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Welcome to Careers in the Public Sector!

Isobel EPowell3 March 2020

Public Sector Month

Including: Government, HE, Policy and Professional bodies

Interested in a career within government? Want to utilise your research skills to support policy or create industry change? This month is a great opportunity for you to use your skills to make real change and support the development of research strategy in your interest areas. If you’re interested in facilitating research, creating policy change or working in Government, this month of events is for you!

Thinking about attending but not sure if it’s for you?

Come along if you want to learn more about the roles suited to researchers in government, or just hear from speakers with research and PhD backgrounds who have transitioned out of academia. Want to make a difference in national communities and support change in policy? or maybe you want to facilitate research and support researchers in getting funding, This month has tonnes of amazing opportunities for you to meet organisations and learn more about roles in the public sector.

If you want to transition out of academia but still support research, come along to our sessions and hear how this is possible with these careers. 

Here’s what’s coming up…
Check out the events coming up this month and learn more about this industry.


Careers in HE Funding & Professional Bodies Panel
Weds 18 March, 5.30-7.30pm

Want to stay in the academic environment but in a non-academic role?

How about supporting researchers with funding, or working within a professional body, overseeing research excellence. If you are considering a career outside of academia but still want to work with research, this may be the panel for you. Find out more about what a career in HE, Funding or within a professional body encompasses, the wide range of industries and specialisms this covers and gain tips on how to find a researcher role. 

Event postponed until further notice


Skills Beyond Academia – Leadership of Projects & People
Tues 24 March, 12.30-2pm

Want to learn more about leadership in a non-academic context and find out what skills it takes to be a great team or project leader?

This skills beyond academia session will allow you to practice a skill which is vital to the non-academic world. Come along and learn more about how to master leadership within a practical environment. This is a practical opportunity to gain experience of this skill with tips and guidance from an expert in people management. Improve your understanding of the management of projects and people whilst networking with an organisation which hires researchers.

Event postponed until further notice


Careers in Government & Policy Panel
Tues 31 March, 5.30-7.30pm

Interested in a career within government? Want to utilise your research skills to support policy making?

This forum will give you the opportunity to get an insight into the Government & Policy sector from PhD level speakers who have paved a career for themselves in this industry. Find out more about what a career in the government encompasses, the wide range of industries and specialisms this covers and gain tips on how to find a researcher role. This is a key opportunity to gain an insight into a career you may not have previously considered.

Event postponed until further notice


* Rescheduled from Communication & Research Month!

Careers in Social & Market Research Panel
Weds 1st April, 5.30-7.30pm

Want to carry on in research for a non-academic organisation? 

If you’re interested in staying in a research role which supports organisations to understand their audiences better or to be involved in producing social statistics which effect governmental change, this panel is for you! This forum will give you the opportunity to get an insight into the non-academic research sector from PhD level speakers who have paved a career for themselves in this industry. Find out more about what a career in social and market research encompasses, the wide range of industries and specialisms this covers and gain tips on how to find a researcher role.

Speakers include:
Piotrek Gierszewski: Senior Researcher – Nesta Challenges

Piotrek is a Senior Researcher passionate about the application of foresight and horizon scanning; exploring possible visions for the future, anticipating obstacles and enabling the desirable opportunities to happen. He currently works at Nesta, an independent innovation foundation, and has over ten years’ experience in research within academia, private and non-profit sectors.
Piotrek is responsible for researching social and environmental problems and identifying opportunities to tackle them as part of the Nesta Challenges team. They specialise in developing challenge-driven, open-innovation competitions that support communities of solvers and incentivise solutions to these problems. Since 2017, Piotrek has worked on topics ranging from emerging innovations in whale conservation and legal technologies, to scaling up access to nutrition and surgical services in low resource settings.

Event postponed until further notice


What else can you do to get career ready?

Alongside this, we have a team of careers consultants with research backgrounds who work closely with UCL’s researcher community and can provide support regardless of whether you’re looking to continue in academia or explore other options. Our “Researcher appointments” can be booked at any time through your myUCLCareers account and can be used to cover a range of queries from exploring options to getting support with applications/interview preparation. The careers consultants also run separate workshops covering a range of topics on academic and non-academic career routes for researchers.

Details of the full events summer programme can be found here

Researchers Careers in Communication guest feature!

Isobel EPowell28 February 2020

Researchers Guest Feature:

Taking a closer look at our monthly employer-led events topics

During our themed months, we will be taking a deeper look into each key topic. In these posts, we will be investigating what a career in this industry looks like for a researcher. Each month there will be insights from an expert who has been through the process of transitioning out of academia. Each contributor will give us their key tips for following a non-academic career path whilst letting us in on the things they wished they had known before taking the leap. Find out about the roles their organisation has to offer and get some key tips on applying.

This month it’s all about Communications…

Taking a deeper dive into the communications industry from the perspective of producer specifically looking at what this is like for a researcher, we have our contributor – Nikolay Nikolov.

Contributor Nikolay Nikolov, Senior Producer, Mashable, PhD in Anthropology UCL

Describe your role and the organisation you work with..

I manage a team of two video producers who are tasked with news-gathering, interviewing, shooting, and producing short-form videos that cover the intersection between technology and sustainability. My role is to drive the Mashable video voice forward, creating thought-provoking documentaries and series that introduce our work to new audiences and challenge norms.

Mashable is a digital media company that focuses on our shared life in the digital age and all that that entails. Each editorial vertical – video is one – has a focus that ranges from entertainment through culture to social good and science. The role of video, specifically, is to experiment with ways to tell powerful stories in different mediums – one video can be posted on Snapchat, for example, another on TikTok. The key is to find how the narrative and story corresponds with the platform and anticipated audience.

Give a brief overview of your industry and the opportunities that are available to researchers…

Journalism – and digital journalism – is a very difficult field to break into and one that often falls victim to preferential treatment, influence, and connections. Oftentimes in my career I have been encouraged to omit my academic background because it might make me seem overqualified and unemployable. That said, there are a number of incredibly successful journalists who have a strong academic background – Anne Applebaum is the first to mind. Having a PhD, at the very least, can help one build a strong career as a reporter, analyst, or opinion writer. But those type of positions tend to occur later in one’s life and are, as you may assume, highly competitive.

