This blog comes to you from the interdisciplinary Researcher Professional Development team at the University of Sheffield. We’ll be updating on researcher issues, national news and trends, key achievements for the team, and other things that research staff, and staff development professionals will find of interest.

This is a guest post from Ellen Buckley, Billy Bryan and Duncan Gillespie, members of the Medicine, Dentistry and Health’s Research in Policy Group

At the recent Medical School Research Meeting, Dr Duncan Gillespie (MDH RSA, Research and Policy group) sat down with Rt Hon Sir Kevin Barron (Labour MP for Rother Valley) to talk about the importance of research on changing legislation. His diverse parliamentary experience includes chairing the Health Select Committee that brought through the 2005/6 ban of smoking in public places and held evidentiary hearings for minimum unit pricing of alcohol in 2010. More recently, Sir Kevin has been Chair of the All-Party Group on Pharmacy, protecting the availability of community pharmacies and protesting against pharmacy cuts by presenting a petition to Number 10, Downing Street, which had 2.2 million signatures.

Now more than ever, it is vital that health researchers attempt to bridge the gap between their research and the politicians who need it to inform policy decisions. Sir Kevin’s visit was the perfect opportunity to discuss the research-policy interface from a politician’s perspective.


DG: Could you start by giving us an example from your experience of how research has made an impact on a policy decision?

KB: The biggest one for me was when in 2005 when the issue of smoking in public places came to light, it was quite clear by then there was enough science around to say that secondary smoking was damaging to health. If you go back 10 years that wouldn’t have been the case and that was very difficult for legislators to get their head round on the basis that it’s just an assumption until that evidence stacked up.

DG: Thinking about your role in the all-party parliamentary groups and select committees, how do you think that evidence made its way into the policy discourse?

KB: It certainly did through the Health Select Committee while I was chairman. We did two things in that 5 year period.

One was the ban on smoking in public places in which we led, effectively. It was massively useful for that. The other was the unit price of alcohol and alcohol consumption debate. We looked at that, just before the 2010 General Election, and unfortunately it didn’t go any further. But good research had been done in here at the University of Sheffield, about consumption in pubs and how price related to consumption and we were able to use that research in that particular Health Select Committee report. Sadly, parliament ran out and people ducked the implications of it so we haven’t got there with it yet.

DG: It sounds like the select committee’s role is to make the case for that evidence, potentially going against the party manifesto.

KB: In part yes. The 2005 Labour party manifesto on being able to smoke and drink in pubs or private members clubs but not in public houses that served food, as a public health policy was incoherent. I had a very strong view about this; the evidence was there by 2005 that secondary smoke was damaging to health. So [the health select committee] had to then set about how to [make the case for a comprehensive ban]. When we set off with our very short enquiry shortly after the 2005 general election the majority of people on the committee were not in favour of a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places. When we’d finished the enquiry, the vast majority were in favour. Indeed we ended up changing the law.

DG: When you think about how you became aware of the evidence around smoking, what was the route? Did you have direct contact with researchers or was it through intermediaries like the House of Commons library?

KB: House of Commons library in part, but there was written evidence put into the committee at the time. And there was some contradictory evidence. It’s a matter for the research community to sort that out. For the community of legislators, it’s having that good research there that’s vitally important to make the arguments.

DG: How would you advise researchers, who are submitting evidence to enquiries and to consultations for the first time, to put together their evidence or to communicate it well?

KB: Look at who you’re communicating to. Look at the many constraints that they have. I remember quite well in 2005 this awful word – the “nanny state” – you’re telling people what to do. At that time this was the worst possible thing you could do to infringe the rights of individuals. So look at who you’re communicating to, and what you’re communicating, and the circumstance that they’re receiving it in of course.

DG: It also sounds like you’re taking on some new challenges in your current roles and we picked up on your work with pharmacies. Is that the same sort of story as tobacco with the use of evidence or something different?

