By uczjsdd, on 14 July 2021
In the first of a new series looking at how to navigate your career during uncertain times, we speak to a Biological Sciences PhD who graduated during the last recession, and is now a Science Teacher in a private secondary school.
- Tell us about your current role and organisation.
I work in a private school as a science teacher. At the higher levels I cover just biological sciences, but at the younger ages I sometimes cover more subjects. I also take on additional responsibilities for sports and arts clubs I’m interested in.
- How did you move from academia to your current role?
I’m not much of a planner, and I’d been so wrapped up in my research that I hadn’t looked ahead and thought about how to progress in academia. When I did, towards the end of my PhD, I realised I didn’t have any teaching experience whereas other PhDs did.
So I contacted people in my department who let me do a few guest lectures on their courses to fill the gap. I also got involved with a charity that puts researchers into schools. I was doing it just to have some more teaching experience on my CV, but I found I really enjoyed the whole process! I realised teaching in schools would offer me the stability and people-contact that academia wouldn’t, so I started to consider that as my plan A and academia as my plan B.
While researching teaching, I was surprised to learn that private schools didn’t always need their teachers to take a teaching qualification, which was appealing as I didn’t fancy more study at that time. So I applied to private schools, and after making me deliver a teaching demonstration, one of them took me on.
- Did graduating into a recession have an impact on your career path?
I think there might have been something about the stability and recession-proof nature of teaching that appealed to me because of the credit crunch. Maybe that wouldn’t have meant as much to me if the world had felt more stable at that time. Also, I probably would have found the PGCE teacher-training route a bit more appealing if I’d felt more secure in getting a job afterwards. During that time it felt important to be earning money and not to go back and study again.
- What does a normal working day look like for you?
My days are very full. I’m up early and teaching students most of the day, and then a lot of evenings are taken up by marking or prep work, and some by extracurricular activities I run for the students. I like to think of creative ways to teach, which is fun, but it adds to the prep time! Obviously adapting to online teaching over the past year or so also took a lot of prep.
- What are the best things about working in your role?
There are lots of great things. I like working with people, I find it really energising. I missed that in academia, and so that’s probably the best bit for me. I also like still being in touch with science, and in a broader way than academia allows.
I went to a state school myself, and I never imagined I would work in a private school. But there are some particular perks to it that are worth mentioning. The pay is very good, and as I’ve progressed and taken on more responsibilities – both extracurricular and within the science department – it has increased. It sounds gauche to talk about, but I’m earning a lot more than my colleagues who remained in academia – even the very successful ones. Some private schools even throw free accommodation into the package! The holiday is also unbeatable. Of course all teachers get lots of holiday, but private schools often have even more holiday than state schools, so that’s been really nice, especially for those teachers who have young families. And just like academia, travel is one of the unexpected perks! Outside of pandemic conditions, some private schools send their pupils on fantastic field, sporting, and social trips, which always need teachers to supervise, so I’ve managed to travel to some amazing places for free – although obviously I’ve had to spend a lot of the time working!
- What are the worst bits?
The flip side to the amazing holiday benefits is that it’s difficult/impossible to take holiday during term-time, and during term-time the workload can be very heavy, especially if you take on extra responsibilities as I have. That way of working – very intense followed by long breaks – suits me, but it probably wouldn’t suit everyone.
- Is a PhD essential for your role?
A PhD isn’t essential, but the organisational and communication skills I developed during the PhD help. Having the PhD may well have helped me bypass the PGCE route too, and the teaching experience I had picked up during the PhD was obviously valuable. I also think it adds some extra credibility for the pupils and their parents, who often have very high expectations of the school.
- What’s the progression like?
There isn’t quite the same pressure to “progress” as there is in academia, which I actually like. But there are still lots of opportunities. You can become a head of department, and then of course a deputy head/head teacher. And some people move away from teaching to work on the educational policy side or in educational charities.
- What top tips would you pass on to a researcher interested in this type of work?
If you think teaching might be for you, give it a go – you’ll soon find out! There are lots of opportunities to work-shadow teachers and deliver sessions in schools, so seek them out. Teaching experience at university level will help you too, but it’s fairly different, so you really should get a bit of experience in schools to see if you’d like it.
I’d also advise getting involved in as many different things as possible, especially if you’re not sure where you want to end up, because you never know where they may lead – look at how I ended up in teaching!
- Are there any specific tips you would give to people graduating into a recession?
I think people have to go with how they feel. The recession made me nervous, so I went for a stable well-paid job to reduce that anxiety. Not everyone will need to do that though. I suppose when I look at all of my PhD peers who also graduated in the recession, they’re all doing fine. So maybe my advice would be, don’t worry too much about it. You have the highest qualification you can get, and you’ll have developed loads of useful skills along the way, so you’ll be employable even in a recession, you just might have to compromise for a bit depending on what you want to do.
