Archives for the month of: August, 2017

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: Core Medical Trainee, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Approximate salary range for your type of role: Variable according to banding supplement during rotation.  All salary information can be found here.

I really enjoyed my undergraduate degree in genetics at the University of Sheffield and found that the aspects I enjoyed most were relating to human diseases.  After completing my degree I contemplated applying to medicine but at that stage I wasn’t convinced that this was the career for me.  I loved my undergraduate project so stayed on and undertook a PhD investigating the repair of DNA double strand breaks during meiosis.

image1.JPGDuring my PhD I found I became most interested in the medical aspects and decided I wanted to make the switch.  I found this a daunting prospect as I didn’t know anyone who had undertaken a medical degree after their PhD and the thought of a further 4 years at University was overwhelming.  Before applying to medicine, I decided to try and get more experience in a paramedical field.  I accepted a postdoc position at New York University with Professor Roth, who was Dean of the Medical School. I thought this would be a good means by which I could gain more insight into a medical career. The Roth group investigated V(D)J recombination and non-homologous end joining in mammalian cells so a similar theme of DNA repair but in a more medically applicable field.

During my time in the lab I was awarded the Irving fellowship of the Cancer Research Institute of the USA for my work investigating the initiating lesions of leukaemias and lymphomas. I loved my 3 years in New York, not only in the lab but also living in a city I have always adored.  My fellowship gave me the confidence to apply for medicine – most people working in the lab were MD PhDs and so it no longer felt like such an overwhelming prospect.

On returning to the UK, I completed a 4-year graduate entry medical degree at the University of Birmingham.  This was an intense degree and I can honestly say I have never worked harder but I absolutely loved it. One challenges during medical school was being more ‘mature’ – I was nearly a decade older than most of my contemporaries. Whilst not a major issue, it meant I often had different responsibilities and priorities from my colleagues. On graduation I undertook my foundation training at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust where I remain today for my core medical training (with two maternity leaves in between).

The job is incredibly varied, no two days the same.   I have had placements in general practice, small district general hospitals and large tertiary referral centres.  Specialties included emergency surgery, oncology, sexual health, HIV and A&E.

I have been positively encouraged to remain active in research; it is becoming more and more commonplace to need a PhD to be a competitive applicant for consultant positions. As a natural progression from my PhD, I have become involved in oncology research – in particular immune modulation and chemotherapy for GI malignancies. So far I have written several reviews, book chapters and have recently published my first book on the subject.  All of this has had to be undertaken in my personal time whilst revising for one of many professional exams, I have felt incredibly stretched at times.  It often feels relentless; the next exam is always on the horizon.

image2.JPGThere are many skills that I developed during research that have been invaluable in medicine – prioritisation, organisation, and time management are the most immediately obvious. The formulation of hypotheses and designing experiments to test them uses the same skill set as deciding upon differential diagnoses and appropriate investigations.  I feel able to put the skills I honed during my PhD to use on a daily basis.

As with all jobs, there are downsides – it is at times acutely stressful: my first ever shift was a weekend night shift with the cardiac arrest bleep, I still have nightmares about it! The working day can be incredibly long, often 13 hour shifts, and regularly staying beyond this. It is not uncommon to go an entire shift without a decent break, grabbing a chocolate bar whilst running to answer the 10th bleep that hour.  It is not unheard of to have a 90-minute commute after such a day. The rotas can be challenging regularly swapping between day and night shifts and hardly ever received in advance, making general life planning, especially with two children, difficult.  I am often unable to attend weddings or other family events and it is impossible to plan holidays in advance.

There are significant financial costs also – annual GMC registration, indemnity insurance along with professional college membership and necessary examinations, which run in to thousands annually.

There are of course huge positives – you are truly able to help people, often at the most vulnerable time in their lives. It is an absolute privilege and always feels worthwhile.  There are patients I have looked after who I will never forget, their stories I will always remember. It can be incredibly exciting, and I always feel I am learning a new skill and being stretched.  There is also a real feeling of it being an apprentiship – I have had many senior colleagues take a real interest in helping me to further my career, both from an academic and pastoral perspective.

