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 Officer, IN-PART
Approximate salary range for your type of role: £20,000 – £35,000
Ever since I remember I’ve always been a keen bean – very curious and very enthusiastic. As I enjoyed science, I undertook the glorious task of doing a PhD. Here I was trained to become a critical thinker, to question philosophies and hypotheses as well as being open to new ideas, criticism and working under immense pressure. However, I quickly learned that I enjoyed working with people and working towards deadlines. This led me to look for a job where I’d use a combination of both – my academic knowledge and communication skills. I managed to scoop up a job at IN-PART while writing up my thesis. Since I was an international student I did not have the luxury to stay at home, jobless, to write my thesis after my 3-year stipend was up. So I hustled and worked at IN-PART part time, and once I obtained my Doctoral Extension Scheme visa, transitioned full time.
IN-PART is a platform that initiates collaborations between university researchers and industry to aid technology transfer. Our extensive network includes over 120 universities (like Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester, Birmingham, MIT, Columbia, Yale and a number of institutes from the EU, Japan, Australia etc.), over 3000 companies (like Philips, GSK, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Dyson, etc) representing over 9000 R&D users.
There is a massive gap between current industry requirements and the research projects being run at universities. As well, millions of pounds are being spent on academic research without an accurate estimate of how productive the output is. In IN-PARTs approach to bridge this gap, not only do we find new industry collaborators for university researchers, but also provide real industry feedback so academic researchers can go back to lab and further improve their technologies. Using our real-data based intensive reports, technology transfer offices at universities are able to take decisions on which projects need funding and which projects can be improved for commercialization. This value of commercialization has also been recognized by bodies like the Research Excellence Framework – an important aspect for ranking universities worldwide. In turn of investing in our service, the university benefits not only by obtaining more business collaborations, licensing deals and partnerships but also ultimately receiving more funding to do more research. We thus sit right in between the cycle of novel academic research, real-life industry requirements and finance. In addition we have a premium service called Discover which is a global technology and research scouting service for industries. Here we identify academic experts and centers of excellence within our network and beyond, to aid new product development and solve complex innovation issues for companies.
As a Research Officer my responsibilities include bringing on new industry members to the platform, interacting with our industry clientele that includes senior level R&D decision-makers, innovations heads, CEOs and CTOs and managing their portfolios that are tailored to their specific research needs. I conduct research for Discover for which I need to read lots of publications and understand new academic concepts within very strict deadlines. Since it is a fairly young company I’ve been fortunate to be involved in developing a lot of new processes and wear different hats which has broadened my skillset. I also get to write blogs and develop marketing strategies. I’ve got to hone skills in written and verbal communication, science dissemination, data management, working effectively in teams and client relationship management. I am required to quickly learn, understand and talk about new innovations. I’ve now gained a real-life insight into social media management, innovation, commercialization, IP and patenting.
A couple of weeks back, I moved back to my home country – India, and I now continue to work with IN-PART under the same role. This is great because I love my job and the company! IN-PART has a positive work culture, believes in equal opportunities and supporting mental health awareness. These values overlap with my personal principles – so working at IN-PART never feels like a daunting task even when it gets busy or stressful. Plus we have social events and go for a pint at our local pub every now and then.
The main difference between academic and non-academic jobs is that while academia is focused on producing novel knowledge, non-academic jobs are serving a customer as the end goal. Therefore a lot of decisions and deadlines are focused on delivery of projects geared towards the end users satisfaction.
Although it is great that in academia one is at the brink of discovery, working on things no one else in the world has yet seen or known, it comes with the price of working through late nights and weekends, constantly working on temporary projects and constantly applying for funding. Producing novel knowledge is a very tough task and is subject to many external factors including the funding climate, the rate your lab churns out publications, your supervisor’s network, etc.
On the other hand many non-academic jobs are permanent and one is expected to work for an agreed number of hours. Moreover, they are paid for those hours, unlike academia where a lot of labor goes unpaid. So although you might love academia and suit the bill perfectly, it is wise to develop lots of other skills on the side so that you aren’t left barren in case academia doesn’t work out for you.
Personally what benefitted me was that I grabbed every extra-curricular activity with both hands. I participated in many competitions, committees, societies and also organized events. This exposed me to different people and career opportunities and built my networks. Try out as diverse experiences as you can – this will help you understand what you enjoy and more importantly, what you don’t.
One of the myths I’ve constantly heard in the academic world is that academia is the most noble and fulfilling field. Permanent posts are put at such a high pedestal that a young, naïve PhD student would inevitably strive to make it their career. However, a lot of industries work in between academia and the general public. At the end of the day, a lab needs funding to run – which is greatly dictated by government policy, current socio-political climate and the layman’s understanding and interest in science.
Simply put, a lot of jobs that ultimately support the academic giant to function are non-academic and it will be beneficial that these positions are filled by PhD trained professionals to make the most educated, informed decisions for academia. So if you are doing a PhD, be open to the various jobs you could be doing with your PhD training that ultimately support research in the long run. As PhDs we have all the skills required for these jobs, but we aren’t inherently taught to recognize and speak about them – so it is important you start reflecting on all the wonderful skills you’re gaining as well as invest your time in experiences, courses or internships that might help you pick up the skills you don’t have.
Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? I found the advertisement for a job in this company through someone I knew from my department, so again, networking is very useful. Keep yourself abreast with local and international job opportunities, job fairs and events organized by the uni in addition to looking at bog-standard job websites. If you can meet the hiring manager over a coffee even after you’ve not got a job, it might lead you to your next job opportunity.
What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? Technology transfer is a young field with IN-PART being quite unique in its services. But in general, for jobs like mine a technology based higher degree is preferred. Experience in communication, project management and marketing is preferred which are all transferable skills that come along with doing a PhD anyway.