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 email@example.com
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.