UCL Researchers
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    The UCL Careers team use this Blog to share their ‘news and views’ about careers with you. You will find snippets about a whole range of career related issues, news from recruiters and links to interesting articles in the media.

    We hope you enjoy reading the Blog and will be inspired to tell us your views.

    If you want to suggest things that students and graduates might find helpful, please let us know – we want to hear from you.

    Karen Barnard – Head of UCL Careers

    UCL Careers is part of The Careers Group, University of London

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    Engineering solutions for businesses: a careers case study

    By S Donaldson, on 1 June 2017

    Simon ChildDr Simon Child has a PhD in Space Physics and is now a Solutions Engineer at Tessella, an organisation that “uses data science to accelerate evidence-based decision making, allowing businesses to improve profitability, reduce costs, streamline operations, avoid errors and out-innovate the competition”. Simon spoke at one of our Careers in Technology forums for researchers, and then kindly agreed to chat about his career again for our blog.

    How did you move from academia to your current role?
    My PhD was in Space Physics, working primarily with data taken by the Ulysses Spacecraft. As that mission was coming to a close, to stay in academia would have required a shift in research focus. Also, I was not sure if the nomadic life of a postdoc was something I was truly interested in doing long term (a couple of years here and there, moving where the research funding takes you). As such, I started looking for a career in industry. I started my job search with a clear idea of what I was looking for: something that would challenge me, somewhere I would have interesting problems to get my teeth into and continue learning and developing and, if possible, somewhere I could retain some level of contact with the space industry.

    I put my CV on Monster and was contacted by a couple of recruitment agencies who put me forward for a range of different roles. Knowing what I know now, that approach had both benefits and drawbacks. On the positive side I was made aware of companies and opportunities that I hadn’t uncovered on my own and the consultants helped me to improve my CV. However, I now realise that the majority of companies do not use agencies for their recruitment and have their own internal recruitment teams, especially for graduate and postgraduate entry level roles. Tessella is one such company.

    Early on in my academic career, I had flagged up Tessella as one of the companies I was interested in applying to. I was attracted by their focus on training and development and the opportunity to work across a wide range of technologies and sectors, including the space industry. After I applied, I was delighted to be invited to a first interview and then a second interview assessment day. During the recruitment process, I was impressed to find out about the company’s portfolio of clients and projects, as well as the similar mind-set of the people I met. When a job offer came through, it was not a hard decision to accept it.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?
    I am currently a Solutions Engineer at Tessella and what I do day-to-day depends on the project I am working on. My typical activities include: systems engineering (engineering trade-off studies, producing technical requirements specifications, designing algorithms to be used in a Radar DSPU); systems architecture (how the algorithms will talk to the rest of the real-time software within the system during flight); simulation and modelling; data analysis/machine learning; control engineering; software engineering. Ultimately I am helping our clients solve some of their really difficult technical challenges.

    The majority of my work is computer based and I also regularly attend technical meetings, with both clients and colleagues. Depending on the project I could be working full time in the Tessella office in Stevenage (where I am based), or spending some or all of my time working on client sites alongside their engineers and scientists.

    My role does not involve much long-distance travelling – each Tessella office tends to work predominately with organisations in close proximity. However there have been opportunities for colleagues to spend extended periods of time working with clients in France, Germany and Spain, as well as with colleagues in our offices in the Netherlands and USA.

    What are the best things about working in your role?
    I really value the relationships I have built up with both colleagues and clients. Tessella recruits graduates and postgraduates from science, engineering and mathematics, so my colleagues are all like-minded, intelligent people. That said, everyone has expertise in different areas, from different domain knowledge to various technical skills, so there is a lot of collaboration and innovative thinking to solve clients’ problems, which is also one of the best things about working here. I also enjoy the work that we do – projects are always challenging and interesting and I am always learning something new.

    What are the worst bits?
    To some people, the prospect of starting out on a project with an unfamiliar, complex problem to solve may seem daunting, but I relish the challenge. Starting from scratch and building up a solution by employing my knowledge and skills within my team is really satisfying, especially when what I have created is successfully delivered to the client.

