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How experimenting like a scientist helps you make a successful career transition

s.duran11 May 2021

Bernardo Milani Alvares

Bernardo is a Strategy Manager at Abcam

A career transition often takes place in a context of ambiguity and conflicting emotions. Despite the setbacks of academia, most researchers are passionate about their subjects and have high-achieving personalities. Switching careers may feel like giving up an important part of our identities.

Exploring alternative careers means questioning our goals, which can be daunting, especially as we live in an outcomes-obsessed society, where we are measured by our results (e.g., money, number of likes on social media, etc). Such pressures are magnified by three factors:

  • Goals for researchers are usually very strong, as they are often built against societal expectations. Maybe our parents wanted us to have a well-paid job; as doing research defeat their expectations, we created strong goals for ourselves; swimming against the tide made these goals more engrained;
  • We feel invested in an academic career. In Business this is called the “sunk cost fallacy”: when we cannot make a difficult decision to cut losses (e.g., shut down an unprofitable factory) when we have already committed significant resources to build it;
  • Our perfectionistic tendencies as researchers. We may judge ourselves for questioning goals that were solid in the past. We feel less in control.

The unsettling feelings generated by this “identity crisis” may propel us to set new goals quickly. However, these goals tend to look backwards, as they are based on old identities. It is vital to pause and avoid the temptation to make drastic decisions.

That’s when experimenting comes in. As you try new things and learn more about yourself and the world, and you can make more meaningful decisions, and set goals that are aligned with your new identity. To illustrate these points, I want to introduce you to the three main stages of the career journey:

  • Execution: the activities happening in our current roles, such as learning, delivering results and promotion. That’s probably you right now (e.g., doing a Ph.D.);
  • Explore: we immerse yourself in new activities and environments to explore other interests, meet new people and learn skills: the focus is on exploration, identity-shaping, growth and self-awareness;
  • Goal setting: we define your short, medium and long-term goals; building a roadmap with the activities and roles to reach our goals.

As you prepare for a career transition, you need to explore new interests during the execution phase. I developed an interest in Business when doing an undergraduate placement at the pharma company GlaxoSmithKline. I enjoyed the fast-paced nature of the work and how the company responded to changes in the market. This curiosity drove to explore opportunities to learn about Business during my PhD at UCL.

Extracurricular activities are a great way to build the flexible, service-oriented, and collaborative mindset required in Business, where you must serve the needs of others (e.g., customers, managers, shareholders) and have less control of your schedule compared with academia.

Although there is no “magic formula” for picking extracurricular activities, the more you can experience a collaborative, fast-moving and externally facing environment, the better. This means activities in which you:

  • Are not the expert;
  • Feel passionate about the project;
  • Do something bigger than you;
  • Work as part of a team to solve real problems impacting real people;
  • Work with people different from yourself and/or challenging audiences;
  • Mobilise resources, influence and inspire other people;

Finding interesting extracurricular activities can come with a touch of serendipity. After attending a start-up lecture at UCL, I met a group of students who had started the UCL branch of Enactus, a global student society focussed on social entrepreneurship, where students in the world’s universities form teams apply Business skills to develop projects that bring benefit to society.

I set up an employability project leading a team of 9 university students helping young people living in more deprived areas of London write CVs, prepare for interviews and develop transferable skills, in partnership with the university’s Careers Services. Our audience was initially reluctant to engage in the activities, so we gained their trust by demonstrating a genuine interest in who they were as individuals and their concerns around career decisions and getting their voices heard in society.

Not only did the project cover important transferable skills, it also helped us gain the confidence and emotional and cognitive flexibility to navigate unfamiliar territory. It also served as a good example of Entrepreneurship, of mobilising resources to tackle a real need creatively and realistically.

When it comes to extracurricular activities, I noticed many graduate students come to a decision paralysis. They think they must do several extracurricular activities and courses. The important thing is not the number but the quality. It is much better to have two solid experiences during which you demonstrated personal development on a deeper level rather than five shallower experiences.

Choose something you are passionate about, as you will be doing it whilst tired after a long day. I was passionate about improving lives through education, so spending evenings and weekends did not feel like a burden.