By s.duran, on 9 July 2021
Throughout the academic year, we take a deep dive into some key topics and career paths discussed in our events programme. In these posts, we explore what careers in a variety of different industries look like for a researcher, find out about the roles their organisation has to offer and get some key tips on applying. In this summer’s bonus blog series, we’re following up with some of the speakers from our Researchers Professional Careers Beyond Academia Conference. We’ll learn more about their roles, industries, and answer a few questions we weren’t able to get to in the conference.
This week we’ll be looking at medical writing with Emma Phillips, Publication Manager at Costello Medical.
Emma completed her PhD in Neuroscience at King’s College London. She worked as a post-doctoral researcher at University of Cambridge prior to moving into medical writing in 2018.
So, how did you move from your PhD to your current role?
I completed my PhD in Neuroscience at Kings College London in 2016 before doing an 18-month post-doc at the University of Cambridge. However, I quickly realised that an academic career wasn’t for me and, after some help from the university’s career service, I decided medical writing sounded really interesting. I had previously enjoyed writing both my thesis and academic papers, so this seemed like a good fit.
I applied to Costello Medical and started as a Medical Writer in the Publications division in April 2018. I found I really enjoyed the job – the work was interesting and meaningful, closely linked to cutting edge science and used many of the skills I developed in my academic career. In April 2019, I was promoted to Senior Medical Writer and began managing projects alongside continuing to write. In October 2020, I was promoted again to Publication Manager. I now do less writing but manage full client accounts and line manage several members of the team. I also play a strategic role in the projects I work on for clients and internally within Costello.
Who are Costello Medical, and what do you do?
Costello Medical provides scientific support in the analysis, interpretation and communication of clinical and health economic data. We work with pharmaceutical and medical device companies, as well as charities, to help communicate their data to a variety of audiences. We provide a wide range of services, which means we can support clients throughout the lifecycle of their product. I work in the Publications division who specialise in academic publications, including peer-reviewed journal papers and congress work, but have frequently worked on cross-divisional projects.
In my current role, my day-to-day work involves keeping all the projects on my client accounts running smoothly and to time. This includes reviewing work that the Medical Writers and Senior Medical Writers draft, communicating with clients about new and ongoing projects to make sure we are meeting their brief, and working on business development to make sure we have projects lined up for the future. As a member of the Senior Management Team, I also have internal responsibilities, including helping plan who works on which project, line managing members of the Publications division and helping shape what Costello Medical is going to look like in the future.
What are the benefits of working for Costello and in your current role?
Whilst I enjoyed my time in academia, there are benefits to my current role. For example, it is permanent, I am better paid and there is better training for managers. However, these are not the things that really stand out to me as my favourite aspects of the job.
I really enjoy how varied my work is – I am always learning about new disease areas and project types; every day is different. I also love the impact I can have through my work. Outwardly, this is most obvious through the publications we develop – the science we write about has real impact for patients and healthcare systems across the world. However, I also have the privilege of having an impact internally within the company, both through mentoring junior members of staff and watching them grow into excellent Medical Writers, and through having my say in the future of Costello Medical. The company has always been shaped by the interests, opinions and passions of its employees. For example, I am really interested in patient engagement in medical research and my line manager has always supported this. We now have a team of people working to progress patient engagement at Costello Medical and in the projects we work on.
What were the biggest challenges in moving from your PhD to industry?
Except for a short placement working at Lilly during my PhD, I had no experience working in industry. I had no idea how to work in a professional office and was really worried that I would do or say the wrong thing! When I got to Costello Medical, I quickly realised my fears were unfounded – everyone was so friendly and helpful. I was also worried that I would miss being in the lab but, honestly, this never happened.
Coming from academia, you often have very little experience in the client-facing side of the role. I did find this daunting at first – it can be scary to speak up on client calls at the beginning. However, my Project Managers and teams were always there to help me, and I wasn’t left to take client calls by myself until I was much more experienced and felt confident to do so.
What type of career progression is available in Medical Writing at Costello Medical?
At Costello Medical, we are looking for individuals who are collaborative, self-motivated and enthusiastic with a genuine interest in healthcare and an eagerness to learn about new areas of science. No prior medical communications experience is needed for the Medical Writer role. Instead, we look for candidates with excellent written English, exceptional attention to detail and strong analytical skills. Furthermore, we expect candidates to have good organisation skills and the ability to work across multiple projects and teams at the same time. Given that our roles are often entry-level and career progression can be rapid, a desire and passion to learn is essential.
