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Enhancing university teaching for a living

SophiaDonaldson19 August 2019

Dr Alex Standen has a PhD in Italian Studies, and now works at UCL as Associate Director, Early Career Academic and Research Supervisor Development, in the Arena Centre. Alex helps researchers every day as part of her job, and she kindly agreed to help you even further by telling us her career story.

Tell us about your current role and organisation.  

I work here at UCL in the Arena Centre for Research-Based Education. We work across UCL to support colleagues to enhance their teaching and improve the student experience in their departments. I am one of three Associate Directors and have oversight of all our training and development of PhD students who teach, new Lecturers and Teaching Fellows, Personal Tutors and Research Supervisors.

How did you move from academia to your current role?

During my writing up year I was also employed as a Teaching Fellow in my department, a role that I continued for a year post-PhD. I loved teaching and working closely with students in departmental roles such as Admissions Tutor, Year Abroad/Erasmus Coordinator and Personal Tutor, but it left no time for research. By chance, my partner was offered the opportunity to spend a year in New Zealand and we leapt at the chance: I had been at the same institution since I was an undergraduate and, while I loved my department and role, I needed a change of scenery and to give myself some time and space to focus on my research. Only that wasn’t what happened! I found I had little enthusiasm to re-visit my PhD research and no new projects I wanted to pursue; instead I was gravitating back to roles involving students. Back in the UK I got a job here at UCL as Education Officer in the Faculty of Brain Sciences which gave me so many valuable insights into HE administration, student support and wellbeing, quality assurance and enhancement, and the wider HE landscape. It was also in a Faculty whose research was so far removed from my own that I got an amazing insight into disciplines I had previously known nothing about. Working in the Faculty offered me a chance to get to know lots of the central teams at UCL and as soon as I got to know and understand about the work the Arena Centre was doing I knew that was where I wanted to be!

What does a normal working day look like for you?

It is a complete mix! I am rarely at my desk, and more often to be found delivering sessions, talking to colleagues and departments about their teaching, supporting them to gain professional recognition for their education-related roles, or  liaising with other teams like the Doctoral School and Student Support and Wellbeing. Since becoming Associate Director, I also now manage a small team and am involved in finance and strategic planning conversations which has been a big learning curve!

What are the best things about working in your role?

Meeting so many inspiring colleagues from across the institution and feeling like the work we are doing is actually having an impact on students.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

Not everyone is keen to hear from us! Lots of colleagues, understandably, have so many competing pressures that they just don’t have time to think about their teaching role on top of everything else. But when we do manage to convince them to make even a small change it makes it all worthwhile!

Is a PhD essential for your role?

No, but lots of experience of teaching in HE is essential, and so is a broad understanding of the HE environment. My PhD gave me the confidence to present in front of a range of audiences, to consume large amounts of information quickly and critically, to be persuasive, and to manage my time effectively – all of which are absolutely key to my role.

What’s the progression like?

There is an absolute wealth of roles in HE beyond teaching and research and I have been able to progress quickly. Centres like ours exist in all universities so there are also opportunities to move between institutions. But I have no intention of going anywhere anytime soon!

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

Treat every job with the seriousness and commitment that you give to your research role, and carry it out to the best of your abilities as you never know where it will lead. When I first came back to the UK after New Zealand I wasn’t getting shortlisted for professional services roles in HE, which I now see is because I was still presenting myself as a teacher-researcher. But at the time my main concern was financial, so I joined a temping agency which specialised in HE roles and the first role I was placed in was here at UCL as an admin assistant in the Faculty of Brain Sciences…

 

Facilitating research – helping bring money to a university

SophiaDonaldson1 August 2019

By Jana Dankovicova

 

Dr Jennifer Hazelton has a PhD in Civil Engineering  from Newcastle University, and now works as a Senior School Research Facilitator in the BEAMS Research Coordination Office at UCL. She is talking in detail about her role, highlights and challenges, as well as giving tips for researchers who would like to follow a similar path.

 

 

  • Tell us about your job.

I really enjoy my job, as I work closely with researchers and feel I can make a real difference to their chances of having successful applications for grant funding. I am Senior Research Facilitator in the Office of the Vice-Provost (Research), covering the BEAMS School (Faculties of Built Environment, Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences). I lead a sub-team within the BEAMS Research Coordination Office with responsibility for providing support for Fellowship applications, Global Challenges Research Fund and Doctoral Training across BEAMS, and the Environment Research Domain across UCL. My job is very varied, often hectic with short deadlines and competing pressures, but I have a lovely team and really enjoy the buzz of helping people with proposals and contributing towards UCL’s targets for research income. I am also co-Chair of the Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) Operational Group, where we share best practice and common or specific issues in global research projects, then report and make recommendations to academic and senior leadership committees.

