UCL Researchers
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    The UCL Careers team use this Blog to share their ‘news and views’ about careers with you. You will find snippets about a whole range of career related issues, news from recruiters and links to interesting articles in the media.

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

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

    Karen Barnard – Head of UCL Careers

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

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    Engineering solutions for businesses: a careers case study

    By S Donaldson, on 1 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sparkly technology pic taken from Octavio Santos Neto

    Taking subject expertise into industry: a case study

    By S Donaldson, on 19 May 2017

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

    Hassard

    Tell us about your job.

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

    How did you move from academia to your current role?

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

    When did you decide academia wasn’t for you?

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

    How did you find out about the sector?

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

    How did you go about applying?

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

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

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

    What are the best things about working in your role?

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

    And what are the worst bits?

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

    Is a PhD essential for your role?

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

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

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

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

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

     

    What’s working in a think tank actually like?

    By S Donaldson, on 21 April 2017

    ParakilasJacobCrop_0Dr Jacob Parakilas has a PhD in International Relations, and is now Assistant Head of the US and Americas Programme at Chatham House, an international affairs think tank. Jacob contributed to our Careers in Government and Policy forum for researchers in February. For those who couldn’t make it in February, Jacob also kindly agreed to give us an insight into his career path, below.
     

    How did you move from academia to your current role?

    I moved straight from my PhD programme into policy work, first at an NGO and then to Chatham House. It was always basically my intention to go back into the policy world; academia wasn’t really the goal for me. I’d previously worked in think tanks and government in Washington, DC, so I had some lower-level experience in the field and good sense that it was where I wanted to be.

    When I started applying for jobs in think tanks towards the end of my PhD programme, I heavily emphasised my research background, since it was what I was currently working on (and excited about). After a string of rejections, I re-focused my applications and balanced out my research background with my professional skills, which made all the difference in terms of being taken seriously.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    It depends enormously on the time of year, what’s happening in the world, and a variety of other factors. As a whole, my job involves roughly equal measures of fundraising, administration, management, research and public-facing work, but the balance isn’t consistent year-round. During the US elections, I spent a lot of time on public-facing work (TV and radio appearances, giving lectures, being on panels, etc.); at the end of financial years I tend to spend more time on management and fundraising activities. It’s almost never the case that my day involves just one category, so I’m rarely if ever bored.

    What are the best things about working in your role?

    We have a pretty direct line to policymakers – when we put out a piece of research, we can generally get it in front of relevant policymakers relatively easily. We also tend to be the first point of call for media when they need analysis on political developments, which means we have opportunities to speak to a much wider audience on a regular basis. Finally, my subject area means that I get to work on an amazingly broad range of topics – everything from US defence strategy to trade agreements to the potential role of artificial intelligence in geopolitics.

     
    What are the biggest challenges?

    We face a fairly constant pressure to fundraise to support our work. My institution is funded from a broad range of sources, which is the right approach for all sorts of reasons. But it also means that we have to develop and maintain relationships with corporations, governments, foundations and individuals – all of which require slightly different approaches, and which requires significant time commitments.

    It can also be difficult to balance long-term, strategic goals against the need to respond to daily events. That’s been especially true in my role over the last few months, since things have been moving so quickly and unpredictably in US politics & foreign policy.

    Is a PhD essential in your work?

    Not absolutely essential but very useful. Many junior think tank researchers don’t have doctorates, and in mid-career research posts/middle management it’s a mixture of people with and without them. At the highest levels – research directors, directors of studies, institute directors – it’s much closer to universal.

    The research skills are largely transferrable, though the style of writing is more different than you might think (I wrote a very policy-oriented PhD and it still took more than a year before people stopped telling me my writing was ‘too academic’). The biggest transferrable skills are fundraising, time management and project management, which all look a bit different inside and outside academia but rely on the same fundamentals. Finally, it’s not the biggest consideration, but having a PhD is also a helpful mark of credibility when you’re dealing with senior figures.