Another positive is the hugely varied workforce I have the privilege of working with– allied health care professionals from all over the world, which gives a wonderfully diverse and dynamic environment.  The camaraderie whilst at work can be incredible; I have worked with some fantastic teams and made friends for life.

One of the other advantages of this career is the ability to work in almost any part of the world. During medical school I worked in a remote hospital in Zambia for three months.  This was a life changing experience, working in one of the poorest countries in the world where the poverty and health inequality was overwhelming.  Families would walk for days to receive care, and only the most basic treatment options were available.

Excitingly, medical careers are becoming less prescriptive – it is becoming possible to create the niche career you want – I have worked with expedition medics who spend half of the year climbing Everest. I love my job, it can at times be overwhelming, but I am so pleased I took a risk. For anyone thinking about making a career change I would encourage you – you will be able to use the skills you have learnt in wages you never imagined.

I'd like to alert you to a new resource for supervisor development on the Think Ahead web pages. The page was developed from Trust Me!  an ongoing research project led by me and funded by the Leadership Foundation for HE, investigating the behaviours that are important in building trust and creating 'quality' doctoral supervision relationships.

Throughout the project students and supervisors alike speak of the need to achieve clarity of purpose, and find good ways of working together, seeking to make the uncertain processes of the PhD more predictable; reducing feelings of insecurity, worry and stress for all involved.

The resources (locate the page here) are designed to help supervisors think, plan, and have the right conversations with their students. The page is under continuous development, linking to new resources, and articles every week via the @predoctorbility Twitter feed and blog posts.

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I want to develop this for the supervisor community. Please use the evaluation form here to let me know what you’d like to see added or created, or to signpost me to a good resource you have found.

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: Planning Policy Officer at Bassetlaw District Council

Approximate salary range for your type of role: £20-30k more in other parts of the country.

Maidment 4.jpgI have been employed by Bassetlaw District Council as a Planning Policy Officer since November 2015, having interviewed for the position a week after submitting my thesis. I am writing this, however, on the day that I submitted my resignation. In September I will re-join academia, as a Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University.

My story starts in another part of Nottinghamshire; between the second and third years of my undergraduate degree I spent just over a year working at Ashfield District Council as a Student Planner. Ever since I have wanted to make a career that straddles the line between academia and practice. I enjoy teaching about my subject, I have a list of topics that I’d like to write about, and some questions that I’d like to research. But planning practice is where the decisions are made that will change places for better or worse.

Maidment 1.JPGCurrently I am part of the Planning Policy Team tasked with developing the ‘Bassetlaw Plan’. This comprises a series of sites, designated for either housing or employment development; and a set of policies, which will be used to make decisions about planning applications, all of which will need to be underpinned by evidence. That sounds very dry, but, essentially you can argue that the job is about setting out ambitions for the future of places in Bassetlaw and putting in place policies to achieve them.

It’s a job that comes with a highly variable diary. We don’t have the capacity or expertise to write all of the evidence we need, so we spend time commissioning external consultants to prepare some of it, writing detailed briefs setting out what we want from them. Other days we’ll have back to back to meetings with a whole range of organisations, from other local authorities and public bodies such as Network Rail and the National Health Service, to big housebuilders and landowners. We’ll spend six weeks at a time getting out and talking to the public about what they think. We’ll go out on site visits. We’ll spend many frustrating hours at the computer collating and interpreting data, most often about what number of new homes we need to plan for. We’re also the kind of team who will regularly break off what we’re doing to have an in-depth conversation about an aspect of policy, often debating what types of policy intervention we can put in place to achieve particular aims.

Maidment 3.JPGIn this way the role is what you make of it; I have a number of projects on the go and I like to switch between them regularly. Other colleagues prefer to focus on one project and see it through to completion. Currently I’m overseeing one study looking at the impacts of new development on local transport networks, and another looking at sites for an entirely new village I’m also trying to put together a workplan for preparing a new draft of the Plan, keeping abreast of the latest developments on the railways in order to advise our elected politicians, and trying to put down on paper the Council’s aspirations for new infrastructure.

