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Knowledge is power …

… so they say, and if true, PhD students, researchers and academics must be very powerful people indeed! As ‘knowledge professionals’, thinking about, generating, analysing and communicating knowledge is the focus of their everyday lives and their very raison d’etre, so shouldn’t they be the ‘masters of the universe’? Hmm….. What do you think? Do you feel powerful? Well, I guess that depends on how you define ‘power’, but, in my view, it’s not just knowledge per se that determines its power, it’s the type of knowledge and the way it’s used that’s the real game-changer. People who understand its strategic value and apply it in creative and innovative ways are the truly powerful members of our society.

So how can PhD students, early career researchers and other members of the academic community empower themselves and benefit from knowledge? In terms of your career, knowledge of the wider world beyond your current horizons will help you to take the lead and get an advantage. However, self-knowledge, as Shreefal Mehta (Nature Biotech, 2004) advises, is the key to being a successful entrepreneur and, I would argue, applies to most other careers.

Self-knowledge: I have written about self-awareness on several occasions and incorporate exercises around personal recognition into all of my career workshops. I believe it’s fundamental to personal empowerment and the equivalent of walking around with your eyes open, as opposed to being blind to yours and other’s strengths and motivations. If we understand our personality, values, talents, skills, competencies, weaknesses, areas for growth and other aspects which underpin who we are and how we interact with others it gives us the power to better understand ourselves and those around us. For example, if you know yourself, what interests you most in your current job and your preferred way of working, you can use this information to make informed decisions about your next career move or to inform your professional development. Knowing where your strengths and weaknesses lie can help you to form strategic alliances with others and, even at interview, self-awareness enables you to answer questions and talk about yourself in a more open and incisive way.

Business knowledge: Currently, you are probably most knowledgeable about the business of academic research, but how much do you really know about your business beyond your own specific sub-discipline? Do you know where your funding is coming from, who else is working in your field, the wider global context in which your research sits and its potential for application? This knowledge could help you to be more strategic in your academic career and help you to achieve a leadership position. For example, if you’re a plant scientist don’t just read plant science papers, if you have a go-to list of keywords look beyond these to find unexpected knowledge. Attend conference sessions and talks outside of your own field, read popular science news and engage with social media to hear about and view quirky scientific facts.

For those considering leaving academia, use your well-developed research skills to investigate other options, look at global labour market trends (what’s on the up, what’s going out of fashion?), which are the industries of interest to you and what kinds of skills will be needed in the future? Knowledge of other career sectors and the types of jobs and roles on offer gives you the power to investigate them, network and position yourself to make a successful transition out of academia. Speak to people within your current network and develop new ones to form a matrix of connections and potential collaborations. In this way, you’ll become more knowledgeable about which types of careers will motivate you in terms of the role, work environment culture and people within it.

Translating knowledge: Accumulating knowledge is one thing, doing something useful and productive with it is quite another. When I deliver my workshops, I always ask participants to write themselves an action plan at the end of the day; changing your behaviour, even if it’s just doing something small, will mean that you are applying your learning with the aim of making some kind of change/improvement to your current circumstances. Whether it’s investigating a potential new career area of interest, applying for funding, getting more involved in your department’s activities, approaching a research group about possible collaboration, joining a new network, revising your CV or looking for personal development opportunities, it will mean you’re applying your knowledge and taking a proactive approach to your career.

Related blogs: Subjective careers choices

The right way?

Don’t plead for your career, take the lead

Super investigator or super technician?

I once heard a professor say that some postdocs become highly skilled super-technicians during the course of their research contract(s). Much valued by their PI, group members and even other research groups, these postdocs are experts in specific technical areas such as scientific techniques, specialised equipment, methodologies, programming, troubleshooting and other activities associated with functional aspects of the research process. Whether through their own volition or unintentionally, they spend a great deal of their time working on the more practical aspects of the research project, and may even lend a hand to other groups who value their specialist advice.

QUESTIONS

If you recognise yourself as being such a postdoc then you may want to take some time to review your role in the context of your career plans. Ask yourself:

  • Did I proactively choose to go down this route or has it happened in a more passive/happenstance way?
  • Do I enjoy this more technical role? Does it give me satisfaction?
  • Am I developing useful skills and competencies which will increase my employability in terms of my career plans and aspirations?

This final question is very important: What are your career plans? For example, are you aiming for a permanent academic or group leader position, or would you prefer a specialised functional post such as a facilities manager, senior technical scientist or lab manager? Permanency in academia requires high-impact papers, evidence of funding success and a fast-growing international profile, accompanied by high level research skills and an enterprising disposition. Technical careers generally require knowledge and expertise in particular scientific/technical areas including lab techniques, informatics and programming, accompanied by analytical and problem-solving skills and a willingness to engage with a range of projects and people offering your insights and expertise to their research.

OPPORTUNITY

As a ‘super-technican’ you may consider yourself disadvantaged within the academic work environment in terms of your career progression possibilities and, in most cases, your assessment of the situation is correct: There are few opportunities to apply for a permanent specialist technical position within universities and research institutes and so it is likely you will need to consider other work environments such as industry and the commercial sector to find a suitable place for you and your specialist skills. This is not such bad news: the academic role generally involves leading a research group, writing grant proposals, recruiting and managing personnel, writing papers, preparing lectures and teaching, doing administration, assessing essays and exams, attending committees, etc. This may not appeal to your skill-set and personal interests. Instead, in industry you can put your skills to good use and develop your career along a path more suited to you – the divergent range of jobs within private sector companies means you could start off in a technical role and move into other areas such as regulation, quality assurance, advisory or communications as well as progressing to senior levels. Imagine. You may even find yourself with a job title that says ‘scientist’ rather than ‘postdoc’!

