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Reflecting on Finance & Consultancy Careers for Researchers

Isobel EPowell30 October 2019

Finance and Consultancy Month… let’s reflect:

As Finance and Consultancy month comes to a close, we are reflecting on what has been an insightful and engaging collection of events. Whilst taking the leap out of academia can seem like a daunting and unfamiliar prospect our alumni and professionals have given us plenty of reassuring and motivational messages throughout the month. The first key area of reflection for this month is therefore on transitioning.

Transitioning out of academia and into a corporate role…How do you deal with any attached stigma?

  1. It’s your career path! Everyone takes a different route to find their thing – don’t be afraid to acknowledge that academia may not be for you. Check out our previous blog post on this
  2. There is a world of research beyond academia. So many roles within finance and consultancy are research-focused – Check out our post by economist Keith Lai for ideas
  3. Your interests can be applied across the sector. Branching out and exploring other options can broaden your horizons, make you more employable and expand the practical reach of your research expertise. Consultancy is a great way to do this, offering your expertise to support businesses to grow.

Moving between academic and non-academic arenas, is it possible?

  1. Yes! Many people still contribute to academic papers alongside their roles, if publishing is your passion there are always ways to continue…
  2. Some organisations hire for roles with this in mind, creating and publishing research can be part of your job! Check out a previous blog on this
  3. Balancing the two may not be your thing. Many finance or consulting roles require strong research, writing and publishing skills – just utilised in a more corporate setting

The best and worst parts of a non-academic career, is it really for me?

  1. Stability, consistency and great benefits. The biggest response to this from both our finance and consultancy panels was the increased stability, lack of stress around funding, working more collaborative and less sporadic work schedules.
  2. It all depends on what you want… teamwork, deadlines, short projects and managing client needs are central to careers in finance and consultancy, so, if this isn’t for you, it may not be the right career path. Don’t Panic! There are plenty of industries where other skills are more suited. Key an eye on our blog for more case studies.
  3. Longer more intense working hours and less autonomy. Despite this, many of our contributors mentioned the increased satisfaction from shorter lead times and a better work-life balance.

So, what does this all mean fo you?

After hearing from professionals working across roles as consultants, economists, data scientists and traders the biggest piece of advice about their industry is to decide if it really is for you. Map out your skills, your interests, what drives you, how you like to work and see if that aligns with a career in the Finance or Consultancy worlds.

For example, in consultancy the key skills required are:
Teamwork, problem-solving, creativity, confidence under pressure and adaptability

Often consultants are working towards:
Fast-paced project delivery
managing a diverse portfolio of clients
and engaging a variety of industries

Roles are more structured and strong commitment is needed:
Core working hours mean more stability but overtime is frequently required to deliver projects
Consultants may work client-side within a given week, so travel is important
Managing projects within cross-organisational teams mean flexibility is key

These are the key aspects to explore before diving into applications. Is this for me? and what kind of working lifestyle do I want? 

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 finance or consultancy organisations are not for you, join us on another themed month and hear more about careers in UK & Global Health, Data Science & Data Analytics, Communications and Research, Government, Policy and Higher Education…. the list continues! Our speakers have come from backgrounds in physics, biology, maths, humanities and more ending up in completely different industry utilising those same core skills they learnt in research.

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!

 

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.

Introducing your first researchers’ careers month…

Isobel EPowell1 October 2019

Welcome to Finance & Consultancy Month!

Explore your career options beyond academia

This year we have a whole new set of events giving you the opportunity to meet employers, discover new industries and learn key skills. Whether you are a member of research staff looking for a career change or a research student wanting to explore non-academic options – these events are for you! The term is set out into themed months focusing on a particular industry of choice based on the most desirable career destinations for researchers. Within these themed months we have a plethora of skills sessions, forums and blog content for you to engage with.

*For research students this programme of events is a part of the Doctoral Skills Development Programme and therefore training points are attributable*

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

Research skills are becoming more vital to industries across the board, with the financial and consultancy industries being no different. For our first themed month, we have loads of chances for you to meet alumni working in these industries and gain vital careers support from organisations which hire at PhD/researcher level. All the alumni attending events completed PhDs and are therefore great examples of the kind of roles you could get into in these industries. Specifically, those roles which you may never have considered. Each themed month is designed to be accommodating to all degree backgrounds and therefore speakers and hosts will cover a wide range of industries and careers within finance and consultancy across the traditional and non-traditional sectors.

Whilst transitioning out of academia can be an unfamiliar and daunting prospect, there are tons of amazing organisations looking for researchers with specialist knowledge that can support their business. The financial and consultancy industries not exempt from this, and are some of the biggest research recruiters in the corporate business world. Whilst your background may not be in business-related subjects, the skills that you have learnt through studying both independently, as part of cross-college teams and the strategic planning of your research projects means you may have many of those basic core competencies required in this sector.

