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.

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.

@musicedsolution @DrLizStafford

Job title and company: Director, Music Education Solutions® Limited

Approximate salary range for your type of role: Ha! When you own the company, anything from £0 to £onehundredtrillion!

E Stafford.jpgI never meant to do a PhD. I arrived at Sheffield for an MMus interview, thinking I would use that to pass the time while my voice matured enough for me to gain a place at music college. At interview I was offered a full scholarship if I applied for an MPhil leading to PhD rather than the MMus, and that was that!

I really enjoyed doing my PhD, but due to the fact that I had never intended to do one in the first place, I was still really focused on my ‘end goal’ of becoming a professional singer. My PhD was in Performance Studies, so it was contributing to this, but I knew that I would also need to move to London and study at music college if I were to be successful.

After my PhD I moved back home to Birmingham to work as a teacher for a year while I auditioned for, and saved money towards the fees for, music college. I was awarded a place at Trinity College of Music in January, to start in September. At this stage I had only done a term of teaching, and I was still really focused on my career plan, but once I had secured my place and was able to clear the fog a bit, I noticed that I was really enjoying my teaching work more than I had expected to.

In September of 2003 I moved to London to start at music college but quickly realised I had made a horrible mistake! Being one of life’s over-achievers (hello, unintentional PhD!) I chose to stick it out rather than admit my mistake, and after graduating the following June, moved straight back to Birmingham and resumed my old life!

Four happy years of working as a peripatetic teacher for Birmingham Music Service followed, during which time I completed a part time PGCE to make myself an officially qualified teacher. I loved working as a teacher, but the hours were long, and the financial rewards scant. There was no career progression available in my role, so I looked around for a change. I had already been involved in mentoring other teachers by this point, and was really lucky to apply for and be appointed to the leadership team of the KS2 Music CPD Programme, a government funded national training scheme for music teachers.

The KS2 programme was only funded for 3 years, and I quickly came to see that something would be needed to replace it, so I established Music Education Solutions® to fill the gap once the programme ended. I slightly undermined my own plan by having a baby just as the KS2 programme closed (!), but by 2013 I was up and running with my own company.

E Stafford.png

Music Education Solutions® provides consultancy services to the music education sector, and as director I am responsible for the day-to-day running of the company as well as our strategic direction. As we are a small business, I also deliver a lot of our work personally, so my days can vary from being in the office looking at our social media accounts, to flying out to lead training in another country!

One of my personal missions is to support and develop other women, so our roster of consultants includes a large number of women, many of whom are in the early stages of their career. I am also committed to diversity within the workplace, but music education is a very white, middle class dominated sector, and I have found it difficult to make my workforce as diverse as I would like – this is definitely still a work in progress for us.

One of the perks of being the boss is that if I don’t want to go to the office, I don’t have to, so I often work from home. For a working mum, this is a godsend, as it means I can get a wash on, and the tea in the oven at the same time as making conference calls and planning our strategic vision!

No week is the same for Music Education Solutions® so I could literally be anywhere, doing anything, from one day to the next. As I write this blog I am contemplating my next working week, which involves trips to Birmingham, London, Leeds and Belgium! And last week I spent 3 days in the Channel Islands, which I am not for a minute going to complain about!  We are currently working on two big projects creating music teaching materials for primary teachers. One of these involves a user-testing study, so my accidentally acquired research skills are being put to good use!

Running a small business requires you to be a jack-of-all-trades, and I feel that my PhD experience prepared me really well for this. With a PhD you have to work out how to do everything yourself – yes you can get advice from others, but it’s fundamentally up to you to make the magic happen. PhD researchers develop discipline, independent working, presentation skills, written communication skills, and tenacity which are invaluable skills in an entrepreneurial role. As a company offering consultancy, we are often asked to research projects for our clients, and it has quickly become clear to me that this is one of the easiest ‘sells’ for our company, since no-one except researchers really understands how to carry out research!

At the moment we are at a really exciting time as our company turns 10 in 2018. We have lots of celebrations planned, and are looking forward to looking back on how far we have come in a decade! Coincidentally in the same month that the company turns 10, I have a ‘big birthday’ myself. I have joked to my colleagues that creating a business from scratch takes so much out of you, that really it’s not fair to count those years, so I’m looking forward to turning 30 again in June!

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? Create them yourself! But the Arts Jobs website gives a good indication of what projects and services are frequently required.

What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? A PGCE is a must if you want to be taken seriously in (schools) Education.

Thursday 30th November at 3.30pm was ‘ThirTEA’, the University’s annual call to take thirty extra minutes to consider or engage in development.