As a PhD student, you can do plenty to prepare for a future career in medical communications. For example, taking every opportunity you can to write. It is especially helpful if you can write for multiple audiences and develop writing styles suited to multiple formats, like publication writing aimed at fellow academics alongside writing documents aimed at the general public. Additionally, we would recommend any teamwork opportunities, which can help to prepare you for working within project teams and collaborating with people from different backgrounds.
Audience Question 1: What’s the application and interview process for medical writing?
We firstly ask candidates to submit their CV, along with a cover letter, via the online application form on our website. After an initial CV review, you will be sent a written assessment to complete, which is a critical appraisal of a trial paper. This allows us to assess your scientific understanding as well as your written communication skills and attention to detail. Successful candidates will be invited to an interview which includes a short presentation based on the written assessment. The interview will then be with two senior members of the team and you will have a chance to also ask them any questions about the role or the company. Finally, you will complete a proofreading task to show us your attention to detail skills.
Audience Question 2: How much of a writing portfolio had you built up when you applied for your position within and outside of academic journal articles?
Most of my writing experience had come from writing academic journal articles – I think I had been an author on seven or eight papers. I had also written and presented several congress abstracts, posters and oral presentations. A published academic record is not needed to apply for a Medical Writer role, but I do feel it helped to prepare me.
Outside of academic writing, I had been involved in several projects that required me to target my communication to other, non-academic audiences, including the 3-Minute Thesis Competition and a variety of open days and public outreach projects.
Audience Question 3: Do you ever experience pressure from clients to word or present the write-up in a certain way and how do you deal with that?
Yes, we are often required to use client-approved wording or phrases in our writing. In fact, a key part of our job is ensuring the publications we write align with client strategy and messaging. We plan publications to make sure they are published to timelines that maximise their impact and build a consistent picture of the benefits (and limitations!) of a treatment. However, everything we write must be supported by data and references. If a client wants us to write something unsupported, we are encouraged to push back on this to ensure our work is of the highest possible quality. Honestly though, this very rarely happens – there are almost always independent clinicians involved who would be uncomfortable with this, and the client will want their publications to get past peer reviewers. There are also wide variety of industry standards that pharmaceutical companies and medical publication professionals must adhere to, which prevent companies communicating incorrect data or putting a ‘spin’ on results.
Thanks to Emma for sharing your experiences! We hope you found this useful and keep an eye out for more of our guest blogs… If this has inspired you to explore a career outside of academia, keep an eye out for our Autumn term events programme.
By s.duran, on 28 June 2021
This year’s Researchers Professional Careers Beyond Academia Conference took place over three days earlier this month, with a specific focus on Life and Health Sciences. We heard from a variety of great speakers, both PhD holders and employers, who shared their experiences, knowledge, and tips on moving into industry from academia. So, what did we learn from each session?
Careers in Life & Health Sciences across Industry
Covering clinical trials, medical communications, strategic consultancy and industry research, our keynote panel gave us a small flavour of the types of roles available to researchers in industry, and reflections on making the jump. Long before her role as a Senior Global Trial Manager at IQVIA, Fatima Farzana started planning her future career. Her advice to researchers? “Look at your values to help you map out potential career paths – then apply across the board”. Identifying the values that are important to you can help you narrow down your industry search, and target the types of roles you would excel in.
All four speakers discussed how they found that crucial first role of academia and their recommendations for making the leap. This included:
- Accessing careers service advice – UCL Careers offers one-to-one appointments with Careers Consultants, CV reviews, interview prep, and a range of events and workshops dedicated to researchers.
- Job advertisements – Sometimes the obvious answer is the correct one. You won’t find your next role if you aren’t looking for it.
- Networking – Meeting and engaging with the right people can often lead to new opportunities.
Networking was consistently raised as a critical factor in landing an industry job – but how can you avoid common mistakes in your networking efforts? Matt Harms, Associate Principal Scientist at AstraZeneca, has experienced networking requests first-hand. His advice? “Never say ‘I just want a foot in the door’ – always be genuinely interested in the role you’re applying for”.
What is the Future of Research?
This second session brough together individuals from a variety of backgrounds to discuss their thoughts on the future of research and researcher careers. David Bogle, Pro-Vice-Provost of the Doctoral School oversees Early Career Researchers at UCL. He sees the future of research as innovation, saying “we are training researchers to innovate within and beyond academia”. In response to a question asking if leaving academia is only for those who can’t ‘hack it’, David, who has worked both in industry and academia, said, “this attitude shows a lack of imagination in those who can’t perceive any other path.” – with agreement from panellists.