Interested? Here’s what’s coming up

During our forums and workshops, you will have the chance to meet recruitment specialists and alumni working in these industries – read more below! Alongside this, we will be having guest blogs and interviews from alumni who will be attending events to talk you through their career path. So even if you can’t attend an event,  there are still plenty of ways for you to learn more about the industry. Want more specialist support? Here at careers, we have a dedicated team of experts who can support your researcher journey. Find out more here.


Interested in supporting businesses and individuals with your research expertise? Consultancy could be for you. Come along to our consultancy panel and hear from consultants working in the life sciences, financial services, health, and technology sectors.

Employer Forum: Careers in Consultancy
Weds 16 Oct 19, 5.30 – 7pm

As a rapidly growing industry that requires people with strong problem solving, research and specialist skills, consultancy firms are increasingly recruiting researchers. This forum gives you the opportunity to get an insight into consultancy from PhD level speakers who have paved a career for themselves in this industry. Find out more about what it takes to be a consultant, the wide range of industries and specialisms this covers and gain tips on how to get into this competitive industry. This is a key opportunity to gain an insight into a career you may not have previously considered.
Research students and staff book here

Capco, a global management and technology consultancy dedicated to the financial services and energy industries will be attending this event. I asked their representatives, Chris & Steve, both UCL Alumni and PhD holders to give us a key tip for researchers that they wish they’d know.

“Don’t underestimate how valuable your transferable skills are, and don’t be afraid of taking a step back in order to progress on a new path. When I started at Capco I was much older than my peers, and felt overeducated too, but that PhD experience built my intellectual confidence, my work ethic, my ability to deal with and explain complex problems and those things helped me to have a lot of success and work on some really interesting problems in my new industry” Chris Rahnejat & Steve Harrison, Capco

Find out more about who’s coming and what to expect on the event booking page


Wondering what your options are for a career in finance? There are tones of opportunities that could utilise your research skills. Come along to this panel covering careers in analysis, economics, forecasting, risk management and more.

Employer Forum: Careers in Finance
Mon 21 Oct 19, 5.30 – 7.30pm

Research skills are increasingly important to the finance industry with analysis, problem-solving and technical skills being ranked highly in a potential candidate. This forum gives you the opportunity to get an insight into finance from PhD level speakers who have paved a career for themselves in this industry. Find out more about what a career in finance 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.
Research students and staff book here

As an Economics Adviser for the Office for National Statistics, our first speaker on this panel Keith Lai has expertise on financial statistics. Keith provides in-depth economic analysis on important economic indicators such as GDP, inflation, unemployment etc., to enhance the public’s understanding of the latest development in the economy. We asked Keith “What’s your advice for someone looking for a role outside of academia?” 

“be brave in branching out of your initial research expertise – all the skills developed during the PhD have way more transferability than you may think!” Keith Lai, ONS

Find out more about who’s coming and what to expect on the event booking page


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

Research students – As this programme of events is a course part of the doctoral Skills development programme training points are still attributable.
All careers workshops and Forums run within the Doctoral Skills Development Programme are worth 1 training point. You must log this yourself on your Research Log – for further information on training points please refer to the Doctoral Skills Development programme website and follow the how-to guide

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

We have separate Careers Consultant-led programmes of academic and non-academic career workshops. These specialist sessions are open to both research staff and students with some dedicated sessions for each.

Workshops are repeated throughout the year covering topics such as:

  • Academic career planning
  • Effective academic applications
  • Effective academic interviews
  • Identifying strengths, interests & values
  • Finding non-academic jobs
  • Marketing yourself (sessions on applications, interviews, LinkedIn)
  • Workshops are repeated regularly throughout the year.

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.

 

 

A PhD’s experience in Life Science Consulting

SophiaDonaldson18 October 2018

Dr Xun Yu Choong has a PhD in Neuroscience from UCL’s Institute of Neurology and is now a Life Sciences Strategy Consultant at IQVIA. Xun had some great insights to share when we sat down and chatted about his career.

What are you up to now?

I’m an Associate Consultant working for IQVIA, which was formerly known as IMS and Quintiles before these companies merged. IQVIA as a company offers a whole range of services for the healthcare industry from R&D to commercialisation, and as part of Consulting Services we do a broad range of strategy consulting work relating to Life Sciences and Healthcare. This could relate to anything from early stage product development all the way to understanding the best way to commercialise and launch a product around the world.

How did you get here?