I fully support this event and after enthusing the Department at 3.25pm, I decided that what I was going to do with #myThirty30 was to build a Buckyball*.  My reasoning was that for the last three years, I have encouraged others to make these as part of our annual Kroto researcher showcase but I have never tried it myself.

The next thirty minutes turned out to be incredibly illuminating from a learning point of view, for so many reasons.

Firstly, you need to know that I did not complete the Buckyball, so from the point of view of my original objective for the thirty minutes – mission not accomplished.

I didn’t feel crushed or despondent, just baffled – I knew I should be able to do it.  My colleagues had different responses to my lack of completion, some wanting to have a go to see if they could make it work, others offering encouragement, others reflecting back to me their own experiences of learning and the techniques they use.

Here’s how the process went:

  • I started building without using any instructions
  • When my progress slowed, I used ‘here’s one someone made earlier’ (at the researcher showcase) as a visual reference point
  • I got stuck
  • I did a little bit of mistake repeating while I figured out another strategy
  • I knew where the instructions were to be found but I momentarily though it’d be ‘cheating’ to look them up
  • I knew I had the capability to achieve the build and felt something was amiss with the kit
  • I counted the amount of pentagons in the completed kit and the amount I had – they were different
  • I looked up the instructions
  • I compared them to the physical reference I had used
  • I noticed the colour use for the completed one and the one in the instructions was different
  • It was now obvious why I had lots of red but left over and not enough white pieces

Throughout, I made decisions based on unconscious assumptions, born of past experience.  Some of those assumptions were helpful and some were a hindrance – what category would you put each of the below in?  Were there other assumptions that I made?

I assumed it could be done
I assumed the visual template was accurate
I assumed prior knowledge would help me
I assumed I had done it wrong
I assumed I could do it without assistance
I assumed repetition would resolve it
I assumed using instructions was ‘cheating’
I assumed taking a break would enable a breakthrough
I assumed there was an issue with the kit
I assumed I would succeed

The main thing I was reminded of from the experience is that in learning, there is no getting it ‘wrong’, all of our experiences are useful, if we only take the time to reflect on them.

I also experienced the ‘easy when you know how’ effect – it took ten minutes to complete the Buckyball after I had read the instructions!

*visit our fabulous ‘Outreach & Widening Participation’ webpages to find out more about the Buckyball.


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: Waste Package Specifications and Guidance Manager for Radioactive Waste Management Limited.

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £35-45k

DSC_0476_12.JPGAfter finishing my PhD I found myself in the same situation that many others do.  Feeling on top of the world, unstoppable and highly employable but my first job, the only job I could get, was waiting on tables at corporate events.   This is where I bumped into a friend from hockey whose table I was waiting on, “what are you doing working here?” he said, knowing full well I’d just got my PhD.

Feeling worthless and betrayed by a society that didn’t appear to value anything I could offer gave me the resolve and determination to keep trying for better things and never give in (lesson number 1).  Following this short term job, I managed to get an internship at the RSC thanks to a friend who worked there for 4 months (lesson 2 use your contacts and socialise your needs, people are usually more than happy to help you).

I then worked at BAE systems as a contractor for 3 months in a very interesting job as a failure analyst. Finally I was earning decent money and felt that I was in a role fitting of my ability.

Whilst this year of odd jobs was going on I had a joint grant application in with my PhD supervisor, which to our surprise we got and secured me work for the next 3 years.  I took it, despite BAE wanting to keep me on, as I was hoping to push up the TRL (technology readiness level) of my PhD research, (lesson 3 better to regret trying something with good intentions than to regret not taking the opportunity).

At the end of my postdoc and having had enough of research, I was looking for a change which had many opportunities for growth and wanted scientific skills.  I decided that the nuclear industry was the way forward.  As of January 2017 I am the new Waste Package Specifications and Guidance Manager at RWM Ltd.  Essentially I write and look after the specifications and guidance which tell organisations how to package the UK’s nuclear waste safely.

My role involves many things such as writing technical specifications for pieces of work that contractors would bid on, overseeing document development, people managing, writing new technical specifications and guidance and getting the correct people in to help.  There are also a lot of other smaller roles such as stakeholder management which take up a significant portion of time.  It’s a somewhat diverse and challenging role which is good in my book.

Essentially I sit at the bottom of the pile in the organisation but I have to take all of the company’s knowledge, bundle it up in a usable and informative way and communicate it to waste producers so that they package their waste in a safe and compatible way.

I spend a lot of time interacting with nuclear site licence companies (i.e. Sellafield and Magnox), regulators, the environment agency, contractors who help produce a lot of the documents and colleagues within RWM.

Right now I am leading the redevelopment of the entire suite and structure of the specifications and guidance documents (currently sitting at 60 documents and 2000 pages of text).  This involves taking a holistic view of all of the information in the documents, seeing how it all fits together, reorganising it and communicating it to our varied audiences in a more user friendly way.