  • How did you move from academia to your current role?

I never intended to join academia, but after a job as a Research Associate led to my PhD and postdoctoral role it looked as though that’s where I might be headed. I hated the uncertainty of short term contracts, however, and realised that I had most enjoyed supporting our funding applications and writing, rather than the research itself. I applied for a Research Coordinator job within a virtual institute newly set up at my previous university, which was a crossover between academia and application support, and offered the permanent contract I needed. I gradually did less and less research, and found that I didn’t miss it, so I knew this was the right career direction for me. When I moved on, it was to a full Professional Services role as a Strategic Research Facilitator at UCL and I moved up to my current role after a spell of maternity leave. I recently observed that I am working at Associate Professor equivalent, and doubt whether I would have made it to this level by now if I had stayed on an academic path.

  • What does a normal working day look like for you?

I do a weekly surgery giving 1:1 support for researchers submitting applications for funding, so have to schedule in time to read those applications. I try to avoid doing them at my desk, so work from home once a week to read or write, and otherwise go through the proposals on the train during my commute. I am responsible for overseeing internal procedures to limit numbers of fellowship bids where schemes have institutional caps, which can take a lot of coordinating – particularly for new schemes. My team are experienced and increasingly manage these processes on their own, but we go through the details and try to assess whether we are working in the most effective way to give the best support to applicants. We provide training for researchers on applying for funding, so I deliver sessions for individual departments, faculties and the careers service. I really enjoy facilitating workshops and delivering training, but we try to target advice for the audience and give bespoke insights, as well as responding to feedback to continually improve our service, so quite a lot of preparation is required. As line manager for my team, I take their professional development very seriously. I meet fortnightly, and I like to be well prepared for those meetings. I meet fortnightly with our Director to report back and plan ahead. On a daily basis we will get requests for help with very short turnaround, whether that might be to draft a letter of support from the Vice-Provost Research, set up a mock interview or give feedback on a response to reviewer comments. We always try to fit these activities in, often pooling resources as a team to find time. I very rarely have two days the same in a week, as I work flexibly to fit around childcare, but that certainly keeps things interesting! There are members of the team who work set hours in the office and don’t take any work home, which they really appreciate, but for me it works better to have less time at my desk and finish my work elsewhere when I need to. As long as we get the work done, working patterns can be flexible, which I really value.

  • What are the best things about working in your role?

The variety of people and subjects I get to work with is fantastic, because of the breadth of the BEAMS School. The RCO team is also varied, but we work together really well and each bring different perspectives and expertise so are always learning from each other. The atmosphere in our office is very collegiate, and we share a lot of our work but also personal experiences which has helped us form a close knit unit. I think personally that the flexibility, visibility and security of the role are valuable. A lot of the researchers we work with are very appreciative of the help we give. As someone who thrives off supporting others, this is a great bonus for me.

  • What are the downsides/challenges?

There are some regular tasks which involve a lot of emailing around academics to request help with mock interviews or reviewing, often at very short notice. Academics are generally extremely busy and it can be very difficult to keep asking them to do extra work when you know how much they already have to do. We also have to be very resilient to failure, because the reality is that only a small percentage of research applications are funded. Most academics will only submit a few applications each year, but we are working on new applications every week. When you have worked extremely hard with someone on an important proposal that they (and you) are strongly committed to, it can be difficult to take the news that it hasn’t been funded. Similarly, but almost harder, when we run internal selection panels we have to tell unsuccessful applicants that their application hasn’t made it through the internal stage, which can be difficult. Finally, we are often working under pressure to tight deadlines, which are not always easy to predict. So this job wouldn’t suit someone who needed a very structured and predictable workload.

  • Is a PhD essential for your role? 

Having a PhD (or equivalent) is an essential criterion for this role, but not because of the subject-specific expertise. We all review grants in all areas, not just our own subjects. Having a PhD helps us to be more credible in the eyes of the academics we support. I don’t actually think it is or should be a necessary requirement for applying to do the job, because the skills I need for my role were not learned doing my PhD, but it is one indicator of academic experience which definitely helps.

  • Where would someone go in their career from here?

Research support is a rapidly expanding field in Professional Services. I think the skills are very transferable to research in other sectors, but the university sector is UK and worldwide so there is a lot of choice. There are currently roles across 4 pay grades in our team, so plenty of scope for progression. UCL has 3 Research Coordination Offices across its 4 Schools, so there are often secondments or jobs available. I am also going to do a secondment at EPSRC, one of our key funders, for 6 months which will give me some insight into how our grants get reviewed and assessed – which I am really looking forward to.