In terms of job titles and options for researchers, it is difficult to say without specific discussions of expertise. The world we live in is increasingly marked by disinformation and digital propaganda and I can see how certain areas, specifically in journalism, benefit immensely from people who have an academic background – climate change is one; technology is another, specifically when it comes to Open-source intelligence (say, Bellingcat or the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab). The New York Times and BBC Africa have both now created digital forensic teams that have made groundbreaking investigative work that is based on tools and knowledge that derives from a variety of academic fields.

Describe your academic background

My research was about finding a way to track how much daily life changes before and after huge societal transformations – like the socialist regimes in Europe. The way I approached it is by looking at the mass housing complexes, called ‘panelki’, which can still be found to house large portions of populations of the former socialist bloc. Because these complexes were prefabricated and largely resembled one another (in Bulgaria, for example, around two million people live in largely identical flats), my research traced how people made changes to their homes over the years – changes to the functionality, to the external facades, to the interior designs; but also social changes – who lived there, how, for how long, where are they now, etc.

What were the key skills you used during this time…

One of the key skills I learned is conducting interviews, taping conversations and taking photographs. When it comes to ethnography, especially in the urban setting, it’s a valuable skill for a journalist. Knowing how to adapt to different individuals, how to enter unknown settings (someone’s home, say), how to ask and repeat intimate or private questions and then how to transcribe and use those quotes is essentially what a lot of the hard work in reporting is all about. Particularly when it comes to features and long-form articles, that is essential.

My role is to tell powerful stories that educate people about a changing world. My academic work largely looked at how those changes occurred, so it hasn’t been useful in a direct way. But academia helps in other ways – having access to and being open to reading research papers that sometimes include incredible innovations and becoming the first to break the story that way. It helps in terms of the in-built sense of critique, where the search for plausibility and certainty is an innate goal in itself.

What did you find challenging about transitioning out of academia and how did you overcome this?

I started working as a journalism within three months of starting my PhD. I learned that, in my field specifically, an academic career was hard fought and required a lot of sacrifices in terms of financial independence and settling down. I also found academia stale – in the sense that many people, both academics and students, would end up fixed upon one subject area for extended periods of time. For me, that was simply not interesting or appealing – I wanted to have the flexibility and freedom to have more direct choices about what I could do, where I could live, and how I could earn a wage.

Conversely, what I found challenging when I started working in journalism is having no freedom over my own time and struggling to find meaning in what I did. At UCL, I got to teach first year students Philosophy, to travel across Europe and write about a subject I was deeply curious about. It’s a privilege that I took for granted because, particularly in journalism, you are accountable to both readers and editors and it is a difficult balance at times.

What do you wish you had been told when looking to transition out of academia?

I wish I was told to branch out, stay curious, meet new people. Academia can be clique-y and isolating, especially if you’re trying to change sectors all together. Staying curious means being
versatile and being able to adapt to the world as it is, not as you were taught to see it. A lot of people I know, who are around my age, have ended careers and started anew because they succumbed to the churn of a 9-to-5. Anticipating that is crucial for anyone moving on from academia. That said, some of the most considerate and nuanced people I’ve ever met were people I met during my PhD. Perhaps, at times, an undercurrent of self-confidence affected us all when it came to imagining our prospects outside of a strict academic career. I can safely say that any such worries are misplaced and, in fact, the world requires more people with expert knowledge working in places like journalism.

What is your top tip for researchers when applying to roles with your organisation..

Have a website that showcases, in a sense, your portfolio. In my case that’s www.nikolaynikolov.co – it shows all the video and radio work I’ve done. Maintaining active social media channels (Twitter, LinkedIn) are key for journalism. Cover letters are key because they can provide context for someone’s interest in an entry level (say producer job) that is not reflected in their resume. My first job in journalism, at AJ+, taught me everything I know about editing video. They didn’t hire me because I was doing a PhD, they hired me because I expressed a keen interest in the areas they were covering and was ready to learn new skills.

A big thank you to Nikolay for sharing your wisdom on those key transferable skills from academia to industry and giving us a great insight into your industry. Want to hear more? Come along to our events and hear from PhD level speakers across a range of industries all with valuable insights into what life is like after academia.

Welcome to Careers in Communication & Research

Isobel EPowell29 January 2020

Communication & Research Month

Interested in being on the other side of research? Making it readily available and easily digestible to the public? A career in communication could give you the opportunity to support research. Maybe you want to carry on in research for a non-academic organisation? Social and market research organisations are a great space to utilise your research skills in a business context.

If you’re interested in supporting research through communications or completing social or market research yourself, this month of events is for you!

Thinking about attending but not sure if it’s for you?

Come along if you want to learn more about how to use communications in a career or just hear from speakers with research and PhD backgrounds who have transitioned out of academia. Do you enjoy communicating your research to an audience of non-researchers, sharing findings with your audience and keeping up to date with latest in your field? A career in communication could allow you to expand the reach of your research and support an organisation to grow in so many different industries.

If you want to transition out of academia but still support research, come along to our sessions and hear how this is possible with these careers. 

Here’s what’s coming up…
Check out the events coming up this month and learn more about this industry.


Careers in Communication Forum
Thurs 6 Feb, 5.30-7.30pm

Interested in being on the other side of research? Making it readily available and easily digestible to the public?

Research skills are key to this including disseminating complex information effectively, understanding the wider context of results and the personal applicability of findings.
This forum will give you the opportunity to get an insight into the Communications sector from PhD level speakers who have paved a career for themselves in this industry. Find out more about what a career in communication encompasses, the wide range of industries and specialisms this covers and gain tips on how to find a researcher role.

