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Training to be an NHS Bioinformatician

SophiaDonaldson9 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

SophiaDonaldson26 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

SophiaDonaldson15 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

SophiaDonaldson12 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

SophiaDonaldson12 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.

A professor’s take on academic careers

SophiaDonaldson5 June 2015

Professor Rajini Rao gained her PhD in Biochemistry from Rochester University before moving to Yale to obtain postdoctoral training in Genetics. In 1993, she moved to Johns Hopkins to take up a role as assistant professor in Physiology, and rose through the ranks to full professor in 2004. Currently, Rajini runs a research laboratory, teaches medical and graduate students, and directs a PhD program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. We spoke to Rajini about her career, and how to succeed in academia.

Professor Rajini Rao

What qualities do you think academics must have to be successful?

To be successful in an academic research career, you must think of yourself as an entrepreneur. Your research should not only be productive, as evidenced by numerous peer-reviewed publications in high quality journals, but also innovative and at the leading edge of the field. Research requires funds, and success in fund raising requires persuasive writing skills, and the ability to “sell” your project. Good communication skills are important for presentations at seminars and conferences and in teaching. Networking skills are critical for setting up collaborations and extending the reach of your influence. Because academics work closely with student and postdoctoral trainees, good mentoring and lab management skills are essential.

What does a normal working day look like for you?

My schedule is never the same from one day to another. That’s what keeps me from being stuck in a rut or losing motivation. In my lab, I interact with my students and postdocs daily, and keep up to date on their research. I travel often, to conferences or other universities, where I am lucky enough to present our work. Some days, I teach PhD or medical students. I may attend a thesis committee meeting, or be an examiner on an oral qualifying exam. Frequently, I advise students in the graduate program I direct, or work on program policy and administration.

As a member of a journal editorial board I review many papers in my field. I also serve on study sections for the National Institutes of Health where I review grant applications. I organize conferences, and that requires planning and fund raising. I’m active in professional societies where I’m involved in developing opportunities for women and increasing diversity. All of this keeps me busy and I love my job!

What are the best things about your role?

The best things about my job are flexibility, the thrill of discovery and the opportunity to innovate. I am constantly learning, and growing my potential as a scientist and person. I keep flexible hours at work and I try to arrange my schedule to accommodate the demands of both work and home. I see my life as a mother, mentor and scientist as one harmonious whole. That’s why I don’t compartmentalize: rather, I try to move seamlessly from one role to another. For example, I’m just as happy to work from home as I am in my lab. I’m always approachable by email or online by my students regardless of the time of day or week. Conversely, I don’t feel guilty leaving work early when my family needs me at home. I recall one incident when my kids were young and my husband was called away to India on a family emergency just before I had to give an important presentation at a national conference. I took my kids to New Orleans, and a dear friend baby-sat them right outside the lecture hall. My talk went off well, and later I soothed my friend’s frazzled nerves over a glass of wine! It’s a system that works for me and I rarely find myself conflicted by multiple demands. Sometimes, family comes first and I drop everything to attend to demands at home. Other times, I may have a grant deadline and I completely ignore the laundry and the kitchen! Fortunately, my family knows me well and seemingly adapt to my schedule without too many complaints!

What are the downsides of academia?

What keeps me up at night is science funding. All the work that is done at academic research institutes depends on grants from government agencies or private foundations, which are increasingly competitive. These days, only one in ten grant applications is successful, and too many important research projects are abandoned because they are not funded. Rather than keeping up with technology advances, NIH funding has decreased in purchasing power by 25% over the past decade. It’s a heavy responsibility (not to mention, an ineffective use of my time) to constantly apply for funding not only for our research, but also for the salaries of my students and postdoctoral fellows.

Where do you see yourself going from here?

Potentially, I could take on leadership roles in administrative or organizational capacities, although I am not keen on giving up my research career at this time.

What job do you think you might do if you weren’t a Professor?

I’ve always wanted to be a scientist. But I love many forms of communication, so I could be a writer or public speaker. Secretly, I’ve wanted to be a stand up comic!

What tips would you give our PhD students and early-career researchers trying to forge an academic career?

I would advice them to build a strong support network of family, friends and colleagues, and to seek role models and mentors. They will need to have the confidence to keep a high bar of achievement, and the strength to accept challenges and make hard choices. It’s just as important to work “smart” as it is to work hard, so they should choose their battles wisely. Remember that an academic career is a marathon and not a sprint!

Rajini is one of the three founders of STEM Women, a blog set up to address gender inequality in science. You can read more about the blog here.