  • What top tips would you give a researcher interested in this type of work?

Do some shadowing – we have set up shadowing opportunities with our team for people interested in research facilitation, and this has proved very helpful. Also, there are often secondment roles across the three RCOs, so keep an eye out for those. Get as much experience as you can reading and reviewing applications from your peers, and contributing to applications to different funders.

Minimising the trauma of leaving academia

SophiaDonaldson1 July 2019

As a careers consultant helping researchers who are considering leaving academia, I gather case studies from people who’ve already ‘made it out’. I ask ex-academics how they weighed up the decision to leave, explored other options, and marketed themselves to employers. It helps me put together practical tips. I think researchers find that stuff useful.

But practical tips only address half the struggle. The process of leaving academia can be an emotional one, and it’s important to recognise this, especially given findings of above average rates of mental health issues within PhD students and academic staff. Crucially for us at UCL Careers, we often see these negative emotions impacting researchers’ ability to get on with the sometimes complex and demanding tasks involved in changing career.

So here are five insights I’ve gained from people who’ve been through these emotions and come out the other end, and from my own experience of leaving academia. Bearing them in mind may help reduce the stress of the move, and help you concentrate on making it a successful one.

1) View your PhD and post-doc years as a job

Many researchers see their time in academia as an insignificant extension of their undergraduate degree, just another qualification. What a depressing way to view years spent developing marketable skills, growing as a person, and setting and achieving complex goals! Maybe it was so long ago that you’ve forgotten, but your PhD and post-doc years are nothing like your undergraduate years. They’ve been a job. Think of them that way. Speak about them that way. It will make you more attractive to employers, and more confident in your own experience and abilities.

2) Your PhD years are gone, and you’re not getting them back!

People hate losing things. Tversky and Kahneman’s Prospect theory tells us they hate losing things more than they like gaining things. This is a problem for career changers. They lend more weight to what may be lost in a transition than to what may be gained. And maybe that’s ok. It’s natural. In fact, researchers tell us it’s an evolutionarily advantageous way to process risk. But it becomes particularly problematic for career changers when they focus on losing the past; when, for instance, researchers don’t want to change field for fear of ‘wasting’ their PhD years. If we’re lucky enough to make it there, we may well all be working until we’re 80+. If you love your subject, by all means try to find work related to it. But if you don’t, don’t let a few already-spent years dictate what you’ll do between now and 80!

3) Be honest with yourself

A huge part of career exploration is researching yourself, your interests, values, and skills. This can be tough, especially if an honest evaluation contradicts your ideal image of yourself, or the image you present to others. Many ex-academics I’ve interviewed struggled with this. There was the PhD who was proud of being seen as ‘the numbers woman’, yet had to face the fact she didn’t really enjoy data analysis. Or the PhD who’d always seen himself as career-driven above everything else, but had to admit he valued work-life balance more than progression. Or the countless ex-academics I’ve met who at some point had to accept they just weren’t as passionate about their chosen subject as they’d initially believed.

Accepting your true motivations, interests, and skills can be hard if it leads you to conclude your current role isn’t right for you. But it’s an essential step in opening up a world of possibilities that are right for you. And what’s more, there’s evidence that having a strong sense of your career identity makes you a happier person overall! Our How Will I Know What I’ll Like? workshop and one-to-one careers appointments can help you with this process, and so can sites like jobmi.

4) Remember a new identity can take time to wear in

Our career identity is more than just our current job description; it can be core to how we perceive ourselves. So a change in career path can represent a threat to our sense of self. If I am not an academic researcher, who am I? Adopting a new identity can be uncomfortable. And this is made even harder when, as is more than likely, the people we regularly socialise with have an identity resembling our old one. Your post-doc friends may find it especially difficult to understand why you’re leaving a life they still enjoy.

But forming a strong narrative around your decision can help. Connect the dots. What attracts you to your new direction? And what are the links – in topic, skills, people – between your academic role and the role you’re moving to? The story will of course still take time to ‘fit’ properly. But that’s ok. Rest assured, once you move into a new position, and gain new colleagues whose story is more similar to yours, eventually it will.

5) Relax: you don’t need a plan…but there’s no such thing as dumb luck

Academia offers an obvious progression: PhD to post-doc to lecturer to professor. If you leave, you may feel anxious to find another clear path. But few paths are as clear. A common theme emerges when I ask ex-academics about their careers: chance. Many didn’t leave academia knowing they would end up where they are today.  They were just “lucky” enough to stumble across something that suited them. But luck is never the only force at play. These PhDs had taken steps that put them in the right place to spot and seize opportunities. In the careers world we call this “planned happenstance”, a career theory that acknowledges the effects of chance occurrences on careers, while asserting that people have some influence over their own luck.

