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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    Behind the scenes of science: working in science funding at Wellcome Trust

    By S Donaldson, on 25 October 2017

    Wellcome

    Dr Dev Churamani completed his PhD in Cell Physiology at UCL (whoop whoop!) and is now a Senior Portfolio Developer at Wellcome Trust. He’s spoken at two of our careers events for researchers in the past, and now he’s kindly agreed to give us a careers case study for our blog.

    Tell us what you’re up to now

    I work as a Senior Portfolio Developer within Wellcome’s Science Integration, Structures team. We manage, oversee and co-ordinate some of our major initiatives and schemes. We also lead on cross-Science and cross-Wellcome projects, for example the Francis Crick Institute.

    How did you move from academia to your current role?

    I think I decided academia wasn’t for me during my PhD, which is a little ironic, because after my PhD I spent 6 years as a post-doc in a UCL lab! I enjoyed working at the bench, but I realised early on it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue long term. So for me it was always more about when was the right time to get out. I was enjoying the job and the lab. But after a few years it felt that if I knew academia wasn’t the career for me, that was the point I had to leave and move on to something that was. So I started looking for new challenges.

    My first non-academic job was with the Food Standards Agency. The role was part funding, part policy, but it was a fixed-term post, and a microbiology role, so didn’t fit perfectly with my background. From there I saw an advert for a role within Wellcome’s Cellular, Developmental, and Physiological Sciences team, and my skills and experience seemed to fit what they were looking for. I first joined Wellcome as a Science Portfolio Adviser, predominantly looking after the cell biology portfolio. In that role I had a science remit, looking at science grants, and doing portfolio analyses to spot gaps and trends. After three years, I moved to my current position, which is broader in remit, rather than focusing on a specific area of science.

    What does your normal working day look like?

    I’m sure most interviewees say this, but there is no normal working day. In my first role with Wellcome, a typical working day would involve answering some emails, and maybe shortlisting some grant applications, or having a discussion with an applicant – either pre-application, post-application, or post-decision. Pre-application would be offering advice. Post-application might be explaining the next steps. Post-decision would either be an easy conversation with a successful and happy applicant, or a more in-depth conversation explaining the committee’s decision-making process, and offering advice for how the committee thought the application could potentially be improved.

    In my current role a typical day involves less talking to applicants. More often I’m speaking with external stakeholders such as other funding agencies and collaborators, and I’ll be involved in writing reports.

    What are the best bits?

    The people are fantastic at Wellcome, and although I’m in a small division, it’s a very collegiate atmosphere. My current role has given me exposure to larger projects and allowed me to work in a very self-directed way – for instance I’m currently working towards a review of the Francis Crick Institute. In my original role, it was rewarding speaking to applicants. From my experience working in academia I had seen the struggles academics faced in trying to get grants, so it was nice feeling as though I could help with that process.

    And the challenges?

    One of the biggest challenges is keeping on top of a very wide range of science. To get my head around really diverse subjects that are quite removed from my background is tough. It’s helped by the fact that I have great colleagues, who can give me their perspectives from their areas of science.

    It’s also not working in the lab. So if you’re someone who really enjoys the lab, a transition to this type of role may be difficult. Also, in academia you have a lot more ownership of your work, you have first author publications you can say are yours. This role doesn’t lend itself to that; you’re part of a much bigger picture. Although you may own your work at a local level, once it goes from you it’s no longer yours. Any report submitted at higher levels may have had many eyes on it, and may not resemble what you started with. You have to be comfortable with that.

    Does having a PhD help?

    Within our division certain roles, including mine, require a PhD. I think this can vary between research charities, but that’s the case for Wellcome. In terms of day-to-day, most useful are the clear and concise communication skills I developed during my PhD. I work with several people, of varying levels of seniority, on multiple projects, and have to convey myself clearly, especially when working with external stakeholders. I also give presentations to different audiences – varying from lay to very specialist – so that’s a skill I regularly use.

    What’s the progression like?

    People move around within the organisation, or they may move into other related organisations like universities, other charities, or the civil service. It’s possible to progress within the organisation but that depends upon building a network and seeking out opportunities. Within the division, because it’s small, progression can be harder, although I have now moved up to Senior Portfolio Developer from my initial role.

    What are your top tips for researchers interested in this type of role?

    Talk to people. Seek out employees within research funders and ask them about their experiences. You’ll be surprised that many people will be happy to have a discussion. Attend careers fairs and networking opportunities – I know UCL Careers has people like me speak at events for PhDs. This will give you a really good idea of what the role is like, which will help you work out if you’ll like it, and help you show your motivation.

     

    Photograph from Matt Brown.