KB: It is [the same], because the work I do around pharmacies is not so much about the products that they dispense etc but as using them as a wider tool out there in the community for healthier lifestyles. This country is going to go into a permanent problem with very predictable, major long-term conditions, because of lifestyles. The National Health Service will always be in a crisis situation unless we take that on. I think pharmacies (even more so than general practice) have a role to play in that but it is very difficult to do this. We have got healthy living pharmacies here in Sheffield and different parts of the UK, and they are there to guide people on to better ways to improve their lifestyle.

DG: Do you think that in your team you would benefit from having qualified researchers – people with a health science background?

KB: I think the answer to that is yes. The health select committee, has a team in there, and then depending on what you’re looking at – like we did in relation to smoking in public places – you would bring people in to work alongside you and advise you at that time. Now these individuals need to have flexible employment, but they could get involved for one or two days a week for a very short period of time.

DG: Are these people who are active researchers, maybe just done a PhD, looking for a bit of experience?

KB: No, some of them can be [from the] establishment, but someone involved in public health from a university (who you wouldn’t call an establishment figure), will ask the questions that sometimes the establishment wouldn’t ask. Legislators should be the ones asking the questions, because if we don’t, the only food chain that ministers get is through the civil servants. I’m not saying that that’s wrong but having a bit more progressive thinking about how things could be different challenges what’s there.

DG: We’re aware that there are fellowship opportunities through POST (Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology) that help researchers get involved [with government]. Do you think that that system is really functioning as well as it could be, or maybe there are other things that could be done to help?

KB: POST is a good organisation. The greater problem you’ll find with all of this in the end, is that even when you’ve done that, most select committee work that gets done is ignored. In the unit price of alcohol debate, we published just before the 2010 general election and I don’t think it’s resurfaced since. It’s a great shame, because these are the societal issues that we have to take on.

DG: It does sound bleak, is there still hope of bringing evidence together to make the case?

KB: There is hope. We got that piece of [smoking] legislation through  by running a campaign with national charities and with the leisure industry, sending constituents to MPs surgeries saying “will you be voting for a comprehensive ban when it comes up in parliament”, although it wasn’t publicly known at the time. The leisure industry were initially against it, when they saw the implications of what the government were proposing, they came on board with us. So there are ways of doing that.

DG: In your role, how have you found the balance of communicating science about prevention vs. the treatment and the new technologies?

KB: I think the communication’s quite good. I think one of the problems that you have in politics, is that when you get innovation through pharmacy, like a drug that’s going to be sold multi-millions of times, it’s not a problem. But how do you encourage them to look after dose-value relationship.

In this country we’ve had a pharmaceutical price regulation scheme for many decades. The government because they’re a big buyer, because we have the NHS, can say to companies “we’ll pay a bit more for that product on the basis that you’re doing R&D or manufacturing in this country”. Pharmaceutical exports provides a massive income (£8-9 billion a year) to the economy. The rest of manufacturing exports have been going out of fashion for decades, so you can recognise what that scheme does. I think that it’s very important that we recognise their worth to the economy, and what they do in drug development, to improve quality of life.

DG: So researchers who are working on that more discovery or technical side – they can communicate to the policy side of things but they also can focus on getting that translated into commercial product and business?

KB: That’s how the world works. Sometimes drugs come on the market that are very expensive and people might argue that they have very high clinical value. I’m not in a position to say that that’s true or not, but by and large, if you look round at the advancement of medical research and science in my lifetime – it’s absolutely phenomenal. It puts pressure on the NHS and everything else, but it is phenomenal in having the ability to improve people’s quality of life.

DG: Last question: thinking about the future of health and healthcare – what do you think the challenge is going to be and how are researchers and the next generation going to meet that?

KB: I think it’s going to be lifestyles. I’m not saying medical science is not going to carry on – put a lot of people out of work, and the NHS may find it challenging. We have to accept that medical innovation does that, but what I’ve been involved in for many years now is the issue of lifestyles and how we can improve population health. That’s the real key to this, and it goes from the environment you live in, to what we do or don’t do as individuals. These are going to be the determinants of the future. Medical science is going to carry on and help us, but it can also find out why we need to be changing lifestyles. We need that evidence so legislators can put that into the public domain.