Across the panel, there was acknowledgement of the failures and identity issues researchers encounter. Jennifer McGowan, a recently appointed lecturer at UCL, shared a list of about 20 positions she was unsuccessful in securing, and commented that the full list is much longer. Sheona Scales, Paediatric Lead for Research and Innovation at Cancer Research UK, recalled questioning herself during her early days as a researcher and in industry. Nirmesh Patel, who was named as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 through his work with Cambridge Cancer Genomics concluded with, “Everyone is winging it, why not you?”.
What does a post post-doctoral career look like?
To spotlight the additional challenge that comes with moving from a post-doctoral career to industry, a dedicated Q&A session was added to this year’s programme to hear from people who have done just that. Below are a few key questions and answered shared by our panellists.
Question: Is there an optional time to switch?
Hannah Boycott, who is a Programme Manager for the Medical Research Council, was happy with her decision to switch from a post-doc to industry after 10 years. She built up skills, was able to travel, and work in a wide variety of places around the world. Diane Sutherland, Group Development Director at Fishawack Health commented that they hire people across the spectrum – both just out of their PhD and those with 10+ years of post-doc experience. Sarah Farrow, Recruitment Consultant at CK Science shared her perspective regarding one of the biggest challenges in moving from post-doc positions to industry. She cautioned researchers may need to have flexible salary requirements, especially when making the first move to industry.
Question: What skills did you need in industry that you didn’t gain from your PhD?
Beth Rycroft, an Associate Director for Global Medical Affairs, shared that she had to quickly upskill herself in simplifying the science, interpreting data that you didn’t produce yourself, changing presentation style to suit the audience, and working in a team. Hannah mentioned the importance of learning business language, such as ‘stakeholder’ and ‘funding landscape’, and getting over inferiority complex when in the room with big names. Diane commented that getting feedback on things can be quite daunting at first, as lots of colleagues will comment on your work, and you will be working with experts as it’s not your research. She also mentioned working to deadlines, as you’re charging out your time and getting past perfectionism – a trait common in many researchers.
Managing your Journey Beyond Academia
In the final session, UCL alumni alongside a UCL Careers Consultant spoke to current students and staff about what they can be doing now to prepare for their career journey.
Rebecca McKelvey, Founder and CEO of in2scienceUK, highlighted the valuable support she received from UCL Innovation and Enterprise when founding her charity, , and discussed that employability skills are exactly what researchers possess – problem solving, independence, resilience, communication skills and adaptability.
Tim Geach, Senior Publishing Manager at Springer Nature, states that his employer requires new hires to hold a PhD. They greatly value PhD experience, and even more so, post-doctoral experience. He stated that he enjoys his ability to work across different subjects, and the various routes that were available to him within publishing.
Crystal Ruff is a Senior Executive in Life Sciences & Transaction Advisory Services at EY-Parthenon. She worked clinically for ten years before moving into consulting and obtained her MBA to support her industry career. However, she stated that an MBA is not a requirement to enter strategic consulting. The skills are needed, but how you got them isn’t important.
A Deputy Head at UCL Careers, Calum Leckie obtained his PhD in plant-based biology and spent eight years as a post-doc. He came into this role after reflecting on his values, and found he enjoyed mentoring and supporting people. He saw the confusion in career paths of others and found a role to help researchers with their own career journeys.
So what can researchers be doing now to developing skills outside of their research?
Matt states you should be learning about the industries you want to go into. Don’t list what skills and attributes you have for a role without referencing what the role is and what you can offer and relate your skills to what’s needed. For example, if you want to write, then show evidence of writing. Rebecca recommended that you should look at what you want to go into and then find ways to develop those skills. For example, you could organise an event, support public engagement or outreach, or gain teaching experience. Calum recommended you do things within your research environment. Network to access the hidden jobs market – roles that aren’t advertised, or that may be coming up. Get work experience, and update your LinkedIn profile.
By s.duran, on 11 June 2021
EvaApplications are now open for the Evaluation Exchange, which is a partnership between UCL and voluntary and community sector organisations in Camden and east London that aims to improve evaluation practice.
Applications close 16 June 2021.
What will I do?
- Postgraduate students and researchers work collaboratively with organisations based in or working with communities in Newham and Camden.
- This year, 12 voluntary or community sector organisations will be matched with small teams of postgraduate students and researchers. They will work together for 6 months, from September/October 2021 – April 2022.
- During this time teams will have contact at least once a month and will work on a specific task or issue that will be agreed at the start of the project. The student team will enable the organisation to complete the agreed task.
- A work programme will be tailored to the needs of each organisation and work will be completed in partnerships between the organisation and students.
Why get involved?
- Enhance your research and evaluation skills in a real-world setting
- Create a lasting change in practice and make a valued contribution to an organisation
- Learn about the workings of community and voluntary organisations
- Build and establish a network of people working in this sector
What support will I receive?
