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 Co-ordinator, NHS
Approximate salary range for your type of role: NHS Grade 7: £32k-£42k
I have only been outside of the ‘academic’ pathway for 9 months having recently started in my role as a Research Co-ordinator in Laboratory Medicine, a clinical laboratory at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals. My journey from Academia to Research Co-ordinator has been long. I completed my under graduate degree in Biomedical Sciences at Sheffield Hallam University, graduating in 2001. Unlike my current colleagues I decided not pursue the standard BMS career and did not register for accreditation with the Institute of Biomedical Sciences. Instead I started working in the research laboratories at Sheffield University. My first role was a research technician studying therapies targeting blood vessels that supply tumours. This position cemented my interest in research and I decided to study for a PhD in tumour inflammation.
My PhD was one of the most enjoyable, and stressful, periods of my life and I was working towards it for 5 long years. After successfully defending my PhD I graduated in 2008 and then started working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Oncology at the University of Sheffield. My research topics have been very varied which has given me a range of experiences in the research field. I have worked in breast cancer research, developed models to reduce the use of mice in research, engineered viral therapies for the treatment of myeloma and studied Vitamin D supplementation as a therapy for irritable bowel disease.
I found my career as a post-doc very rewarding for many reasons: it was challenging, flexible, I helped students develop their own research careers, and I formed great friendships with my colleagues. I achieved many things in my career but became increasingly aware of the limitations in the career path. As all post-docs do I was continually fighting for publications, continually worrying about the next grant application and struggling with home-life/work-life balance. I was never fully sure of where I wanted my career to go, I felt capable of pursing an academic career, but my body of work seemed always just shy of good enough to follow the path. In the end I decided that while working to achieve an academic career I would also explore paths outside of the Uni.
Understanding what I could do outside of my post-doc world was very daunting, I had no idea what roles I was suited for and explored many paths and applied for many positions in very different areas, I often describe it as shot gunning my CV. These ranged from complete retraining and being a Paramedic or Government Statistician to research related posts including working for charities to evaluate grants and finally being a Research Co-ordinator in the NHS. I found that a lot of my experiences as a post-doc were useful in my applications – I just had to rework them to sound appropriate for the role I was applying for.
- Managing others: we all manage other people in our labs including students, junior team members and collaborators.
- Understanding client needs: We all work for various ‘clients’ such as our line manager, collaborators, funding bodies and we constantly evaluate our work based on their needs.
- Ability to adapt and work in a stressful environment: For all post-docs I feel this is self-explanatory!!!!!!!!
I found that my research experience and life experiences often got me to interview in all these varied fields, however it was always having the confidence to make this come across during interview that I found difficult. It took me a long time to realise that I do have what is needed and have the confidence to sell it during interview. We are not just post-docs but well experienced individuals who adapt to a very changing landscape, so you can leave academia and do well.
Fast forward 9 months…
The role of a Research Co-ordinator can be very different depending on the area to which you are assigned. In general terms the aim is to ensure the smooth running of clinical research projects here in STH. My role focuses on the clinical laboratory and its involvement in analysing patient samples to ensure safety, eligibility and study outcome.
Most research studies will require analysis of multiple samples across all our disciplines. In order for these studies to run it is one part of my job to ensure the laboratory has capacity to accept these samples, has the appropriate funding to do the work and that the work we do is ethically and legally allowed as part of the study. Once we have agreed to a study it is then my responsibility to ensure the samples are analysed according to research guidelines and that the research teams are acquiring appropriate data from our laboratories. I am also involved in promoting research within laboratory medicine helping our staff set up projects and helping to increase interest in Laboratory Medicine as a research collaborator. Clearly my experience of research from the ‘researcher’ side has helped me in this role but I also find that my work ethic, developed as a post-doc, helps me to organise myself, deal with numerous different tasks and has given me that general ‘can-do attitude’ that is important when starting in a new environment.
When comparing the work that I used to do as a researcher and the work that I do now as a research co-ordinator it may seem, on the surface, to be less exciting work. However, the work that we do here is invaluable to the clinical trials and the patients that are part of them. Without our work these patients would not have access to novel therapies, new therapies would not be developed, and our staff would not be able to engage with the research world.
There are always things you will miss about academia. I particularly miss the flexibility of organising my own daily routine and work times. However, in my current role I may have fixed hours (8-4) but I am never expected to work outside of these hours and in fact I had to ask permission to be able to access my emails outside of the office (it felt very alien to me not being able to see my own emails at home!). My career path has not been straight forward, and I have never had a set-in-stone goal for my career. My exit from academic research was not carefully constructed and instead involved a lot of time looking at myself and evaluating ‘what am I good for’ and applying for jobs that I would find rewarding. My current role fits me as it challenges me, is teaching me new things and I can see how my work has an impact on patients.