I realised at the end of the second year of my PhD that I didn’t want to continue in academia, for a bunch of reasons, but mainly because I wanted to try something outside basic research that may translate more immediately to impacts in the shorter term. As one of the preparations  I started going to UCL’s grad school courses, and my first role I took was actually a direct result of UCL Careers’ Focus on Management which had brought in four major employers, one of which was GSK. During the course I found out about GSK’s Business and Technology Consulting Future Leaders Programme, which was looking for people to bridge the technical and commercial needs of the business, without needing a computer science background. That appealed to me as I wanted to see different parts of the business and learn about different aspects of technology in a large healthcare company.

During my year or so in GSK I learned a lot of seemingly obvious things that as a PhD student I hadn’t learned, such as what it’s like to work in a large open-plan office, and how to reply to emails in a business setting. It might sound silly, but these are habits and states of mind that are quite different between business and academia. For instance when you’re in academia there is less distinction between what is work and what isn’t, all the work is tied very closely to you, whether things move forward or not are frequently down to you to try pushing. Whereas in a large company everyone had an ascribed role, you are a part of a larger process, and it takes time to learn how to be part of that process. Naturally in my role as a Business Process Analyst I also learned a lot about the digital platform and how to be part of a team rolling out large scale programmes to a tight timeline.

However, at that point I realised I was again becoming a bit more specialised than I would have liked, and part of why I’d wanted to move away from academia was to try jobs that allowed a far broader view. So I started to look into other jobs, including consulting, and after going through rounds of applications again I fortunately ended up with three quite different job offers. Apart from consulting, one offer was in a smaller firm largely providing competitive intelligence services to pharma, which meant finding out information about the competition in a regulated way, while the other  involved internal risk auditing where I would have been part of a team visiting different parts of the business to assess how ready they were for different forms of risk. I went for IQVIA because it was the broadest and most commercial role, while I also had a good impression about the workplace, culture and opportunities to develop.

What does an average day look like?

In consulting, the “products” you deliver are the knowledge and recommendations present in your powerpoint slides, reports, spreadsheets and so on. Most of the time as an associate consultant I’m conducting primary or secondary research, creating project documents or helping to coordinate activities needed to deliver projects. The projects you have been assigned will define what the research part looks like, and these projects can last anything from a couple of weeks to 6-7 months. If you’ve got a project involving mostly qualitative research, say if a client wants to understand how payers in the NHS might think when faced with a certain drug’s performance data, then you might be on a phone call with an expert who used to make such decisions, interviewing them with a set of questions your team had devised. So these projects might involve more interviews, surveys,  transcription and analysis to understand what stories it presents. If you’re doing a more quantitative project, for example you may want to understand which regions in Italy we should focus on for a certain initiative, you might want some sort of quantitative data to collect and analyse, for example data on hospitals in the region. In those cases you’d be doing more analysis on Excel – nothing extremely technical – but the research you need to do for projects would depend on the questions posed. There are a broad range of other project types as well, such as organising and conducting workshops, expert panel discussions, mock negotiations and so on.

Generally speaking as a new joiner you would mostly be focusing on project delivery – conducting research and creating materials, for example – while a more experienced project manager will be the main point of contact with the client. Nonetheless, you are fully involved in contributing to the thinking and discussion on how the solutions eventually shape up, and you’ll often be on the client calls and have a chance to offer input. For some projects I have travelled to client offices to present, but so far I’m usually supporting on the phone when needed – this may vary between different projects and indeed between different companies.

What are the best bits?

The work is genuinely very interesting – if it weren’t an important problem for the client they would unlikely have paid for consultants to advise on it. I am happy that my role is focused on Life Science and Healthcare as that is where my interest lies, and within this industry there is still a huge variety in scopes of work, which consulting allows you to broadly explore. My colleagues are great, they come from varied backgrounds, are highly capable and most importantly are very lovely people. There are also very experienced principals whom you can learn a lot from. After a while you get used to switching between project teams, and it always makes for a very dynamic environment.

What are the worst bits?

Classically in consulting, schedules are less predictable as they depend on deadlines set by the client’s needs, and by how the research goes. In IQVIA we work on multiple projects at a time –  usually two, occasionally three – so sometimes it can get very busy if you happen to be on two projects with the same peak periods.

Saying that, from what I understand life sciences and healthcare-focused consulting generally offers more stable hours than some other forms of consulting. There’s also not a culture of showmanship in the sense where working longer is perceived more favourably – the main focus is to deliver project work on time and to a high quality. But because we often can’t fully predict when we will have to stay late, there needs to be some flexibility involved, though any challenges would be dealt with as a team. On the plus side, it also means that if you book time off way in advance it is most likely you can go as you are unlikely to have started a project yet, and your staffing can be built around those leave dates.

Do you need a PhD?

I think PhDs are undervalued. The technical expertise and in-depth knowledge doesn’t even cover half of what they can do, and PhDs often don’t realise how much more developed their PhD has made them in multiple ways. The classic selling points are that PhDs are analytical, they’ve been involved in problem-solving and can conduct research. Because of this most consultancies recognise the value of PhDs, and some consultancies, including IQVIA, accept PhDs  at a higher entry level that undergraduate or Masters students.

