UCL Researchers
  • Welcome

    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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    Elpida’s career journey from a PhD to becoming Engineering Education Developer & Coordinator at UCL

    By Vivienne C Watson, on 19 April 2016

    elpidaElpida Makrygianni has a PhD in Computer Science and Electronic & Electrical Engineering and now works as an Engineering Education Developer & Coordinator at UCL. Elpida spoke to UCL Careers about her post-PhD career.

    Tell us about your job.

    My job focuses on developing and managing a comprehensive suite of engineering engagement and education programmes for children and young people aged 5 -19 years old from London and across the UK. Central to my role is the development of a Pre-19 engagement strategy, which increases access and widens diversity in every sense, where engineering is seen as intrinsically worthwhile and relevant to young people from all walks of life. Through our programmes we seek to change the stereotyped perceptions of suitable choices and careers in young people – both girls and boys – their teachers, parents, carers and youth workers, by raising awareness of the exciting and wide-ranging careers in engineering.

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

    After studying computer science and engineering with genetics, social science and economics at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, my passion for research led me to a PhD in Artificial Intelligent Systems mapping China’s economic growth. In the first year of my PhD, I took on a role as a teaching assistant for undergraduate students and research assistant on EU projects. Being a doctoral student was one of the most exciting, transformative yet stressful periods of my life. When I finished my PhD, I took a six-month break and travelled around Europe. In 2008, I returned to the UK and started working for the Gates Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation on science and technology educational projects in the UK, US and China. In 2011, I was offered a job opportunity as a consultant for the UK Department for Education to design training and educational materials for school pupils with autism. Before moving to UCL, I worked at Cambridge University researching the role of STEM education in schools across the country in rural and urban areas.

    What does an average working day look like?

    Each working day is very different, from visiting schools, to running activities and events, to designing new programmes, working with staff and students on existing and new activities, talking at conferences, writing articles and grant proposals, meeting and working with industry partners to supporting schools with bespoke tailored programmes. Most of my time is spent out of the office. My schedule is usually quite demanding and I am always on the move so maintaining a happy, healthy work life balance is extremely important for me.

    How does your PhD help you in your job?

    My doctoral studies allowed me to develop good project management, communication and writing skills but also knowledge on engineering education. The choices made during my PhD and throughout my career path, also tested my ability to adapt, achieve and be effective with different teams and work environments. In addition, it encouraged me to be brave when selecting exciting new roles – that might have seemed out of my reach at first – greatly increasing my self-confidence in the process.

    What are the best things about your job?

    The most fascinating part of my job is working with staff and students to create exciting activities based on cutting edge research conducted at the labs with a strong social context or environmental focus. I am constantly given a unique opportunity to learn about advances in areas of engineering while meeting extraordinary individuals conducting research in our faculty. Inspiring pupils about engineering and enabling them to develop their problem-solving skills, knowledge and self-confidence, while sparking their creativity and curiosity around STEM careers and degrees is what makes my job very special.

    What are the downsides?

    There are no real downsides or big challenges in my role, but working with a network of over 400 schools, thousands of pupils and 500 academics and students can be quite overwhelming and extremely busy at times. This pace of work can be invigorating for some people and discouraging for others.

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

    Researchers wanting to move into this field will need to be quite entrepreneurial, independent, good time-managers and communicators as well as qualified and experienced in the fields of engineering and social science. Work experience or working as an assistant can be an excellent way to find out if a role is for you or not.

    Alice Lui’s Festival Experience at Science Museum

    By S Donaldson, on 8 April 2016

    Internships, placements, work shadowing….when it comes to selecting a career they’re all great ways to ‘try before you buy’. Some UCL PhD programmes contain a mandatory placement period, a few months where students must do something unrelated to their research. These prove invaluable to the students involved, so in this series of posts we hope to spread the career knowledge by speaking to three PhDs about their placement experiences.

    Science Museum

    Interview by Shadae Samuels, Placements and Vacancies Officer, UCL Careers.

    Image taken from Allan Watt.