I mentioned at the beginning that the next chapter of my story involves going back into academia, making it a good time to reflect on the differences and similarities between the two. From the outset, my justification for taking the job was that either it would be a great experience, and the start of a career in planning practice, or a not so great experience, which would give me plenty to write about for a journal article or two. Perhaps inevitably, it’s been a bit of both.

You do not need a PhD to do my job. However, throughout the experience, I’ve been struck by just how transferable the PhD skillset is to a policy-making role. You need to be prepared to read a lot, to research innovative ways of doing things and to engage with the detail of what is being said. Equally, you need to be able to analyse and synthesise material to recommend what should be done. Finally, you’ll need to be able to communicate with a wide range of groups, often being very careful to adapt your language to their level of knowledge. In other words, it really is a lot like going through the PhD process, but with a slightly shorter final document.

Conversely the biggest difference is that local government is not often a place for deep, intellectual conversations. My thesis was quite deeply rooted in planning theory, which blurs into philosophy quite quickly. Yet, in the day to day practices of planning, my colleagues would argue that theory has very little role to play.

Working in Local Government also has other frustrations. At the end of the day a lot of the Council’s work is oriented towards delivering high quality services, so the creativity of policy-making isn’t necessarily a natural fit. Equally, local government is ultimately a political organisation, so any big decisions are made by the elected members, and you won’t always agree with the decisions that they make. It also means you have to be extremely cautious about what information you impart to which groups; compared to academia conversations can feel quite closed. A lot of the time you’ll find your ambitions for making better places are thwarted by local government’s lack of money and lack of power, which can be very disheartening.

The upsides are working with a diverse group of people, in a friendly environment, that is, a lot of the time, less pressured than other workplaces. I also consider myself lucky to work in a team that sees the value in taking time out to debate to how best to address the issues at hand. Perhaps the biggest positive is being able to look at the policies being drafted and know which ones you influenced, with the knowledge that they may eventually shape the future of a place. I’m looking forward to getting back to teaching and having the time to write about my experiences at Bassetlaw. However, I will always be grateful to have played a small part in shaping the area’s future.

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? Local council websites.

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I’ve been thinking about the nature of success:

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I’ve been working in HE for five years and I have to admit, whilst I have no doubt that ‘success’ abounds (degrees completed, research grants awarded, public engaged with etc.) far too many people don’t recognise it if it doesn’t look (to them) big enough. In many of my day to day encounters people will talk in terms of what hasn’t been done, what is going to be ‘too hard’ or what they got wrong.

Based on the above definition, we are all successful every day.  I assume none of you aimed to come to work in your pj’s today (fun though that might be), so a collective round of applause for all of us achieving the aim of getting dressed!

I think we are all very good at not recognising how the ‘little stuff’ wins are the building blocks to reaching our self-imposed, grandiose markers for success.  I wondered then if there was a way to reframe the way we look at success.

Celebrate
On any day of the week, somewhere, someone will be celebrating.  Not just the obvious such as a birthday, academic achievement or getting of a driving licence but often a shared identity or cause.

In America today, there are at least eight themed days that people are honouring.

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What’s the relevance of ‘particularly preposterous packaging day’ to my rambling?  Well, in order to have a national day of celebration, people have to reflect on what has been achieved, why these things matter and how the activity has made a difference.  In other words, they have to ponder what aims or purpose have been met.

During these days of reflection, I am sure there will be sharing of stories, reminiscing on memories, laughter, social media connectivity and undoubtedly someone being told ‘well done’.

I think it is important for us to remember to celebrate success (whether defined as big or small) on a regular basis.  Invest the time in recognising your own achievements, good deeds and happy feelings as often as you can.  If you can recognise the success of others too, so much the better.

I am not a researcher, so I can’t guarantee you this will work but I feel confident there must be a link between noticing our own achievements and feeling happy.

There’s no time like the present but if you want to ruminate on my words first, why not start you success recognition regime tomorrow, on National happiness happens day!

