#sheffvista 87 Dr Manolo Castellano, CEO at Carreras Científicas Alternativas

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: CEO at Carreras Científicas Alternativas

Approximate salary range for your type of role:

  • Career consulting: 10,000 – 40,000 € / year (Spain)
  • Recruiter: 16,000 – 250,000 € / year (Spain)

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I currently work as a career consultant specialized in PhDs and scientists, combining this activity with talent recruitment for R&D companies.

Manolo.jpegI spent two rewarding decades as a researcher in USA and Spain, working in neurodegeneration, audition and diabetes. My goal, from the very beginning, was to become a PI and setting up my own lab to study some topic on Auditory cellular physiology. I did my PhD in Seville in Spain, working on synaptic vesicle proteins and neurodegeneration. Then I decided to move to the US for a postdoc. In my first postdoc at the Rockefeller University in New York I studied nanobiomechanics on auditory and vestibular hair cells.

During my time at Rockefeller I also participated as an associate editor in Natural Selections, the unofficial PhD and postdoc newsletter in the university. This was one of the most rewarding activities I engaged in outside the lab, and gave me the opportunity to learn that I was not bad at communication. Actually, I discovered I loved interviewing people to understand what they do and why they do it. It is funny… at that time I could not see the number of competences I was building up simply by being part of an editorial board, probably because it seemed to me as if it was just a hobby. Now, I realize this ‘outside-the-lab’ activity was the real beginning of my transition out of academia, even though I was not aware of it back then!.

For some time, I played around with the idea of becoming a science journalist, and even spent some time networking to figure out the best schools in the US. However, even though my wife supported me to undertake what would have been a drastic transition, I guess I was not brave enough.

And I cannot blame only myself, since everybody around me sent me the same message over and over again: “You’re very good at this, man, keep going and you’ll become an excellent PI”.So, I stopped thinking about transitions and decided to focus my career on auditory synaptic physiology. Why? Well, firstly, I really loved auditory sciences. I loved doing research, I loved doing experiments and I loved keep learning every day.  Secondly, I found it was quite a nice way of connecting my PhD work on protein-protein interactions in synaptic vesicles and my new auditory physiology profile. I really thought of it as a good forward move for me.

That is why I moved to Stanford, in California, to learn auditory electrophysiology. My three years in California were fantastic, and at the end of this period I felt I was ready to setup my own lab. After seven years at the US, it was time to go back to Spain.

I applied to several positions with no luck. So, I decided to follow my wife to Murcia, in the southwest coast of Spain, where she got a job. During that time, I participated very actively in several associations and activism groups. Again, even though I did not realize it, I gained new competences that showed me how to build and boost communities.

After almost two years unemployed, and a very bad 3-month experience as a postdoc in a local hospital, I found a postdoctoral position at a university in Elche, in Alicante, to study diabetes using electrophysiological techniques. Although the terms of my contract were not great, during three years I was happy with both my new PI and the lab. However, I was just not excited about science anymore; I cannot conceive and engage with research without passion! I felt I was not using my real competences and skills enough, and I needed to contribute something different, to myself and to the world outside the lab.

But where could an academic researcher work ‘beyond academia’ in Spain. I asked around but nobody could help me. So I took it into my own hands. I started a radio program in the university where I interviewed entrepreneurial researchers that had found their pathway beyond academia. After dozens of interviews, learning from others who had gone before me, I found the keys to make a professional transition and reinvented myself.

Besides, my own story taught me that it is misleading to translate all the information one can read from websites and books about transition from academia from countries such as Canada, USA and UK to countries where the public and private R&D systems are not that developed. This is how ‘Carreras Científicas Alternativas’ came to life, a platform for the community of researchers interested in non-academic professional careers. And this is how a new professional was born, a scientist passionate about career guidance, professional reinvention and employability, with a clear objective: helping other scientists to expand their professional horizon.

I work day-to-day doing lots of freelance work. I spend 80% of my time doing career consulting and 20% doing recruitment for R&D companies. I currently work physically in a coworking space, and I spend a quarter of my time studying and making sure I stay updated about career guidance and entrepreneurship methodologies. As an entrepreneur, reading books and articles, listening to podcasts for entrepreneurs, along with learning about things like social selling, innovation, marketing online, WordPress, copywriting, networking and so on are also a must.

This also helps me to create new and up to date material, which I use in my private guidance sessions, workshops and seminars. Generating content for Carreras Científicas Alternativas’ social media, blog and podcast takes another chunk of my time, and I also spend quite a lot of time travelling to deliver workshops and generating commercial business. Meeting and building relationships with R&D professionals and HR managers, together with freelance headhunting and personnel selection processes, would cover the remaining time on my agenda.

As for the skills you need to become a career consultant and freelance headhunter, if I had to point out the top ones, I would say… great communication skills, vocation for helping others, good time management, resilience to uncertainty, deep knowledge of your fields of expertise and also being a little prying!

Do I miss hands-on research? Sure! There are things that I miss from research in academia, but I can say I am way happier now. Why? Well, I do help people on a daily basis, I feel I have control of my career and I can now exploit all my skills to help both scientists and companies. After all, I have always been a scientist, and I will never stop being one.

Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? There are many university campuses with professionals that work in career guidance for students and postdocs. If you are looking for private career consultants and useful alt-ac websites you can have a look at this list.

What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? There are not minimal qualifications for becoming a career consultant or a headhunter. There are courses and master degrees that can help, mostly in the fields of human resources and psychology. Most freelance headhunters have previous experience working for employment agencies or headhunting companies and specialize in a certain field.

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