- After matching you with a suitable organisation, you will be provided with training throughout the programme to help you make the most out of your experience.
- The Evaluation Exchange will also be on hand to provide ad hoc support and advice throughout the programme.
How can I apply?
- Visit the Evaluation Exchange website for more information and to apply.
Applications close 16 June 2021.
For further queries, contact Ruth Unstead-Joss, Project Manager via firstname.lastname@example.org
By s.duran, on 4 June 2021
This week, UCL Careers was joined by four speakers from the museums and cultural heritage sector:
- Claire Pascolini-Campbell – Research Manager, National Trust
- Christy Henshaw – Digital Production Manager, Wellcome Collection
- Simon Kocher – Geoscientist, Natural History Museum
- Ted McDonald-Toone – International Engagement Manager, British Museum
The panel members reflected on their own career journeys and gave advice to those looking to enter the sector. Speakers agreed – entering into and maintaining a career in museums and cultural heritage can be rewarding, but challenging. Covid has shifted government funding priorities, and the full impact on sector is yet to be determined. With that in mind, speakers shared their advice and guidance in securing and maintaining a career in this field.
Flexibility is key
Flexibility was a theme weaving through each of the panellists’ reflections and advice. When looking for a role in the museum and cultural heritage sector, this can take many different forms. For example, some people may avoid maternity cover positions due to their nature as fixed-term contracts. However, it was shared that undertaking one, or multiple, maternity cover roles within this sector is often the best way to build the skills and experience needed for a permanent position. In addition, flexibility in the type of role you are looking for can help you start your career.
Look to the future
Technology has been transformational across the museums and cultural heritage sector. For some of our panellists, their roles have significantly changed over the past twenty years. With that in mind, you may want to research the emerging skills that will be needed for the roles you want in the future. Your additional experience, training, and ability to anticipate the needs of the sector can give you a distinct advantage against other applicants. This also ties in with the third point raised below – showing initiative.
The realities of securing a role in the museums and cultural heritage sector were acknowledged by each of our speakers. To stand out, you will need to show initiative. This can be done through volunteering, securing work experience, and building your network. When looking for volunteer roles, it is key that you identify the right person to reach out to and can demonstrate you have valuable skills to contribute to a specific area. It is understood that not every person is able to volunteer, and speakers shared their experiences in using Step Ahead to secure temporary paid roles within the sector to gain experience. If you are working or volunteering and have the opportunity to meet with external stakeholders, make sure you get involved and communicate your contributions to them – never miss an opportunity to build your network.
The future of the museums and cultural heritage sector is yet to be determined – but being able to adapt your skills to the current and future needs of the field is key. It is never too early to start building your CV and skillset for the role you want.
With many thanks to our speakers.
- National Museums Director’s Jobs Council Website
- Museums Association
- National Trust volunteering opportunities
View our full summer term of researcher careers events here.
By s.duran, on 21 May 2021
This week, UCL Careers was joined by two interview experts from industry. Alison Darke is the Postdoc Talent Partner at AstraZeneca, and Nadir Basma completed his PhD at UCL and is now a Senior Consultant at Capco. They shared their experiences interviewing researchers along with top tips for submitting a strong application, preparing for an interview, and asking the right questions along the way.
- Research the company’s core values – Check that your personal values align with them. Behavioural differences aligned with a company’s core values could be what sets you apart from other applicants.
- Don’t tell interviewers you have a skill, show them – Think about what your interviewers are looking for. If they are looking for a team player, don’t say, “I’m a team player”. Rather, show them you understand what makes a good team player and how you demonstrate those skills, such as active listening, reliability, strong communication, planning, flexibility, and good problem-solving skills.
Top Tips for Applications
According to Alison, job postings typically receive 200 applications, and only four to eight are moved to interview. How can you be sure to stand out amongst the crowd?
- Make your application clear, concise, and easy to read – Companies do not have the time to search through pages of text to find what they are looking for.
- Keep it relevant – Show how you meet the requirements in the job advert and person specification.
- Look outside your work experience – It’s never too early to fill the gaps in your CV – join clubs, work with a charity, or get involved in a team activity.
- Don’t be discouraged if you don’t meet all the criteria – It is easy to train the right person who is motivated and willing to learn.
Top Tips for Preparation
You have put in an excellent application and are invited to interview – congratulations! Alison and Nadir shared excellent tips on how you can prepare for the next stage.
- Prepare a little bit every day – This will help build the pathways in your brain to understand the company, their services, core values, and the context of the work.
- Recreate the environment – Whether the interview is virtual or in-person, familiarise yourself with the real interview setting when practicing.
- Practice, practice, practice – Based on the job description and person specification, practice answering the questions you think you’ll be asked.
