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.

Job title and company: Senior Editor, BioMed Central (part of SpringerNature)

Approximate salary range for your type of role: Editorial roles start ~£22k, increasing with promotions


I obtained a PhD in yeast molecular biology, looking at DNA replication and gene silencing in yeast mitosis, and then did a postdoc looking at chromosome positioning in yeast meiosis. After three years of the postdoc, I didn’t have any results, so in some sense my reasons for leaving academia were negative – finding another postdoc with no publications wasn’t going to be easy; having spent three years with nothing to show for it was a bit soul-destroying; I realised if I was going to go down that route, at some stage I would have to consider becoming a PI, and I found it hard enough thinking of experiments for me to do without having to come up with experiments for other people to do as well.

But my choice of going into editing was a positive one – I had enjoyed writing up my PhD thesis, and had proofread friends’ theses and found I enjoyed that and was good at it too. I had a friend who worked at a journal, and it sounded like the kind of job that would be good for me. She let me know when a job came up at Genome Biology and I applied for and got it.

Genome Biology has professional editors, so the job is slightly different from at other journals which have academic editors – we have more hands-on experience with manuscripts. The bulk of the job is reading and assessing research manuscripts. If we decide to send for peer review, then we have to find relevant reviewers (this involves a lot of time on Pubmed), and once they have returned reports, we make a decision on the manuscript.

Although the job title is editor, there is no actual editing involved – I don’t sit in the office with a red pen, crossing out words or writing ‘stet’ in the margin. Also, people often expect it to be a writing job, but we do very little writing for external consumption. We occasionally write blog posts about interesting research we have published or other relevant topics, and we have a twitter account which we share responsibility for.

The best bit about the job is reading over a wide range of topics and being able to keep up to date in a fairly broad field. I read much more widely than I ever did as a researcher, although it does mean you have a shallow appreciation of a lot of things, rather than a very detailed knowledge of one topic. Another perk of the job is being able to go to two or three conferences a year.

Depending on the journal, it’s not that necessary to know a lot about a field before you start. Although my background was in molecular biology, so I could follow along with most manuscripts, I really didn’t know much about genomics. And everything I now know about bioinformatics I have picked up on the job. As I mentioned previously, for journals with academic editors, the in-house editors have much less direct interactions with manuscripts, and so you could be working on a journal covering a field very different from your background.

Most journals will take editors straight from a PhD with no formal editing experience. Any relevant experience at all will help your application – science blogging, freelance copyediting, conference organisation, even just having been involved in writing papers. You should be able to demonstrate a broad interest in science, so be prepared to discuss interesting papers you have read recently, particularly outside your own field.

In conclusion, editing is a great job if you want to move away from active research, but still want to keep up to date with developments in science, and you still want to use the knowledge and training you accrued during your academic career.

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? Standard job websites like Nature Jobs. Also, publishers will have job adverts on their own websites, so check there. And recruitment agencies often carry editorial roles.

What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? A PhD in a vaguely relevant subject is required for most editorial jobs. But it doesn’t have to be hugely relevant.

This is a guest post, written by and expressing the views of Dr Steve Hutchinson (founder of Hutchinson Training and Development). Steve runs excellent workshops. He is also one of the editors, and a plausibly prattling contributor to the upcoming book ‘53 interesting ways to enhance researcher development’…

Many years ago, I was trying to successfully navigate the upgrade meeting which would allow me to promote my registration from MPhil to PhD.

This was a scary meeting and not because I didn’t know my science (I didn’t know my science – but I’ve always been good at plausible prattle). The meeting was frightening because straight from the start one of the two panellists fixed me with a steely gaze and asked: “So, what have you learned over the last year that has made you a better academic?”.

A better academic? A better academic?

I knew more about obscure ecological theories, but was I a better academic?

I’d spent many hours watching flies buzz around on cow excrement (oh yes…), but did that make me a better academic?

Thanks to my plausible prattle, I upgraded – but the experience shook me. While I’d obviously learned a great deal in the previous year, I wasn’t necessarily aware of how I’d evolved. Much of my learning had been informal, osmotic, social, and experiential. I certainly hadn’t attended any workshops.

To illustrate my point further, ask yourself the question “What makes a GOOD academic?” and then list how many of those skills and attributes are really obtained in a formalised learning setting. Some of them maybe, but probably only some.

Fast-forward twenty years.