    Is a PhD essential for your role?
    A PhD is not essential to work at Tessella; we also recruit people with MSc and BSc qualifications. However, it certainly helps to have a PhD. I use a lot of the skills that I developed during my PhD, including data analysis, programming, computational modelling, data visualisation, verbal and written communication, problem solving, time management, mentoring, networking, and more. The reason over half of the company have PhDs is because all of those skills, which have been developed further during postgraduate studies, are invaluable in solving the complex challenges facing our clients. The ability to build relationships with clients is arguably just as important as your technical skills, so confidence and communication skills are also important.

    Where do you see yourself going from here?
    Every year, I have an appraisal with my manager, part of which includes reviewing and updating my career development plan. This contains things like my long term career goals and what I need to do in the short term in order to achieve them, as well as what training I need to undertake for my immediate project needs. The appraisal is also a review of my performance – good and bad – over the previous twelve months so that I can identify what areas I need to work on in order to guide my career in a particular direction. Feedback for appraisals is sought from all areas across the company, from directors to any technical or head office staff you have worked with.

    Over the course of my career, I have chosen to stay on a broadly technical career path, from a junior developer to leading project teams. However, I have also taken opportunities to take formal training in other areas, including, project management, technical sales and business analysis. I have also had the opportunity to spend some time working in those roles, to give me an idea of what is involved should I wish to transfer into one of them in the future.

    I am also a line manager, currently to one junior technical member of staff. I really enjoy this part of my role: working with him early on in his career, helping turn all those ideas and thoughts into a career plan, then helping him reach his goals. I am looking forward to managing more staff in the future.

    What top tips would you pass on to a researcher interested in this type of work?
    Unless you are looking for a job that will specifically utilise your PhD research, it will be your transferable skills that make you valuable to an organisation, for example, problem solving, teamwork, presenting complex ideas, debating issues, etc. Identify your strong and weak areas and take advantage of opportunities to develop and improve them. You can also make yourself more attractive to potential employers by developing yourself outside of your PhD, for example, building your confidence, public speaking, leadership, etc., so get involved with new hobbies and extra-curricular activities.

    Sparkly technology pic taken from Octavio Santos Neto

    Taking subject expertise into industry: a case study

    By S Donaldson, on 19 May 2017

    Dr Stephen Hassard has a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction from UCL, and is now a User Experience Researcher at Garmin. We asked him a few questions about his career journey so far.

    Hassard

    Tell us about your job.

    My PhD was in Human-Computer Interaction through UCLIC (University College London Interaction Centre), a joint venture between the Psychology and Computer Science departments of UCL. Five years ago I moved from academia into the field of User Experience Design as a User Experience Researcher at Garmin International. To provide a little context to what kind of work I do; I work within a multi-disciplinary team that builds in-car systems that are easy, and safe to use, while driving. Within my role as a UX Researcher I have two major focuses at my job: design work and research. On the design side of things I’ve done work on mobile apps, dash-cams, navigation systems, and infotainment systems. The design work I do is mostly creating wire-frames, developing prototypes, and testing proposed designs with users to make sure they are easy to use. On the research side, I run the driver distraction lab here at Garmin where I use a driver simulator and eye-tracking to make sure that the products we develop adhere to government guidelines for what is, and what is not acceptable, levels of distraction while driving. So in a nutshell I design apps that are as safe as possible for you to use while driving.

    How did you move from academia to your current role?

    To be honest it was a slow transition. While I was working as a Psychology Lecturer at the University of Winnipeg I started a consulting business that focused on providing user experience services to smaller companies who couldn’t afford a full-time UX staff member. When I decided to move into industry full-time the skills and experience I had built in my consultancy were invaluable in proving I had real-world experience when I went to apply for jobs in industry.

    When did you decide academia wasn’t for you?

    Two main factors came together to convince me to move from Academia to Industry. The first was the nature of the work I was doing in Academia felt so disconnected from the industry I was trying to help. I was feeling like it was becoming too theoretical and insular. The other was job stability. Working in academia involves long hours and an uncertain future. I wanted something more long-term and stable than what the soft-money of academia could provide.

    How did you find out about the sector?

    Working in the field of UX was something I had always wanted to do. My undergrad degrees were in Computer Science and Cognitive Psychology, and my PhD was in Human-Computer Interaction, so this was an area I was aware of from early in my development.

    How did you go about applying?