So if you have no definite plan, that’s ok. But don’t leave it all to chance. Identify your interests and follow them. Develop skills you enjoy using. Take an interest in people. Say ‘yes’ to things. In this way, you can ensure you’re always growing and learning, which will improve your confidence. And when an opportunity arises, you’ll be ready to grab it.

If you found this blog useful, you may want to check out our Managing Your Career Change Emotions workshop for researchers (see our website for more details of our programme).

Fellowship application tips from UCL Research Facilitators

SophiaDonaldson10 June 2019

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

1) Know your funders

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

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

2) Know the deadlines. ALL the deadlines.

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

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

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

4) Be specific

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

5) Interviews really count

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

Best of luck with your applications!

Many thanks for the workshop go to:

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

Professional Careers Beyond Academia Conference – Breakout Sessions

Isobel EPowell3 June 2019

Professional Careers Beyond Academia Conference

Conference Schedule:

9.30 – 10.00 Registration

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

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch Break

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

15.30 – 16.00 Closing Remarks
16.00 – 17.30 Networking Drinks

Last chance to sign up:

Meet your afternoon speakers!

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

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

2pm – 3.15pm: Breakout Session

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

UK & Global Health Forum

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

Dr Laura Webber

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

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

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

Lukasz Aleksandrowicz

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

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

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

Dr Elizabeth Goodburn MBBCh DRCOG DFSRH MSc PhD FRCGP

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

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

Careers in Government & Policy

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

Dr Francisco de Matos Afonso Pereira

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

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

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

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

Dr Sara C Marques

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

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

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

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

Dr Susannah Cleary

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

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

Workshop: The (Career)Path Less Travelled

Entrepreneurial thinking and how it will shape your future

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dr Rebecca McKelvey – Founder and Director, in2scienceUK

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

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

Professional Careers Beyond Academia Conference – Keynotes

SophiaDonaldson23 May 2019

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

Research Staff book your place via MyUCLCareers

Research Students book your place via the Doctoral Skills website

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

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

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

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

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


9.30 – 10.00 Registration

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

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

Keynote – GSK “Research: Bio Tech/Pharma”

Keynote – Medpace “Clinical Trials”

Keynote – Costello Medical “Science Communication”

Keynote – EY Parthenon “Life & Health Sciences Consultancy”

Q&A Session with keynotes

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch Break

14.00 – 15.15 Breakout Session

Option 1: Forum Careers in UK and Global Health

Option 2: ForumCareers in Government & Policy

Option 3: WorkshopEntrepreneurship

15.30 – 16.00 Closing Remarks

16.00 – 17.30 Networking Drinks

 

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

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

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

What is your key tip for researchers?

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

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

 

Medpace
Dr. Stephanie Millin, Clinical Trial Manager

 

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

What is your key tip for researchers?

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

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

 

Costello Medical
Dr. Lucy Eddowes, Head of Multidisciplinary Division

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

What is your key tip for researchers?

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

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

 

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

 

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

What is your key tip for researchers?

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

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

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

SophiaDonaldson14 May 2019

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

‘Hacking the Job Market’: Academic Careers in USA

Lucas Lecture Theatre Strand Building KCL

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

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

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

5.00pm- 6.00pm – Acing academic interviews

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

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

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

Karen will cover:

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

-How to think like a search committee

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

-The all-important 5-Year Plan

-The ethos of job market documents

-The most common mistakes made by job seekers

-The three keys to academic interviewing

-The non-academic option

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

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

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

SophiaDonaldson7 May 2019

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

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

Date: Thursday 23rd May 2019

Time:  6pm–7.30pm

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

Overview:

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

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

Participating in this event will enable you to:

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

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

Speaker information:

 

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

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

 

Dr Helen Anderson: Project Curator, British Museum

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

 

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

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

 

Booking information for Research Staff

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

Book via myUCLCareers

 

Booking information for Research Students

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

Book via DocSkill

How can you use your research skills in Academic Publishing?

SophiaDonaldson1 February 2019

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

Tell us about your current role and organisation.

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

How did you move from academia to your current role?

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

What does a normal working day look like for you?

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

What are the best things about working in your role?

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

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Taking a PhD into Clinical Trials

SophiaDonaldson17 December 2018

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

Hi Mariam, what are you up to now?

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

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

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

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

What does an average day look like?

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

What are the best bits?

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

What are the downsides?

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

Is a PhD required for this role?

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

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

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

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

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

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