     

    Alice Lui is a current PhD student with the London Interdisciplinary Doctoral Training Programme; based in Saul Purton’s lab her PhD project is studying the synthesis of fungible biofuels in cyanobacteria. Alice initially wanted to gain experience in science communications to reach the wider public beyond academia. The placement team brokered a relationship with the Science Museum who offered exclusive roles to PIPS students, one of which was the chance to work at one of their upcoming festivals. This was the perfect opportunity for Alice to gain experience in science communication to a wider audience, she applied and was offered the position after having an interview. She was supervised by the Assistant Content Developer, Pippa Hough.

    How did Alice secure her placement with Science Museum?

    The placements team was aware that Science Museum were interested in taking on UCL students as interns so we got in touch and informed them of BBSRC/LIDo programme. They were keen to host such students on a placement and offered two exclusive PIPS opportunities, Alice sent her CV and cover letter to Science Museum, and she was then invited to an interview and then offered the position to begin shortly after.

    What was The Science Museum looking for in their placement student?

    The Science Museum wanted a student who would be able to work to tight deadlines, has excellent research skills, and would be able to handle a lot of changes! Alice’s expertise in synthetic biology and bio-sciences in general really stood out in her application/interview as this would be helpful in translating complicated research papers.

    What did Alice do on her placement?

    The main focus of Alice’s placement was to research and develop the scientific content for the ‘You Have Been Upgraded’ festival on the topic of human enhancement technologies. Her time was spent mostly on researching the area of human enhancement and synthetic biology. She contacted academics, artists and individuals involved in this area of research and interviewed them about their work and whether they would be interested in being involved in the festival. Alice also researched possible demonstrations that could be shown during the festival.  During the week leading up to the festival, Alice helped with setting up the festival space. During the festival Alice supported the scientists and interacted with the public, she was also responsible for researching possible objects that could feature in the museum.

    What did Alice gain from the experience?

    The main thing Alice gained from her placement was the confidence to communicate! She improved on her communication skills as she was communicating with people outside the industry and therefore had to learn how to engage a lay audience. This was extremely valuable to her especially if she decides to embark on a career outside of academia. Alice learned the importance of being organised which improved her time management skills.

    How did the placement contribute to The Science Museum?

    Alice’s ability to think fast on her feet and problem solve on the go really helped the festival run as smoothly as it did. Alice also did general research around contemporary science topics that fed into events and small exhibitions the department produces. Her work on finding an object to represent a case on Ebola was particularly helpful! Overall she proved how valuable it is to have an intern which is something the team has not done before and there are excited to have their next LIDo intern.

    Did the placement influence Alice’s career plans?

    Although Alice is still uncertain about her future job prospects the placement has made Alice realise how important job satisfaction and your wellbeing is. She is therefore considering different types of opportunities. Alice may consider a role in Science Communication following her PhD as she gained a lot of confidence in communicating with a wider audience.

    If you’re a UCL PhD or researcher wondering how to secure work experience or a more permanent post, book an appointment to speak with one of our advisers. And for advertised opportunities check out UCL Talent Bank and JobOnline.

    Insight into education and communications careers panel discussion event open for booking

    By Vivienne C Watson, on 4 November 2015

    SONY DSCInsight into Education and Communications Careers: Employer Forum for PhDs and Researchers

    Thursday 3rd December 2015 5:30pm to 7:30pm

    The aim of this event is to help PhD students and other researchers with their career planning by providing an opportunity to question, to hear from and network with employers that come from a variety of roles within the education and communications sector, who are PhD holders themselves. The panel of speakers will give tips on how research students can use their qualifications and experiences to enter this field as well as information about their sector.

    Panel of speakers will be:

    Dr Anna Saggerson – Associate Director, Galliard Health

    Dr Alex Burch – Head of Visitor Experience, Learning and Outreach, Natural History Museum

    Dr Nandi Simpson – Operations Manager, Infection, Immunity and Inflammation Programme, UCLH/UCL National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre

    Dr Mat Hickman – Programme Manager, Informal Science Learning (Education), The Wellcome Trust

    More speakers to be added. Please see links below for further details.