    This was I think the trickiest thing about moving from academia to industry. There were some jobs I applied to where having a PhD was almost a liability in that they assumed I wanted to be in academia and treated me with suspicion when I was looking for jobs in industry. I think this was based on the fact that some people just assume that everything you do in academia is simply navel-gazing and hence you have no real world experience that would apply to this job. The trick was really driving home the practical nature of my research and how it could help them, as a company, be more efficient and effective. Having a portfolio of concrete examples of my work really helped breakdown those assumptions.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    A typical day is probably doing a design review with the development team, working on some wire-frames in Adobe Illustrator, having a team-meeting to coordinate work across our team, and then prepping for the latest eye-tracking study I am hoping to start soon.

    What are the best things about working in your role?

    I love that my job is always different. Some days I’m doing creative work, like creating a new in-dash music player, and other days I’m running detailed and highly controlled experiments.

    And what are the worst bits?

    I would say the biggest challenge is the juggling of multiple things. As I am usually doing several different projects in tandem I rarely get the time to sit down and work on things that require more focus like writing up research for white papers or submission to journals.

    Is a PhD essential for your role?

    Strictly speaking no, as many UX researcher positions only require an MSc, but I have found that having a PhD makes it easier to jump into senior roles in bigger companies.

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

    The most important skills I use from my PhD are critical thinking, experimental design, and effective communication techniques. Doing a PhD forces you to learn how to break down a big problem in to smaller manageable chunks to tackle, run studies to better understand each of those sub-problems, and then communicate complex ideas to people who may not be as familiar with the nuances of your area as you are. Being systematic in how I understand complex problems, running replicable studies to understand the problem space, and effectively communicating those findings to stakeholders are key to what I do everyday.

    What top tips would you pass on to a researcher interested in this type of work?

    For academics looking to move into the field of UX I would say make sure you know the fundamentals of design that you are not likely to learn in academia (so know how to use the adobe suite of products, and at least one prototyping package like Axure) and work on selling yourself, with an emphasis on how your work and skills are applicable to the work being done in industry. It may be helpful to prep a portfolio of your work showing what you did and the direct results of your work. Also, look for your closest UXPA (User Experience Professionals Association) chapter and start attending their monthly events. These are great places to network and learn about job opportunities.

     

    A UCL PhD grad talks being an IBM data scientist

    By S Donaldson, on 7 February 2017

    Rebecca PopeDr Rebecca Pope has a PhD in Clinical Neuroscience from our very own UCL and now works as a Data Scientist at IBM. Rebecca sat on one of our Researcher Careers in Technology panel events and kindly agreed to give us even more of her time by answering a few questions for our blog.

    How did you move from academia to your current role?

    As a data scientist at IBM, I do not feel that I have fully ‘left’ academia strangely. I still publish in academic and non-academic settings; use my doctoral skills (clinical neuroscience) in Watson Health; and a must of this job is knowing that the more you read the less you know! So very similar to an academic post. However, there is a divergence in my responsibilities compared to my doctoral and post-doctoral experience, in that I am regularly meeting with clients and developing business opportunities. Thus, I have needed to develop and enhance my soft skills. My audience are usually non-technical and it is my job to relay the complex in an ‘actionable’ way for my client, which mean they need to fully understand IBM’s findings – that is the ‘art’ within data science.

    I found out about the sector due to my neuroimaging experience, which is really a big data time-series problem. This led to investigating ‘big data’ and reading popular science books on the topic. I then upskilled myself by doing a number of online free courses and decided that this was a space I wanted to apply to, and just did.

    What does a normal working day look like for you?

    My days are quite similar. In the morning, I will work through early morning emails, as IBM’s clients are worldwide. Then have a daily sprint with the team, discussing project statuses and any immediate blockers to a project’s success. However, the majority of my day, involves diving into some data (exploratory data analysis and applying machine learning algorithms, whilst keeping in mind the client’s business problem(s)). I may also have a number of client-facing meetings in driving healthcare, life sciences and pharmaceutical opportunities into IBM.

    What are the best things about working in your role?

    The team I work in has a great ‘work and play’ ethos; tackling real-world problems across different industries, although my passion is within health and life-sciences, and the endless pursuit of innovating and developing myself.

    What are the biggest challenges you face in your work/what are the worst bits? (Please think about elements that might put others off, even if you don’t mind them.)