- Treat all stages equally – Don’t neglect or underprepare for a telephone interview. A telephone interview is just as important as any other stage of the process.
Top Tips for the Interview
Your preparation is done, and you are about to head into your interview. What can you do now?
- Manage your nerves – Preparation and practicing in the interview setting will help ease your nerves, along with breathing techniques and meditation. Nadir shared some wisdom he received from UCL Careers – it is not the situation that causes anxiety, it is the perception of it. Identify any negative thoughts about the interview and practice letting them go.
- Be authentic – Be sure you know and are ready to tell your story in a concise way. Make the messages you want to give stand out in what you are saying.
- Answer questions as yourself, not your team – Avoid saying “we” or “my team” when discussing projects or achievements in an interview. Interviewers are interested in hiring you, so make your individual actions and results clear.
- Ask the right questions – Avoid asking about salary, holidays, or perks in an interview (save that for once you receive an offer!). Instead, show you are intellectually curious about the company. You can ask about the biggest challenge of a role – and be ready to respond with how you will overcome that challenge.
UCL Careers offers mock interviews for researchers where you can practice with one of our team and talk through the feedback they will provide. Find out more here and view our full summer term of researcher careers events here.
By s.duran, on 11 May 2021
Bernardo Milani Alvares
Bernardo is a Strategy Manager at Abcam
A career transition often takes place in a context of ambiguity and conflicting emotions. Despite the setbacks of academia, most researchers are passionate about their subjects and have high-achieving personalities. Switching careers may feel like giving up an important part of our identities.
Exploring alternative careers means questioning our goals, which can be daunting, especially as we live in an outcomes-obsessed society, where we are measured by our results (e.g., money, number of likes on social media, etc). Such pressures are magnified by three factors:
- Goals for researchers are usually very strong, as they are often built against societal expectations. Maybe our parents wanted us to have a well-paid job; as doing research defeat their expectations, we created strong goals for ourselves; swimming against the tide made these goals more engrained;
- We feel invested in an academic career. In Business this is called the “sunk cost fallacy”: when we cannot make a difficult decision to cut losses (e.g., shut down an unprofitable factory) when we have already committed significant resources to build it;
- Our perfectionistic tendencies as researchers. We may judge ourselves for questioning goals that were solid in the past. We feel less in control.
The unsettling feelings generated by this “identity crisis” may propel us to set new goals quickly. However, these goals tend to look backwards, as they are based on old identities. It is vital to pause and avoid the temptation to make drastic decisions.
That’s when experimenting comes in. As you try new things and learn more about yourself and the world, and you can make more meaningful decisions, and set goals that are aligned with your new identity. To illustrate these points, I want to introduce you to the three main stages of the career journey:
- Execution: the activities happening in our current roles, such as learning, delivering results and promotion. That’s probably you right now (e.g., doing a Ph.D.);
- Explore: we immerse yourself in new activities and environments to explore other interests, meet new people and learn skills: the focus is on exploration, identity-shaping, growth and self-awareness;
- Goal setting: we define your short, medium and long-term goals; building a roadmap with the activities and roles to reach our goals.
As you prepare for a career transition, you need to explore new interests during the execution phase. I developed an interest in Business when doing an undergraduate placement at the pharma company GlaxoSmithKline. I enjoyed the fast-paced nature of the work and how the company responded to changes in the market. This curiosity drove to explore opportunities to learn about Business during my PhD at UCL.
Extracurricular activities are a great way to build the flexible, service-oriented, and collaborative mindset required in Business, where you must serve the needs of others (e.g., customers, managers, shareholders) and have less control of your schedule compared with academia.
Although there is no “magic formula” for picking extracurricular activities, the more you can experience a collaborative, fast-moving and externally facing environment, the better. This means activities in which you:
- Are not the expert;
- Feel passionate about the project;
- Do something bigger than you;
- Work as part of a team to solve real problems impacting real people;
- Work with people different from yourself and/or challenging audiences;
- Mobilise resources, influence and inspire other people;
Finding interesting extracurricular activities can come with a touch of serendipity. After attending a start-up lecture at UCL, I met a group of students who had started the UCL branch of Enactus, a global student society focussed on social entrepreneurship, where students in the world’s universities form teams apply Business skills to develop projects that bring benefit to society.
I set up an employability project leading a team of 9 university students helping young people living in more deprived areas of London write CVs, prepare for interviews and develop transferable skills, in partnership with the university’s Careers Services. Our audience was initially reluctant to engage in the activities, so we gained their trust by demonstrating a genuine interest in who they were as individuals and their concerns around career decisions and getting their voices heard in society.