Our conversation with Sir Kevin has shown us yet again how important our research can be in turning the tide of national policy, but it also shows the work yet to be done. Now is the time to get involved in policy, Sir Kevin certainly gave us some great suggestions for how to do so and we encourage all our colleagues in MDH to explore these avenues.
For more information related to anything discussed here, please contact the MDH RSA Research and Policy group at and visit our website for future events here.

Photo Credit: Uploaded to Flickr by The Health Hotel; Ellen Buckley

We have a new book out! 53 Ways to Enhance Researcher Development

cover.pngSeveral of the Think Ahead team, contributed practical short chapters to this edited collection, sharing what we do and how we do it. There are 53 chapters in total, written by contributors form across the world, and this book would be great for anyone seeking to refresh and revitalise what they deliver and how, as well as people new to research development.


Daley, R., Guccione, K., Hutchinson, S., (Eds) (2017). 53 Ways to Enhance Researcher Development. London: Frontinus

“The contributors to this book provide practical strategies, drawn from experience across several continents, to enhance the practices and policies of researcher development. Designed for dipping into, the book enables researcher developers, supervisors and academic developers to enrich their approaches, innovate to enhance and embed educational value, and do more with limited resources.”

Topic areas include: fundamentals; developing professional researchers; researcher communication; peer learning; researcher communities; researcher career development; exerting influence in your institution; and developing a career in researcher development.



Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: Business Affairs Manager, BBC

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £30-50k (more information here)


I’ve just realised that I have now been in the ‘world of work’ exactly the same amount of time that I was in higher education: 7 years. Aside from this fact eliciting the usual feelings of oddness at the relentless passage of time, it also highlights parallels between the two periods of my life. While at Sheffield I initially spent some time learning how things worked before becoming more focused on areas which specifically interested me, the same thing has happened within my career.

After submitting my PhD thesis (in English) in the summer of 2009 and after 7 full years at Sheffield University where I completed three different degrees, I felt burnt out with academia and craved the routine and security of a job. Without anything lined up, I went to London, moved in with a group of friends in a similar situation and furiously started applying for positions. At this point I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew I had limited experience, but I was also on the cusp of being awarded a PhD which was something I’d worked immensely hard for. As was a theme with me, I didn’t particularly have the confidence to settle on an idea of what I wanted to do and it really wasn’t clear how I would be seen outside of my academic comfort zone.

After a period of scattergun job applications, I managed to get an interview and then job as a Rights Assistant at the BBC. The BBC was an organisation that I’d always thought out of reach despite having looked at their job site more than anywhere else, but I’d stumbled across what was essentially an admin role which allowed a way in. This first job involved the contracting of writers for various in-house produced BBC TV shows. These were mostly one off dramas as well as continuing series and the role involved basic negotiations with talent agents, issuing contracts and making payments. Once inside, the BBC opened up as a place of real possibility, with plenty of opportunities to learn about other departments and to gain a wider context of how a giant public service broadcaster worked.

IMG_1316.JPGFor the first year and a half, I hopped my way around fixed term contracts in similar Rights Assistant roles, buffeted around by the constantly ticking clock of short term positions. But it was this period where I began to gain a real interest in how technology and shifting consumer behaviour was changing the BBC in a very profound way. This focus helped me get a job in the Rights Business Development team which centred on the support of new, innovative and emerging areas of the BBC.

I am now a Business Affairs Manager working with the BBC Three channel. BBC Three has recently shifted from a linear broadcast channel to an online-only one which features services across the BBC, YouTube, Facebook and other destinations. This new strategy and approach pushes the boundaries in all sorts of ways and has required fresh and innovative thinking in terms of how editorial teams are supported. I am in charge of supporting all short form video produced, commissioned or acquired by the channel, and engage third party producers, social brands and other digital companies in deals for content or services. In addition, as a point of advice and expertise on rights, legal approach and industry precedent, my role has evolved along with the needs of the channel which itself represents an experiment for the BBC.