    What’s the progression like?

    Think tanks tend to be pretty flat hierarchies, which is good in terms of getting opportunities to do a range of different types of work, but less good in terms of offering a clear, predictable path upwards. On the plus side, they tend to be extremely well-connected, so from a think tank it’s pretty easy to make the jump to government, the private sector, self-employment as an independent consultant/researcher, or to NGOs. There are some examples of people who start out at the first rung of the think tank ladder and climb straight up to heading a programme or institute, but most people move up through the various sectors adjacent to think tanks. In other words, it gives you a lot of options.

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

    Talk to people! On the whole people, in this sector are friendly and open to polite requests for informational interviews. It also gets you on their radar, which helps when it comes to applying for jobs or finding consulting opportunities.

    I can’t stress the importance of administrative skills enough. A large portion of my average day isn’t directly research-related (despite the fact that I’m a researcher). That’s true throughout the think tank world: almost no one has a pure research job, so you have to be able to capable of doing a whole range of work – and to show that in your applications.

    A PhD’s experience in Healthcare Data Science

    By S Donaldson, on 10 April 2017

    MaheenAs part of her PhD, Maheen Faisal undertook a three month placement at uMotif, a digital healthcare company. This type of hands-on work experience is great for career exploration, and Maheen learned lots about herself and the industry. She’s kindly agreed to share her experience, below, so you can learn from it too!

    My background is in Mathematics – I have a BSc Mathematics degree and an MSc Applied Mathematics degree. Data Science was a field that I was always interested in exploring but the context never seemed very interesting to me. When I came across a Data Science role in a healthcare company, it was almost like a fusion of two things I was quite interested in and decided to go with the placement.

    My placement was at uMotif which is a digital healthcare company that provides a patient data capture platform in the form of a mobile phone app. In 2016, uMotif launched a global study “100 For Parkinson’s” where people with Parkinson’s disease and without tracked their health on their smartphone for 100 days. This resulted in the generation of a large complex dataset consisting of over 2.2 million data points and 4218 participants.

    My role at uMotif was that of a Data Scientist and it involved using advanced statistical analysis techniques and machine learning to analyse the 100 For Parkinson’s dataset and to explore hidden patterns in the data. Various questions were posed by uMotif to use the dataset to a) understand the Parkinson’s population better and to discover potential digital biomarkers of Parkinson’s and b) to utilize the dataset to understand how uMotif as a company could improve participant/patient retention in future studies.

    Towards the end of my placement, I had the chance to convert a complex network graph into a powerful and engaging info graphic for the 100 For Parkinson’s end of study press release: http://umotif.com/news/the-dataset-from-100-for-parkinson-s-exceeds-2-2-million-data-points. This was quite fun and rewarding, to have a physical outcome of my work that was shared with the participants of the study.

    I gained a lot of experience working with “Big Data”. The first thing I learned was MySQL which is a database management system, in order to be able to query the data that I needed to work with. I completed a Machine Learning course to grasp the basics of Machine Learning. I then learned how to use the Machine Learning and Statistics toolbox in Matlab, R and the Amazon Web Services Machine Learning console. I also learned how to use Tableau – a brilliant data visualization software program, which helps visualize complex data.

    Honestly, at times the work placement felt extremely challenging and I felt as though I would not be able to accomplish much or meet the expectations of my placement supervisors. Persevering through it however, I learned that I sometimes underestimate myself and can actually pick up difficult concepts quickly and meet expectations.

    When thinking about whether the placement influenced my career decision I would say yes and no. Previously, I was pretty sure that I would stay in academia as I quite enjoy research. I also wasn’t sure whether there was anything out there for me that I would actually enjoy. At the moment I’m still not sure whether I would like to stay in academia or not, but I do know that if I ventured out, that Data Science is a field that I would enjoy working in.

    Top Tips for other researchers?