As a professional developer I now run a lot (and I mean a LOT) of workshops. They’re what clients request and I’m good at running them, and so I’m asked to run more. Participants are happily edu-tained, clients can evidence happy-sheet value and I get paid. We all win. However, after each course, I hand out a pile of (client-designed) feedback forms that ask the question “How would you improve this workshop?”.

Each time, the thing I think, but cannot say, is that we could improve things massively by considering whether we should be investing less in formal sheepdip workshops and then redesigning things around less formalised knowledge. I’m not saying workshops are pointless. That would be Christmas and I’m a turkey. But I am saying we should be thinking more widely than just classrooms. Yes, a good workshop can point the way, and provide short-cuts and discussion spaces for knowledge that previous generations had to learn independently but they are certainly not everything.

Perhaps allowing individuals more responsibility for their own development and helping them reflect on, capture and articulate their learning is where our focus should really be. I was part of the movement that pushed for the emphasis on the development of transferable skills within research programmes – and that time should be actually devoted to it. This agenda became administratively quantified as ‘ten days per year’ and then heard by some institutions as ‘ten-days-workshop-attendance-that-can-be-measured-on-a-spreadsheet-to-please-funders per year’. But the notion of development and quantifiable class attendance were never meant to be the same. If I want to improve a skill area, I may read a book or talk to a colleague, reflect on this insight and try it out for myself. This is priceless, but hard to measure and so sometimes not recognised by development schemes.

Many learning organisations (and I am still reluctant to really class universities as such) have embraced the notion that learning is not formal and isolated but comes via knowledge transfer from conversations between colleagues. When a workshop I’ve led is lauded for its tailoring and relevance, it is usually the participant-led contextualization and conversations that I have facilitated that have actually added the value. Pointing the way to social learning opportunities, and allowing individuals to choose where and when they have these interactions increases relevance and amplifies the power of any supplementary generic information. In the traditionally insular world of the PhD this socialisation may once have been problematic, but with the rise of structures such as the Doctoral Training Centres and the recognition and REF requirement for a thriving research environment, such connections are far more likely to occur. Even so, how much knowledge is lost or left untapped because an individual does not share their knowledge gained on a workshop with their supervisor and colleagues?

The norms of education have radically shifted over the past fifteen years. The democratisation of information through the internet and social media has opened up huge potential areas that developers could be exploiting more effectively than we currently do. Academics ask me regularly how they can get their students to switch off their phones for five minutes. Maybe the solution for developers is to embrace the technology instead of fighting it. Forums, polls, quizzes, Skype interviews, animations, infographics, videos, livecasts and podcasts, talking-head answers to common problems and so much more can help to supplement existing programmes. Online action learning sets who connect in virtual space at times and dates convenient to them might actually be more enticing than a workshop – especially as a world of wisdom and insight exists online, just a swipe of a finger away. Even ‘information provision’ material can be adapted so that it sits more closely aligned with what a modern generation of technological learners actually will respond to. Coaching, mentoring, networks, and discussion groups can all be facilitated with technology. Even at the most basic level, condensations of best practice (not regulations) can be shared more widely on intra or internet space.


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You could argue that ‘putting everything online’ is not the way forward and would result in our learners burrowing deeper into their insular research silos. But, there is a difference between an inclusive blended learning approach and listing information on a website. I would argue that if we work with our learners to help them to create and curate resources that they find useful, we wouldn’t lose engagement at all. Quite the opposite.

Sounds good, but it requires time. Which is something that we lack. Yet last week I was booked to facilitate a workshop. I prepared extensively, created useful handouts, designed captivating graphics, travelled some miles, and set up a learning experience that I knew would be empowering, thought-provoking and useful. This took a lot of my time.

One person showed up.

And even if all eighteen expected participants had turned up, was the return on time and institutional resource invested actually justified – especially if they simply took the new knowledge back to their personal research silos?

So, how do we improve ‘The Workshop?’ By helping individuals to capture and reflect on what they’ve learned through classes and social engagements, by embracing social learning, by being facilitators and curators of development and, in that spirit, by coming together more readily to collaborate and share our novel practices. And perhaps, rather than reinventing the wheel we need start by pausing to check if it needs realignment to keep apace with the connected modern learner.

Career planning is often presented as applying a logical, step by step approach following a linear pattern to develop your career but the reality is that life in general and our career thinking more specifically often don’t work that way. We have a huge number of options open to us and deciding what is the right career is no easy task. What happens for many people is that chance encounters, opportunities and life situations lead us to follow certain paths at different points in our life.