But I also think the softer skills developed in PhDs is important, and the challenge with most PhD students is being able to articulate this. For instance PhDs are incredibly resilient because research fails all the time, and you get used to failing and dealing with it. Consulting involves thoroughly addressing client questions, and sometimes these change quickly given new developments and you have to go back to the drawing board; PhDs will likely be able to deal with that situation.

One thing PhDs may struggle with if they enter consulting, and probably a lot of other non-academic workplaces, is the concept of things being “good enough”. There are more deadlines and more acute pressure to deliver, so you can’t be obsessed with doing everything absolutely perfectly, but rather learn to deliver projects that are of an excellent standard within the  limits set. It’s important to think about the big picture as well instead of getting bogged down in every detail, which can take time to adjust to.

What’s the progression like?

One of the good things about consulting is the clear frameworks for how consultants progress. Loosely speaking the more junior levels focus on project delivery and analysis, middle levels get involved with day-to-day project management of increasing complexity, while the more senior roles provide strategic leadership and advice. You are expected to progress within reasonable timeframes, with an industry average of around two years per level. If you demonstrate the qualities required consistently, there is little reason for you to be held back, so the progression opportunities are clear. In consulting in general there is a relatively high turnover of people who join for a few years and then move onto other roles. After being exposed to so many different projects, areas, and companies, part of the reason may be that you may hit upon an area that really appeals to you, and decide to focus on that as a next step.

What are your top tips for researchers wanting to get into this career?

Look at your CV as a character profile rather than a list of things you’ve done. The STAR [Situation Task Action Result] model is pretty useful, use it as a guide for each trait that you would like to tell an employer about. This involves not just describing what was actually done, but also the impact of your action, and what this shows about you.

It’s also useful to consider all the things you do as potential evidence of different abilities. There are no specific technical requirements for consulting, and there is a strong emphasis on transferable skills such as working in a team and being able to communicate effectively, which you can draw upon from any experiences that may be relevant. But because “anything goes” in a consulting CV, if justified, you need to be very clear about the profile you’re building up and what different items in your CV are meant to achieve in portraying your abilities. In other words, what does this item show about my abilities and are they combining to meet what the position is looking for?

As an example, I enjoy going to the theatre a lot and occasionally write assessments for shows, so I made the argument that writing these assessments requires conveying what was worthwhile in a show, without spoiling the plot, and this honed an ability to communicate opinions succinctly. So think about what your pursuits bring to your character, and you may be surprised how much can go in your consulting CV. On that note, it may be surprisingly useful in terms of supporting a future career to do stuff that you enjoy and that you find meaningful, instead of constantly tailoring what you do depending on what you think is “constructive”. So although to some degree you should cover the bases, you should also do what you enjoy, and figure out how to tell the story in the CV along the way.

Moving from a PhD to Life Science Consulting

SophiaDonaldson19 July 2018

Dr Roumteen Keshe has a PhD in Biochemical Engineering and Bioprocess Leadership from UCL, and is now a Consultant at Kinapse, an advisory and operational services provider to the global Life Sciences industry. Roumteen contributed to our 2018 Life and Health Science Biology and Business careers panel, and kindly agreed to help out those of you couldn’t make it to the panel by telling us about his career journey for our blog.

Tell us about your current role and organisation.

Kinapse is a specialist advisory and managed service provider trusted by 19 of the top 25 pharmaceutical companies in the world, as well as some of the fastest-growing contenders, to design, build and operate critical business processes. Our Advisory services team supports the design and implementation of improvements or transformational changes to operating models across multiple areas ranging from R&D operations to Market Access.

As a consultant within Kinapse my role consists of researching and writing thought capital around the pharmaceutical industry, scoping out potential work with existing and new clients, writing project proposals, and planning, managing and contributing to small and large projects. I have worked on a number of strategic and change management projects across Medical Affairs, R&D, and Clinical Operations. The work involves first understanding the client’s requirements before presenting recommendations based on the collective experience of your team to collaboratively develop a vision for the future state of the business unit/process. One of the fun bits is then figuring out how to introduce these changes in large, traditional organisations before finally executing the plans you have developed.

How did you move from academia to your current role?

