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.

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 »

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.

Profiles: @a_n_s on Twitter, find me on LinkedIn

Job title and company: Public Engagement Facilitator, The University of Oxford

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £30-40k+

mlatoffice.jpgFrom an early age I knew I was going to be a researcher. Fast forward to the third year of my PhD in molecular biology and sadly this dream seemed unsuitable. Turned out that whilst I found it all fascinating, the actual lab work, looking at just one or two proteins, wasn’t for me. I wouldn’t say it bored me, but the seemingly never ending, soul-destroying inability to get sensitive experiments working chipped away at my motivation and morale. Dream broken, it was time to look ahead. I’m not going to lie: I was pretty panic-stricken to suddenly be without a clear direction. Read the rest of this entry »