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Finance & Consultancy Month – Guest Feature

Isobel EPowell24 October 2019

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 Finance…

Taking a deeper dive into the financial industry from the perspective of an economist specifically looking at what this is like for a researcher, we have our first contributor – Keith Lai. 

Keith Lai is an Economic Advisor for the Office for National Statistics and completed his BSc (2008), MSc (2011) and PhD Economics (2018) all in UCL. His thesis was on applied economics of crime, using an individual-level dataset held by the Ministry of Justice, where he worked for three years as an assistant economist between 2009 and 2012, to study the micro effect of criminal justice punishment on the labour market and reoffending outcomes. 

Tell us about your role and the organisation you work with…

I am an economist working in the Office for National Statistics, the largest independent producer of official statistics and the recognised national statistical institute of the UK. The ONS publish a wide range of economic and social statistics that inform every public debate you see and hear, such as GDP, inflation, unemployment, international trade, government finances, gender pay gap, crime, etc.
Largely speaking, economists have two roles here. Firstly, we provide commentary on the economic and social statistics that ONS publish, to help the public understand the latest development in the UK economy and society. Secondly, we research into the best methods of measuring the economy and wellbeing, taking advantage of the unprecedented opportunities that big data offer.

Whats a brief overview of your industry? are there opportunities specifically for researchers?

The civil service rarely looks specifically for PhD candidates (in the departments I have worked in any way!) but there are definitely roles that researchers could slot into and perform really well, such as in the Government Analysis Function which covers economists, statisticians, data scientists, operational researchers, social researchers, etc.

Describe your PhD background, is it related to your current role?

My PhD thesis was on the Economics of Crime and Criminal Justice, where I empirically tested at the individual level the impact of criminal justice punishment on labour market outcomes.
The topic area of my PhD is not particularly related to the projects I am currently doing at the ONS, but the skills that I had picked up, such as critical thinking, data manipulation, time management, public speaking, etc. are all transferrable to my current career.

Did you find the transition out of academia challenging?

I actually found the change very pleasant! Towards the end of my PhD, I missed working in big teams and interacting with people from a diverse background. I also enjoy being able to completely switch off after work.

Is there anything you wish you’d been told when looking to transition out of academia

Being in academia can be a bit like inside a bubble and you can easily feel stuck to stay, or lost about where to go next if you leave, but it really is perfectly fine to take the leap.

Any advice/tips specifically for Postdocs? 

One must have mastered many difficult skills to survive in academia for any length of time. Without a doubt, those skills are fully transferrable to jobs outside academia and someone in possession of them are very likely to succeed in whatever they choose to do. The difficulty might be in trying to look for a position that perfectly fits their expertise and research interest, which by then could be quite a niche and narrow. I think being open-minded about different challenges and opportunities could help the transition out of academia.

What is your top tip for researchers when applying to your organisation?

Be enthusiastic about contributing to the public good!

A big thank you to Keith for sharing their insights into the industry and what life after a PhD is like! 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.


What’s coming up! Check out our final event of this month

But, how do I know if I like it or not? If you’re considering a career in consultancy but you’re unsure what the day to day might look like, come along to this taster session to give it a go!

Employer Taster Session in Consultancy
Tues 29 Oct 19, 12.30 – 2.30pm

This employer-led careers taster session for consultancy will allow you to experience a hypothetical task which someone in this role would undertake.
This is a practical opportunity to gain experience of a career in consultancy. Participate in a hypothetical task to improve your understanding of the industry and the types of careers available whilst networking with an organisation which hires researchers. This employer taster will highlight a career which has opportunities spanning across science, business, technology, data, the arts and more.
Research students and staff book here


Here’s how to book your space

This term we will be taking all research student and staff bookings for all researcher career events including both employer-led events and careers consultant-led workshops via the MyUCLCareers portal. If you’re a research student you’ll already have an account, just sign in with your standard UCL single sign-on user ID and password. For research staff, register your details with us to set up access to a myUCLCareers account – click here to see the guide.  By streamlining our offerings through one platform we hope to offer you clearer, more detailed and consistent event content.

Any questions? Email us at careers.researchers@ucl.ac.uk

What else can you do to get career ready?

Alongside the employer-led sessions, we have our careers consultant-led programme of events. Details of the whole programme can be found here. These programmes are for you. Learn a new skill, find out about an industry, or even just ask some questions to help settle your concerns – Get ahead of the game and take these opportunities to explore opportunities and develop yourself and your commercial awareness before you’ve even left academia.

Making the move from academia to the civil service

Vivienne CWatson3 July 2015

EGuccionne(1)Dr Ed Guccione has a PhD in molecular microbiology. Here he tells us about his current role as a Government Operational Research analyst within the Department for Work and Pensions.

How did you move from academia into your current role?

I’d done 5 years as a postdoc in two labs and I was unsure about what career was for me, but I knew another postdoc was the one thing that wasn’t for me. My line manager was moving from Sheffield to Southampton and offered me a job there, but it was time to move on into something that was much more suited to the way I enjoy working. I like being part of a team, contributing to shared work, and solving problems. I had outgrown solo project work and I was looking for new opportunities in a professional environment.