    To find out more about the programme please go to: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2462

    Research students book a place here: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2462

    Research staff book a place here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/events/signupform/

    Find out about the specialist careers support provided by UCL Careers for researchers here: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/specialistsupport/researchers

    A researcher’s experience of working in science policy

    By Vivienne C Watson, on 20 May 2015

    profile picJavier Elkin, PhD student in Translational Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL took a 6 month break from his PhD to work in science policy at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). He explains how he benefited from this experience below. 

    How did I get the role:

    I was always interested in Science Policy but didn’t know how to find out more about what it entailed. I attended two UCL Careers events which gave me the confidence to apply for a secondment during my PhD. The Newton’s Apple workshop at the Houses of Parliament provided an introduction to the different roles of government departments and politicians. At the UCL Careers Future in Government and Policy Employer Forum for PhDs and Researchers I had the chance to meet people from different policy organisations that helped me explore the different possibilities to funding the months away from my PhD.

    What I liked about working in my role:

    I enjoyed the fast-paced and varied nature of the work. I was always working on different projects simultaneously that appertained to a range of scientific topics and had real impact on the world. I was able to contribute to high level policy documents like the Science and Innovation Strategy which the Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned on live television during the Autumn Statement. In research we usually have to spend at least a few years on a single project before we see the impact of our work and even then it rarely departs the scientific community.

    What were my biggest challenges?

    A lot of policy involves pre-emptive work in case it is later required under severe time constraints. It is impossible to always accurately foresee the exact task that will be requested due to the nature of government proceedings and Ministers. This means often dropping that piece of work you have been tirelessly working on for days, to concentrate on the next task because a new deadline has been set or new priorities have been issued. This also means accepting that your final work will never be perfect because it generally requires input from many people and deadlines are much tighter than in science.

    To what extent did I use my specialist knowledge and/or higher level skills obtained from my PhD?

    Previous experience communicating my research during public engagement events was useful when writing compelling case studies of the most recent UK scientific breakthroughs to ensure higher spending in science and research. I compiled simple and compelling paragraphs to be used as examples in the Science and Innovation Strategy. I also went from being the worse programmer in the lab to a BIS IT buddy, running around the floor and helping people with computer issues. When I was in the team analysing the Capital Consultation responses, I proposed a solution based on my experience with Big Data analysis which earned me a £300 bonus for increasing efficiency!

    My top tips:

    Be proactive in networking. I had a great conversation with the Brazilian Ambassador over champagne and also met senior people at events.

    Go full time! Immerse yourself in the placement. You will be able to take ownership of your work, assigned to interesting tasks more often, and create meaningful relationships with your co-workers.

    Encourage others to do the same. When I completed my placement, I gave a presentation to the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience to share that Policy is a seldom mentioned but highly relevant part of the research process that impacts all levels of academia.

    VSU Postgraduate and Public Engagement Volunteering Fair

    By Manpreet Dhesi, on 18 November 2014

    UCL Postgrads – Are you interested in making connections with local communities? Thinking about volunteering? Want to collaborate with people outside of academia? VSU PG Fair Screen

    If so, come and have some stimulating discussions at our Postgraduate Volunteering & Public Engagement Fair. There will be thirty stalls to browse, and staff from across UCL and UCLU to give advice about volunteering and public engagement. Oh, and we’ll have refreshments too.

     When: Roberts Foyer, Wednesday 26 November 6-8pm

    Exhibitors include Access Sport, Body & Soul, Carnaval del Pueblo, Doorstep Library Network, Endometriosis UK, Family Mosaic, Future Frontiers, IntoUniversity, Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice, North London Cares , Real Action, Royal Mencap Society, Sova Support Link, The Camden Society, UCL Grand Challenges and more.

    The event is jointly organised by UCL Public Engagement Unit, UCLU’s Volunteering Services Unit, and the UCLU Postgraduate Association.

    To register, and to find out more about the volunteering on offer, visit https://uclu.org/whats-on/volunteering/postgraduate-public-engagement-volunteering-fair