My doctorate was sponsored by MedImmune (the biotech division of AstraZeneca), so I got to spend nearly half my 4 year programme embedded within an R&D team at their site in Cambridge. Working within the team at Medi, I liked the immediate applicability of the work that was being done. What I didn’t like was the thought of being “stuck in the lab” for the next 10 years, so I set out to gain an understanding of the business around the science. This began while at UCL, taking advantage of the ties UCL Advances had to London Business School at the time, to take three electives around change management and business growth, and trying to take as many internships as possible to gain an understanding of how different areas of business worked (law, marketing, consulting, programming). This actually included an internship at Kinapse, where I work now. After university I moved into a business development position within a private equity tech company before switching to a similar position for a biotech company that was developing scale down, 3D human organ mimics with collaborators across the world (including DARPA at the US Department of Defence!). Having learnt a great deal during my time in Business Development, I reached out to Kinapse again and joined the consulting team to get to work on bigger projects with bigger teams and continue the learning journey.

What does a normal working day look like for you?

My day depends on the client, the project and the stage of the project… it can vary widely. It could include taking multiple calls with different project teams, for each one we need to prepare the approach, action any matters arising, and develop the outputs of the meetings (this is the part of the job where you have to really put in the time and that people don’t often acknowledge). Alternatively, you could be flying off to a client site anywhere around the world (literally), meeting new people, and running really interesting workshops or interviews trying to collect data and plant the seeds for the eventual change the organisation is implementing.

What are the best things about working in your role?

Firstly, every day is a learning opportunity, working with highly experienced consulting and client colleagues and using their knowledge to get a better understanding of the Pharma industry.

Secondly, the variety is never ending. If you want to learn or do something different, you can definitely work towards it at any point. The company is very supportive and happy to give more responsibility if you show you can handle it.

Thirdly, but probably very best of all, is the colleagues, who are all driven, motivated, highly intelligent and supportive. They are like a big extended family who are all going through the same journey, albeit at different stages.

What are the biggest challenges?

One of the biggest challenges is time pressure; there can be a lot of work at times, and you need to really be able to prioritise your tasks for different stakeholders. Although I enjoy the aspect of constant learning, some might find the constant self-improvement and openness to learning a challenge. Another challenge is that most projects involve a new team. This always presents the usual challenges associated with team formation before you get to optimum working dynamics.

Is a PhD essential for your role?

No, but it helps. It adds a level of credibility to you as you go into big companies and begin offering advice to senior managers who have been in their jobs for 20+ years. I also use the core skills I developed during my PhD on a near daily basis, such as the ability to determine what information I need, plan how to find and collate it, and use that to synthesize findings. I was lucky in that the Biochemical Engineering department at UCL had such a big focus on presenting your findings to big groups of people, because that is also a big part of the job.

What’s the progression like?

The progression is what you make of it. If you are focused and know how you want to develop, you can quickly climb the ranks. It is a very flat meritocracy here at Kinapse, and that seems similar across the consulting industry. That is not to say there is not a huge learning curve, but that is nothing that knuckling down and putting in the hours does not fix! I am fairly open to the direction my career can take, I know I like to be challenged by my work, I know I enjoy working with multidisciplinary teams, and I know I enjoy helping to define and implement business strategy. For now I am happy where I am, but we will see what the future holds.

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

If you want to get into consulting, find an internship and try it out! Consulting has always been viewed as a glamorous job, lots of travel, different projects, working with senior clients… and it can be, but there is a whole load of hard work, attention to detail, and late nights behind that. It is definitely not for everyone, but it is very rewarding if it is for you.

To get that internship, first-off do your research. Find a consultancy that fits your interests and your profile, then reach out. Find a connection into the company, whether through your existing network, by attending networking/recruitment events, or just sending a message on LinkedIn. Explain who you are, what you want to do, and why you think the consultancy is a good fit for you.

PhD to Consulting Conference at UCL in September – guest blogs wanted!

SophiaDonaldson4 August 2017

We’ve just got wind of an event for anyone considering moving into consulting, and it’s happening right here at UCL. See details below. And if you do attend, please get in touch with us at careers@ucl.ac.uk if you fancy writing a guest blog about what you learned afterwards. Thanks!

PhD to consulting

PhD to Consulting presents:

International PhD to Consulting Conference 2017 – London

 

The PhD to Consulting (PtC) Conference is a one day annual event targeted at PhDs and post-doctoral researchers interested in pursuing a career in consulting.

Date:  September 22nd, 2017

Time: 09:00 – 19:00 (includes two networking sessions over refreshments)

Venue: UCL Institute of Child Health

Click here for further information and to register: http://www.phdtoconsultingconference.co.uk

Confirmed firms include: BCG, McKinsey, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, L.E.K., OC&C, Navigant, Cranmore Executive Search and many more.

Engineering solutions for businesses: a careers case study

SophiaDonaldson1 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

Working in R&D and Innovation consultancy

SophiaDonaldson20 May 2016

AndreaDr Andrea Sanfilippo worked as a research assistant at UCL (whoop whoop!) and then gained a PhD in Theoretical Physics from the Fritz-Haber Institute of the Max-Planck Society. Now a Senior Research and Development and Innovation Consultant at Deloitte, Andrea talked to us about his career.