    1. Make sure you sit down and think about where exactly you would like to work or what you would like to do. It may not be immediately clear so start with something really basic and build from that. For example, if I had not gone down my current career path, I would probably be a doctor or be working in healthcare in some capacity. With that in mind, when I was brainstorming for my PIPS, I tried to look for healthcare related roles until I found something that interested me.
    2. Don’t be shy when contacting companies, the worst that can happen is that they won’t reply. I got my work placement by sending a message through a generic “Contact Us” form on the company website!

    Leaving academia but not Higher Education

    By S Donaldson, on 22 February 2017

    Dr Eliza Burton studied for her PhD at UCL’s Institute for Ophthalmology and now works with us at UCL Careers as a Placements, Internships and Vacancies Administrator…which made it nice and easy for us to share her PhD careers case study with you all.

    eliza_picHow did you get into your current role?

    Towards the end of my PhD I began looking for roles within higher education but outside of academia. Although I always enjoyed carrying out research, I had moved on a lot since the start of my PhD, having a baby and acquiring a mortgage along the way and was keen to pursue stable, permanent roles. I had always enjoyed the University environment and working with students, so pursuing a career in this sector seemed like a great choice.

    I had taken on a variety of responsibilities during my PhD, aside from straight research and this had allowed me to gain experience in university administration and student facing roles. When it came to applying for jobs I looked for opportunities which matched these skills.

    What does your normal working day look like?

    I am currently in a part-time position working 3 days a week. My role varies from week to week and has evolved over the course of my time here as I have taken on new responsibilities. A typical day might see me liaising with external employers, over phone, email or in person; preparing student careers newsletters; planning and hosting careers events and promoting job opportunities to our students. No two days are the same and the varied academic calendar means that the role changes throughout the year.

    What are the best bits?

    The role has allowed me to develop and take on new responsibilities since I started, setting me up well for future job opportunities. UCL has a great training and development scheme and although I am in the office less regularly than full-timers, I do not feel overlooked for openings. The team atmosphere has been a real change from doing a PhD which is often quite a solitary pursuit. This means the work is less high pressured than research, with a more collaborative focus.

    And the biggest challenges?

    Compared to a PhD the hours are much more structured. I was always fairly regular with my working hours whilst studying but if you are the type to prefer more autonomous working arrangements the shift to a 9-5 role could be challenging.

    Did you need your PhD?

    A PhD is not essential for the role but equally it is not uncommon, and you’re unlikely to be the only Dr. There are many transferable skills you can develop across the course of a PhD as well as commercial awareness of the higher education sector. The key is learning to identify these skills and applying them to non-research roles. For example, my PhD involved clinical research and many of the people skills developed during this have now been applied to dealing with external clients who approach the Careers Department wanting to engage with UCL students.

    Where do people go from here?

    The progression opportunities in higher education in general are good. There is a structure for career progression and it is common for people to move across departments with transferable skills. There is a lot of support and working within a large University means that there are constantly new opportunities arising.

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

    I would recommend taking on additional responsibilities during your PhD/ post-doc aside from pure research. By taking on opportunities such as supervising students, assisting in events and aiding in departmental administration you can come out of PhD with a broad range of skills on top of valuable research and analytical knowledge. Make use of the contacts you have within your department whilst still a student to find out as much as possible about the type of roles available.

    A UCL PhD grad talks being an IBM data scientist

    By S Donaldson, on 7 February 2017

    Rebecca PopeDr Rebecca Pope has a PhD in Clinical Neuroscience from our very own UCL and now works as a Data Scientist at IBM. Rebecca sat on one of our Researcher Careers in Technology panel events and kindly agreed to give us even more of her time by answering a few questions for our blog.

    How did you move from academia to your current role?