Not only did the project cover important transferable skills, it also helped us gain the confidence and emotional and cognitive flexibility to navigate unfamiliar territory. It also served as a good example of Entrepreneurship, of mobilising resources to tackle a real need creatively and realistically.
When it comes to extracurricular activities, I noticed many graduate students come to a decision paralysis. They think they must do several extracurricular activities and courses. The important thing is not the number but the quality. It is much better to have two solid experiences during which you demonstrated personal development on a deeper level rather than five shallower experiences.
Choose something you are passionate about, as you will be doing it whilst tired after a long day. I was passionate about improving lives through education, so spending evenings and weekends did not feel like a burden.
A good friend of mine with a Ph.D. in Neurosciences currently working in management consulting made an excellent point about the fact that extracurricular activities are not the only way to develop the professional behaviours required in Business:
“Professional behaviours are key. When you have a journal club, don’t wait until the last minute. Be on time for meetings. Come prepared for your presentations. Respect your peers and colleagues even if there is a culture of being late. Develop professionalism. Reply to emails in a timely manner and avoid typos. There are many small things you can do to develop a more professional way of being. It will make your life a lot easier; when you move to Business there will be clear expectations. The more you realise that expectations are different, the earlier you can start addressing them before moving into Business”
I have recently launched the ultimate guide for a successful career transition from academia into Business called “Break into Business without a Business degree”. The book has four main sections:
- Prepare for the transition: build the right skills and behaviours for a successful career transition;
- Become an outstanding Business problem-solver: develop a consistent method to solve Business problems with impact, with plenty of insider tips, real examples, and exercises;
- Showcase your skills: write a Business-ready CV and ace jobs interviews (including the infamous case interview);
- Thrive in a Business environment: develop behavioural and on-the job strategies to shine in your new role;
Although most academics (including myself at the time) worry about learning Business-related content, mindsets and behaviours are key. My intention was to make a more “human” book, with plenty of testimonials and real case examples, including successes and failures. I am very pleased to share the book with you, which you can find here.
I wish you all the best in your career transition and look forward to your feedback!
Bernardo is Strategy Manager for Abcam (a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, UK). Prior to Abcam, Bernardo worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company LatAm office for two years focussing on Healthcare and the public sector. Before consulting, Bernardo did a PhD in Immuno-oncology at University College London (UCL) and worked at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for one year (Industrial Placement) during his Biomedical Science BSc. Bernardo is passionate about supporting PhD students on their professional journeys, having given talks and workshops at leading universities in the UK and Latin America, and is currently writing an e-book on the topic.
By uczjsdd, on 31 March 2021
As we approach the Easter break and look ahead to the summer, we’re pleased to be able to tell you about our next wave of opportunities for you to engage with employers online, from across a range of industries.
Employer-led events not only offer industry and recruitment insights, they enable researchers to develop existing skills and understand the transferable nature of their research skills into a career beyond academia. With so many of those who have graduated with a PhD moving on from/or indeed in and out of academia at some points in their career, improving your UK labour market understanding can widen your view of potential career paths and your view of your own employability.
As ever, our employer-led events schedule is accompanied by a full programme of workshops led by our career consultants, covering a range of topics for those looking to develop skills inside and outside of academia.
Over the summer we will also be featuring blog posts by our employer contributors, with their career stories, top tips and insights, as well as reflecting on our panels events to make sure you don’t miss the key take-aways.
Something you’d like to see? We’re listening. Get in touch email@example.com
Events coming up…..
|Researchers Prepare for a Career Beyond Academia: Interviews Q&A Session
Not started? no problem – this is a great space to learn more about recruitment processes post academia.
Learn all about the difference between an academic and non-academic interviews and how best to highlight your research skills and how to tackle the “why this role” questions.
This session will be invaluable if you want some real guidance on a process which is ever-changing and significantly different from the academic route.
Sign up for this event on MyUCLCareers
|Researcher Careers in Museums & Cultural Heritage Panel
This panel discussion will explore careers in museums and cultural heritage sites to offer you a chance to explore your options in an industry where your research skills are highly valued. This forum will give you the opportunity to get an insight into this sector from PhD level speakers.
Our guest speakers will offer tips on how researchers can use their qualifications and experiences to enter this field, as well as giving information about their sector.
Sign up for this event on MyUCLCareers
Researchers Professional Careers Beyond Academia Conference
Date Monday 7th – Wednesday 9th June 2021
This conference focuses on Life & Health Sciences and its closely related sectors.
The conference is hosted by: UCL Careers and the Health of the Public Early Career Researcher Domain and Organisational Development.
Join us across 3 days for sessions such as ‘Careers in Life & Health Sciences across Industry’, ‘What is the Future of Research?’ ‘What does a post-doctoral career look like?’ And more.