A good friend of mine with a Ph.D. in Neurosciences currently working in management consulting made an excellent point about the fact that extracurricular activities are not the only way to develop the professional behaviours required in Business:

“Professional behaviours are key. When you have a journal club, don’t wait until the last minute. Be on time for meetings. Come prepared for your presentations. Respect your peers and colleagues even if there is a culture of being late. Develop professionalism. Reply to emails in a timely manner and avoid typos. There are many small things you can do to develop a more professional way of being. It will make your life a lot easier; when you move to Business there will be clear expectations. The more you realise that expectations are different, the earlier you can start addressing them before moving into Business”

I have recently launched the ultimate guide for a successful career transition from academia into Business called “Break into Business without a Business degree”. The book has four main sections:

  • Prepare for the transition: build the right skills and behaviours for a successful career transition;
  • Become an outstanding Business problem-solver: develop a consistent method to solve Business problems with impact, with plenty of insider tips, real examples, and exercises;
  • Showcase your skills: write a Business-ready CV and ace jobs interviews (including the infamous case interview);
  • Thrive in a Business environment: develop behavioural and on-the job strategies to shine in your new role;

Although most academics (including myself at the time) worry about learning Business-related content, mindsets and behaviours are key. My intention was to make a more “human” book, with plenty of testimonials and real case examples, including successes and failures. I am very pleased to share the book with you, which you can find here.

I wish you all the best in your career transition and look forward to your feedback!

Bernardo is Strategy Manager for Abcam (a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, UK). Prior to Abcam, Bernardo worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company LatAm office for two years focussing on Healthcare and the public sector.  Before consulting, Bernardo did a PhD in Immuno-oncology at University College London (UCL) and worked at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for one year (Industrial Placement) during his Biomedical Science BSc. Bernardo is passionate about supporting PhD students on their professional journeys, having given talks and workshops at leading universities in the UK and Latin America, and is currently writing an e-book on the topic.

Autumn term is under way! Here’s what we’ve learnt so far…

uczjipo23 October 2020

With our autumn term virtual events programme for researchers in full swing, we wanted to share our biggest learning so far.

If you haven’t had a chance to attend an event here’s a quick summary of what’s happened so far and the kinds of sessions going on. The employer-led events programme for researchers is designed to support your career journey by offering you opportunities to hear from and network with employers and alumni from a wide range of industry who were once PhD students themselves.

So far there’s been…

A networking session focused on introducing researchers to a wide range of organisations. Attendees not only learnt about the work opportunities in these companies but also had a chance to use and develop their networking skills.

Next up we had our careers in consultancy panel which focused on introducing the audience to UCL alumni working in various sectors of consulting who were once PhD students themselves. These speakers talked through their day to day roles, what it took to get to where they are now and how they transition from academia to industry.

And most recently, we had our careers in finance, economics and quantitative analysis panel which covered the transition from academia into the world of banking, risk and forecasting. Our alumni speakers looked at what it took to transfer into this industry, those key transferable skills from academia (which you may never have thought you had!) and why they made the leap.

From these events, we learnt loads about the transition from academia to industry. Throughout all the sessions, one tip came up the most:

Understand your transferable skills! You might be daunted by the prospect of leaving academia and joining a corporate organisation but there are loads of transferable skills you’ve learnt from academia that can be used in industry including:

  • Thinking critically and analysing the detail
  • Managing projects and taking ownership
  • Accepting failure and learning from your mistakes

But some great advice from our speakers also suggested that researchers may need to consider the following:

  • Attention to detail is vital in academia and is definitely valued in industry… but so if efficiency and the time to perfect a project just won’t exist in the business world
  • Working to your own pace happens less. You’ll be on projects with many other teams and external partners so working around others schedules, deadlines and constraints is essential
  • Keep work boundaries. When it comes to industry, you’ve got to separate yourself from work projects sometimes, even a lot of the time things won’t come into fruition so closing a project and moving onto the next is important

Think you might benefit from coming to one of our virtual events?

We’ve got loads of great session still to come including:

  • A taster session into a career in consultancy with practical case studies
  • A session on policy development when you can hear from some current policy professionals on what skills it takes to excel
  • A panel on careers in government, policy and in professional bodies
  • And finally, a panel covering careers in research management and funding

Sign up for all these virtual events on MyUCLCareers today via this link!

What do UK PhD graduates do? An updated look.

uczjsdd16 April 2020

Figure: UK PhD destinations 3.5 years after graduation, taken from Dr Sally Hancock’s Hepi blog.

If you’re a UCL PhD student or member of research staff I’m sure you know lots of PhD graduates. At UCL you’re surrounded by them. So of course you know what PhDs do after they graduate, right? Well, not necessarily. Because if your sample consists largely of academic colleagues, it will be heavily skewed towards PhDs who’ve stayed within academia.