Speakers include:

Nikolay Nikolov: Senior Producer – Mashable: a global, multi-platform media and entertainment company

Nikolay Nikolov is a senior producer at Mashable. Over the past three years, his work has helped guide Mashable’s video coverage, with a particular focus on the intersection of human rights and technology. His recent documentary about ‘Drag Syndrome’, the world’s first drag troupe featuring artists with Down Syndrome, was selected by a number of international film festivals, including Sofia Pride, Oska Bright, and Queer Bee. Before Mashable, Nikolay was a producer for AJ+, responsible for the coverage of the refugee crisis in Europe.

Key tip: don’t get pigeonholed by your research

Kotryna Temcinaite: Research Communications Manager – Breast Cancer Now: The UK’s largest breast cancer charity

Kotryna is the Research Communications Manager at the research and care charity Breast Cancer Now. Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s first comprehensive breast cancer charity with the goal that by 2050 everyone diagnosed with the disease will live and be supported to live well. Kotryna leads a team of three science communicators and an insight analyst. Her team is responsible for providing content, information and insight on breast cancer research and statistics. Their aim is to bring it to life in creative and compelling ways for non-scientists.

Key tip: take time to distil what they’re passionate about

Sign up on MyUCLCareers Today


Employer Taster Session in Communication
Tues 11 Feb, 12.30-2pm

This session has been postponed – please check back for further details


Careers in Social & Market Research Forum
Weds 12 Feb, 5.30-7.30pm

Want to carry on in research for a non-academic organisation? Social and market research organisations are a great space to utilise your research skills in a business context.

If you’re interested in staying in a research role which supports organisations to understand their audiences better or to be involved in producing social statistics which effect governmental change, this panel is for you! This forum will give you the opportunity to get an insight into the non-academic research sector from PhD level speakers who have paved a career for themselves in this industry. Find out more about what a career in social and market research encompasses, the wide range of industries and specialisms this covers and gain tips on how to find a researcher role.

Speakers include:

Piotrek Gierszewski: Senior Researcher – Nesta Challenges: This team design challenge prizes that help solve pressing problems that lack solutions

Piotrek is a Senior Researcher passionate about the application of foresight and horizon scanning; exploring possible visions for the future, anticipating obstacles and enabling the desirable opportunities to happen. He currently works at Nesta, an independent innovation foundation, and has over ten years’ experience in research within academia, private and non-profit sectors.

Piotrek is responsible for researching social and environmental problems and identifying opportunities to tackle them as part of the Nesta Challenges team. They specialise in developing challenge-driven, open-innovation competitions that support communities of solvers and incentivise solutions to these problems. Since 2017, Piotrek has worked on topics ranging from emerging innovations in whale conservation and legal technologies, to scaling up access to nutrition and surgical services in low resource settings.

Research Director – NatCen Social Research: Britain’s largest independent social research agency

Sign up on MyUCLCareers Today


What else can you do to get career ready?

Alongside this, we have a team of careers consultants with research backgrounds who work closely with UCL’s researcher community and can provide support regardless of whether you’re looking to continue in academia or explore other options. Our “Researcher appointments” can be booked at any time through your myUCLCareers account and can be used to cover a range of queries from exploring options to getting support with applications/interview preparation. The careers consultants also run separate workshops covering a range of topics on academic and non-academic career routes for researchers.

Details of the full events programme can be found here

 

Welcome to Spring Term

Isobel EPowell3 January 2020

The Spring Term Careers Events Programme is officially here!

Check out this terms events programme whether you’re looking for careers outside of academia or looking to continue on the academic path. This spring we have tonnes of great opportunities for you to explore your career options. Meet employers, gain advice from alumni or even get some practice in a role.

The full spring term events programme can be found here 

What’s coming up?

Our spring term calendar has officially launched! Follow the link to see our full list of events including careers consultant-led workshops, employer-led taster sessions and skills beyond academia events, alongside our forums where you get a chance to hear from our amazing alumni.

Tuesday 28th January, 5.30-7.30pm: CVs, Applications & Interviews panel

Want to start applying to non-academic roles, but not sure where to start with CVs and applications? Concerned about the prospect of a non-academic interview? If you’re looking to begin applying to non-academic roles and want some advice and guidance from PhD level employers come along to this panel. Learn all about the difference between an academic and non-academic application and how best to highlight your research skills.

Sign up via this link 

Careers in Communication & Research Month

Want to carry on in research for a non-academic organisation? Or maybe you’re interested in being on the other side? Making research available and easily digestible to the public. February is all about careers in creating research or promoting it. Learn about how you can use your skills in two different ways, helping organisation explore trends or communicate them through TV, public engagement & social media.

Thursday 6th February, 5.30-7.30pm: Careers in Communication Panel  

Interested in being on the other side of research? Making it readily available and easily digestible to the public? A career in communication could give you the opportunity to support research by sharing and promoting projects through marketing, journalism, social media or even through television, film and radio.

Sign up via this link

Tuesday 11th February, 12.30-2pm: Careers in Communication Taster Session

Fancy trying out a career in communication? Not sure what your day-to-day might look like? This employer-led taster session will allow you to experience a hypothetical task which someone in a communications role would undertake. This is a practical opportunity to gain experience of a typical career in comms gaining tips and guidance from an expert in this field.

Sign up via this link

Wednesday 12th February, 5.30-7.30pm: Careers in Social & Market Research Panel

Want to carry on in research for a non-academic organisation? Social and market research organisations are a great space to utilise your research skills in a business context.If you’re interested in staying in a research role which supports organisations to understand their audiences better or to be involved in producing social statistics which effect governmental change, this panel is for you!

Sign up via this link

Careers in the Public Sector: Government, HE & Funding Month

Interested in policy, supporting governmental research or want to continue in higher education? This month of events is for you! We will explore the options you have avaiable in the public sector in panels on Careers in Government & Policy and Higher Education, Funding & Professional Bodies. Alongside this we have a workshop on those key non-academic skills needed in this industry…the management of projects and people.