    As a data scientist at IBM, I do not feel that I have fully ‘left’ academia strangely. I still publish in academic and non-academic settings; use my doctoral skills (clinical neuroscience) in Watson Health; and a must of this job is knowing that the more you read the less you know! So very similar to an academic post. However, there is a divergence in my responsibilities compared to my doctoral and post-doctoral experience, in that I am regularly meeting with clients and developing business opportunities. Thus, I have needed to develop and enhance my soft skills. My audience are usually non-technical and it is my job to relay the complex in an ‘actionable’ way for my client, which mean they need to fully understand IBM’s findings – that is the ‘art’ within data science.

    I found out about the sector due to my neuroimaging experience, which is really a big data time-series problem. This led to investigating ‘big data’ and reading popular science books on the topic. I then upskilled myself by doing a number of online free courses and decided that this was a space I wanted to apply to, and just did.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    My days are quite similar. In the morning, I will work through early morning emails, as IBM’s clients are worldwide. Then have a daily sprint with the team, discussing project statuses and any immediate blockers to a project’s success. However, the majority of my day, involves diving into some data (exploratory data analysis and applying machine learning algorithms, whilst keeping in mind the client’s business problem(s)). I may also have a number of client-facing meetings in driving healthcare, life sciences and pharmaceutical opportunities into IBM.

    What are the best things about working in your role?

    The team I work in has a great ‘work and play’ ethos; tackling real-world problems across different industries, although my passion is within health and life-sciences, and the endless pursuit of innovating and developing myself.

    What are the biggest challenges you face in your work/what are the worst bits? (Please think about elements that might put others off, even if you don’t mind them.)

    It can be challenging ensuring that all stakeholders within a project are 100% fulfilled by my work, as often a CEO has a different agenda to a CFO, for example. However, this is a talent and skillset that I need to keep developing and have the space and mentorship to do so at IBM.

    Is a PhD essential for your role?

    I don’t think so. In fact, the variety in our team of educational backgrounds is one reason I feel we are successful. This gives the team different lenses to view the same problem.

    But the PhD skills I use on an everyday basis include: being comfortable with not understanding things, quantitative numeracy, and domain expertise for Watson Health engagements.

    Where would someone go in their career from here?

    I think this is entirely up to you, I am a firm believer that you make your own doors in life to walk through.

    The great thing about being at a company like IBM is the breadth of opportunities and business units. This means that as your personal/professional interests change, you are likely to find an aligned role within the business.

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

    My top tips would be to invest heavily in your communication and team work skills.

    Most people with quantitative PhDs can crunch numbers, program etc., these are skills that do not set you apart, in my opinion, from other candidates. More important is how you come across and your manner. You spend most of your life with your colleagues and so you want to like the people you work with. Developing yourself in this way, and knowing this is half the journey; the rest I leave to you. Best of luck.

    Read all about it: life as a magazine features editor

    By S Donaldson, on 1 February 2017

    Will has a Philosophy BA, a Philosophy MA (from UCL – whoop whoop!), and a PhD in Computer Science. Will is now a Features Editor at New Scientist Magazine, and he kindly chatted to us about his job and career path.

    How did you transition from your PhD to your current role?

    After my PhD I worked as a post-doc for 3 years. I enjoyed research, but it became increasingly clear that I was less drawn to the things that I would need to do to progress – i.e. find my own niche area of research and be able to ‘sell’ it.

    In the back of my mind I also always thought I wanted to be a writer or a journalist rather than a computing researcher, so I started freelancing with games and technology writing, and while I was post-docing I went to an event about science communication. I had fun, and I learned about the university’s Science Communication Masters program. I applied to the course partly because it looked great, but also partly to bide time while I continued to get more freelancing experience. It worked out well; the course was fantastic, and at the end of it I got a 6-month traineeship at New Scientist in the news section. After that I worked there on a rolling contract as a news reporter for a year, and then applied for the features editor job, which I’ve had for two years.

    What does your job involve?