How did you move from academia to your current role?

I decided to move back to Italy for personal reasons and, at the same time, because the Italian government issued incentives for the “return of the brains” (R&D TAX incentives for researchers – and not only researchers – who studied at least 18 months abroad). Also, I was not willing to be part of the Italian academic system (pretty feudal unfortunately). Since in Italy there is a lack of opportunities in the Quantum Chemistry sector, I looked for other opportunities closely related to my scientific background. EU grants consultancy was one of them. Most university group leaders and professors apply for public and EU funding. I myself was awarded a Marie-Curie EU scholarship. Some general EU projects are made of consortia made of companies and universities. Hence, companies (EU consultancy or internal EU projects offices in companies) are often willing to hire people with a strong academic background (incl. PhD). During the interview I just provided my academic experience and willingness to support innovation.

What does a normal working day look like for you?

The daily activities consist of elaborating EU proposals (scientific, managerial and EU impacts parts), discussing with consortia or clients about new innovative project ideas, and setting up consortia made of universities and enterprises.

What are the best things about working in your role?

The fact you deal with many different realities, like SMEs and large enterprises, and you can experience the very different approaches to innovation and state-of-the-art technologies in various sectors.

What are the biggest challenges? 

The biggest challenges are that employer wants you to win as many projects as possible (consultancy companies get a “success fee” when the proposal is awarded EU funding, companies get the funding), no matter whether innovative ideas are good or not. For the same reason they may sign contracts with companies lacking skills and innovation potential. Sometimes you feel like a financial broker, since there is a certain level of uncertainty in the success of the proposals. These aspects can make this job quite stressful.

Is a PhD essential for your role?

A PhD is not essential, but it can make the difference. You have to write even 100-150 page proposals (in English language), and a person with a PhD usually has a much more organised modus operandi (they already organised their own PhD project for 3-4 years), expertise with academic English (incl. publications), a broader view on science, and stronger expertise in their own sector.

Where do people go from here?

Coming from a consultancy company, I see the following paths:

1 (short term) – EU office in a large company. Certain companies have even 10 people dealing with EU proposals writing. Such positions allow you to focus more in detail on a specific sector, instead of dealing with a plethora of different companies and areas.

2 (medium term) – Innovation Manager or Technology Strategist: you can manage R&D and Innovation activities, elaborate the best R&D avenues on a 5-10 years basis for the CEO, and manage R&D projects.

3 (medium to long term) – CTO. You can manage the entire innovation and R&D activities of a company.

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

1 Ask yourself: where do I want to be in 5 years? Am I really interested in leaving the academic sector, maybe forever (5 years out of your PhD or post-doc, universities or R&D centres are no longer interested in hiring you)? Do you prefer to work for consortia in many different sectors or to focus on your own sector of interest?

2 Keep in mind there are a few companies in the EU grants sector, so it is a niche sector. A lot of people choose to become freelancers.

3 If you would like to keep focusing on your sector of interest, you might want to apply to EU projects offices in specific (large) companies. The “con” about being in a consultancy company is that companies often do not appreciate people lacking strong expertise in their sector.

Life as a management consultant at BCG

Vivienne CWatson11 May 2016

Alex Bostrom graduated from Oxford with a PhD in History. He tells us how he started his career in Boston Consulting Group and what being a management consultant is like.

Tell us about your jobBCG

I work as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. Consulting covers a wide range of activities, but essentially our job is to help companies to improve their performance, working with them to find solutions for existing problems and develop their strategy to move forward. We generally work with clients for two to three months at a time, so our projects are short and intense, but always interesting.

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

I studied History for my undergraduate and Master’s degrees, and then for my doctorate. It’s fair to say that I did not originally see myself as a consultant. I loved my PhD, and thought seriously about being an academic, but I realised that while I was fascinated by my research, my thesis was only likely to be read by a couple of people, and one of those would be my mum! I applied to consulting as my research drew to a close, attracted by the opportunity to experience a wide variety of challenges in a very short timeframe, and the chance to work on real life practical issues. Once I got started, I never looked back!

What does an average working day look like?

 The great thing about consulting is that there is no average working day. It sounds like a cliché but it’s true. The pace of the work means that each day we are continually encountering new challenges and tackling new problems. One week I might be flying off to the client site to discuss the company’s recent performance, others I might be in the office brainstorming ideas or training. The exciting part is not knowing what new projects you might be working on next.

How does your PhD help you in your job?

Despite the apparent disconnect between French military history and modern business, my PhD comes in useful every day. Studying for the doctorate taught me key research skills: being able to assimilate data quickly, formulating and testing hypotheses, and communicating findings clearly and concisely are pivotal tools as a consultant.