As a publicly funded organisation, the BBC has its tricky differences from the commercial sector but can be a truly inspirational place to work. At the BBC there is a constant need to be accountable to the licence fee payer, and while this can feel restrictive given the rules and regulations which are in place, it’s a constant reminder that it’s a unique, fascinating and ever-changing entity which belongs to everyone and it pushes people to be creative within certain parameters.

As I progress through my career I realise more and more just how valuable the skills i developed during my academic study truly are. As jobs become more senior at a place like the BBC, they become less about process and more about the analysis of ideas. Not ‘do this’ but rather ‘how should we do this differently?’. The creative, analytical problem solving that I developed – in particular – during work on my PhD thesis, has been increasingly vital to me in my current role. Skills of communication are also critical, particularly when there might be a very limited time window to persuade and influence a senior member of staff.

My advice to any researchers leaving academia and entering the world of work would be this: depending on your chosen discipline, it may not be your PhD itself which will be valued by an employer (though it certainly won’t hurt!) Instead, the attitude and skills you have developed and which are exhibited will mark you out and likely become more and more vital to you as your career develops.

Most people have some form of digital footprint these days; it’s an occupational hazard in almost all lines of work.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to connect via LinkedIn, and looking after the @ThinkAheadSheff twitter handle means I’m always on the lookout for people/organisations to follow.

Having an online presence as a researcher is a great means of raising your profile; it facilitates global networks and can generate new collaborative partnerships.  An online profile can assist you in promoting your research and reaching a wider audience – with specific social networking sites such as ResearchGate there are a whole host of opportunities open to you.


Your digital profile is now often the first thing that someone encounters about you – it’s your brand and it should be carefully cultivated.  If you have a personal account on any social media platform and you also used for work purposes, you might want to think about what image you’re portraying with your posts.

I was recently in contact with a researcher who had their twitter handle in their email signature.  Being curious, I checked out their profile to see what they were working on.  Their bio listed their employer and area of research, but all the tweets I could find were complaints to various retailers and service providers and it left me feeling a little disappointed.  There were no retweeted posts or articles relating to their research field, let alone anything sharing their specific research interests.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for using twitter to expedite complaints processes – after a colleague experienced faulty teabags which exploded on contact with water, a quick tweet resulted in replacement teabags and all the ginger tea she could consume. But posts like that should be the exception rather than the rule.

If you advertise your social media platform of choice within a work context it’s reasonable for a person engaging with it to expect some work related content.  Equally you want your audience to connect with you as a person; striking that balance between work-related posts and other interest posts can be difficult, but it can be achieved.

At Sheffield there are a number of resources available to support you with your online profile.  Here are just a few:

There is also a #vitaehangout tomorrow (Tuesday 20th June 2017) on the topic of navigating your digital profile.  It promises to cover a range of topics from creating your own digital identity, to effectively using online platforms to promote your research.

Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: Senior Consultant at Deloitte UK Lifesciences and Healthcare please feel free to contact Ismael on LinkedIn

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £40-60k (more information here)

2.jpgI read for a BSc. in Genetics and Molecular Cell Biology and PhD in Cardiovascular Science at the University of Sheffield. During my PhD I became increasingly interested in translating research into real and tenable commercial solutions. The impact of academic research can be very long term, and my motivation to move out of academia partly stemmed form the need to see the impact of my work forthwith. I also wanted to move into a role that opened my career options and after speaking to some friends about their career moves, I was introduced to the idea of pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting.

My first role straight out of a PhD was as an Associate at a life sciences competitive strategy consultancy where I helped pharmaceutical and medical device companies identify opportunities and competitive risk in various therapeutic areas across various markets.

I supported clients to identify opportunities for clinical development, manage complex regulatory challenges, design and implement product launch strategies across different markets, and conduct competitive landscaping in various therapeutic areas.