It’s very different to research.  You get better pay and working conditions but it’s a difficult transition between having the freedom and flexibility to be creative to come up with the best thing since sliced bread and the bottom line of just having to get things done sometimes.

A PhD is definitely recognised in my role and valued; views that I had largely found to be otherwise lacking in the job market when looking for work.  I think the high regard that technical skills are held in by RWM is true of the industry as a whole. My current project is difficult, often without any clear cut answers and requires a diverse range of technical and soft skills.  Skills a PhD tends to instil into you.

I’m quickly learning that careers are a funny thing and that whilst everyone has advice on what you should do, so far I’ve found that the best thing to do is what’s always been right for me at the time.  Following my interests, or gut feeling, hasn’t always led to money but at least the journey has never been dull and I’ve felt much more fulfilled as a result of it.  I’ll close by saying: be open to opportunities, remember that serendipity is a large determining factor in “success” and, whilst money is nice to have, it’s only good for paying the bills at the end of the day.

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours?

What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? The Nuclear Institute, and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Ah, Christmas. Tis the season to:

  • Overcommit socially;
  • Attempt to get EVERYTHING at work tidied up before you break up for the holiday;
  • Panic about presents;
  • Stress about people coming for Christmas dinner/being  a Christmas guest.

Chance are, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you’ll fall prey to PFF (Peripheral Festive Faffing) somewhere along the way and none of this is doing us any good! 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 Development Manager (Policy and Performance), Sheffield Hallam University

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £39,000-49,000 (lecturer equivalent on the national university pay spine)

fildes.pngI finished my PhD in History in spring 2009. Towards the end of it, my focus was really just on finishing, not what was next. A week or so after I submitted, I started looking for jobs. I was never really interested in an academic career – I enjoyed my PhD but had no vocation for teaching and was aware of the ultra-competitive and precarious routes into research in my subject area. I therefore applied for quite a range of jobs – sounding interesting and my broad salary expectations were my only criteria. Read the rest of this entry »

This is a guest post from Dr Michael Trikic (@MichaelTrikic), Thesis Mentor and Technical Team Leader in the Department of Multidisciplinary Engineering Education (you can read about Michael’s teaching role in Engineering here).

Reflections Picture1.jpgA recent job application and interview caused me to reflect on my career and working life. As part of this I considered mentoring: my mentors and mentees, and informal and formal mentoring including Thesis Mentoring, v i s t a, career mentoring and the GROW mentoring schemes. I concluded that mentoring has been instrumental for me getting to where I am now – doing work I enjoy and want to do. But how? Read the rest of this entry »

As we are coming towards the end of WriteFest2017 you will hopefully have been really productive getting lots of pieces of writing completed and have many words down on paper but now you will probably need to share this writing with someone, maybe your supervisor or collaborators to get feedback on what you have written.

Well what is feedback?

What is feedback.jpg

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: Senior Research Scientist, Cell Assay Development, AstraZeneca

Profile pic.jpgI did my Undergrad in Biology with a year in Industry. Initially I didn’t want to do a placement in Industry so did my year at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew working on the genetics of a particular plant genus. Following my final year undergrad, I did not feel that I wanted to do a PhD, so I looked around at what types of careers I could do and got excited about forensic science (FYI I have never watched CSI!). Read the rest of this entry »

This post follows on from part 1 which was a plea to supervisors to actively promote development in writing from early on in the PhD. 

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAY-AAAAJDI4M2VkMDFjLTNjNjAtNGRlNy1hNTgwLTEzMjE5ZmYxZWJiOA.jpgThis post is for supervisors wondering what they can actually do in the early stages of the doctorate to get their PhD’ers to learn research writing. It offers a curation of ‘in practice’ ideas that supervisors can use to frame and cultivate a gradual development of writing, drawn together form the recent, and very readable, blogosphere literature. Read the rest of this entry »

This is a guest post for WriteFest (#AcWriFest17) by Sarah Muller & Liz Trueman, Postgraduate Researchers and Writing Retreat Organisers, School of Languages & Cultures, University of Sheffield.

AHwriting.pngFinding time and space for productive writing can be a difficult task. Sometimes looming deadlines, missed extensions, a judging blank page or that nagging feeling of guilt can’t move you to get writing – sometimes these can even be the reasons why you’ve developed a writing block. We have found that whether you work in an office space or from home, there is always one more thing to prepare, one more email that has been sitting in your inbox for a while, or one more meeting that you need to attend. All of these things, as important as they may be, keep you from doing that one thing that you’ve been meaning to do for weeks now: write. Read the rest of this entry »