background. From there I saw an advert for a role within Wellcome’s Cellular, Developmental, and Physiological Sciences team, and my skills and experience seemed to fit what they were looking for. I first joined Wellcome as a Science Portfolio Adviser, predominantly looking after the cell biology portfolio. In that role I had a science remit, looking at science grants, and doing portfolio analyses to spot gaps and trends. After three years, I moved to my current position, which is broader in remit, rather than focusing on a specific area of science.

    What does your normal working day look like?

    I’m sure most interviewees say this, but there is no normal working day. In my first role with Wellcome, a typical working day would involve answering some emails, and maybe shortlisting some grant applications, or having a discussion with an applicant – either pre-application, post-application, or post-decision. Pre-application would be offering advice. Post-application might be explaining the next steps. Post-decision would either be an easy conversation with a successful and happy applicant, or a more in-depth conversation explaining the committee’s decision-making process, and offering advice for how the committee thought the application could potentially be improved.

    In my current role a typical day involves less talking to applicants. More often I’m speaking with external stakeholders such as other funding agencies and collaborators, and I’ll be involved in writing reports.

    What are the best bits?

    The people are fantastic at Wellcome, and although I’m in a small division, it’s a very collegiate atmosphere. My current role has given me exposure to larger projects and allowed me to work in a very self-directed way – for instance I’m currently working towards a review of the Francis Crick Institute. In my original role, it was rewarding speaking to applicants. From my experience working in academia I had seen the struggles academics faced in trying to get grants, so it was nice feeling as though I could help with that process.

    And the challenges?

    One of the biggest challenges is keeping on top of a very wide range of science. To get my head around really diverse subjects that are quite removed from my background is tough. It’s helped by the fact that I have great colleagues, who can give me their perspectives from their areas of science.

    It’s also not working in the lab. So if you’re someone who really enjoys the lab, a transition to this type of role may be difficult. Also, in academia you have a lot more ownership of your work, you have first author publications you can say are yours. This role doesn’t lend itself to that; you’re part of a much bigger picture. Although you may own your work at a local level, once it goes from you it’s no longer yours. Any report submitted at higher levels may have had many eyes on it, and may not resemble what you started with. You have to be comfortable with that.

    Does having a PhD help?

    Within our division certain roles, including mine, require a PhD. I think this can vary between research charities, but that’s the case for Wellcome. In terms of day-to-day, most useful are the clear and concise communication skills I developed during my PhD. I work with several people, of varying levels of seniority, on multiple projects, and have to convey myself clearly, especially when working with external stakeholders. I also give presentations to different audiences – varying from lay to very specialist – so that’s a skill I regularly use.

    What’s the progression like?

    People move around within the organisation, or they may move into other related organisations like universities, other charities, or the civil service. It’s possible to progress within the organisation but that depends upon building a network and seeking out opportunities. Within the division, because it’s small, progression can be harder, although I have now moved up to Senior Portfolio Developer from my initial role.

    What are your top tips for researchers interested in this type of role?

    Talk to people. Seek out employees within research funders and ask them about their experiences. You’ll be surprised that many people will be happy to have a discussion. Attend careers fairs and networking opportunities – I know UCL Careers has people like me speak at events for PhDs. This will give you a really good idea of what the role is like, which will help you work out if you’ll like it, and help you show your motivation.

     

    Photograph from Matt Brown.

    MRC created a tool to stop you missing funding opportunities

    By S Donaldson, on 25 September 2017

    Navigating the academic research landscape is tough. Knowing what is expected of you at each career stage, and scouting available opportunities, can sometimes feel like it takes up as much time as actually conducting your research! So for medical researchers, the MRC has made a handy interactive tool to help. It categorises career stages, and tells you what you should be up to when you’re in them, like so:

    MRC tool_crop

    On the tool’s funding view, it tells you the type of funding available at each stage. And even more helpfully, it tells you which funders offer each variety of award. That frees up a little more time for you to actually apply for them! Have a play with the tool and see what you think.

    MRC tool_funding_crop

     

    PhDs gone creative

    By S Donaldson, on 18 September 2017

    At UCL Careers we speak with many PhDs contemplating leaving academia, and deciding what else to do. So we collect PhD career case studies; interviewing ex-academics who’ve made the leap to see what they’re up to now. And we share their stories with you on this blog.