Sign up for this event on MyUCLCareers
By uczjsdd, on 16 February 2021
We’re of course still unable to come together on campus as we usually would. But as the days start to get brighter and longer this Spring, we have some great virtual careers events that offer a productive way to spend your lockdown down-time.
Online panel events
Studies tell us the majority of people who graduate with a PhD will at some point leave academic research. And yet while we’re still in academia, surrounded by those who have chosen to stay, this can feel difficult to truly believe. We’ll redress this balance with three panel events, each hosting PhD graduates now working beyond academia. Panelists will share details of their roles and career paths, and offer top tips for researchers wanting to transition out of academia. We’ll also be asking them about the effects the pandemic has had on their role and industry, and the impact they predict for the future. You’ll be given a chance to post your own questions to our speakers in the chat box too. Below are details of our three upcoming panels – as well as links for further info and booking.
Careers in Communication: Publishing, Editorial & Writing Panel
Thurs 18 Feb 2021, 5.30–7pm
Contributors: Intelligent Emotion, MS Society, Nature Communications, Seques and freelance author.
Careers in Public Health Panel
Wed 24 Feb 2021, 5.30–7pm
Contributors: Future Care Capital, NHS England, Aquarius Population Health
Careers in Data Science & Data Analysis Panel
Tues 16 March 2021, 5.30–7pm
Contributors: Causalens, Faculty AI, CERN.
We’re also hosting two employer workshops that will allow you to gain a deeper insight into the practical skills researchers need when moving outside of academia.
Skills Beyond Academia –
Developing Business Skills and Navigating the Corporate World
Thurs 18 March 2021, 12.30–2pm
Want to learn more about businesses, how they operate and the markets they work in? Interested in finding out those key businesses skills you’ll need before leaving academia?
Join us to hear more from researchers working in organisations across various sectors, learn more about the business world and the skills needed to be successful whilst having the chance to ask your questions about what it takes.
Contributors: Capco and Abcam
Careers Beyond Academia Taster Session in Data
Thurs 25 March 2021, 12.30–2pm
This taster session for data will allow you to experience a hypothetical task which someone in this role would undertake.
This is a practical opportunity to gain experience of a career in data. Improve your understanding of the industry and the types of careers available whilst networking with an organisation which hires researchers.
Led by: Celonis
To see our full list of careers workshops, book a one-to-one appointment, or view job vacancies suitable for those with a research background, log into your MyUCLCareers account.
By uczjsdd, on 7 January 2021
Dr Ardavan Alamir has a PhD in Physics and now works in cyber-security at G-Research. We caught up with Ardavan to hear about his role and career journey so far.
Tell us about your job.
I work as a Tech Lead Cyber Data Scientist at G-Research, a fintech organisation. Cyber security is very important for the business. The cyber function collects a huge volume and diversity of data, big data. So my role is to help the cyber analyst sift through the data quicker with the help of data science. One particular area of focus is the use of anomaly detection to find unusual signs of activity that we could be indicative of a cyber attack.
How did you move from academia to here?
I finished my PhD and I was looking for a PostDoc. The search didn’t go well. Then a friend who works in Big Data and data analytics strongly encouraged me to switch to Machine Learning. I studied the famous Andrew Ng course on Coursera. It was brilliant. Then I started to apply and I found my first job in an Education Tech company.
What was the recruitment process like?
Interviews have 2 main focuses: technical and behaviour. For a data scientist role, a lot of the interviews will revolve around Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Probability/Statistics, SQL queries and Computer Science Data Structures/Algorithms. So you need to make sure you learn the key topics of these fields. You have a lot of sample interview questions online. Great resources are glassdoor, leetcode.com and interviewquery.com. The behaviour part is about finding out about you as a potential colleague.
What does a normal working day look like for you?
I start my day with a team meeting at 9am. In the morning I try to do some personal learning that will be useful for my work. Then I work on a current project. I also have regular meetings with my fellow team members to discuss progress with current projects.
What are the best bits?
Getting to do cutting edge research and getting paid much more than in academia!
What are the biggest challenges?
he worst bits in the corporate world, especially in bigger corporations, is the politics. You have Game of Thrones all the time, especially for employees at manager level or above. When you stay in a technical role, it shouldn’t concern you too much though you will witness it.
Is a PhD essential for your role?
No, but what the PhD helped me with is the ability to do effective research in a new area, see a project through its end, and computational and analytical skills.
What top tips would you pass on to researchers interested in this type of work?
Definitely do some online courses on Machine Learning, Stats and Algorithms/Data Structures. These are the 3 key areas where most companies will interview candidates. I would even say that acquiring knowledge in these three areas is more important than doing personal projects. And definitely have passion !