    A huge part of the job is generating ideas that might make a cool feature for the magazine. Coming from a research background, it can take time to get your head around what makes a good story. We’re trying to sell this magazine, so a good feature has to not only be informative, but entertaining enough to compete with other magazines, and also anything else that might take your attention, boxsets and games etc.

    I specifically work on technology features, so I’m always keeping up to date with that field, to see which new developments and ideas might fit together to make a great story. When I think I’ve got something, I’ll put together an outline of the narrative of the feature, along with key people it would be worth speaking to, and that will be the basis of a commission. I’ll then find a writer for the story – editors usually have connections with regular writers – and there will probably be several rounds of edits back and forth once they’ve written it. We’ll also work with picture editors to choose the artwork that accompanies the story in the magazine, and increasingly we’ll work with people on putting together a package to accompany the story online, which might be videos or even an animation or interactive app for the reader. I sometimes do some writing myself, but that’s a small part of my role.

    The role is different to the one I had in the news team. I was writing a lot more in news, and my features role is more similar to doing a PhD in a way; You get to interact with lots of different people, but ultimately you’re working on your own project and you’re left to get on with it until it’s due. The news desk is faster paced, as you’re part of a team contributing each week to the news section.

    Is a PhD essential for your current role and what are the skills gained from your PhD that you use now?

    A PhD isn’t essential but it’s useful. It probably gave me an edge when applying for the traineeship at New Scientist. Having a PhD in tech stuff is extra helpful because finding people who are techy and are not just good writers, but are able to write well about technology in its broader social context, i.e. technology’s relationship with us, how it changes us (which is what makes technology interesting to most readers), can be especially difficult.

    The PhD can help in other ways too. The experience of doing independent research and of being confident enough to pursue an idea on your own is great for work as a features editor. And having an insight into what research actually is helps in science journalism.

    What are the best things about your role?

    The ability to have an idea pop into your head and then be paid to spend time pursuing it is brilliant. Then there’s the satisfaction of seeing your initial idea grow to something that can finally come together on the printed page. And there’s a nerdy satisfaction in the final tweaks that need to be made to make the feature work, making the language as punchy as possible and playing with the article layout, which I personally really like.

    What are the worst parts?

    There’s a lot of pressure. As a writer on the news desk there was an intense pressure day-to-day to get your story done. But as a features editor there’s a different kind of pressure. There isn’t such an immediate deadline, so you have to be a bit more organised with your time to make sure everything gets done, which might not suit everyone. And the features are the powerhouse of the magazine, they’re what make most people subscribe to New Scientist or pick up the magazine and buy it in a shop. So there’s a pressure to come up with something that will be good enough to really grab people. And there can be a lot of dead ends when you’re coming up with ideas – you always want your ideas to work out, but a lot of times they don’t. You also don’t really do much writing as an editor, which may be disappointing for some people.

    What’s the progression like from here?

    New Scientist is relatively small and people love their jobs so may stay for a long time, so there isn’t a huge amount of movement in the staff. There are places to move up from here, one could move to being a section head, managing a whole section like features or news or digital content, but of course that’s dependent on people leaving. Some people move on to being freelance, like many of the writers I’ll commission for features.

    What are your top tips for researchers wanting to move into your field?

    Try it. Write. I wish I’d done more of this when I was a researcher – just get writing, for a blog or for your university magazine, and pitch some ideas to editors to see if you can get something commissioned. To get writing jobs you’ll need a portfolio of writing to show people. Plus it’ll tell you whether you like it. And I’d advise you to keep doing it, because you might like writing the odd thing, but if you end up as a journalist you’ll have to write and write and write, so it’s worth seeing whether you’d like that. It’ll also get you used to having your pitches rejected. As a journalist you’ll get lots of rejections, and in time you get better at picking and pitching ideas so that they’re less likely to (but of course still sometimes do) get rejected.

    Doing a science communication or journalism course isn’t essential, but it can help. The courses have a good reputation in the field. They can help you hone your craft, but also open your eyes to other types of communication/journalism that you may not have thought about.