    If we’re honest, there are some classic ex-academic destinations people tend to report. Management consultancy anyone? Or is data science more your thing? Patent law? How about a bit of science writing? Science policy? Work in a research funder? Or a think tank? It’s great to have examples of these popular PhD destinations to provide inspiration.

    But what if you want to take the path less travelled? What if you hope to explore your creative side? We don’t have many creative case studies as yet. So I’ve compiled a few examples of PhDs turned (famous) creatives below.

    The Actor

    Dr Mayim Bialik has a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. She’s also played such classic TV characters as The Big Bang Theory’s Dr Amy Farrah Fowler and Blossom’s Blossom. In interviews Mayim has said while studying for her PhD she had ambitions to continue within academia and become a professor. But it was the teaching side that appealed to her most, and she retained her childhood love of acting. In a way, with her Big Bang Theory character she’s been able to combine her interests! As her character is a neuroscientist, she can fact-check the script and sets. And she uses her fame to encourage others to nurture their passion for science.

    The Author

    Dr Sarah Waters’ PhD is from Queen Mary University, London. Her PhD thesis was titled ‘Wolfskins and togas: lesbian and gay historical fictions, 1870 to the present’. So clearly this acted as inspiration for the novels she went on to write, including such award winners as Tipping the Velvet, since adapted to TV and stage, and Fingersmith, recently adapted to the big screen. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Could your thesis become a piece of entertainment? Science Fiction? Political Thriller? Historical Tale? Perhaps…

    The Musicians

    Dr Dan Snaith has a PhD in maths from Imperial College London. Of his academic work, he said, “I’ve proven something original, but I would still call it pretty trivial”. But no one could say his work as world-famous electronic musician Caribou is trivial. He’s obviously well-suited to what he sees as a “different kind of research…one that’s less analytical and more aesthetic”.

    And if one academic-turned-electronic-musician-example wasn’t enough, there’s UCL’s very own neuroscience and epigenetics PhD grad Dr Sam Shepherd. He’s released two critically-acclaimed albums under the moniker Floating Points (keeping it science!), and has founded his own music label.

    The Designer

    Dr Miuccia Prada graduated with a PhD in political science from the university of Milan. And now she sits at the helm of Prada. Yep, that Prada. And she started Miu Miu. Yep, that Miu Miu. And she need not only inspire you with her design career. Before entering the family business, and playing a huge role in making it what it is today, she considered going another creative route, training as a mime for 5 years!

    So good luck to all you budding creatives. If you’d like to talk to a UCL careers consultant about the paths you’re considering, creative or otherwise, book a one-to-one appointment.

    From Ivory Tower to City Hall

    By S Donaldson, on 14 August 2017

    city-hall-1333532_1920

    Dr Katherine Drayson’s PhD explored the treatment of ecology in the English planning system. After leaving academia, she worked for nearly three years in the think tank Policy Exchange. During this time she presented at the 2015 British Ecological Society Careers Conference, and we wrote it up! If you want to learn more about work in a think tank, check it out here. Since then Katherine has moved into local government. She’s now a Senior Policy and Programme Officer in the Greater London Authority. She spoke at our Government and Policy Researcher Careers Forum in February, and now she’s been kind enough to tell us about her career journey for our blog.

    How did you move from academia to your current role?

    I was lucky enough to gain funding for interdisciplinary PhD research from my university. But unless you work on a few select topics, like climate change, it’s really very difficult to obtain funding from Research Councils for interdisciplinary research. I didn’t like the idea of having to justify my research every three to five years. I also didn’t like the fact that my work would likely never be read by anyone who could make a difference (let’s be honest, no-one reads theses, and very few policy makers have access to paywalled journal articles), so I decided to leave academia, initially for the think tank world.

    How did you find out about the sector? How did you go about applying/selling yourself to employers?)

    I always knew about the public sector as a career, mainly because the Civil Service advertises very effectively. But I wasn’t so aware of opportunities outside the Civil Service, i.e. in local government. This developed while I was working at a think tank. London is unique in being the only form of regional government left in the UK. This means we can work more strategically to help change things for the better.