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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 at Kirkstall Ltd @KirkstallLtd

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

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My career path to Research and Development Manager may seem to outsiders as a smoothly planned journey, but in reality it has been fuelled by good luck and, even though I didn’t realise it every time, my professional network. After studying for a Microbiology degree at Cardiff University, I came to Sheffield for my PhD. Halfway through my second Post Doc at Nottingham University, I had a moment of clarity: what was I doing? Would I ever make it as an academic? Did I even want to make it as an academic? During a leadership course, I came to the conclusion that the skills I valued in myself (supporting others, high level interest in lots of things, aversion to the details) were not necessarily valued by academia (papers, papers, first author papers), so I started to widen my career net.

About 3 years ago, one of my PhD colleagues sent me a message asking if I was interested in a permanent job closer to home. I said yes, and now I work for Kirkstall Ltd, a microSME based in Rotherham. We have a core team of five supported by students doing their year in industry and summer placements. Even though I am R&D Manager by title, in reality everyone is involved in every aspect of the business and because of this, there is no typical week! Over the last month or so my tasks have been a mixture of R&D-types activities to more sales- and business-focused ones:

  • Had a trip to the USA to support our distributors by presenting seminars and introducing new users to our technology;
  • Presented a project to a grant panel for funding;
  • Organised and went to sales meetings in the UK (Liverpool, Leeds, Cardiff);
  • Attended a workshop at Brunel University to prepare for a Horizon2020 bid;
  • Presented a webinar about our technology;
  • Was accepted to present a poster at The 10th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences in Seattle;
  • Interviewed for a new KTP associate with Manchester Metropolitan University;
  • Attended a conference as an exhibitor;
  • Many, many other tasks including project proposals, meetings, lots of meetings, reading literature, managing other staff members…

The first major difference I noticed about moving from academia to industry was the obvious focus on money and sales. Everything that I do has to have an impact on the bottom line of the business; I can’t waste my time on something interesting if there’s no benefit in it for us. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised it’s exactly the same for academia: we have to sell products to pay the bills, academics have to sell their research to get their next grant. The skills I’d developed as a Post Doc were those that helped me to succeed in industry too, because underneath, the pressures are the same. And I didn’t have to do the one thing I really didn’t like about academia: focusing on one protein and one reaction, doing the same experiments every week. Now, I get to support other people doing those things, while I can talk about their data and the big picture; bonus!

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If I could recommend the top skills for people who want to be R&D Manager at an SME, they would be:

  1. Network, network, network. It’s not a big scary word reserved for women and men in posh suits with shiny cars and fake smiles. Everyone has a network, and you should start using it now. Reconnect with PhD colleagues; reach out to members of other labs who you used to have coffee with but then their grants ran out; attend careers talks and engage with those who have jobs you’re interested in; sign up to workshops and courses that nurture the skills you value the most. Talk to people! Your network is your biggest asset.
  2. The skills you develop as a PhD student and Post Doc are relevant everywhere. Don’t just focus on your technical skills. If you like supervising students, that’s management experience. If you like working on your own project, that’s the ability to focus and get things done. What about those things you can’t control? Have a difficult supervisor? That’s the ability to work with many different types of personalities. Your project is a lemon? You’ve got troubleshooting and problem-solving skills galore.
  3. Let your personality shine through. If you really want to work for a small company, then the first thing you have to realise is personality is everything. If two people in a team of twenty don’t get along, that’s an itch. If two people in a team of five don’t get along, that’s a nightmare. When we’re looking to recruit and interview, experience is important but the ability to integrate into the team is essential. I like to see some essence of the person in CVs and covering letters, so don’t be afraid to include that you play netball five times a week, or make your own clothes, or volunteer at your local community centre.

Finally, my career words of wisdom to those wanting to leave academia are: find something you enjoy and run with it. There are so many careers out there, and you have the skills to be an asset to any company. Opportunities exist everywhere, and I’m going to say it again: network, network, network! Or in easier language: just talk to your people. It could end up taking you to a biotechnology company in Rotherham!

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? Recruitment consultants, your own networks New Scientist, Science, Nature, LinkedIn