Communicating science for a living

SophiaDonaldson28 May 2015

Dr Buddhini SamarasingheDr Buddhini Samarasinghe is one of the founders of STEM Women, a site devoted to addressing gender inequality in Science. She has a PhD in Molecular Parasitology from Glasgow University, and is now a Science Communication Manager at CRUK, putting together scientific content to help fundraisers appeal to donors.

Last week Buddhini spoke to us about her work on STEM women. Here she tells us about her career path and current role at CRUK.

How did you move into Science Communication?

After my PhD, I had the opportunity to take up a post-doc position in Hawaii, which was amazing. But as I got towards the end of my contract and started looking for jobs, I realised just how many talented and well-qualified people are struggling; there didn’t seem to be any permanence, and getting a job had stopped being about merit, and seemed more about luck. At the same time, I started to do some outreach work, to bolster my CV and broaden my awareness of what was out there. The more outreach I did, the more I liked it, and I started to realise that people actually got paid to do science outreach work, so maybe I could do it as more than just a hobby. Alongside my academic applications, I applied to a science outreach role at CRUK, which I saw advertised in The Guardian. Unfortunately I wasn’t given that job, but I did get the next one I applied for, my present role as Science Communications Manager. The role was part-time and fixed term at first, but it’s now become a full-time permanent position.

What does a normal day look like to you?

Lots of meetings and lots of writing. I meet with fundraisers to find out who, either individuals or companies, they’re pitching to, and what they need from our team. I’ll then search our research database for something that fits the bill, and write about it in language that will appeal to the potential donor. I also write updates on our progress for existing donors.

What are the best bits?

I’ve been able to stay within science. I get to see people and talk to people, which wasn’t always the case in research. When I first started in this role, it was part-time maternity cover, and yet oddly, given the current employment situation in research, it still felt more secure than when I was on post-doctoral contracts. And I’ve now been made full-time permanent staff, which feels quite nice!

What are the downsides/challenges?

Office jobs are a lot more stationary than laboratory research, and that’s something I’ve had to adjust to.

What’s the progression like?

There are more senior roles that people can move into within the team, and many people will move into communications roles in other organisations, or move around within CRUK, which seems to be positively encouraged.

What are your top tips for getting into a science communication role?

Don’t wait for anything, just write. That’s what I did, with my Jargon Wall blog, my series of Scientific American guest blogs , and the blog that I co-founded addressing the issues women in STEM can face. There are so many avenues for self-publishing, so set up a blog and get your voice heard.

Sticking up for STEM women

SophiaDonaldson22 May 2015

Displaying Studies show that women leave academic research in larger numbers than men, and are poorly represented at higher academic levels. Initiatives like Athena SWAN have been set up to address the problem, but there are other sources of support out there too. One example is STEM women.

The site was put together by Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe, Professor Rajini Rao, and Dr Zuleyka Zevallos, three women with PhDs who wanted to generate open debate around how to improve the situation for women in STEM. Over the next few days, we will hear from each of these women about their own career journeys. Here, Buddhini tells us a little more about the site.

How did you first start the website?

Back in 2012, I think it was on International Women’s Day, someone on Facebook shared a list of female scientists whom you may or may not have heard of. Obviously Marie Curie was in it, and there were lots of other black and white photos of women who were mostly already dead. Great that such a list is being shared, but I figured I should put together a list of more current female scientists to whom people could better relate. I used Google +, which was pretty new at that time and had lots of female engineers and scientists who were posting publicly about their work. So I started compiling a list of their names and ‘shared’ them around, making a group of strong female role models who could inspire people. Off the back of that, I teamed up with two other female researchers and launched a website to celebrate females in STEM, and to comment on the current issues they face.

What kind of things does your website cover?

We profile successful female scientists, and host Q&As with them, to help inspire the next generation of female scientists. For example, we featured an amazing woman called Annika O’Brien who runs robotics workshops in disadvantaged areas in LA, and has her own company now. And we also talk to high-profile male scientists to try to get their input in how to improve the STEM environment for women.

And we call out and comment on current issues that are relevant to women in STEM, such as sexism. As an example, last year the journal of Proteomics published a paper on the sequencing of the coconut genome, and the picture that accompanied a link to the article featured a scantily-clad woman holding coconuts in front of her breasts, which was extremely inappropriate. One of my fellow website authors wrote to the journal’s editor to complain, and she received a less-than-satisfactory response from him, telling her it was all normal, and as a physiology Professor she should be familiar with female physiology!

The photo has since been taken down in response to a twitter storm involving outraged people like us. But I think this perfectly highlights why a site like ours is needed. Firstly, the picture went up when it absolutely shouldn’t have. But secondly, when it was taken down, the apology was far too wishy-washy; they were sorry we’re offended, but they didn’t really acknowledge what they’d done wrong. Which is why things like this keep happening e.g. The Rosetta-landing shirt controversy. Some people think it’s silly to focus on these things, that at least the situation today is better than it used to be. But these are the microaggressions that make women feel less welcome in the male-dominated scientific space. We want to shine a light on sexism within STEM, to help the women facing it know they’re not alone, and to try to move the field forward.