     

    Double doctor: from PhD to DClinPsy

    By S Donaldson, on 17 January 2017

    Double eggToday’s careers case-study interviewee has a PhD in Psychology and is now in the final year of training to be a Clinical Psychologist.

    How did you get into Clinical Psychology?

    Pursuing a career in clinical psychology is something that I’ve been passionate about since A-level. When I finished my psychology degree I was very fortunate to go straight into an assistant psychologist post, which confirmed my love of clinical work. However, at 24, I wasn’t sure I was ready (personally or professionally!) for the demands of clinical training. Instead, I spoke with several people about pursuing a PhD as a first step. One Professor was particularly enthusiastic, explaining that, as a psychologist I would help perhaps 8 people a week, but as a researcher, I had the potential to help millions. Although I’m not sure I have ever agreed with his statement, it was pretty compelling! I was offered the chance to complete an MSc/PhD with a leading researcher in their field. As well as providing excellent research training, the role involved meeting families and carrying out diagnostic and cognitive assessments. This clinically relevant experience was really helpful later on when applying for clinical training.

    After my PhD, I was very keen to pursue a post-doctoral position in the US. I wrote to several people who I had cited in my thesis or met at conferences to see if they had any appropriate vacancies. A professor was looking for a post-doc to work as a ‘research therapist’ on a large autism-focussed RCT – it was a perfect fit! I worked there for 18 months, and during that time I applied for clinical training. I had to fly back for the interviews, which were pretty tough. I was on the reserve list for two courses, and when a place became free, I came back to study in the UK.

    What does an average day look like to you?

    I’m currently training, so an average week is probably easier to describe. On Mondays and Fridays I have either lectures or time set aside for research. From Tuesday to Thursday I have my clinical placement. Over the last three years, I’ve had six different placements, working with a wide range of client groups (e.g. in child services, oncology, addictions, neuropsychology). My current role is at a specialist child OCD clinic, working as part of multidisciplinary team, carrying out assessments and CBT treatment with children and their families. I’ll generally see around 3 families a day, write up notes, attend meetings and have a weekly ‘clinical supervision’ hour. I also have an opportunity to observe other members of the team as part of my training.

    What are the best bits about your role?

    I love working as a therapist, it’s different to anything else I’ve done before. It is really rewarding to meet so many different clients who are experiencing such a range of challenges. At my current placement, the children often make amazing progress fighting their OCD and it’s wonderful to help them with that journey. I also really enjoy working as part of a multidisciplinary team, working alongside other professionals and liaising more broadly with schools and other services. Although I do feel like I’ve been a student for a long time, I love being part of a learning environment and attending lectures from leaders in the field. I’m also very lucky to have a lovely, supportive cohort of course-mates to study with, who all have such varied backgrounds and experiences to share.

    What are the downsides?

    It’s a lot of hard work. I suppose I may have thought that after doing a PhD I’d be ok, that perhaps the clinical doctorate wouldn’t be as hard, but in fact it’s harder. Clinical skills are new, and there’s a lot more responsibility when you’re working therapeutically with clients. Plus you’re still having to do research and attend lectures, but you’re doing that alongside holding down a busy job within the NHS, so there’s a lot of juggling to do. Taking exams again is also a bit of a shock to the system!

    Where do you see your career going from here?

    I finish my course in a few months so I’ll be looking for a job very soon. Ideally I’ll still be working clinically, but if I can combine that with continued research that would be perfect. I think balancing clinical work and research can be difficult at the moment, particularly in the changing and challenging environment of the NHS. However, as ‘scientist-practitioners’, I think it’s so important that psychologists continue to conduct relevant research to expand our evidence-base for treatment. I’m hoping that I can find a post within a research-oriented team – but we’ll have to see what happens!

    In terms of career progression, the NHS system is fairly clear. You start at a certain grade after training and work your way up steadily over the years. Over time, your responsibilities increase and you tend to become more involved in supervising others, leading teams and service development. In the current financial climate, seeking and maintaining funding for services will also become increasingly important.