    MRC created a tool to stop you missing funding opportunities

    By S Donaldson, on 25 September 2017

    Navigating the academic research landscape is tough. Knowing what is expected of you at each career stage, and scouting available opportunities, can sometimes feel like it takes up as much time as actually conducting your research! So for medical researchers, the MRC has made a handy interactive tool to help. It categorises career stages, and tells you what you should be up to when you’re in them, like so:

    MRC tool_crop

    On the tool’s funding view, it tells you the type of funding available at each stage. And even more helpfully, it tells you which funders offer each variety of award. That frees up a little more time for you to actually apply for them! Have a play with the tool and see what you think.

    MRC tool_funding_crop

     

    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!

    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.

    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.

    Training to be an NHS Bioinformatician

    By S Donaldson, on 9 February 2016

    Rebecca HainesWith 2016’s NHS Scientist Training Programme application deadline fast approaching (this Friday), this is the last in our recent series of interviews with current trainees, with and without academic research backgrounds.

    Dr Rebecca Haines studied for her PhD at UCL’s Laboratory of Molecular Cell Biology and is now a second-year NHS clinical scientist trainee in Bioinformatics, specialising in Genomics, based in Nottingham. Rebecca spoke to UCL Careers about her career path and her top tips for anyone wanting to get into NHS healthcare science.

    Tell us a bit about your background

    After my PhD I worked in Singapore as a post-doc in the Institute for Medical Biology. Although my background is academic, in both my PhD and post-doc I was investigating the molecular basis for inherited disease. Now I’ve moved to the clinical side, using the results of past and present academic research to bring benefits direct to patients. My current role is to develop bioinformatics within Nottingham’s regional genetics department, advising on the best tools to analyse our data.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    There isn’t really a typical day, it’s a big mix of carrying out service work, and of professional and academic learning. The service work is really where you learn to do the job of a clinical scientist. This is the day-to-day testing of patients, analysing the results, and assisting in the writing of those results into reports that go to patients’ consultants. These results may help consultants to decide upon the next stage of treatment for the patient. Another part of the training involves taking a part-time Masters degree, so my days can involve reading and writing for that, and even revising for exams. Another part of ‘learning the job’ involves completing ‘competencies’. This may involve completing practical tasks, or researching a topic and writing about it, and is more like professional learning.

    What are the best things about your role?

    I love that I can see the impact my work has on patients. During my PhD and post-doc I was really interested in understanding the molecular basis of disease so that new treatments could be developed. But that’s a long process so my work was far removed from patients. Now the results I give have a direct impact on how a patient is treated, and genetics results can also have a wider impact on their family. It’s rewarding to know my work helps provide better clinical care for real people.

    The other great thing is the opportunity to bring new innovation into the NHS from research. It’s in the NHS constitution that the NHS should be at the absolute forefront of science, and as a healthcare scientist trainee you definitely are. I spend a lot of my time reading primary research and using that to inform the work I do every day in the lab, and to develop new tests and techniques that can lead to improvements in our work.

    What are the downsides?

    Well I’m thinking about this specifically in terms of the three years of scientist training, not about the job of a clinical scientist once you’re trained. The difficulty for me personally was going from an independent, confident, relatively senior post-doc to a trainee. As an STP trainee, particularly in the first 1 to 2 years of training, you’re totally dependent on colleagues around you for your training. I can’t write a report without it being checked by somebody senior, I can’t make a decision about an assay to do until I get an ok from somebody senior. Of course that’s a reflection of the seriousness of our work, the impact it can have on people’s lives, which is also what I like about the job. But coming from the freedom of academia, the loss of autonomy has been the biggest challenge for me.

    It’s also been difficult studying again. Doing a Masters degree means assignments and exams, things I thought I’d left behind a long time ago. It’s surprisingly hard to get back into the swing of that style of working when you haven’t done it for a while. And I miss some of the lab work; I do very little actual bench work now, most of this is carried out by technologists, while the clinical scientists work on the interpretation of the results. I only miss it a bit, but I know that some people miss it much more.

    What’s the career progression like?

    It’s changing slowly. If you’re in the life sciences there’s the option to take exams to enter the Royal College of Pathologists. These can develop your knowledge and allow you to move up the career ladder. But there’s also now the HSST – the Higher Specialist Scientist Training – which involves workplace training and assessments, a bit like the STP, and can train you to consultant level. In our department it’s the consultant-level scientists who do the most complex work. The HSST is a five-year training programme and is completely work-based. If you weren’t keen on getting to consultant level, there are other ways you could develop, such as taking on responsibility for training and managing other staff, or for improving quality of the department’s work.

    What are your tips for researchers wanting to get into the STP?