Wednesday 18th March, 5.30-7.30pm: Careers in HE, Funding & Professional Bodies Panel

Want to stay in the academic environment but in a non-academic role? How about supporting researchers with funding, or working within a professional body, overseeing research excellence. If you are considering a career outside of academia but still want to work with research, this may be the panel for you.

Sign up via this link

Tuesday 24th March, 12.30-2pm: Skills Beyond Academia: Leadership of Projects & People

Want to learn more about leadership in a non-academic context? Or find out what skills it takes to be a great team or project leader? This skills beyond academia session will allow you to practice a skill which is vital to the non-academic world. Come along and learn more about how to master leadership within a practical environment.

Sign up via this link

Tuesday 31st March, 5.30-7.30pm: Careers in Government & Policy Panel

Interested in a career within government? Want to utilise your research skills to support policy making? This industry is a great opportunity for you to use your skills to make real change and support the development of research strategy in your interest areas.

Sign up via this link


Follow us and keep up to date:

Keep up-to-date with events and read our latest interviews and case studies on the researchers’ blog. Check out our latest blog posts on the themed months to hear about what’s going on and read our reflections on previous months.

Find out what’s coming up with the latest information on our programme by following our twitter. Read more about who’s attending and what topics we’ll be covering by following us today!

Reflecting on Data Science & Data Analysis Careers for Researchers

Isobel EPowell12 December 2019

Data Science & Data Analysis Month… let’s reflect:

After a busy month of events focused around all things data, we are reflecting on what it takes to excel. This industry is fast expanding with companies heavily investing in their data. The issue here then lies with know what role is suitable for you and where to start when currently (12 Dec 2019) there are over 2000 data scientist roles live on Indeed (indeed.co.uk). It is clear then our reflection this month should focus on what types of organisation could suit you.

Read on for our insights and what we have learnt from our employers this month…

Data Science in Start ups

If you want to get stuck in with some real hands on experience of data looking at start ups could be for you. The roles will require:

  • more commitment to the company and the role
  • longer hours especially around peak funding cycles
  • less role structure so tasks could be adhoc and change daily

but the increased learning and development opportunities could be appealing for you:

  • Working in smaller teams you get more responsibility
  • You could gain a better all around knowledge of data
  • and experience various different parts of data

You will however be required to have more skills going in and be expected to have a better all around knowledge from sourcing, cleaning and presenting data. Job security and longevity is a something to be aware of as work loads tend to cluster around these key funding cycles.

Data Science in Large Organisations

The big four, the banking sector and consultancies are not immune to the data boom. Roles in these organisations are:

  • highly sort after in the graduate market
  • come with a more competitive and rigorous recruitment process
  • open doors and offer global opportunities

Working life may be secure and hours more regular however this sector is notorious for:

  • increase pressure from client projects with higher workloads
  • more corporate structure
  • Projects set by management or clients so less autonomy

Often working within a team of engineers, analysts and other data scientists who are specialised in various areas means your role will be more specific maybe focusing on data preparation, visualisation, machine learning, analytics or pattern recognition. These roles are high paid but also high workloads so investigate first and gain some practical advice first.

Data Science in the Public Sector

Whilst still a large, national organisation, the healthcare, government and education sectors have working styles, they are often:

  • restrictions by laws and high scrutinised
  • have lower budgets and must show real value for doing anything

Despite this, a role in the public sector could afford you:

  • Increased intellectual freedom and better understanding of your research background
  • being treated more like a researcher, investigating trends and potential to publish
  • More flexibility with better working structures and regulations

If you’re looking to make change to the way our public services are run and improve communities through research, a public sector role in data could be for you, creating and presenting information from data which shows critical issues and opportunities for development.

So, what does this all mean for you?

The top tips we gained from our panellists and employers focused on ensuring in applications that as a researcher you prove, what your data expertise area, what is your area of interest and how can you benefit an organisation.

Key advice to get you started:

Use the software – Practice it! If you’ve got an industry in mind, research what tools are most used and up skill yourself on these. Whether that be Java, Python, C++ or Matlab.

Show what you can do – Share it! There are tones of great website where you can upload data examples to prove your skills. Why not start a blog showing your research process or create a profile on an online community – examples included Kaggle, CodeWars, WordPress or Stack Overflow.

Get some real experience – Prove it! Reach out to companies and see what opportunities there are for you to support them, maybe as an internship, a project or a part-time job. If you’ve got the skills and time to support your career development then gaining corporate experience could improve your chances.

Grow your network – Pitch it! Found a perfect organisation? Or an alumni whose transition out of academia is inspiring? why not see if they have time to share some tips. This could be a great opportunity hear about unpublished opportunities and gain insights.


Finding an industry where your skills as research are valued and utilised may seem tricky but you can find roles across all sectors and industry. This is where our themed months come in to play, if you’ve decided health organisations are not for you, join us on another themed month and hear more about careers in Data Science & Data Analytics, Communications and Research, Government, Policy and Higher Education…. the list continues!

Come along to our events and find out how your skills are so transferable across the sectors and explore how you could branch out to support an organisation to develop!

Check out our full programme of researcher events on our website today!

A career in researcher development

SophiaDonaldson4 December 2019

Dr Rochelle Rowe-Wiseman has a PhD in Gender and Cultural History and is now Academic Development Lead in UCL HR. Rochelle likes to help you all develop – it’s her job! – so she kindly shared her career story with us.

What are you up to now?

As Academic Development Lead in UCL’s Organisational Development team, I am concerned with identifying and addressing gaps in support structures impacting the development and experiences of researchers, at all levels – from postgraduate research students to senior academic leaders. Like a consultant, I explore the issues that affect the experience of researchers and the environment we create for them, the research culture. I also sometimes get to do academic research again – mostly in my spare time.

Talk us through your career journey

My doctoral research produced a feminist history of beauty in the Caribbean and African diaspora which I eventually published as a monograph. One idea I dabbled in career-wise is museums and I worked for an oral history charity when I first graduated from my BA.  When I didn’t yet know I’d secured PhD funding, I was due to embark on a museum traineeship. Then fortunately I received funding which allowed me to concentrate fully on the PhD. I was keen to keep both avenues open, but it didn’t seem possible, the PhD required my full attention.

