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: Development Director, WISE Campaign
Approximate salary range for your type of role: WISE is not-for profit so it’s £40-50k but in industry before it was £80-100k
I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, even though I turn 40 this year. I’ve got probably another 30 years ahead of me which is more than the 14 I’ve had since finishing my PhD, so there’s plenty of time to work it out.
I started off studying for a degree in Music and was taking Physics and Maths as extra subjects (in Scotland you used to take 3 subjects in your first year) but Physics captured my imagination (and it was easier than writing essays for music) so I switched. I really enjoyed Materials Science and nano-magnetism so when the opportunity to pursue an industry sponsored PhD came up I jumped at it.
The PhD wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I really enjoyed the research, but I learned that it wasn’t for me. I can do the detail, but I am better at the bigger picture and really really enjoyed working with people – the highlights of the PhD for me were the STEM outreach and the 3rdyear undergraduate labs. It meant that instead of looking for postdoc jobs I looked at industry and suddenly there was a lightbulb moment… I could do electron microscopy (EM), the cornerstone technique for my PhD, for a job!
Over the next few years I went from being an EM Applications Specialist to Product Management, to translating between tech and customers, to sales and then management. Before switching to where I am now, I ran sales and service for the UK, Scandinavia, Israel and South Africa for one of the major electron microscopy instrumentation specialists.
It was great – the roles were all fun, I travelled the world and met lots of really interesting people. Taking something I was specialised in, and translating it into the work world was perfect. Just think – you can build on your expertise, add new skills such as product management, marketing, all sorts really and then see where you go. In industry, often the challenge was finding people who could do the tech AND work with people. If you have both, or can show willing to learn, then you can pretty much do anything you set your mind to.
There are challenges though – for a few years, as an applications specialist, I was travelling about 70% of the time… that means coming home to do your washing and leaving again. It was really tough trying to find a way that I could work with a baby, and it actually proved too challenging – I didn’t want to step back one bit but managing multiple countries which need multi-week trips just wasn’t going to work with my newly expanded priorities.
Then I found my current role. Just to show my lack of career plan (and for laughs) I was on maternity leave, 400 miles from home, about to look after the family dogs (3 of them) in Scotland for 2 weeks while my family went on holiday. I wasn’t opening my job email while on leave, but for some reason, one caught my eye, I opened the email and the role was there with the application closing date of tomorrow. I just HAD to apply, it was perfect and just captured my imagination.
My family went on holiday, I went to the back of beyond, and the offer of interview arrived, in London. I couldn’t do it – there was no way I could take a baby and 3 dogs on a round trip to London from outside Aviemore. Thankfully they were very accommodating, I was able to send my presentation, have a skype interview (from the local Hilton hotel – the only place with 4G) and the local nursery accepted my begging request and took my baby for an hour! I went back to work early, with my wee one only 7 months old but I was worth it.
I am very proud to say that I am the Development Director for WISE and next month will be my 2-year anniversary. WISE supports the attraction, recruitment and retention of women into STEM careers. ‘Development’ is responsible for all the products and services that we offer to our members such as People Like Me(our evidence-based outreach programme), the Ten Stepswhich helps employers evaluate and address gender balance in the workplace, our statistics, research projects and much more.
Moving to a not-for-profit has been quite a shock. For the first time in my career I work with more women than men, I took a significant pay-cut but the level of satisfaction in my role, having an opportunity to make a difference, shaping women’s careers and giving something back is fabulous. I love it. The flexibility is amazing as well – I work 30 hours from home and can switch them about when needed. I was even able to relocate last year from the South to Scotland without changing company.
Every day and every week is different, leading a portfolio of projects I can be speaking to fellows, academics, C-suite executives, and/or teachers on any given day. I can be at home, anywhere in the UK, on a call, presenting, learning. It is so varied which really keeps everything exciting and fun. Right now, we’re just about to announce a new research programme with an industrial partner, we’re developing our first major online platform, we have just delivered two European Funded programmes… it’s so variable it’s hard to put into a paragraph. The photograph above is a selfie taken outside Parliament where I was presenting evidence a few weeks ago at the Skills Commission on Women in Engineering.
So… how is this relevant to you – well – I knew research wasn’t for me. I love working with academics and within Universities, but I definitely made the right choice in leaving as research and I weren’t a good fit. The PhD has really helped – it’s opened doors and helped me get respect initially. The skills you develop as an academic are really transferable… assimilating information, seeing the bigger picture, problem solving, presenting, the list goes on and on. It’s just recognising and highlighting these attributes in whatever workplace you choose. It could even be that your technical expertise could be your window to change as well?
I’m a terrible one for advice … all I’ve ever done is looked at a job and though “well that looks like fun … It’s generally worked out so make sure you think you’ll enjoy whatever you are looking at.
Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? There are a plethora of not-for-profit’s out there… find one related to your industry, your specialism and start from there!