What is important is the approach we take to what life throws at us and how we deal with it in a way that can benefit us. Although people may feel that they fell into what they are doing ‘by accident’, it is likely that their attitude played a part. So what should you do to make the most of life’s everyday events?

Clarify ideas: follow your curiosity and identify your interests

Remove the blocks: wonder “how can I” rather than “I can’t because…”

Expect the unexpected: be prepared for chance opportunities, such as unexpected phone calls, chance encounters, impromptu conversations and new experiences

Take action: learn, develop skills, remain open and follow up on chance events

This approach has a name, ‘Planned Happenstance’ and is a theory developed by Krumboltz, Levin and Mitchell to encourage us to create our own opportunities or make the most of those presented to us for our own learning and career development.

Planned (arranging the parts) +

Happen (occurring by chance) +

Stance (a view or attitude) = ‘Planned Happenstance’

To make the most of this, consider where you are at with your career development. How clear are you about what you want to achieve? Network as widely as you can. When opportunities arise, be open-minded and think laterally about the benefits it could provide before dismissing it or assuming you don’t have time. Take up chances to develop skills or learn something new. If things don’t work out, look for different routes and seek advice from those you respect. A positive approach could lead to opportunities and directions you didn’t even know existed!

Want to know more or need convincing? Read the career stories of researchers who have gained from this approach.

Further information:

J.D. Krumboltz and A.S. Levin; Luck is No Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career (2016) – 2nd edition

Photo credit:

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 titles and companies: 

  1. Product Innovation Scientist, Mars
  2. Senior Product Design Scientist, Mars
  3. Programme Leader, Mars
  4. Development Manager, Britvic
  5. ‘Head of Science & Public Engagement’ at Oxford University’s Botanic Garden

Approximate salary range for your type of role: Ca. 55k on leaving Britvic

new _28100.jpgI completed my PhD in Plant Molecular Biology in 2009 at the University of Bristol. I absolutely loved working in research and I wanted to pursue it as a career. So much so, I devoted my heart and soul to my work and I won both a faculty and a national prize. However this commitment to my PhD was followed by two unsuccessful attempts to secure funding. At that time, I started to question whether this was in fact the career for me. So despite my passion for plants and biology, I started to look at opportunities in Academia and also in Industry.

I saw a job advertised in New Scientist in Research and Development (R&D), working for the American company Mars – the confectionary giant. I did my homework and learnt that the company was repeatedly listed as a Top 100 Employer across the board. My dad, whose career was in Advertising, told me that Mars was a blue-chip company that was very well regarded. So I completed (and passed) the online numerical tests and was invited to a telephone interview. The questions were fairly direct and it was difficult to tell over the phone if I had built a rapport with the interviewer. Two weeks later I was invited for a face-to-face interview and Assessment Centre. On arrival I was given an exam paper (of sorts) and told that I had two hours to prepare a business plan. Having never done anything like this before in my life I was rather sceptical about how I would perform. The panel challenged my analysis and my recommendations hard – there was certainly nowhere to hide! I now know that there were several competencies against which I was being assessed; for example how successfully I would stick to a decision once I had made it and how well I could cope with ambiguity. After a series of interviews I was offered the job, so I moved from Bristol to Leeds (where the office was based).

My role at Mars was initially in Product Design for the Pedigree and Whiskas (household pet food) brands. I spent much time overseas in a factory in Hungary commissioning new products and running trials. I was amazed (and sometimes a little scared!) at the level of responsibility I was given. I probably learnt more in that first year than I ever had before.

11000718_10100759869244672_1357603821274704278_n.jpgTwo years after my appointment I was promoted to a senior role, and a further three years on I was promoted again to Programme Leader and led a technical team. Each promotion involved a very gruelling series of interviews and assessments.  I spent lots of time travelling in these roles and experienced working in, for example, America, Germany and Lithuania. I also developed a whole suite of Manufacturing and FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) industry skills in for example Product Design, Process Engineering, Project Management, Regulatory Affairs and Marketing. In my last role at Mars I was looking after a significant portfolio of projects across several continents.

During my time at Mars, I still made time for interest in botany. For example I returned every year to University of Bristol to teach plant identification in Portugal. I compiled data from these trips to publish a field guide with Kew Publishing.