What are the best things about your job?

The job has many things in its favour. Working on fascinating projects for multinational clients is exciting, but the best part of the job is the people I get to interact with. Everyone is highly motivated, intelligent, but also humble. There is a great culture where everyone is eager to offer help and advice whenever you encounter a problem. The willingness to go the extra mile to help out a colleague never ceases to amaze me.

What are the downsides?

The workload can be challenging, but everyone is aware of that when they join. Part of the job is being willing to turn tasks around at short notice to meet tight deadlines

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

I would highly encourage researchers to consider consulting, even if they feel they do not yet have deep business knowledge. While it is useful to gain some preliminary understanding of business strategy, at the start, all that’s required is the ability to think logically. You will quickly learn all the rest. The best approach is to attend one of the many recruiting events held by consultancy firms, and speak with them to get a feel for the industry and whether it would be a right fit for you.

Turning social science into a business

SophiaDonaldson1 June 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADr Zuleyka Zevallos earned a PhD in Sociology from Swinburne University, Melbourne, where she remains an Adjunct Research Fellow. She currently runs her own business, Social Science Insights, a Research and Social Media Consultancy working with small to medium businesses, government, and not-for-profits who require social research, training and policy advice. She also provides research-driven social media content to help public education and health campaigns. Here Zuleyka shares her career journey, and offers tips to researchers thinking of moving out of academia.

How did you move from studying for a PhD to starting your own consultancy?

After completing my PhD at the end of 2004, I continued to work as a lecturer. I left in 2006 because there was no job security in academia. I found it difficult to find full-time academic work in my field, but once I started looking in business and policy sectors, the job choices were surprisingly abundant. I’ve reflected on the fact that, at first, it was very disheartening to give up on my dream job in academia, but once I realised the multiple career possibilities in other industries, the decision to leave was empowering.

A career beyond academia leads to diverse experiences, and the work will likely take you to places you may not have expected. Having had little luck for months trying to get an academic job, I decided to apply for unconventional roles that sounded interesting. I received a number of different offers, which showed me how valuable my PhD degree was to non-academic employers. I took a job in federal government as a Social Scientist. I moved interstate to take the position. Within five years, I had led two interdisciplinary team projects working on social modeling and intercultural communication, and I also conducted research on a range of topics, from political violence to media analysis to the socio-economic outcomes of migrants and refugees. The role was varied so that I worked with many different clients, and I also attended conferences and published articles, which kept me engaged with my academic peers.

In late 2011, I decided to move back to my home state permanently. I worked as a Senior Analyst on an environmental health and safety investigation. I led a team of 23 researchers examining 30 years worth of reports and company data, as well as analysing interviews with 300 emergency service workers. We evaluated the connections between training and environmental practices, the chemicals used during exercises, and the high rate of cancer and other illnesses amongst emergency service workers.

After the investigation ended, I decided to set up my business. I had plenty of leadership experience, and had worked autonomously in setting up various projects in my previous roles, plus I had worked with many different client groups. Setting up the business required a lot of research, and I also took a business management course. I’ve been working as a consultant for the past couple of years.

What does a normal working day look like for you?

There’s no normal working day for me, per se, but my days are long (I work late into the night) and I also work seven days per week. The only thing that’s constant is that I read a lot of research and media articles. When I’m working on social media, I spend the first half of the day liaising with clients or their partners and stakeholders if we’re collaborating on a community event, a product launch, or cross-promotions. I constantly monitor and analyse social media metrics (what works, what doesn’t, industry trends and so on). I write blog articles, which means conducting research and writing, or I otherwise write social media posts and respond to reader questions on Twitter, Facebook and so on. I tend to leave the second half of the day to work on design, like making posters and artwork for clients, as well as taking photographs and making videos for their Instagram and blogs. When I’m working on research articles and projects, my day is similar to my day as an academic: I spend most of the day reading and writing. In between, I am always working on future projects that I want to get off the ground, and I work towards applying for grants and otherwise seek funding for my own research.

What are the best things about working in your role?

I have a high degree of flexibility about how I structure my daily activities, but this depends on what work needs to be done. The best thing about the social media aspect of my role is the interaction with followers. I’ve worked with very different organisations and I never cease to be amazed by how generous people are in sharing their stories. As a sociologist, I’m invigorated by the opportunity to interact with different types of people and learn about their lives. I love answering their questions about science in particular. There’s a lot of misinformation on health issues, so it’s interesting to see how the public engages with lifestyle and health advice that they read in the news. I’ve also been very lucky to be able to work on research projects that directly speak to my passions, such as gender and diversity in the workplace.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

The toughest aspect of my job is that consultancy is contract-based and therefore ultimately impermanent (ironical, given I left academia for its casual contracts!). Being a woman of colour, and being relatively younger than my clients, my professional knowledge is often questioned in a way that would not happen if I was a White man. Most of my clients have been lovely, but I’ve unfortunately also faced many other pressures such as having my work plagiarised and misappropriated.