    Whilst I was working at Policy Exchange, I was lucky enough to be invited to join the Green Infrastructure Task Force, which was chaired by the Deputy Mayor for Environment & Energy. Through that, I got to know some of my current colleagues and became interested in the work they were doing. By speaking up in Task Force discussions and contributing ideas, I was able to make a good impression.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    There’s no such thing as ‘normal’! For the past seven months I’ve been working mainly on the London Environment Strategy, which is a big project bringing together eight existing separate strategies into one coherent (and shorter!) document. It’s involved a lot of learning (not least coming up with concepts for infographics) and some long hours. But it’s one of the best opportunities in recent times to improve London’s environment – it’s very exciting.

    Apart from the Strategy, I also work on smaller projects, some of which I designed myself. For example, I am working with the GLA’s GIS team to develop a map that will help decision-makers better target funding for green infrastructure improvements. Shortly after I arrived, I was also responsible for managing a £450,000 programme of sustainable drainage retrofit projects across the city, and on my own initiative created some webpages to highlight the good work that was done (more learning required!).

    What are the best things about working in your role?

    The fact that you can get involved with almost any project or programme that takes your interest. And if you make a decent business case, you can create your own. The flexible working environment is also great. I also love that there’s a continual learning curve, whether it’s creating and editing webpages, or improving your GIS skills. Although I don’t need to take advantage of it, I understand that the support for parents is also outstanding.

    What are the biggest challenges?

    It’s a perennial challenge to avoid siloed thinking and working (as with any organisation, large or small), both in your team and others. The environment cuts across many different topics, so we have to work hard to make contacts and connections across workstreams. A challenge with any role is the deadlines that you have to meet. In the case of the public sector, these can be unusually challenging, as you not only have to respond quickly to new situations, but your briefings and reports also have to go through several layers of sign-off, which means even less time is available for writing them.
     
    Is a PhD essential for your role?

    A PhD is inessential for my role. However, the skills I developed during my PhD are either useful or essential. For example, I am now the ‘go to’ person in my team for Word and Excel questions because of my experience in formatting a thesis, and in managing and analysing a spreadsheet database (e.g. using Pivot Tables). I taught myself GIS during my PhD, and so also create maps and analyse spatial data for others in my team. Setting up a twitter account during my PhD also helped, as I was asked to help manage the Environment team twitter account when our comms lead was on leave.

    I’m lucky in that my thesis topic is relatively relevant to my work. Although it was more specialist than I need, the PhD gave me a good understanding of many of the issues that local government faces when it considers the environment as part of the planning system.

    Where do you see yourself going from here?

    I really enjoy working for the GLA – I’d like to stay in the Environment team as long as I can (with a new Mayor, there are always opportunities for progression). But I’m also curious about working in the Civil Service and utilities companies at some point in my career. Though since my career so far has mainly been a series of lucky opportunities, who knows?

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

    Develop the art of writing under pressure and to a tight deadline! Also work on distilling messages down as far as possible without losing their meaning – this is a useful skill whatever role you go into. Very few people are interested in the minutiae or in nuance. It’s important to understand the political context of the organisation you’re working for – both internally and externally. Read the news, sign up to the organisations newsletters, scope out the website (you can pick up a lot about an organisation from how it’s structured and how easy it is to find information). Try and talk to people who are already working there to get an idea of what the work and working life is like. Attend conferences and events on the topic you’re interested in, and make a beeline for the relevant public sector attendees (good events will have an attendee list). And make sure your social media profile is clean and professional!

    PhD to Consulting Conference at UCL in September – guest blogs wanted!

    By S Donaldson, on 4 August 2017

    We’ve just got wind of an event for anyone considering moving into consulting, and it’s happening right here at UCL. See details below. And if you do attend, please get in touch with us at careers@ucl.ac.uk if you fancy writing a guest blog about what you learned afterwards. Thanks!

    PhD to consulting

    PhD to Consulting presents:

    International PhD to Consulting Conference 2017 – London

     

    The PhD to Consulting (PtC) Conference is a one day annual event targeted at PhDs and post-doctoral researchers interested in pursuing a career in consulting.