    It can be challenging ensuring that all stakeholders within a project are 100% fulfilled by my work, as often a CEO has a different agenda to a CFO, for example. However, this is a talent and skillset that I need to keep developing and have the space and mentorship to do so at IBM.

    Is a PhD essential for your role?

    I don’t think so. In fact, the variety in our team of educational backgrounds is one reason I feel we are successful. This gives the team different lenses to view the same problem.

    But the PhD skills I use on an everyday basis include: being comfortable with not understanding things, quantitative numeracy, and domain expertise for Watson Health engagements.

    Where would someone go in their career from here?

    I think this is entirely up to you, I am a firm believer that you make your own doors in life to walk through.

    The great thing about being at a company like IBM is the breadth of opportunities and business units. This means that as your personal/professional interests change, you are likely to find an aligned role within the business.

    What top tips would you give a researcher interested in this type of work?

    My top tips would be to invest heavily in your communication and team work skills.

    Most people with quantitative PhDs can crunch numbers, program etc., these are skills that do not set you apart, in my opinion, from other candidates. More important is how you come across and your manner. You spend most of your life with your colleagues and so you want to like the people you work with. Developing yourself in this way, and knowing this is half the journey; the rest I leave to you. Best of luck.

    Read all about it: life as a magazine features editor

    By S Donaldson, on 1 February 2017

    Will has a Philosophy BA, a Philosophy MA (from UCL – whoop whoop!), and a PhD in Computer Science. Will is now a Features Editor at New Scientist Magazine, and he kindly chatted to us about his job and career path.

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

    After my PhD I worked as a post-doc for 3 years. I enjoyed research, but it became increasingly clear that I was less drawn to the things that I would need to do to progress – i.e. find my own niche area of research and be able to ‘sell’ it.

    In the back of my mind I also always thought I wanted to be a writer or a journalist rather than a computing researcher, so I started freelancing with games and technology writing, and while I was post-docing I went to an event about science communication. I had fun, and I learned about the university’s Science Communication Masters program. I applied to the course partly because it looked great, but also partly to bide time while I continued to get more freelancing experience. It worked out well; the course was fantastic, and at the end of it I got a 6-month traineeship at New Scientist in the news section. After that I worked there on a rolling contract as a news reporter for a year, and then applied for the features editor job, which I’ve had for two years.

    What does your job involve?

    A huge part of the job is generating ideas that might make a cool feature for the magazine. Coming from a research background, it can take time to get your head around what makes a good story. We’re trying to sell this magazine, so a good feature has to not only be informative, but entertaining enough to compete with other magazines, and also anything else that might take your attention, boxsets and games etc.

    I specifically work on technology features, so I’m always keeping up to date with that field, to see which new developments and ideas might fit together to make a great story. When I think I’ve got something, I’ll put together an outline of the narrative of the feature, along with key people it would be worth speaking to, and that will be the basis of a commission. I’ll then find a writer for the story – editors usually have connections with regular writers – and there will probably be several rounds of edits back and forth once they’ve written it. We’ll also work with picture editors to choose the artwork that accompanies the story in the magazine, and increasingly we’ll work with people on putting together a package to accompany the story online, which might be videos or even an animation or interactive app for the reader. I sometimes do some writing myself, but that’s a small part of my role.

    The role is different to the one I had in the news team. I was writing a lot more in news, and my features role is more similar to doing a PhD in a way; You get to interact with lots of different people, but ultimately you’re working on your own project and you’re left to get on with it until it’s due. The news desk is faster paced, as you’re part of a team contributing each week to the news section.

    Is a PhD essential for your current role and what are the skills gained from your PhD that you use now?

    A PhD isn’t essential but it’s useful. It probably gave me an edge when applying for the traineeship at New Scientist. Having a PhD in tech stuff is extra helpful because finding people who are techy and are not just good writers, but are able to write well about technology in its broader social context, i.e. technology’s relationship with us, how it changes us (which is what makes technology interesting to most readers), can be especially difficult.

    The PhD can help in other ways too. The experience of doing independent research and of being confident enough to pursue an idea on your own is great for work as a features editor. And having an insight into what research actually is helps in science journalism.

    What are the best things about your role?

    The ability to have an idea pop into your head and then be paid to spend time pursuing it is brilliant. Then there’s the satisfaction of seeing your initial idea grow to something that can finally come together on the printed page. And there’s a nerdy satisfaction in the final tweaks that need to be made to make the feature work, making the language as punchy as possible and playing with the article layout, which I personally really like.