Coming up to the end of my PhD I didn’t know whether to stay or leave academia. I’m now far more aware than I was then of some of the barriers women of colour face in higher education, and at that moment there was such a scarcity of role models – especially in the arts and humanities. I don’t know if that influenced my ultimate decision to leave, but I was certainly aware of it. I felt I had a dilemma. I loved elements of academia and I’ve always had a love affair with history and writing, and yet the career of an academic didn’t look appealing.

So my first few steps were more cultural sector jobs. I worked in the cultural department of a local authority organising black history month, and I taught History at undergraduate level. Then I got a learning and development job, organising and running training sessions within a university. I was doing this alongside teaching and I found the L&D job preferable to the heavy weight of teaching I was given, with too much marking and too many seminars. The temporary 6-month L&D job became a permanent job offer, but I turned it down, instead moving to Berlin where I fulfilled a book contract to write up my thesis. It no doubt sounds more glamourous than it was…but it was actually quite lovely. Alongside working on the book I took on freelance work as a proofreader, and I went to German language classes. I’d been quite isolated as a PhD student so it was wonderful to make new friends, speak German and develop an identity in such a special place as Berlin, at the time. On reflection it was something of a career break, although I remained busy with multiple projects.

When I was nearing the two-year-mark in Berlin, I started to think about my career more seriously, and I was starting to miss the part of my identity that was fully capable! I loved speaking German, but I wasn’t able to be my full native-speaking self yet. I’d also had some advice from an ex L&D colleague who advised that after two years the gap on my CV might become harder to explain. So I saw a job in the UK and went for it – Researcher Development at Exeter university. At Exeter I ran lots of workshops and absolutely loved interacting with and collaborating with research students to develop a stronger programme for them. I was there for over eighteen months, and if the social side in the city had been what I was after I would have stayed, but Exeter is pretty quiet for someone who grew up in London. Ha! So I took a slight sideways step into Equality and Diversity work in higher education. Whilst I learned a lot, I found the role slightly limiting, and though I expanded it in some ways, after a year I gave myself permission to look for other roles. That’s when I joined UCL as the Doctoral Skills Development Manager, managing the huge programme of training offered to PhD students, which allowed me to draw on all of my past experience. The role was great, and also from a personal perspective being so centrally located in a large institution suited me more, and made a huge difference to my overall satisfaction levels. I was in that role for two years. Then a new Director proposed a re-shape of the entire Organisational Development team. In the restructure I decided to apply for a promotion to the job I’m currently in – Academic Development Lead, a move away from operational oversight of a large programme and towards finding innovative solutions supporting researchers.

I’ve also, perhaps surprisingly even to me, kept up some research and writing. Since leaving academia I’ve given talks here and there about my research. I have also occasionally been invited to write something. Usually I haven’t had time or it hasn’t been the right project. But recently I was approached to contribute to a really fantastic-sounding book and I felt much more established in my main day job, so I said yes! And it’s been a struggle but really life-affirming. Writing gives me such joy! I certainly want to write more, and to reach new audiences.

What does the new role look like on an average day?

It’s very project led. I’m interested in developing more inclusive research cultures, including in doctoral education, I lead a working group for the UK Council of Graduate Education that aims to improve our understanding of this area, and what’s possible. In that vein, recently I spoke at the Black in Academia lecture series to encourage prospective black research students into research and knowledge-based careers. My talk will be available as a podcast.

I am also working on a project to explore what hinders principal investigators and what development opportunities and support services they need; another to encourage and make provision for early stage researchers to dedicate more of their time to skills development and to track this skills development. Another big project is Postdoc Appreciation Week, an annual festival to celebrate and nurture early stage researchers at UCL: as well as saying a big thank you to them for their contribution to research and discovery, we are creating opportunities for researchers to influence positive change in their environment and focus on their professional development. My aim for next year’s festival is to introduce more co-creation and ensure – as far as possible – no barriers to participation, so for instance providing more help with childcare and encouraging leaders to release their staff from projects so they can participate.

What are the best bits?

I’ve enjoyed staying within the university environment. I love to be surrounding by brilliant thinkers and contributing my piece to solving problems, I’m just doing it in a different way now. UCL is a great place to expand beyond the apparent limits of your role, and become recognised for your expertise, including in professional services areas. I like the creativity inherent in the UCL environment. And I like that I’m still using my research skills: going out and establishing what the problem is, then working collaboratively towards delivering a solution. I like that the projects are contained and defined, so once something is done I can move on to the next thing – again, as would a more conventional consultant. I get a lot of satisfaction from helping and developing people. I also enjoy developing and leading others within a team setting.

The best bits of my day are meeting and collaborating with people across the university, dreaming up and then realising ideas, leading events, inspiring others, giving the occasional talk and polishing things off, reports, papers etc.

And the worst bits?

Working in a really huge airless open plan office isn’t my favourite thing! But we do have flexible working so if we really want to get our heads down and concentrate on something quietly we can work from home or off-site.

Is a PhD essential?

In recent roles it hasn’t been exactly essential, but certainly desirable (on the person specification) and an asset. I have gravitated towards roles where a PhD has been a recognised benefit. And in cases where the job/employer hasn’t required a PhD grad, I nonetheless beat the drum of all the great things they’re getting because I’ve had that doctoral research experience. So it’s been an asset, in terms of ways of seeing, ways of approaching problems, and in this role in terms of building empathy with researchers.

What’s the progression like?

Increasingly I believe Researcher Development is a recognised area of expertise within a plethora of careers for Higher Education Professionals.  Certainly at UCL there are many educators and developers situated around the university with a range of valuable experience and expertise. People in Researcher Development may move into wider Learning and Development roles in literally any organisation, whatever the mission of that organisation. They might also choose to rise through the ranks of Doctoral Training or indeed senior leadership in Higher Education.

Top tips?