    Date:  September 22nd, 2017

    Time: 09:00 – 19:00 (includes two networking sessions over refreshments)

    Venue: UCL Institute of Child Health

    Click here for further information and to register: http://www.phdtoconsultingconference.co.uk

    Confirmed firms include: BCG, McKinsey, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, L.E.K., OC&C, Navigant, Cranmore Executive Search and many more.

    Want to gain work experience while studying for your PhD? This is one way of doing it.

    By Vivienne C Watson, on 20 July 2017

    CeyhunHave you ever thought about getting into consulting or want to gain some practical experience whilst you are studying? We asked Ceyhun, a PhD student, who has been working as a freelance researcher through Freshminds recruitment consultancy (a boutique recruitment agency resourcing candidates for consultancy projects) for the last 3 years, to share his experience. Whilst completing his qualification, Ceyhun has worked on more than 30 short term research based projects, using his analytical and quantitative skills to build an impressive profile of commercial experience, before making the official transition into the working world.

    Hear what he had to say about managing the study/ work split and the skills he’s gained.

    How did you move from a PhD to your current role?

    I’m still in the process of moving as I’m currently finishing up my PhD. I was surprised by how welcoming the consultancy job market is towards PhD graduates and that they really admire the research skills and the analytical thinking.

    What does an average working day look like?

    It usually starts with an overall plan that gives me a good idea of what the goals are of today’s work and how I can organise the tasks of the day. These can include meetings with colleagues or checking on the outcome of yesterday’s work. In most cases the overall plan doesn’t work out and it’s is important to have the ability to be flexible and adapt. The job is not just sitting in front of a computer but includes a lot of collaborative thinking and collective activities, such as developing ideas through open discussions.

    How does your PhD help you in your job?

    My PhD in Food Policy is very practical and focuses on real world problems rather than abstract theoretical models. This is particularly relevant when you have to understand the scope of problems and the value chain on a process or product. The methods I use are very useful to understand how data has been collected and can be used in project. My PhD skills also include practice in having strong evaluating logic and drawing clear conclusions, which is transferrable to convincing clients about the research outcomes of the project.

    What are the best things about your job?

    The best thing is the variety and breadth of work. For example, today, you may be working on the South American window market, and next week it’s about a struggling chocolate factory in Italy. There are no limits and there is no set daily routine for projects. You learn so much every day, and it’s not just about the products, but also about the culture of certain markets and countries. In this sense, the work stays interesting and never gets boring.

    What are the downsides?

    As mentioned earlier, you need to be flexible and you need to be able to adapt to the needs of the project and team. This can also include days where you can’t just leave after 6 or 7pm, and that’s something I was totally aware of. So far, from my experience, there are times where you have to stay late to get the project done which is not always ideal.

    What tips would you give researchers wanting to move into the same, or similar, role?

    If you want to go towards consultancy, it is important you can demonstrate that you have some degree of relevant experience. In my case, employees were keen on my practical research and communication skills, as well as my analytical approach to problems, but less about the number of articles I have published or the number of conferences I have been to.

    Instead of working for many months on one publication, I use my time constructively and may split my time by working on a short term project role at a consultancy.

     

    Ceyhun obtained his Master’s degree in Human Geography at Eberhard Karls University Tubingen in Germany and is now undertaking his PHD in Food Policy at London City University. Through this he looks at governance and policy structures for methods of boosting food sustainability policy.

    You can also have a read at his PhD page for more details: http://www.city.ac.uk/arts-social-sciences/sociology/centre-for-food-policy/phd-students/ceyhun-gungor

     

    Freshminds is an award winning boutique recruitment consultancy, placing top talent across different levels of experience into a range of strategic and commercial roles, either on a permanent, or a freelance and interim project basis.

    Our specialised Research Projects team works on an advisory and consultative structure, helping to connect leading businesses or small boutiques with top candidates on a short-term basis to find business solutions. Projects can range from 1 day, to 6 months across a variety of industry sectors.    

    Interested to find out how Freshminds can help? Visit www.freshminds.co.uk to find out more, or get in touch with Emilie at Emilie.Pain@freshminds.co.uk    

    Engineering solutions for businesses: a careers case study

    By S Donaldson, on 1 June 2017

    Simon ChildDr Simon Child has a PhD in Space Physics and is now a Solutions Engineer at Tessella, an organisation that “uses data science to accelerate evidence-based decision making, allowing businesses to improve profitability, reduce costs, streamline operations, avoid errors and out-innovate the competition”. Simon spoke at one of our Careers in Technology forums for researchers, and then kindly agreed to chat about his career again for our blog.