    What are your top tips for anyone thinking of becoming a Clinical Psychologist?

    It’s a very competitive course to get onto, so make sure you get as much clinically-relevant experience as you can from early on. Try to get a breadth of contact with different client groups if possible and make sure that you also have an understanding and interest in current research. I would highly recommend talking to current trainees, and seeking guidance with the application form, because nailing that is key. Being aware of current issues in the NHS is also really important for your application and interview. I think it helps to get to know the differences between the different Clinical Psychology courses, so you know which course will suit you best. Different courses differ in their entrance criteria and tend to ask different types of questions at interview – for example some courses ask a lot more personal questions than others. And most importantly don’t give up! Plenty of people apply multiple times before getting in and everyone has a very different career journey before they get accepted.

    Image taken from Abraham Williams

    Moving into pharma: a case-study

    By S Donaldson, on 14 December 2016

    graphs

    Today’s interviewee has a PhD in Molecular Genetics and is now a Senior Health Economist at a major pharmaceutical company. We spoke to him about his career path and current role.

    Tell us about your job.

    I demonstrate the value of drugs we produce to the NHS. That involves assessing the clinical evidence, but also looking at things from an economic perspective. I work in respiratory medicine, so I deal with inhalers for asthma and COPD. If our inhaler keeps people out of hospital it has the potential to save the NHS money.

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

    I really enjoyed my PhD, but as I entered my final year I realised that my work wasn’t going to turn up anything particularly earth-shattering so there wasn’t much of a future in it. I also sensed that the academic environment could become quite cutthroat, and one of the reasons I’d originally entered academia was I thought it wouldn’t be very cutthroat, so I decided I should find something else to do.

    I went to a careers fair and I came across a stand for a health economics market access consultancy. I didn’t really know what that was but it sounded interesting from the description, so I looked into it a bit and ended up getting a job with that consultancy.

    Our clients were usually pharmaceutical companies, and the job involved reading a lot of clinical trial reports and summarising them, both in written summaries and using meta analysis. I was at the consultancy for four years before moving to my current employer – a pharmaceutical company.

    What does an average working day look like?

    I often have to meet with the rest of the brand team working on the drug – which will include a medical team, a marketing team, a patient advocacy team, myself, and occasionally some sales people – to discuss strategy. But I also get to do a lot of analysis and writing on my own, which I quite like. After my PhD it took me a while to get used to working with other people, and to build my confidence to speak up in meetings and deliver presentations, but over the years I’ve got much better at it.

    How does your PhD help you in your job?

    A PhD isn’t essential for my job (a lot of people will have an MSc in Health Economics), and for my previous consultancy role it was enough that I just had a life sciences undergraduate degree. But although I don’t use any of the detailed knowledge from my PhD, many of the skills I picked up have helped me to get jobs and progress in my career. Those skills include being able to use statistical methods, and scientific reading and writing.

    What are the best things about your job?

    One of the things that concerned me about my particular PhD is it felt quite distant from anything that helped someone with the diseases I was researching. Now that I’m working with medicines it’s easier to see how what I’m doing can help people. And although it wasn’t the case at first, now that I’ve progressed to a more senior role I have quite a lot of autonomy, so I plan my own projects.

    What are the downsides?

    I went the route of working for a consultancy before moving into a drugs company, and that’s the route that a lot for people will take now, as pharmaceutical companies often require previous experience. The way consultancies are set up is that they make more money the more work they give you. So the deal is that you’ll get lots of great training because you’ll have a variety of clients and projects, but it can be quite hard work on entry-level pay. The hours still weren’t the worst, maybe 9am to 7pm, and a bit of work on the weekends, but it was difficult to fit all of the work into regular 9 to 5 hours. The experience I gained in consultancy was invaluable though as it helped me get my current role. And apart from the occasional very busy period, the work-life balance is very good here.