    The top thing I always say to people is “visit a department”. Use contacts, use anything you can, just make sure you visit departments. The first time I applied was to the Genetics STP. I was in Singapore at the time and didn’t even get an interview. I then applied for the Genomics Bioinformatics stream. I had been in the country for a while and I’d visited lots of labs and talked to as many people as I could. Understanding the work of the department is so important, it really comes across in your application.

    And perhaps a bit of a dull tip, but you should get familiar with the NHS constitution. The NHS is using values-based recruitment, meaning you not only have to show that you’re capable of doing the job, but you have to demonstrate that you believe in the values of the NHS and are prepared to uphold them.

    The third thing I would advise is to refresh some of your basic science knowledge; things you think you know but you haven’t really thought about for a few years. So in my field it might be inheritance patterns for genetic diseases. That’s the kind of thing covered in your first year at university, but in an interview you may be competing against people who’ve come straight from their undergraduate degree, so it’s much fresher in their minds.

    A PhD is not essential for getting an STP position, but we understand that many trainees do nevertheless have a PhD. What skills developed during your time in academia do you use in your current role?

    The biggest one is organisation. As a PhD and post-doc you have to manage your own time and projects, so you learn to work hard and plan your own schedule. The STP is work-based training and work-based competency completion, alongside a part-time Masters degree. In addition you’re also often carrying out other work for the service you’re training in, and there are opportunities to network and go to national healthcare scientist meetings. So there’s a lot going on – it’s not a 9 to 5 job – and you have to be able to balance the different demands on your time effectively.

    The scientific skills picked up from a PhD are obviously very useful too. Having experience in the lab and of reading scientific papers means you can hit the ground running. I also think the maturity that comes with being that bit older is helpful. The decisions made in my department profoundly effect people’s lives, you need to have some maturity to deal with that.

    From PhD to NHS Scientist Training Scheme

    By S Donaldson, on 26 October 2015

    Sara ReySara Rey has a PhD in interdisciplinary biology and is now in the third year of the NHS Scientist Training Program in Bioinformatics, genomics stream. We interviewed her about her career experiences, and her top tips for PhDs looking to become clinical scientists. You can read the interview here.

    Our chat with a Senior Life Sciences Editor at Thomson Reuters

    By S Donaldson, on 15 October 2015

    Jimmy HoDr Jimmy Ho gained a PhD from UCL in Biological Chemistry and is now a Senior Science Editor at Thomson Reuters, a provider of intellectual information. We spoke to him about his career and top tips for PhDs looking to move out of academia.

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

    It was towards the end of my PhD when I felt that a career as a research chemist was not for me, but I wanted to continue to utilise the skills I’d obtained. I applied for a number of science jobs, and was offered a job as a science editor at Thomson Reuters.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    My daily work routine typically entails the extraction, assimilation and content-integrity management of Life Science data from journals, patents and conferences. The data is subsequently updated in our multiple online databases, which are subscribed to by customers all around the world in both the pharmaceutical industry and academic institutes to aid them with their research. Other tasks will include assisting clients (who could be from industry or academia), supporting colleagues with various projects and ad hoc tasks.

    Which skills gained from your PhD are useful to you now?

    A PhD is not a prerequisite for my role, however I would say it is beneficial in the long run if you intend to make a career in Science or Healthcare. Most of my colleagues have either got a PhD or a Masters degree. The skills that I acquired from my PhD have come in very useful, particularly when it comes to analysing data, planning projects, problem-solving or simply coming up with innovative ideas for the business.

    What are the best things about your role?

    The best things are having the chance to learn different skills, from customer relationship management to leading and managing small departmental projects; as well as getting to participate in some international travel to conferences. On top of that, I feel the work I do is making a contribution towards science and medicine, and bettering society.

    There is also a good work-life balance since I work on a flexi-time system, and occasionally I have the option to work from home.

    What are the down sides?

    As with most companies nowadays, there are a lot of organisational changes which take place every so often, and that can lead to a sense of insecurity. Also, job progression is quite static at the moment. The work I do is routinely-formatted, which can be a good thing for some people, however at times it can feel like the role might lack challenge and you can start to feel complacent.

    The challenge I face now is to decide which direction I want to take my career, and whether I wish to advance in my role as a Science Editor, or to look for alternative positions within Thomson Reuters where I can remain with the company and transfer my skills and experience.

    Where do you see yourself going from here?

    Progression upwards is always possible however it can feel a little stagnant at times since there are not many openings at a senior level. But the advantage of working for a large firm like Thomson Reuters is you also have the option of applying for internal roles in different departments or business sectors. Otherwise if roles don’t come up internally then people may have to move to other companies when roles arise.

    What tips would you give our PhD students and early-career researchers wanting to get into your line of work?

