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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    A pint of careers story with Pint of Science’s Elodie Chabrol

    By S Donaldson, on 11 December 2017

    Dr Elodie Chabrol has a PhD in neurogenetics, and spent 7 years as a postdoctoral researcher at UCL. She’s now a full-time event organiser and science communicator, and she kindly agreed to share her journey and top tips with us.

    What are you up to at the moment?

    I’m the International Director for the festival Pint of Science. I’m in charge of the international development meaning I help new countries to set up the festival locally.

    How did you move from academia to your current role?

    I worked voluntarily for the festival during 4 years while being a post doc. I created the French branch of the festival and developed it, so naturally when the Pint of Science founders earned enough to pay me to do that as a full time job I joined the adventure and left academia. I decided academia wasn’t for me a year before leaving. I was in a very competitive field and wasn’t very much supported by my head of the lab and I felt I was enjoying more science communication than academia. I finished my project and left.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    There is no normal day when you plan an event/festival because every day has a new challenge, especially now that I work with 10 new countries. But I’m basically on my computer, I have a lot of digital interactions (skype, emails etc) and I communicate a lot about the festival (Facebook, twitter etc). I talk to every country at least once a week to be sure everyone is ok and on track and no one needs special attention.
     
    What are the best things about working in your role? 

    I was there at the start of Pint of Science, I founded the French one and I get to see it spread in the world and it’s amazing. Also on a more practical note I work from home and that’s quite easy and I’m happy I get to avoid the commute!
     
    What are the biggest challenges?

    Working from home can be one. You are free to work wherever you want but you can also feel lonely sometimes and you need to be disciplined otherwise you end up watching TV in your PJs all day. I’m used to working on the festival from home since I was doing that on the side of my post doc, so for me it was natural.

    Working with many countries can also have a downside: not everyone is in the same time zone so sometimes you need to have late skype meetings or early ones and need to rearrange your personal life around it.

    Is a PhD essential for your role?

    Not per se but the fact that I know the world of research is a big plus for me as my job is to help scientists share their research with the public. I also started giving some lessons on science communication for those who don’t feel confident enough for talks like Pint of Science. I know what it is so I can put myself in their shoes and help them better.
     
    Where do you see yourself going from here?

    Well for Pint of Science I’m pretty much as high as I can be. I see the festival growing and me helping all those countries, and once that’s done I think I will probably find other ways to help researchers do some communication. Either by creating some other initiatives or working as a consultant.
     
    What top tips would you pass on to researchers interested in this type of work?

    If you want to leave academia and go to that type of work you need experience so get as much as possible on the side. Try to take part in some science communication event organisation, Pint of Science or else to see if you like it. If you like it I’d say do more and more! How to take part? When you go to science events, talk to the organisers to see if they need volunteers. Maybe also start using twitter because nowadays a lot happens there.

    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.

    A Science Communicator’s Story

    By S Donaldson, on 19 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.