    What’s the progression like?

    I would say that progression to the level I’m working at can probably happen at a lot of companies. But the next step will be to a management position, and because there are fewer management jobs, the opportunities to progress from this point will be dependent upon senior people leaving and vacancies coming up. So moving up a position may require moving companies.

    What tips would you give researchers wanting to move into health economics?

    If you have a life sciences PhD there are lots of market access consultancies that will be interested in you. To make yourself appealing in interviews make sure you’ve thoroughly researched the industry and the company, and can tell them why you want to enter the sector and what you’ll bring.

    Find out what it’s like going from a Neuroscience PhD to being a Management Consultant at McKinsey & Company

    By Vivienne C Watson, on 21 October 2016

    MckinseyMatej Macak studied Psychology for his undergraduate degree and Neuroscience for his Masters and doctoral studies. He tells us what it’s like being Management Consultant at McKinsey & Company.

    Tell us about your job

    I work as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company. My work is to help companies to improve their performance which can take many different forms, from helping CEOs design new business strategies to working on the factory floor helping to improve one process at a time. Typically, the work I do for a client is very short by PhD standards, generally up to three months. Every project is unique and brings new challenges and problems to solve.

    How did you move from a PhD to your current role

    I studied Psychology for my undergraduate degree followed by Neuroscience for my Masters and doctoral studies. I love my subject and I find the human brain to be an incredible challenge. Up until now, I enjoy learning about the latest research and I have stayed in touch with my colleagues. At the end of my PhD, I wanted to work on something that I could feel had a tangible impact in shorter time frames. The very first project that I worked on actually drew on my knowledge in Psychology to help devise new strategies for bank clients to control their spending and save money. As that project drew to a close, I could see the results of my team’s work presented in the news. One year on, I have a few such examples of real change I contributed to during several client engagements and look forward to new challenges each project brings.

    What does an average working day look like?

    Each project is different and so there is no such thing as a “typical” day. As a management consultant, I am often asked to solve problems that my clients struggle with despite of years of experience in their industry. That means unexpected challenges, tough puzzles and new problems to face every day. The job can take forms ranging from organising a workshop with senior clients to undertaking quantitative analysis of financial performance to devising a strategy for introducing a new tech product to the market. The work is different every day but always interesting.

    How does your PhD help you in your job?

    I use skills developed during my PhD every day. During my PhD I improved my ability to break down complex problems, to analyse and interpret large data sources and to present my findings in a structured way. These skills are incredibly useful in the daily life of a consultant and I feel I have been drawing on them during every project so far.

    What are the best things about your job

    I love the feeling that I am changing the way how people work almost every day. It can be very fulfilling to see the real impact of “my” consultancy project for our client. The learning curve has been quite steep – I face new problems, industries and different client interactions on each study. Coming up with solutions as a part of a team is exciting, collaborative and rewarding at the same time. People I work with are warm, intelligent and supportive. One year on, I feel like my work has had a real impact and I have formed many friendships in the process as well.

    What are the downsides?

    The work is challenging and sometimes a bit of a roller coaster, fast paced with tight deadlines. However, looking back, I can see that the most difficult problems often spark ideas we become the most proud of.

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

    Consulting is a career that is highly rewarding and I would recommend it to anyone who likes to solve problems in a collaborative environment. I think that the best insight into consulting comes from simply speaking to consultants – friends or employees at career fairs. Whilst interest in business and strategy are useful, do not underestimate how much you will learn on the job and how steep the learning curve will be. Talk with the consultants about their experience and industry and see if the problems they face would fit well with your interests and goals.

    If you want to take Matej’s advice and speak to a consultant, you can at the UCL Careers ‘Careers in Technology Employer Forum for PhDs and Researchers’ event on 27th October. A PhD representative from McKinsey will be sitting on the panel. Further information about the event and how to make a booking can be found here: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2193