    The competition nowadays is fierce, so with any industry I would strongly suggest that people research the area they wish to enter, so they know what they’re getting themselves into, and more importantly try to get some work experience through an internship. To enhance a CV, I’d recommend taking on extracurricular responsibilities, networking and making good connections is always a plus too. When invited to an interview, people should prepare well beforehand; have knowledge about the industry and the prospective employer. Engage with the interview positively and confidently; and always take it as an experience to learn from – regardless of the final outcome.

    Leaving a PhD to become a social entrepreneur

    By S Donaldson, on 12 August 2015

    Most of our researcher career case studies focus on people who have completed their PhDs. But what about those who leave before the end of their doctoral degree? Considering your career options is a big task for anyone, but it may feel even more daunting if you’re leaving a course early.

    I’ve worked with students who for a variety of reasons have given up on their PhD, and despite their concerns, it hasn’t hampered their careers. Although they may not have gained the title, they still gained the valuable transferable skills of a PhD-holder.

    Fiona Nielsen is a nice example of this. She left a genetics PhD in her final year, but used the skills and knowledge she’d acquired to set up Repositive, a social enterprise that aims to speed up genetic diagnostics and research through efficient data access solutions.

    Fiona came along to our Researcher Life Sciences Careers Fair, where she told us about her career journey. You can watch her interview here.

    Fione Nielsen

    Using a science PhD to build a marketing career

    By S Donaldson, on 12 June 2015

    John Paul gained a PhD in Cell Biology from Manchester University. Here he tells us about his current role in pharmaceutical marketing, as an account manager at Circa Healthcare.

    How did you move from academic research to marketing?

    After my PhD I worked for three and a half years as a post-doctoral researcher. In the last year of my post-doc contract I started to weigh up my options. My boss had offered me a contract extension and future assistance in developing grant proposals to obtain my own funding so I could start the process of being independent/having my own projects and students. However, I was having reservations that setting up my own research group and constantly applying for grants wasn’t for me. Having an outgoing and sociable personality, I decided that I should look for a role that would use my scientific background but also allow me to interact with people rather than with plastic dishes and cells (I spent lots of hours in cell culture labs!).

    I looked into many roles in which scientific knowledge would be useful in communications; advertising/marketing was just one. I was very lucky in that I obtained a job in a pharmaceutical advertising agency due to a family connection.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    I’m generally office based, although I probably travel to meet clients or attend extended brand meetings at least once a month. I work within the accounts team and am a point person for both national and global pharmaceutical brand managers. My roles include developing strategic (short and long-term) marketing plans for the products and defining the tactics that need to be developed to drive the marketing initiatives. I then work with my creative team (writers, designers, web developers etc) to create the tactics, on time and within budget, and liaise with our clients to ensure, prior to being released to market, the content created communicates the messaging they desire.

    What are the best things about working in your role?

    No two days are the same; working on a variety of products with different marketing campaigns and product life cycles ensures there is a variety in my workload, which keeps things interesting.

    What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

    All clients have budget limitations and it is often challenging to manage expectations, or to explain to clients that when they change the project scope and we need to do something different to meet the new needs, that we most likely need to re-estimate the project or adjust timelines – although this may sound like what would be expected, it is often not the case. Ensuring projects stay on budget (and on timeline) is essential not only for clients but also for your team and your agency’s business – if you constantly go over budget you are a less profitable company, and if you constantly fall behind timelines your clients will not be happy for very long. As such keeping projects on budget and on timelines is challenging but essential to maintaining good business practice.

    Is a PhD essential for your role?

    No, although a scientific background has been very useful to help understand on a molecular level how products work/how they stimulate their effect in comparison to competition (helps to define differentiating factors). Although a science degree is not essential, all employees need a degree; most of my colleagues in the accounts team hold business and/or marketing degrees.

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

    The majority of the marketing managers I work with are doctors, and some are even specialists (e.g. cardiologists), who have transitioned into a business and marketing role. As such my degree allows me to engage in detailed scientific discussions on the products and the market competition with clients, which I believe they appreciate, as many account leads do not have a scientific background. Also being able to develop concise but detailed presentations (verbal and written) are skills I refined during my PhD studies and use regularly now.

    Where do you see yourself going from here?

    Becoming an account supervisor, and so being responsible for more strategic development projects/less tactical projects, leading pitch projects and presentations and managing a team of lower level account personnel. Following this, progression to director of client services – i.e. overseeing all account personnel and management of client relations.

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

    More and more pharmaceutical and healthcare agencies are looking for people with science degrees when recruiting for new account team members so just apply! Be confident and direct; demonstrate your passion to join the organization and the ability to communicate scientific matters clearly. Although having a science background is great, having some knowledge of business practice and basic marketing would be very helpful and also very appealing for employers. If time permits there are great courses online which can assist with this, and there are some great books out there for people who need to know the basics.