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.
Approximate salary range for your type of role: £18,000 – £21,000
“If life’s journey be endless, where is its goal? The answer is, it is everywhere.”
– R. Tagore
One of my favourite quotes which I believe describes life succinctly, well at least mine. I learnt that life cannot be planned up to the details, I now take opportunities as they come and do not give up until I have given my 100%.
When I first started University, the thought of doing a PhD did not cross my mind. I did my undergrad at University of Sheffield in Chemical and Process Engineering, landed an Engineering job at the end of my MEng with CORUS and subsequently NNL and though, well that is me done with studying, hello career-life…!
Well, things do not always go according to plan. After a bad spell with my health, I got to the point where I had to decide. What should I do next? Thinking hat on, I decided I would do an MSc in biotechnology. I found the field interesting, however this was a very hard decision to make, since I really did NOT want to go back to University, exams and a no-pay life. Yes, student life is great, but after you have a taste of career-life, it’s hard to go back. Anyhow, I came back to my department and whilst doing an MSC in Biotechnology was offered a PhD in Microalgae Biotechnology. My younger-self would blink-twice and rub her eyes in disbelief.
To academia or not to academia…
I will start by saying this, a PhD is not for the faint hearted, and it builds character. You need to be confident, power through failures, keep sane, manage everything and pray you come out victorious. It has been a defining part of my life; I’m bolder about my knowledge/skills, challenge ideas and automatically think outside the box.
However, it also made me realized that academia is not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the research and the teaching; however, I did not enjoy the laboratory issues that I had to face, on a day-to-day basis.
In my last year, because of the all the hiccups with the equipment I was working in the lab and writing my dissertation simultaneously – working 14-15 hours a day, including weekends on many occasions. I did not want to give up. So, I pressed ‘STOP’ on my hobbies, friends, life in general I suppose and set my one goal to finishing on time.
Furthermore, I did not enjoy the pressure of publishable results. As an engineer/scientist I believe experimental results, good or bad, are important. You learn from your mistakes, however, unless you research is not publishable, then your efforts are not rewarded… it felt like a race/competition between academics rather than a learning environment.
All this left a bitter taste in my mouth and I made my mind-up.
Working 9 to 5.30
While doing my PhD, to help me ‘keep calm and carry on’, I did a lot of extracurricular university activities. I joined Women in Engineering, the Algae Biotechnology Sheffield Network, Graduate Research and Network Development Society, the Graduate Teaching Assistant scheme, worked as an International Student Ambassador, volunteered for outreach events, etc. This is when I realised that yes, I do like research however I enjoy talking about it more than doing it.
I have a 9 to 5.30 job now! Yes, this is indeed a victory! As a Research Officer my role is to facilitate collaborations between industry and academia. I showcase the research undertaken by over 200 universities and interact with R&D companies worldwide. One day I will be reading about novel therapies to aid cancer treatment, another day I will be taking to industry about a new 3D resin, or about a method device to protect animal welfare. I read about academic research all day long, look up papers and patens from fields I am not familiar with, and best of all, I learn, learn, learn and communicate.
How did I find out about my company?
I went to Think Ahead events where we heard from those in non-academic careers post PhD. On my first or second occasion, I met a PhD who stepped out of her lab coat and pursued a career in communications and subsequently the NHS. She mentioned the company I work for now, IN-PART and suggested I email my CV and a cover letter; which I did. However, I wanted to make sure that I was not making a rash decision and also accepted a short-term post-doc position. So eventually, I was working part-time as a post-doc and working for IN-PART. This confirmed that I was ready to leave academia and jump into a new adventure.
Do not hesitate. Staying with the same research group/university/position feels safe, however if you do not feel fulfilled, then you should do something about it. Take life by the reins and steer it the way you want. If in doubt, talk to people, attend events and ask for career advice. If at first you fail, try and try again.