    How did you move from academia to your current role?
    My PhD was in Space Physics, working primarily with data taken by the Ulysses Spacecraft. As that mission was coming to a close, to stay in academia would have required a shift in research focus. Also, I was not sure if the nomadic life of a postdoc was something I was truly interested in doing long term (a couple of years here and there, moving where the research funding takes you). As such, I started looking for a career in industry. I started my job search with a clear idea of what I was looking for: something that would challenge me, somewhere I would have interesting problems to get my teeth into and continue learning and developing and, if possible, somewhere I could retain some level of contact with the space industry.

    I put my CV on Monster and was contacted by a couple of recruitment agencies who put me forward for a range of different roles. Knowing what I know now, that approach had both benefits and drawbacks. On the positive side I was made aware of companies and opportunities that I hadn’t uncovered on my own and the consultants helped me to improve my CV. However, I now realise that the majority of companies do not use agencies for their recruitment and have their own internal recruitment teams, especially for graduate and postgraduate entry level roles. Tessella is one such company.

    Early on in my academic career, I had flagged up Tessella as one of the companies I was interested in applying to. I was attracted by their focus on training and development and the opportunity to work across a wide range of technologies and sectors, including the space industry. After I applied, I was delighted to be invited to a first interview and then a second interview assessment day. During the recruitment process, I was impressed to find out about the company’s portfolio of clients and projects, as well as the similar mind-set of the people I met. When a job offer came through, it was not a hard decision to accept it.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?
    I am currently a Solutions Engineer at Tessella and what I do day-to-day depends on the project I am working on. My typical activities include: systems engineering (engineering trade-off studies, producing technical requirements specifications, designing algorithms to be used in a Radar DSPU); systems architecture (how the algorithms will talk to the rest of the real-time software within the system during flight); simulation and modelling; data analysis/machine learning; control engineering; software engineering. Ultimately I am helping our clients solve some of their really difficult technical challenges.

    The majority of my work is computer based and I also regularly attend technical meetings, with both clients and colleagues. Depending on the project I could be working full time in the Tessella office in Stevenage (where I am based), or spending some or all of my time working on client sites alongside their engineers and scientists.

    My role does not involve much long-distance travelling – each Tessella office tends to work predominately with organisations in close proximity. However there have been opportunities for colleagues to spend extended periods of time working with clients in France, Germany and Spain, as well as with colleagues in our offices in the Netherlands and USA.

    What are the best things about working in your role?
    I really value the relationships I have built up with both colleagues and clients. Tessella recruits graduates and postgraduates from science, engineering and mathematics, so my colleagues are all like-minded, intelligent people. That said, everyone has expertise in different areas, from different domain knowledge to various technical skills, so there is a lot of collaboration and innovative thinking to solve clients’ problems, which is also one of the best things about working here. I also enjoy the work that we do – projects are always challenging and interesting and I am always learning something new.

    What are the worst bits?
    To some people, the prospect of starting out on a project with an unfamiliar, complex problem to solve may seem daunting, but I relish the challenge. Starting from scratch and building up a solution by employing my knowledge and skills within my team is really satisfying, especially when what I have created is successfully delivered to the client.

    Is a PhD essential for your role?
    A PhD is not essential to work at Tessella; we also recruit people with MSc and BSc qualifications. However, it certainly helps to have a PhD. I use a lot of the skills that I developed during my PhD, including data analysis, programming, computational modelling, data visualisation, verbal and written communication, problem solving, time management, mentoring, networking, and more. The reason over half of the company have PhDs is because all of those skills, which have been developed further during postgraduate studies, are invaluable in solving the complex challenges facing our clients. The ability to build relationships with clients is arguably just as important as your technical skills, so confidence and communication skills are also important.

    Where do you see yourself going from here?
    Every year, I have an appraisal with my manager, part of which includes reviewing and updating my career development plan. This contains things like my long term career goals and what I need to do in the short term in order to achieve them, as well as what training I need to undertake for my immediate project needs. The appraisal is also a review of my performance – good and bad – over the previous twelve months so that I can identify what areas I need to work on in order to guide my career in a particular direction. Feedback for appraisals is sought from all areas across the company, from directors to any technical or head office staff you have worked with.

