Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story. 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: COST Action Administrator & Discovery Medicine North (DiMeN) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) Manager, The University of Sheffield
Salary range for this type of role: University Grades 6-7, e.g. £25,298 – 38,183
I finished my PhD in Plant Biology in 2014 and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do next, should I try and stay in research (even though I hadn’t really enjoyed my PhD) or should I try and do something different (but what different things did I want to do, what different thing could I even do?).
I decided that I wasn’t quite sure if I was finished with research so I took a job as a technician in a totally different field to what I’d studied for my PhD. I have to say I really enjoyed being back in the lab without the pressure of a PhD but after a while I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to do long term.
An opportunity came along for a part-time secondment into a professional services role in the University, managing a programme of work called InKForge that aimed to improve the interaction of PhD students and ECRs have with industry. I decided – with lots of encouragement from my non-official career mentor to go for it! (career top tip number one – you need to get yourself a career mentor whether it is via an official programme or something less formalised, it will be one of the best things you do!). I got the job (woo-hoo!) and for a few months I worked in both my lab tech role and the InKForge role.
It was a really good decision to do both roles alongside each other (career top tip number two – if you are not sure about what to do career wise secondments/two part time roles/job sharing opportunities might be a good option for you to ‘test the water’ in more than one work area) it made me realise that I actually much preferred the work that wasn’t research based. Which meant that when another opportunity presented itself to become a part time administrator for a COST Action which is an EU funded research project, I took it and left research completely in April 2015 (career top tip number three – sometimes opportunity comes a knocking and if you are excited by it and think that the work will be something you enjoy, go for it!).
So now I had two part time professional services type roles that made up one full time role. Unfortunately the funding for the InKForge project was only short term so I started to look at other things, as I really enjoyed working on the COST Action project (I’ll get to all the details soon) I wanted to find something that fit nicely alongside that role. I applied for a few different jobs which I didn’t get (career top tip number four – rejection sucks but learn from it, get feedback and try to improve every application and interview and eventually you’ll get where you want to be or find something even better!). Then I was offered a role managing a new Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) which I began in January 2016.
So that was a not so brief career history for me and brings you up to where I am career-wise right now. I have two part time jobs: managing the COST Action (which takes up 1.5 days a week) and managing the DTP (which takes up 3.5 days a week), these make up one full time job. But what do I actually do in both these roles?
The COST Action I manage is a network of European researchers (more than 200 from 25 different countries) involved in ageing research. I manage the project alongside the academic lead which involves lots of different things. I organise the international conferences for the network which entails things like advertising, organising bursaries for participants, assisting invited speakers with travel arrangements, booking conference venues, preparing programmes and other meeting literature and on the day running of the conferences. I am also involved in preparing budgets and managing the grant, making sure we comply with the regulations of our funding. I manage and update the website and am a member of the steering committee for the network and act as secretary for the management committee amongst lots of other things.
The DTP is a programme funded the Medical Research Council and is a partnership across the universities of Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield and will train 24 PhD students a year in health related research. I coordinate the DTP programme which again involves lots of different things including; developing and delivering the recruitment process, managing the website and Twitter feed, holding the various budgets for the project, developing and organising training events for the DTP students e.g. induction events, understanding and implementing research council policy and being a member of the cross-institutional management committee.
In both roles I have to work with a ton of different people. For example, I have to work with the academics involved in both projects (from within the University of Sheffield and other Universities in the UK and across), with other staff working in the Universities (e.g. researcher development managers, academic secretaries, finance and admissions departmental members), PhD students within the DTP, applicants apply for PhDs and external stakeholders e.g. Research Councils and EU funding bodies, external consultants and external service providers e.g. staff working at conference venues. I really like interacting with lots of different people so these two jobs are really up my street!
I usually work from my office in the University, however both my roles involve a certain amount of travel in the UK and Europe – I’ve recently organised and delivered meetings in Vienna and Madrid and I’m off to Brussels, London and Liverpool within the next couple of months. I’d love to share what a typical week looks like for me, but I actually don’t have a one – my jobs are so varied and that is exactly what I love about them. Of course I have tasks and commitments that come on a regular basis for example a monthly 1 hour meeting with the steering committee for the COST Action or running a monthly online journal club for the DTP but week to week it is really different. The key thing for me week to week is balancing each role, making sure I get everything I need to achieve for each role done and by the set deadlines. It can be tricky at times but it is actually really similar to how I managed lots of different experiments (but much improved!) during my PhD. I have quite a large workload but I really like the challenge of successfully juggling lots of different work streams.
If you wanted to go into this type of role it is really important to develop your project management skills – which you already have, your PhD is a project you are managing! You need to be able to manage various different small projects so it is really important that you are organised with how you work, it can get very complicated when you are working on three different deadlines. You need to be able to plan how you going to get the work done and keep track on where you at with it to make sure everything is completed on time. The other skill that is really key is being an excellent communicator – I have to work with lots of different people via lots of different channels (email, telephone, social media for example), I have to be able to work well with all kinds of people to achieve tasks which ultimately drive both projects forward.
My roles are quite specific for the individual projects I manage but if it sound interesting to you there are lots of similar roles you could do within a University, managing various different research projects or student training programmes (e.g. doctoral training partnerships or initial training networks).
I’ve found the transfer from academia pretty smooth, I still work in a University, I still interact with academics everyday and I still need to understand how the research process works. I help research projects run smoothly and meet their defined aims and objectives; I just don’t do the research anymore. I really enjoy that I am still closely in touch with the academic world. I tried really hard to think of the cons of what I do now compared to working academia but honestly the only thing I can think of is that I miss the social side of working in a big lab group, I work on my own quite a lot, in an office with just a couple of other people. On reflection if this is only the only negative I can think of regarding my move out of academia it was obviously a great decision for me!
Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? Jobs.ac.uk is a great resource for jobs like mine and of course you can also try specific Universities recruitment pages if you want to work in a particular geographic location.
What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? It was a preferred requirement for both my roles for the applicants to have a PhD.