Most PhDs we work with at UCL Careers are aware there are options beyond academia, but they often feel the ‘normal’, the ‘expected’, or the ‘logical’ path is to carry on in academic research. But again and again, the stats show us this is far from normal.

A recent look at the career outcomes of PhD graduates comes from the work of Dr Sally Hancock, a Lecturer at the University of York. She investigated what 5,000 UK PhDs who graduated in 2008/9 and 2010/11 were doing 3.5 years after graduation. And as her graph above shows, 70% had already left academic research. Yes, that’s right – the majority of PhDs had left academia only a couple of years after graduating.

We can assume that of those 29.9% of PhDs in Dr Hancock’s sample who were still within academia 3.5 years after graduation (68.4% said they were university researchers, and 31.6% were Higher education Teaching Professionals) many will be on temporary post-doctoral researcher or teaching fellow contracts. And we know from previous studies, like the Royal Society’s 2010 look at STEM PhD destinations, that it’s likely not all of them will still be within academia in another few years.

So what does all this mean for you? Well, if you want to progress within academia you shouldn’t assume it will happen automatically. Get strategic, build networks, and take tips from those who are already succeeding. Look especially for advice amongst your contemporaries, as more progressed academics will have graduated into a very different academic environment. The graph below, taken from Schillebeeckx et al’s 2014 Nature Biotechnology article looking at data from the US, demonstrates just how much things have changed. It shows that over the past few decades, the number of PhDs awarded has risen at a far faster rate than the number of permanent academic jobs available, increasing the amount of competition for said jobs.

Figure taken from Schillebeeckx et al’s 2014 Nature Biotechnology article analysing data from the US.

And if you’re considering leaving academia? Well, go easy on yourself, because moving on to something new is the norm, not the exception. If it still doesn’t feel that way, seek out the stories and company of people who’ve already made the move. We’ve interviewed a few of them for you in our career case studies of PhD grads, and you can use platforms like the UCL alumni mentoring network or LinkedIn to find more.

And whether you’re considering staying or leaving, the UCL Careers Researcher Programme is here to help. You can access one-to-one appointments and our workshop schedule covering academic and non-academic employability skills, as well as job vacancies targeted at researchers, through MyUCLCareers, and you can read more details about our offering on our website. We are currently delivering our programme online, so please check out our summer schedule of webinars and online employer events here.

You can read Dr Sally Hancock’s full article here.

 

Introducing your first researchers’ careers month…

uczjipo1 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.

 

 

PhD Life Science Careers – Why should UCL PhD students apply to IMSCG?

UCL Careers20 February 2012

The last in our series of guest blogs by PhD holders who work at IMS Consulting Group. You will find more information about PhD life science careers and IMS Consulting Group in our in our Careers in Clinical Research, Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals Forum for PhD/research students which will be held on 28th February 2012. Go to the Forum page on the Graduate School website for more details about this event.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Currently there are more PhDs in IMSCG than I can count. PhD students typically apply for consulting because they find that they can apply their problem-solving skills in new ways, work in team settings which can make a measurable impact, and be exposed to a variety of different projects in a short amount of time. In contrast to your PhD, at IMSCG we work on projects that are around 12 weeks long and often can be much shorter; as a result, the breadth of topics is extensive.

In addition to the formal introductory training, everyone in the organization, from peers to senior team members, is interested in your learning and progress. On projects, you will therefore receive on-the-job training and informal mentoring support, which greatly contribute to your professional growth. Furthermore, every new starter is assigned a coach who is part of the senior team – your coach offers mentoring support and advice, and tracks your progress within IMSCG in order to identify particular development needs.

One aspect of IMSCG that I have come to appreciate is that client management comes when you advance to consultant, which is significantly sooner than in other consulting firms. In addition, going to and presenting at client meetings often occurs at the analyst level, which offers the opportunity to witness firsthand how clients think. Given that as a PhD I had presented at few conferences and frequently at weekly scheduled lab meetings, I relished the opportunity to join and present at meetings, which I found to be a welcome challenge and a great opportunity for professional growth.

Overall the environment at IMSCG has many of the things I like about the university environment without the long, drawn out project work or failed experiments. At IMSCG, as in academia, you think of creative ways to solve a problem, you have a network of people who can support and you have the opportunity to work with really smart people.

Maria Kosmaoglou, IMS Consulting Group