It is difficult not having someone else to take over when you’re feeling ill or when you’re overwhelmed with work and other unforeseen issues. Working for yourself is a joy, but it’s also exhausting and it can be alienating. I’m constantly asked for professional advice by peers who think my work should be free, including friends, former colleagues and academics. Potential clients constantly ask for discounts or expect you to give away work “for exposure.” This is highly demoralising as it is a constant aspect of interaction; but unfortunately it is a common occurrence amongst consultants and freelancers, especially for women.

How is the role similar/different to your time in academia?

The role is similar in that everything that I do requires research. Whether I’m writing a blog post, or putting together a report or creating images, I use social science concepts and research to guide my decisions and my writing. It’s different in practice because I cannot use jargon language. I’m answering everyday problems for the public, or addressing specific business and policy concerns. You can’t end a report or project saying, “More research is needed.” I need to give concrete answers and I’m expected to directly demonstrate the immediate benefit for clients. I rely more on visuals to convey ideas than I did as an academic. Businesses in particular do not like to read long reports with lots of text; they want succinct responses to specific problems.

Where do you see yourself going from here?

I’ve learned not to expect a clear trajectory as my career evolves. As a student, I had seen myself as having this neat career path from student to early career researcher, to lecturer, to senior lecturer and so on. Moving outside this academic path, I have gone on to work with many different organisations doing work I would have never imagined. I’ve learned to adapt wherever opportunities emerge. I’d like to focus more on my own research in the near future and ideally, I’d like to be in a position to work on longer-term public education campaigns.

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

There are lots of opportunities in social media at the moment. The market is over-run by SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) hunters who may have some technical skills, but lack research training and strong writing and communication skills. This means there’s a niche for science writers. Many local governments and councils in particular are looking to hire people with degrees to run online public health and community engagement campaigns. Research opportunities in social policy have been shrinking in Australia and other countries due to funding cuts, but there is a higher demand for research skills in industry. One of the best things I did as a PhD is to take advantage of various interdisciplinary courses. I did a two-year leadership program with other postgraduate students from different fields. This helped me tremendously in getting my first job outside of academia, as I showed that I had experience working with different scientists, and I could speak with authority about how to navigate issues in cross-disciplinary collaborations. Most employers beyond academia are looking for researchers who can work with people from different fields, and who understand how to problem-solve across disciplines.

While my specialty is in qualitative research, my degree also exposed me to quantitative research, and during my time as a student, I did short courses on running focus groups, working with analysis software (NVivo and SPSS) and bibliographic software (Endnote). University libraries run these courses free all the time; students should take advantage of these courses, and play around with as much software as possible, and it would be wise to take a coding course, even if it has nothing to do with your thesis. If you can weave these skills into your PhD research, all the better, as mixed methods are especially impressive to employers. If you’re able to do an internship, or address an applied research question, this will give you a competitive edge. Having a strong understating of the practical applications of your thesis will be a bonus at interviews.

Students should also use social media but approach it professionally. This means being focused about what you write and share. Start working on the job you want at least a year before you finish your degree, using social media. Tweet about your research, share your papers and slides if you can online, write a focused blog and think about it as your online portfolio. Make sure you have a well-filled in LinkedIn profile, and be discerning about whom you connect with and what you share. Many employers explicitly ask for your LinkedIn profile, or at least use it to screen applicants and head-hunt talent. I’m always amazed at how poorly students use LinkedIn; it’s a great resource for job searching.

My final piece of advice is to be open to change. Most students think of non-academic work as a failed career. The reality of the job market is that we have a surplus of PhD students and not enough academic jobs. The likelihood of needing to seek work beyond academia is a certainty for the overwhelming majority of graduates. Going into a PhD with this knowledge will save much heartache later on. This is why I set up Sociology at Work; as I met more applied researchers, I realised how poorly academia prepares researchers for an applied career. We are an international not-for-profit network offering articles and resources to support the career planning of students, and raise the professional esteem of practitioners.

Science lets us answer lots of different problems; the world beyond academia is filled with many adventures and possibilities that should be savoured, not feared. My career beyond academia has made me a stronger sociologist by allowing me to work with, and help, people from many different walks of life. Applied science in action improves policies and processes, changing lives before your eyes. Make the most of your career by expanding your horizons early on!

You can find Zuleyka’s professional writing on consultancy and social media on Social Science Insights, and her research blog is The Other Sociologist. Connect with her on Twitter @OtherSociology

Zuleyka is one of the three founders of STEM Women, a site adressign gender inequality in science. You can read more about the site here.