Picture courtesy of STEM women, taken from their Nature blog article.

A Science Communicator’s Story

SophiaDonaldson19 March 2015

Anthea MartinDr Anthea Martin gained a PhD in Molecular Biology from the University of Dundee. Here she speaks about her role at CRUK as a Science Communications Manager.

[Since giving this interview, Dr Martin has taken up a role as a Case-for-Support Development Manager at Marie Curie]

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

I probably realised about 3 or 4 months into my PhD that a long-term career in research wasn’t for me – I found the atmosphere a little too competitive, and as I’m quite a shy person, I wasn’t great at the networking and self-promotion aspects of academia. But it was actually only a few months before I finished my PhD that I worked out what I might do instead. I was reading a journal, and it fell open on a page about a medical writer. The job appealed to me as it involved writing about science and giving presentations, which were parts of research I’d enjoyed. I applied to lots of medical communications agencies – companies contracted by pharma companies or biotechs to manage communications about new developments – and got a position at Gardiner-Caldwell.

Gardiner-Caldwell had a great ethos of training and supporting new writers, and I learned a lot from them, especially about handling clients and stakeholder interests – the business side of science – and about writing for lots of different types of audiences. I was with them for about 2 and half years, and really enjoyed the variety of the role, but during that time I realised that I would feel more fulfilled working for a charity than for pharma companies. I actually had cancer when I was younger, and as a cancer survivor, one of the reasons I went into research was to try to give something back. So I figured working for a charity might be another way to do that, and that’s when I found a position at CRUK working on their annual report. I went on to work in a range of science communications roles at CRUK, culminating in my current role, where I work closely with fundraisers, and aim my communications directly at potential donors, hoping to move them to support CRUK’s work.

What does a normal working day look like for you?

I don’t think there is a ‘normal’ working day! I can be meeting with fundraisers to find out what they need for a particular fundraising pitch, searching our portfolio of work to find projects that might appeal to certain potential donors, or writing up projects that need support. I also sometimes go out and meet donors or scientists, or help fundraisers in a more strategic sense, sharing the next big developments that they should be fundraising for.

What are the best things about working in your role?

I really love being able to bring science and research to life. I think science can be an area people are afraid of, so it’s great to know that you’ve turned this potentially alien and scary thing into something real and inspiring for people. And helping people make the decision to give to a good cause is wonderful, as is working for an organization that touches so many lives. I also enjoy speaking with the scientists, and hearing about cutting-edge science, sometimes even before it’s actually happened, as it’s just at the funding application stage.

I like the breadth of knowledge that I get in this role, as compared to the deep but narrow knowledge I acquired in research. I get to see the big picture of the science, and how it all fits together to benefit people. And I like my colleagues; we’re a very close-knit team, with a good sense of humour, and the same ultimate goal – but I also enjoy that I get to work independently a lot of the time too.

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.

There’s a lot of sitting at a desk, which I suppose people can be a bit down on. If you’d told me when I was 21 that I would end up doing a desk job, I would’ve thought it was horrendous! But it’s really not all that bad. The other potential downside is the bureaucracy associated with any quite-large organization. Unlike in the lab, when it’s just you and your research, it takes lots of people, discussions, and processes to make a decision.

What’s the progression like/where do you see yourself going from here?

There are more supervisory positions in the team that people can apply for when they’re available. As I have, people also tend to move around within CRUK, which is a great way to try new things, and some people move on to communications roles at other organisations, like charities or universities.

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

If you’ve only worked within academia, it can be really frightening when you’re thinking of leaving it. So I’d tell people not to be afraid! A PhD will give you a whole host of skills that employers care about: you’ll be able to forward plan, be efficient with your time, and to trouble-shoot problems. A lot of researchers are also driven, enthusiastic, and passionate, all qualities that are great to bring to any role.

I’d also really recommend that people try to get some experience in the field they want to go into, even if it’s just a couple of weeks. That way you can learn more about the role, but also about the types of organization you might prefer to work for.

What happens to Biology PhDs?

SophiaDonaldson20 January 2015

workforce infographic ASCB COMPASS

 If you’re a life sciences researcher wondering where your PhD could take you, have a look at the above infographic created by Jessica Polka for The American Society for Cell Biology. It’s based on US data, but paints a similar (although, to quote the infographic’s author, “not as dire”), picture as previous UK reports: perhaps surprisingly, most Biology PhDs end up working outside of academic research.