    What are the worst parts?

    There’s a lot of pressure. As a writer on the news desk there was an intense pressure day-to-day to get your story done. But as a features editor there’s a different kind of pressure. There isn’t such an immediate deadline, so you have to be a bit more organised with your time to make sure everything gets done, which might not suit everyone. And the features are the powerhouse of the magazine, they’re what make most people subscribe to New Scientist or pick up the magazine and buy it in a shop. So there’s a pressure to come up with something that will be good enough to really grab people. And there can be a lot of dead ends when you’re coming up with ideas – you always want your ideas to work out, but a lot of times they don’t. You also don’t really do much writing as an editor, which may be disappointing for some people.

    What’s the progression like from here?

    New Scientist is relatively small and people love their jobs so may stay for a long time, so there isn’t a huge amount of movement in the staff. There are places to move up from here, one could move to being a section head, managing a whole section like features or news or digital content, but of course that’s dependent on people leaving. Some people move on to being freelance, like many of the writers I’ll commission for features.

    What are your top tips for researchers wanting to move into your field?

    Try it. Write. I wish I’d done more of this when I was a researcher – just get writing, for a blog or for your university magazine, and pitch some ideas to editors to see if you can get something commissioned. To get writing jobs you’ll need a portfolio of writing to show people. Plus it’ll tell you whether you like it. And I’d advise you to keep doing it, because you might like writing the odd thing, but if you end up as a journalist you’ll have to write and write and write, so it’s worth seeing whether you’d like that. It’ll also get you used to having your pitches rejected. As a journalist you’ll get lots of rejections, and in time you get better at picking and pitching ideas so that they’re less likely to (but of course still sometimes do) get rejected.

    Doing a science communication or journalism course isn’t essential, but it can help. The courses have a good reputation in the field. They can help you hone your craft, but also open your eyes to other types of communication/journalism that you may not have thought about.

     

    From PhD to NHS Scientist Training Scheme

    By S Donaldson, on 26 October 2015

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

    Networking opportunity at UCL celebrating women in STEMM

    By S Donaldson, on 21 October 2015

    Rosalind FranklinThe Rosalind Franklin Appathon launches next week – a national app competition to empower and recognise women as leaders in STEMM. In advance of the launch, a networking reception will be held following the UCL/Rosetrees Interdisciplinary Symposium on Thursday 22nd October, from 16.20 in the Wilkins Main Quad – North Side, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT.

    It’s open to all – so just pop along on the day! More details here

     

    Image from Christian Luts

    Employability skills training and employer led events for UCL researchers

    By Vivienne C Watson, on 30 September 2015

    UCL_CareersWeekEmployer-Led Careers Skills Workshops

    Are you interested in brushing up on key employability skills and meeting/networking with employers who are keen to engage with researchers?

    For both academic and non-academic careers, these workshops help you identify and develop core competencies which are vital for you to compete in the job market by demonstrating the transferable nature of the research skills you have acquired.

    Day/Date Time Title Employer
    Thurs 15th Oct 2:00pm – 4:00pm Introduction to Negotiation Skills Capco
    Wed 21st Oct 5:30pm – 7:30pm Case Study Interviews Oliver Wyman
    Wed 28th Oct 5:30pm – 7:30pm Networking skills Civil Service Fast Stream
    Thurs 19th Nov 2:00pm – 4:00 pm Group Exercises and Assessment Centres PwC
    Thurs 26th Nov 5:30pm – 7:30pm Interview technique Ark Schools

     

    To find out more about the programme please go to: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=928

    Research students book a place here: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=928

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

     

    Careers in Technology: Employer Forum for PhDs and Researchers

    Thursday 29th October 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 IT & Technology 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 Salvatore Scellato  – Senior Software Engineer, Google

    Dr David Houseman – Quantitative Analyst, G-Research

    Dr Paul Loustalan – Patent Attorney, Reddie & Grose LLP

    Dr Peter Johnson – Research Scientist, Schlumberger

    Dr Nadia Frost  – Senior Solutions Analyst (Business Analysis), Thomson Reuters

    To find out more about the programme please go to: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2193

    Research students book a place here: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2193

    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