    Over the course of my career, I have chosen to stay on a broadly technical career path, from a junior developer to leading project teams. However, I have also taken opportunities to take formal training in other areas, including, project management, technical sales and business analysis. I have also had the opportunity to spend some time working in those roles, to give me an idea of what is involved should I wish to transfer into one of them in the future.

    I am also a line manager, currently to one junior technical member of staff. I really enjoy this part of my role: working with him early on in his career, helping turn all those ideas and thoughts into a career plan, then helping him reach his goals. I am looking forward to managing more staff in the future.

    What top tips would you pass on to a researcher interested in this type of work?
    Unless you are looking for a job that will specifically utilise your PhD research, it will be your transferable skills that make you valuable to an organisation, for example, problem solving, teamwork, presenting complex ideas, debating issues, etc. Identify your strong and weak areas and take advantage of opportunities to develop and improve them. You can also make yourself more attractive to potential employers by developing yourself outside of your PhD, for example, building your confidence, public speaking, leadership, etc., so get involved with new hobbies and extra-curricular activities.

    Sparkly technology pic taken from Octavio Santos Neto

    Dr Karen Kelsky told us how to get tenure in the US

    By S Donaldson, on 24 May 2017

    USA

    Last week Dr Karen Kelsky, tenured professor turned careers guru and author of The Professor is in, spoke to our researchers about how to hack the US academic job market. She focused specifically on US ‘tenure-track’ positions, which involve a few years of teaching and research, and then guarantee you consideration for a permanent academic appointment. However, most of her advice was applicable to post-doc roles too. If you couldn’t make it along, here’s a summary of the take-home points:

    – The market is tough. In case anyone is under any illusions, the US is not an easy alternative to the UK. Karen told us the US produces ~60,000 PhDs a year, and a tenure-track opening may attract 200-1000 applications. Just like here, the majority of US PhDs end up leaving academia.

    – The Academic Search Committee are more overworked than you are. The academics sifting through applications are even busier than you are, so Karen estimated they give only ~2 minutes of attention to each tenure-track application. Better make the good stuff easy to find!

    – Know the institution. Karen talked us through US university types – from Ivy League to Community College – and it’s certainly a more complex system than ours. But just as in the UK, when looking at lectureship positions, institution-type influences the pay and teaching/research load. Make sure you’re applying for a role that suits you, and you’re emphasising the right things in your applications. The Fulbright Commission and good old Wikipedia will give you an idea of US university types.

    – Stop thinking of yourself as a student. Karen was very firm on this. When looking to hire new lecturers the search committee are looking for a new peer, not a student. Present yourself as a peer, and have references from people who can speak about you as a peer. Start now. Network with as many people as possible, at conferences and via social media, sharing your outputs and your ideas. Like what? Like a peer.

    – Have a 5-year plan. A future focus in your applications, with a specific and detailed plan, will help recruiters see what an asset you’ll be to their department. And once you’re on the tenure track, sticking to a clear plan will help you meet the tough plublication criteria that qualifies you for tenure.

    – Brits babble on (and other nationalities are too blunt): For a US audience, Karen says we Brits are way too wordy. Don’t write a cover letter that reads like a Hugh Grant script. Present the facts, and get to the point. Karen also mentioned some nationalities write so bluntly it appears arrogant…even to a US audience whom many perceive as unashamed self-promoters! To check how you’re coming across, book a researcher one-to-one appointment to discuss your application documents.

    – (Almost) always negotiate. Once you’ve been offered a position, in the US there’s far more room to negotiate your pay and conditions than here. Karen outlines some rare cases where it may not be appropriate in her book, but for the most part, negotiate away.

    For more useful tips for getting ahead in academia check out Karen’s blog and book, as well as our UK-centred schedule of academic careers workshops, covering career planning, applications, and interviews.

    Taking subject expertise into industry: a case study

    By S Donaldson, on 19 May 2017

    Dr Stephen Hassard has a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction from UCL, and is now a User Experience Researcher at Garmin. We asked him a few questions about his career journey so far.