I particularly enjoyed attending medical and scientific conferences to identify unmet therapeutic needs in various disease areas and assess how the pharmaceutical industry was addressing these requirements. This allowed me to travel around the globe, meet various scientific leaders and explore disciplines beyond the topics of my PhD.

I also learnt to conduct ‘so what?’ analysis, assess the commercial implications of market developments and drive strategic recommendations to my clients.


I later joined the Healthcare and Lifesciences Risk Analytics team at Deloitte. Here I use various data analytics tools to help clients assess risk in their R&D, clinical development and commercial strategies. I find the inter-disciplinary aspect of this job very interesting and highly engaging. I work with people with differing expertise that come together to solve complex client problems. I also enjoy interacting with key decision makers both at my clients and within my firm.

Consulting is varied, very fast paced and continually challenging, but can also be intense and from time to time may require longer working hours. The ‘no day is like the next’ may very much sound like a cliché but it is a fact of life in consulting and this can take a while to get used to. Consulting often requires a significant amount of travel and while it may allow you to see the world, you often need to work on the move. Thus, consulting tends to attract the self-driven types, people that are happy to build and maintain networks and manage their own work life balance.

It is not essential to have a PhD to work in consulting, especially for larger firms, but academic research experience is definitively a plus. The misconception that skills gained during your PhD are only useful in a research lab or within an academic institution can make the move to industry daunting. Nevertheless, I feel that the fear of moving from academia to industry often stems from being surrounded by very bright academics who may have only limited experience working in industry, especially outside of their area of expertise.

Consulting experience can open the door to a variety of other industry careers in business intelligence, business development, strategy and operations management, both in the private and public sectors.

My career tip to researchers leaving academia is simple; be humble, be curious, be adventurous.

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? 

stress laptopWorking in academia, most of us don’t have the ability to hand work over to someone else when we need to take a break so that it all keeps ticking along. Typically after taking a week off with the kids for half term, I then get hit on the back of the head with a freezer block and get a lump the size of an egg and 2 days later come down with a throat infection as soon as I start back in the office.  In the time you are away the emails ridiculously build up and the to do list is getting longer and longer. We take breaks to avoid stress but in the process it often feels worse when you come back then when you went away. How on earth do you catch up on all this and not just end up rocking in the corner as the stress builds up? Read the rest of this entry »

Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: Business Systems Analyst at Anchor Trust

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £41,000 to £50,000


Read the rest of this entry »

The beginning
Recently I’ve been thinking about how Think Ahead came to be.  Fifteen long years ago, Sir Gareth Roberts completed a detailed review into the supply of people with science, engineering and technology skills to support UK innovation.  The review made many recommendations, two significant ones for researcher development being;

  • “The training elements of a PhD, particularly training in transferable skills, need to be improved considerably.”   (and)
  • “HEIs take responsibility for ensuring that all their contract researchers have a clear career development plan and have access to appropriate training opportunities.”
    (SET for Success, 2002).

In 2005, the European Commission adopted a ‘European Charter for Researchers’ and a ‘Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers’ furthering the agenda to make research careers more equitable and attractive. Read the rest of this entry »

Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.

Job title and company: Research Scientist – Corn Nursery Research Seed Production, Pioneer.

Approximate salary range for your type of role: Professional scale, very variable — check individual job adverts for details.


Read the rest of this entry »



Dignified wolf…

Over the bank holiday weekend, I said goodbye to the  world’s best dog. There’s almost certainly a shed-load of peer-reviewed research to back that up, but I can’t find it just now, okay? Just, you know, take my word for it that Madge was, objectively speaking,  the world’s best dog.

She was very old and creaky, and had recently started to get significant pain in her joints. She had a morning of eating her favourite treats, playing with squeaky toys and being treated like royalty, then she went to sleep in the sunshine, surrounded by her humans. Without a doubt, it was the right decision at the right time. Knowing that didn’t make it any less heartbreaking, however.

Read the rest of this entry »