It may be an obvious thing for me to say, but nevertheless true: people don’t realise the transferable skills they’re acquiring in academic practice: in research, teaching, admin, project management, leadership, problem solving, public engagement. And after seeing a huge project like a PhD through, the sense of responsibility and commitment you’ll have, which you can bring to everything you do, is invaluable to employers. Really recognise the wealth of diverse skills you’ve likely accrued. For example, if you’ve done a tiny bit of budget management by organising a conference, you need to value and sell that skill. Because that little bit of experience will set you up for any role that requires you to do more of the same, and once you’ve had a taste of something you can scale that experience up. Also PhDs can be excellent at taking calculated risks. Having known nothing at the start of your PhD and just got on with it, you’re likely to throw your hat in the ring for lots of things that might worry others!

Also, I hear a lot about having the awful sensation that you’re breaking up with academia. But it’s important to remember that if you like the university environment, there are great ‘alternative’ careers you can forge within a university. It takes a lot to create a thriving university environment and there are many different roles you can play.

Welcome to Careers in UK & Global Health

Isobel EPowell6 November 2019

UK & Global Health Month!

Interested in becoming a healthcare scientist or working in research, development, biotech, or clinical trials? What about working in global health environments? Supporting health organisations as an advisor? Join us for UK & Global Health month and learn more about this industry. Come along to our beyond academia skills session and test your commercial awareness skills. Gain tips on how important showing your big-picture industry awareness is and what scope there is to reframe the way we see the public health sector.

Thinking about attending but not sure if it’s for you?

If you’re interested in the wellbeing of the public and want a role that not only utilises your researcher skills but allows you to support local national or even global communities, public health could be for you. Public health roles focus on the key areas of health protection, health prevention, health research, and education.

Outreach and engagement are key areas in which research skills are vital to this industry. Educating the public on health and wellbeing, preventing global epidemics and researching the impact of lifestyle on our health are just some of the great opportunities this industry can offer you. If you want to continue in a role which utilises your research skills but stay within a health sciences industry, maybe UK & Global Health is for you. 

 

Heres whats coming up…

A career in UK & Global health allows you to use your skills in research to improve the lives of local, national or even international communities. Check out the events coming up this month and learn more about this diverse and global industry. Careers in public health often span across public sector healthcare, charities, NGOs and research organisations.


Researchers Skills Beyond Academia Session
Mon 11 Nov, 12.30-2pm

Could Venture be a faster route to curing cancer? Led by Deep Science Ventures

Commercial awareness is a key skill to learn that proves you, as a candidate, are conscious of the economic and political trends in your desired industry.
Many of our largest sectors such as pharma and healthcare are driven by scientific innovation and the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of science. Yet, as products and markets become more complex and internal R&D sees lower returns, the linear process of academic research (grant -> discovery -> venture -> push to market) has become ineffective at realising and capturing value. Deep Science Ventures are shifting the paradigm in applied science through a new framework for launching science companies. In this workshop, we’ll explore the commercial landscape of pharma/healthcare through the lens of entrepreneurship.

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Careers in UK & Global Health Forum
Mon 25 Nov, 5.30-7.30pm

This forum will give you the opportunity to get an insight into the UK & Global Health sector from PhD level speakers who have paved a career for themselves in this industry. Find out more about what a career in public health encompasses, the wide range of industries and specialisms this covers and gain tips on how to find a researcher role. This is a key opportunity to gain an insight into a career you may not have previously considered.

Our first speaker is a Health Content and Public Engagement Specialist – Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

“I was responsible for the strategic development of the charity’s health content and engagement programmes. In that role, I focussed on making co-produced, evidence-based information and campaigns to help empower people to make informed choices about their health. I have run national roadshows, lead sessions at key conferences around patient experience, facilitated health professional learning workshops, and worked with my team to deliver health promotion projects across the UK.”

“My PhD training has been invaluable and some of the key transferable skills include: understanding scientific writing and academic research, conducting research and handling data (quantitive and qualitative), being able to explain complex jargon in plain English, using my editing and writing skills, presenting at conferences or facilitating small groups, my experience of project management including budget, team and strategic management and the ability to work independently. “

Sign up on MyUCLCareers Today

 


What else can you do to get career ready?

Alongside this, we have a team of careers consultants with research backgrounds who work closely with UCL’s researcher community and can provide support regardless of whether you’re looking to continue in academia or explore other options. Our “Researcher appointments” can be booked at any time through your myUCLCareers account and can be used to cover a range of queries from exploring options to getting support with applications/interview preparation. The careers consultants also run separate workshops covering a range of topics on academic and non-academic career routes for researchers.

Details of the full events programme can be found here

 

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.

No nine to five job: working as a senior teaching fellow AND in the restaurant business

SophiaDonaldson20 March 2018

Dr Sayeda Abu-Amero has a PhD in fungal virology, and until recently was a Senior Teaching Fellow at UCL, as well as working part-time at a (very very tasty) local restaurant – Hiba Express. When we spoke Sayeda only had a few days left at UCL. She has now started working full-time at the restaurant, and hopes to open a coffee shop in the near future. We couldn’t resist adding such an inspirational interview to our case study collection! So if you’re interested in either Higher Education teaching roles, or in entering the restaurant game, read on…

Describe your current role

Currently I have two jobs. One is three and half days a week as a programme tutor for a UCL Masters course in Genetics of Human Disease. I’ve been working on the course for seven years, and as a programme tutor for the last two years. This is purely a teaching-focused academic role, looking after the organisation and timetabling of the whole course, and dealing with any student issues that may arise. What I teach on the course is something called Core Skills. I teach students how to present, write scientific essays, talk to their peers and to the public, write for blogs, and conduct themselves in interviews; life skills they will use to communicate their work, very much in the context of genetics and human disease. This sort of training is an essential part of ensuring that the work of scientists isn’t misrepresented or misunderstood outside of the scientific community, equipping future scientists to be the ones who can convey their own science confidently, clearly, and accurately.

The first term is very busy, as that’s when I do most of my face to face teaching. I also teach on several other courses, and have a number of students as my tutees, as well as project students in the lab and literature review students from other courses.