Five years after my appointment at Mars I decided to look for other opportunities. I applied for the role of Development Manager in Chemical Engineering for a company called Britvic, who manufacture household brand soft drinks including Robinsons and J2O. This required a move back down to the south. Whilst my background was not in Chemical Engineering (unlike the colleagues I worked with), and was therefore somewhat technically challenging for me, I was able to draw upon the transferable skills I had acquired at Mars. I led the ‘Liquid’ programme for the company’s multi-million investment project to build new factory lines across the UK, alongside a team of project engineers. There was also the opportunity to become a chartered Chemical Engineer in this role which is highly transferable in the industry.

After a serious operation in 2015 I did some soul-searching and decided to move back into the plant science arena because for me, it’s truly what I love most. This was a difficult decision (just like my first to move into industry in 2010!) and not one I undertook lightly.

IMG_3472.JPGA post at Oxford University arose which would be the perfect opportunity to combine my passion for plants and biology with the leadership skills I developed in industry. I am now in post as ‘Head of Science & Public Engagement’ at Oxford University’s Botanic Garden. I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to do what I love and to draw upon the skills I acquired in industry as well. Sometimes I experience a slight ‘culture shock’ or have people look at me quizzically when I use language not traditionally used in Universities or Academia that I picked up in Industry! However overall I feel immensely privileged to have worked across the Industry and Academic sectors. Having worked in an unusual variety of roles over the years, my advice to anyone would be not to worry about crossing sectors, or perceived divides, and to just get stuck in!

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours?

What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? 

ICHEME (Institute of Chemical Engineers)


Leadership is one of those Holy Grail skills that all researchers aspire to develop but often struggle to leadershipdemonstrate and give evidence of leadership experience on job applications or in interviews. There are lots of different ways to lead and just because you line manage someone, doesn’t mean you are acting as a leader. Other forms of leadership include; leading up (i.e. leading your supervisor, which in research is a very regular occurrence as you are the person who knows your research area as well as, if not better than your PI), self-leadership (which is self-explanatory and something researchers do on a daily basis) and lateral leadership which I want to cover below. 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: Policy and Projects Manager, BioIndustry Association @DrMartinTurner

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £35,000-45,000

Martin.jpgWhy do politicians make the decisions they do? Why did the previous Chancellor, George Osborne, freeze science spending between 2010 and 2015, and why has the current Chancellor, Philip Hammond, promised to increase it by 20% over the next four years, albeit with an emphasis on innovation over basic research?

I started my career in policy because I wanted to understand how decisions like these get made, and to potentially influence them myself. Read the rest of this entry »

d53018c541604453a8446db7ebff4483.jpgI work a lot with stuck and panicking PhD researchers near the end of their time here, and from them I have some intel to share. Bear in mind then that what follows doesn’t represent an ever so typical experience, but it does represent an important and keenly felt negative experience. One we can all learn from as colleagues in researcher development: be your role full time academic superhero and supervisor, or like mine, a specialist learning and development role, I think this will be relevant to you. 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: Patent Attorney, Teva Pharmaceuticals

Detailed salary information for the UK market can be found here.

Moodie.jpgI enjoyed my time at Sheffield University whilst studying for my Biochemistry undergraduate degree and planning and performing experiments as part of my PhD. Towards the end of my PhD project I decided that I wanted to find a career that allowed me not only to keep up with the cutting edge of science, but also to broaden my business horizons. I found such a career as a patent attorney. Read the rest of this entry »

This is a guest post from Sara Shinton, Head of Researcher Development, University of Edinburgh — see Sara’s blog here.

An analysis of the portfolios of major research funders over the last 20 years would reveal many shifts, but perhaps the most marked is the trend away from single discipline, narrow topic research towards a collaborative model. Researchers are expected to develop connections in other disciplines and sectors and to work with them on projects on a grander scale, with a broader scope or to address specific societal issues. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear doctoral supervisor,

“I was blissfully unaware how long it would take me to write up. To be honest I would have preferred a more clear marker from my supervisor, or from the department, saying stop doing experiments now and write! I was expecting someone to say when I had enough data, because I never felt I did, so instead I kept going much longer than I needed in the lab because I didn’t know how much was enough. I feel pretty annoyed about that.”

FullSizeRender.jpgIt’s 246 days ‪until the 31st of October. I mention this date as we have around 1100 third year doctoral students whose theses are due on that date*. With 8 months to go, now is a perfect time to make sure that your thesis writers know it’s time to spend some time each week — an hour a day, every day? — writing. Read the rest of this entry »