I went to a university seminar all about careers for post-PhD researchers available in the Civil Service. The presenter was someone I’d done my PhD with a few years back and I suddenly saw the analyst / government researcher in a new light – a way I could really use the analytical skills from my research. I decided to go for it. I wasn’t interviewed the first time I applied, the recruitment process was geared towards undergraduates and postgraduates with quite specific academic backgrounds (maths, physics, engineering etc.) so getting across how analytical my biology PhD and post-doc roles had been was crucial. I just failed to do this first time because I blindly followed the instructions without thinking. But after the initial rejection, I got feedback, made a real effort to improve my form and in the next recruitment round had another go. In the meantime I worked for the University of Derby as a business analyst and learned some great analytical skills as well as getting a taste of life beyond the lab.

How did you find the move from academia to the civil service?

I was worried about retaining the lack of flexibility and ownership I had in my post-doc role. I was also apprehensive of going into the unknown, what if someone asked me to do something I didn’t know how to do? What if everyone spoke a different language? In reality I’m old enough and wise enough to ask for help when I need it, but actually people anticipated I’d need time to get up to speed and helped me with it.

I found that some key differences in the Civil Service were:

  1. You have the back up of a team, you don’t feel alone and solely responsible.
  2. You get your life back, hours are 9-5 (or 10-6 as some people prefer!) and overdoing it is discouraged.
  3. People take your development seriously, it’s not a do it on the side thing any more, you’re expected to grow and learn, and contribute to the organisation as a whole, not just your projects.

Is having a PhD necessary for working in your current role?

It’s not specifically needed to get an interview but actually the project management, initiative, problem solving skills, and self-motivation you get so well practiced at as a researcher are infinitely applicable and put you in a position to progress upwards fairly quickly. Striving to create new ways to collect, analyse and report data are directly transferable. Analytical techniques and statistical techniques I used frequently are all relevant and I’ve learned a lot more since joining the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions).

What does a normal working day look like for you?

It’s a cliché but there are no normal days; within a job role projects can be many and varied and new ones appear all the time and there are also frequent opportunities to move job roles. But to actually answer the question, if I constructed an average day from all the projects, I’d spend an hour replying to emails or in phone calls trying to understand exactly what analytical product is required, a couple of hours wrestling with a data source (or two) (we have an embarrassing wealth in data in DWP but it can be challenging to get exactly what you want from them), the start of the afternoon performing the analysis and discussing the quality assurance process with my team, the afternoon writing/presenting the report and half an hour working being really creative with a project that contributes to the department as a whole.

What are the best things about working in your role?

I really enjoy being part of a larger team, that’s something that I didn’t get in academia. I can be creative and attempt something that might not work but have the support of my managers and advice of really great people around me. Oh and there’s a career structure and genuine opportunities to progress!

What might be the downsides of your job? 

There was a significant culture change to get used to, but after 18 months in the job I’ve got over that. Otherwise, from my background, it’s hard to get used to using data generated by others, and not having a say in how it’s collected. A lot of time is spent adapting your approach because the ideal data source doesn’t exist. Cross-site working can be difficult too, my team work between 50 and 200 miles away!

It can be hard working on a policy that might not exactly align with your personal politics, but there is no policy that can’t be improved by considering the empirical evidence, and it’s satisfying producing a sound evidence base for any decision. Also, if you’re completely obsessed with your research area, a job where you move from project to project may not be for you.

Where do you see yourself going from here?

Progression within the Civil service isn’t ‘dead men’s boots’. There are regular opportunities to progress in terms of responsibility and salary. I’m still learning a lot about being an analyst so there’s definitely some mileage in this job for me. It’s likely that at some point I’ll move departments to get new experiences, these opportunities occur all the time too.

What top tips would you pass on to current PhD/ post-doc researchers interested in this type of work?

Make contact with the nominated person on the application form, and ask them to put you in contact with someone ‘like you’ in their department. It can be a real help to get an understanding of what the organisation is looking for. Also, really think about the application form. You might not be the usual candidate, so make it easy for the person reading the form to see that your work history/PhD easily proves you’ve got the experience and intellect to do the job. Don’t just provide your thesis title to describe your PhD (even if that’s what the form asks for!), people reading the applications don’t have time to try and understand it. Translate it for them (science communication courses came in handy!) and really show what a PhD gives you, in addition to an amazing ability to transfer small volumes of liquid about, or program control systems in obscure computer languages, or discover the Higgs Boson.

More profiles of people who work in GORS

Want to work within Government Operational Research?

  • There are two recruitment schemes 1. Mainstream and 2: Fast stream – Ed applied to the Civil Service via the mainstream round.
  • Both recruitment schemes will reopen in the autumn.
  • Analysts in the Civil Service are from one of four professions: Operational Researchers, Statisticians, Social Researchers and Economists.
  • Those who apply to a central recruitment scheme are allocated a job within a department based on available vacancies and geography (the location in which they want to work).