    Hassard

    Tell us about your job.

    My PhD was in Human-Computer Interaction through UCLIC (University College London Interaction Centre), a joint venture between the Psychology and Computer Science departments of UCL. Five years ago I moved from academia into the field of User Experience Design as a User Experience Researcher at Garmin International. To provide a little context to what kind of work I do; I work within a multi-disciplinary team that builds in-car systems that are easy, and safe to use, while driving. Within my role as a UX Researcher I have two major focuses at my job: design work and research. On the design side of things I’ve done work on mobile apps, dash-cams, navigation systems, and infotainment systems. The design work I do is mostly creating wire-frames, developing prototypes, and testing proposed designs with users to make sure they are easy to use. On the research side, I run the driver distraction lab here at Garmin where I use a driver simulator and eye-tracking to make sure that the products we develop adhere to government guidelines for what is, and what is not acceptable, levels of distraction while driving. So in a nutshell I design apps that are as safe as possible for you to use while driving.

    How did you move from academia to your current role?

    To be honest it was a slow transition. While I was working as a Psychology Lecturer at the University of Winnipeg I started a consulting business that focused on providing user experience services to smaller companies who couldn’t afford a full-time UX staff member. When I decided to move into industry full-time the skills and experience I had built in my consultancy were invaluable in proving I had real-world experience when I went to apply for jobs in industry.

    When did you decide academia wasn’t for you?

    Two main factors came together to convince me to move from Academia to Industry. The first was the nature of the work I was doing in Academia felt so disconnected from the industry I was trying to help. I was feeling like it was becoming too theoretical and insular. The other was job stability. Working in academia involves long hours and an uncertain future. I wanted something more long-term and stable than what the soft-money of academia could provide.

    How did you find out about the sector?

    Working in the field of UX was something I had always wanted to do. My undergrad degrees were in Computer Science and Cognitive Psychology, and my PhD was in Human-Computer Interaction, so this was an area I was aware of from early in my development.

    How did you go about applying?

    This was I think the trickiest thing about moving from academia to industry. There were some jobs I applied to where having a PhD was almost a liability in that they assumed I wanted to be in academia and treated me with suspicion when I was looking for jobs in industry. I think this was based on the fact that some people just assume that everything you do in academia is simply navel-gazing and hence you have no real world experience that would apply to this job. The trick was really driving home the practical nature of my research and how it could help them, as a company, be more efficient and effective. Having a portfolio of concrete examples of my work really helped breakdown those assumptions.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    A typical day is probably doing a design review with the development team, working on some wire-frames in Adobe Illustrator, having a team-meeting to coordinate work across our team, and then prepping for the latest eye-tracking study I am hoping to start soon.

    What are the best things about working in your role?

    I love that my job is always different. Some days I’m doing creative work, like creating a new in-dash music player, and other days I’m running detailed and highly controlled experiments.

    And what are the worst bits?

    I would say the biggest challenge is the juggling of multiple things. As I am usually doing several different projects in tandem I rarely get the time to sit down and work on things that require more focus like writing up research for white papers or submission to journals.

    Is a PhD essential for your role?

    Strictly speaking no, as many UX researcher positions only require an MSc, but I have found that having a PhD makes it easier to jump into senior roles in bigger companies.

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

    The most important skills I use from my PhD are critical thinking, experimental design, and effective communication techniques. Doing a PhD forces you to learn how to break down a big problem in to smaller manageable chunks to tackle, run studies to better understand each of those sub-problems, and then communicate complex ideas to people who may not be as familiar with the nuances of your area as you are. Being systematic in how I understand complex problems, running replicable studies to understand the problem space, and effectively communicating those findings to stakeholders are key to what I do everyday.

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

    For academics looking to move into the field of UX I would say make sure you know the fundamentals of design that you are not likely to learn in academia (so know how to use the adobe suite of products, and at least one prototyping package like Axure) and work on selling yourself, with an emphasis on how your work and skills are applicable to the work being done in industry. It may be helpful to prep a portfolio of your work showing what you did and the direct results of your work. Also, look for your closest UXPA (User Experience Professionals Association) chapter and start attending their monthly events. These are great places to network and learn about job opportunities.