The other two and a half days a week I work at a Palestinian and Lebanese restaurant, Hiba Express. We have three branches and a stall. My main duties have been to look after their social media and emails, arrange bookings and catering, work on promoting the restaurant, and look after any issues that may arise. I also cover the legal aspects pertaining to running a food business, such as training staff according to food standard agency regulations. So although I have worked front of house on busy evenings, I’m usually found working behind the scenes.

What led you to become a Senior Teaching Fellow?

I did my first degree at UCL in Genetics then moved to Imperial for my PhD in Dutch Elm disease, using the same molecular biology techniques I’d been learning about, but applying them to plants. When I was looking for a post-doc there was very little funding in London to do plant work, so I took up a one-year research post researching children with growth restriction with Professor Gudrun Moore at Queen Charlotte and Chelsea Hospital. That was the beginning of a 22-year working relationship with her, which exposed me to some clinical work, which I’d always been quite interested in.

I left UCL for a bit of that time, spending three years working in a hospital in Saudi Arabia on several Mendelian disorders, where I had my first taste of the business and coordination side of science, as I was involved in setting up core facilities for the whole hospital. When I returned to the UK as a single mum, I contacted Gudrun, and was able to take up a part-time role with her. In some ways being part-time was perfect at that stage as I was able to spend more time with my daughter and to slowly get back into the science I had left for three years.

Gudrun had always wanted to set up a biobank. So in 2009, back when biobanking was still relatively new, I stepped away from lab work and moved into setting up and coordinating the ICH’s Baby Biobank (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/tapb/sample-and-data-collections-at-ucl/biobanks-ucl/baby-biobank). This was a very steep learning curve, getting to grips with clinicians and red tape and managing staff across multiple sites with many logistical challenges. Towards the end of my five to six years of working on this project the role became very much about analysing large amounts of data and computing. Wonderful in terms of the research, but there’s nothing worse than asking me to sit in front of a computer and look at numbers all day! It took about a year of feeling this way and expressing it to Gudrun before I stepped down as Manager of the Baby Biobank.

Throughout my time at UCL I had always been teaching alongside doing research and the Biobank. The teaching opportunities started with me taking on lectures and marking that my supervisor was unable to take on, and then the opportunities grew from there. So when I wanted to move away from the Biobank, I wrote a business case for a 3.5 day/week role working on the Genetics of Human Disease Masters MSc. I’d already been contributing to the course alongside the biobank, and in many ways I was quite keen to focus on teaching, which had always been another passion. So I wrote the job description for that person. At that time it was a bit of a struggle to put a business case together for the role, to justify the number of hours that good teaching actually takes – it’s not just the face-to-face teaching time. But especially with the Teaching Excellence Framework coming in I think this sort of teaching-focused role is on the increase.

And how did you get into the restaurant business?

Towards the end of my time at the Biobank I started taking my daughter to improv class in Marble Arch. While she was there I would visit a restaurant I liked in Holborn to get something to eat while I caught up on marking and other work. One day I went to pay the bill and the owner asked me why I ate there so much. Although I could have taken this as a comment that I ate a lot (!), actually he was really interested in exactly why I liked the food. So I told him: I loved the food! There are many Lebanese places in London, but not of this standard. The quality is exceptional. Shortly after, I organised my birthday lunch there, which ended up being more like a full-day event! It was great. I wrote a positive online review, for which he thanked me.

So I got to know the owner this way, and I continued to eat and drink as usual. I guess the owner would often see me on Facebook, and so one day he asked me to help him with his restaurant’s Facebook as he was too busy and not very familiar with it. So I started helping him with that, and then with a few emails. And as my daughter was in Marble Arch for three hours every Saturday morning, I suggested that rather than spending that time hanging about and shopping, I could spend it helping out at the restaurant. He said yes and that they’d pay me for those hours. When I realised I was going to be moving to the part-time teaching role, he offered me some proper days working at the restaurant because he was looking at expanding. At that time I thought this may be just what I need to start entertaining the idea of leaving academia and eventually setting up my own coffee shop, which is something I’d been considering for over a decade by then!

What prompted your current move to focus on the restaurant full-time?

Both of my current roles are not 9 to 5 jobs you can leave behind at the end of the working day or on the weekend. They both mean you’re constantly thinking, answering emails, on the phone etc. I don’t mind that, as I have a flexible approach to work, but to have two such jobs can only really be sustained for so long. Also, the Core Skills module took a long time to set up and get running the way I wanted it to. I think I achieved that three years ago, and since then it’s been running much the same. Obviously you can tweak and update things, but I was starting to get twitchy feet as I’m not someone who likes to do the same things again and again. So I decided I could have a mid-life crisis and just leave! I’d been murmuring about it for a while, so it didn’t come as a huge shock to people, but a lot of family and colleagues were still concerned, asking whether I was really sure I wanted to do this, moving from a well-paid academic position to something so new and potentially less stable. For me it is an adventure. My child is a little older so it’s a good time to take up this opportunity. And if it all goes pear-shaped? So what? I’ll start again. I’ve started from scratch before, I can do it again.

And the truth is a lot of people are having to leave academia, even later in their careers. When I first started studying for my undergraduate, having a lifelong career in academic research seemed like a very realistic prospect. But things have changed. Certainly the wider environment has changed. The workload is going up, funding is being cut or stretched, there are more and more PhDs being produced, and advanced researchers are expensive. So obviously a lot of PhDs are not going to be in academic research forever. We’ve even held many farewell dinners for colleagues leaving academia at Hiba!

What will you be doing in your new full-time role?

My boss was originally a film-maker, and one day just decided he would run a restaurant. He knew nothing about the industry, but he learned. And he learned so well that he now has three restaurants and a market stall. We’re now looking at a concept that will be bigger. He’s Palestinian and he’s a social activist. So what he wants to do is to help people, the people who are stuck and in refugee camps. People who are capable and can create. He wants to help them do these things, help them sell their products here in the UK, which as a rule is a place that is very supportive of the Palestinian people. He also wants to connect with sustainable farms, to make sure the produce he’s using is bought from them. So I’m going to be working on making these visions a reality.

The catering is a very lucrative part of the business, we do office catering, events, weddings – we had our first gay wedding in August! It was beautiful. So I’ll also be pushing on the catering side. And I’ll be doing two or three evenings a week front of house. Interestingly enough, my daughter has now taken over running the social media for the business for some pocket money. She’s very good with technology and it means we can have interesting discussions over dinner.

What are the best bits about your teaching role?

The best thing is the interactions and meeting people from so many different backgrounds and cultures. You may be the teacher, but there’s still so much you can learn from the students. Getting to know them, seeing how they are at the beginning of the course, perhaps starting off shy; and then you take them through the year and you see how they’ve progressed, confidently booming out presentations. That’s very rewarding. Getting students to work together, students who will potentially one day be scientific collaborators, is also a high point. We recently had a reunion for graduates from the course, and seeing how people had grown and progressed was something I really enjoyed. Teaching is always an exciting and rewarding activity as it means you’re having to keep up to date, and you know that someone is going to directly benefit from it.

And the worst bits about teaching?

The only negative point I would say is the marking. The amount of hours spent marking is never truly calculated or appreciated. It’s so hard to know how long marking will take, it really can suck up a lot of time!

What’re the best things about working in the restaurant?

That’s much the same as the teaching really. Meeting so many different people, and being able to help them, albeit in a different way.

And the worst?

It never ends. It’s 24 hours, 7 days a week. Even when the doors are shut, the restaurant is still working. It needs to be cleaned. The butcher comes in at 4am in the morning and needs to work there alone. Then everything needs to be cleaned again before the veg etc. are prepared. And we have a big menu, so that’s a lot of prep. It’s never ending!

And on top of that there are so many challenges I would never have imagined but for me it’s all new and exciting!

What skills developed during your PhD are useful in your current roles?

I think the PhD can be useful in many ways, for whatever you go on to do. It gives you a specialism, an expertise. And it teaches you how to think. You’re left alone for years to get on with something, so you learn to solve problems on your own and take ownership of your work. I think people who come out after doing a PhD are changed. I’ve seen it. They’ll come in as students, behaving like students throughout their PhD. But they walk out of their viva with a new confidence. The award itself can instil a confidence that should’ve been there before but often wasn’t.

Although I personally don’t think you need a PhD to be a good teacher (people who have been in research for many years without getting a PhD would be just as good), for most university teaching fellow roles like mine a PhD is a requirement on the job description.

Even though you obviously don’t need a PhD to run a restaurant or a coffee shop, I certainly don’t think I’ll be the first PhD to make the move. And I’ve used lots of the things I’ve learned during my time in research, especially the organisational and time-management skills. I present what I’m doing in excel spreadsheets, PowerPoints, and graphs. I use my analytical skills to keep track of the business over years, scanning the data to analyse how the business is doing, looking at improvements year on year, and daily and seasonal variations. I use my experience of teaching to train restaurant staff, for example bringing social media and customer reviews into their awareness. And now that we’re looking at implementing a larger concept, I’ve done a lot of research for the restaurant around similar initiatives. And I use the writing skills I’ve developed in academia to put together business proposals. I also use the networking skills, resourcefulness, and proactivity I’ve needed in academia. If I want something from someone I will go and ask them. Those face-to-face communication skills that get things done are valuable in any setting.

Where does it go from here?

My last day at UCL is this week. Ideally I will work at the restaurant for the next two or three years. I want to see the restaurant stabilising and becoming more comfortable during that time. And I do still want that coffee shop! I’ve already seen one or two potential spaces. I like the idea. But I don’t want to abandon the restaurant I’ve grown to love. So I think perhaps the two can be married, and the coffee shop could become part of Hiba. That would also mean I can do the bit I’m interested in – running a coffee shop – without the setting-up-a-business bits I’m not so interested in.

I’ve always wanted to live abroad. I keep trying to leave! Originally the coffee shop was meant to be abroad, in Spain. I don’t speak Spanish. But I love listening to it. So maybe that’s not the most practical move, which is why the restaurant/coffee shop dream is happening here. It’s more practical but it’s still a risk. The economy here is very unstable. Business rates are rising. I keep walking around Tottenham Court Road and the Brunswick area and passing places I thought were very good that are shutting down, so anything can happen.  That’s why I’ll wait a few years before branching out with a coffee shop.

What are your tips for researchers hoping to follow a similar path?

You just have to go out there and do it. Whatever ‘it’ is! I always tell my students not to wait for opportunities, you need to go and get them. Talk to people. Build relationships. My own career has revolved around networking. When I decided I wanted to do a PhD, I didn’t apply for adverts, I just emailed the people I thought were interesting, and I got a response. People are often still writing grants, so whether it’s a PhD or post-doc place, if you get in at the right time you can be a named person on their grant. And when I went to Saudi I contacted people, told them what I could do, and they created a position for me. Even with the restaurant they didn’t ask me to come and work full-time! I really liked working there, I could see there was a need for a full-time person, and I put that to the boss. Hopefully he’s ok with it!

It may seem that in a structured environment like academia this wouldn’t be possible but you’ll be surprised how easy it is to become invaluable. If you find something you like to do, just go out there and do it. You will end up sometimes being overloaded. But that’s academia, you always end up giving more than what’s on your job description. But if what you’re doing is useful, you’ll become the best person for the job and give it an identity. It’s what happened with my teaching role. You also have to be creative, flexible, and adaptable. Especially when it’s not just you in the picture – when you have partners, kids, parents you need to care for. All of which I’ve had to juggle with work. Sometimes that’s inevitable. But when my father was ill and then eventually passed away from stomach cancer, it taught me that we never know when it will be our time to go, so there’s no point in waiting. I’d been putting off the coffee shop idea for various reasons, once my daughter’s older etc. But at that point I realised it was something I really had to start pursuing, even if only slowly at first. So find something you like and just do it!