ACTION

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Review your skills and interests against potential careers using my PhD Career Choice Indicator: Follow the instructions and if ‘Functional’ is your Number 1 choice, consider your 2nd preference as well: Is it ‘Social’, ‘Research’, ‘Enterprising’, ‘Artistic’, ‘Administrative’? Combinations of your interests influence the role you might prefer such as something more people-orientated, innovative, creative or managerial.
  2. Research the job market by getting to know the careers and vacancies on offer: My resources page provides some jobsites but there are many more.
  3. Review your current network. Do you know anyone who could help you with your job search, give you insights or put you in contact with others who can help you?
  4. Use Social Media such as LinkedIn and Twitter to search for jobs and people in career areas of interest. This is a good way of finding smaller companies.
  5. Refer to some of my previous blogs about postdocing:

http://biosciencecareers.org/2013/11/whats-the-point-of-a-postdoc.html
http://biosciencecareers.org/2014/10/postdocs-be-careful-what-you-wish-for.html

  1. Refer to other information and blogs:

http://jobsontoast.com/phd-careers-have-your-cake-and-eat-it/

http://blogs.nature.com/naturejobs/tag/david-bogle/

https://www.linkedin.com/groups/1844342/1844342-6422806582941278208

Expose yourself !

If you don’t talk about it, it hasn’t happened. In other words, you can do the best science in the world but without communicating it, it doesn’t exist – and nor do you! So here are some ideas to help you to increase your exposure:

Science is a global and societal endeavour, so as a scientist you’re obligated to disseminate your research in one way or another. Journal papers provide the best rewards for scientists in terms of their personal impact and career advancement, especially when they are published in international journals with a high impact factor. Conferences also provide an ideal stage to present one’s science to other specialists in the field, particularly if you are selected to give a talk, placing you in the spotlight and giving you the opportunity to network with other speakers in the session. Posters are a great way to package your work into an A0-sized self-explanatory presentation, to be viewed by delegates during the conference and with the opportunity to explain your work to interested passers-by during the designated poster sessions.

So far so good … but by what other means can you communicate your work? How else can you increase your exposure? Research suggests that promoting your published paper on Twitter and other social media can significantly increase your citations and coverage, especially if your research is applied and you can include attractive and appealing images. Using conference hashtags and tweeting to other delegates ahead of and during conferences can also help build your network and increase your profile. A well-worded press release about your science, just published or about to be disseminated at a conference, can also escalate your exposure so that it even appears in mainstream national and international news outlets.

Last month, the subject of my blog was all about a paper I published in Microbiology Letters on the subject of networking. This mini-review showcased the many ways in which you can use networking to enhance your career prospects and I made use of social media to try to extend its notoriety. The ‘Twitter effect’ was quite minimal, but when I posted it on LinkedIn, it was viewed over 1800 times increasing its exposure quite considerably. Researchgate is also a good way to promote your research and you can make yourself more visible by engaging in discussions, asking and answering questions and generally being an active participant.

You can take a proactive approach by offering to organise or co-organise a conference session. For example, I proposed a number of sessions for the ESOF2018 meeting, which features interdisciplinary science, careers, science communication, business and policy. This put me in touch with lots of people working in my field with the aim of bringing us together in one place, not only to run our session, but also to network and have a nice time hanging out with each other and catching up in Toulouse! Learned societies, who organise a lot of major conferences, sometimes invite PhD students and postdoctoral researchers to organise a session or even a research conference. For example, the Physiological Society has a number of schemes for early career researchers and the Microbiology Society ran its first Early career conference this year.

Finally, if you’re less inclined to be posting, tweeting and joining societies, quality as opposed to quantity can be just as effective. Make use of the same sources of communication but target one or two key people with whom you want to get more closely acquainted. Devise a strategy to communicate with them, meet and even start working with them, e.g. find common ground between you by reading about their work, interests etc., and find a link to your own research and even leisure activities.

I hope this short blog has helped you to focus on the many ways you can put yourself and your science into the spotlight and that the sunny weather won’t be the only exposure you’ll be getting this Summer !

Five PhD networking strategies

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. You’ve probably heard this saying before – it’s well-known, well-worn advice that has stood the test of time. Espoused by colleagues, senior staff, coaches and mentors all over the world, it’s a way of saying “Get out there and network!”

Let me explain the value of networking with a few examples: If you’re having trouble with your experimental set-up and have no-one to help you, reaching out to a specialist on-line community can sometimes resolve the problem, as well as revealing your interests; collaborating with diverse research groups around the world can extend your knowledge and experience and even increase your employment prospects; applying for jobs is an important part of career planning, but connecting with people within your chosen career sector or organisation can give you a distinct advantage; being good at what you do and achieving results is still important, but its impact is accentuated when you’ve got people to tell. Unlike education where you can attain an A-grade on your own, work is people-orientated and so building relationships is an essential element to achieve results for both your projects and for yourself.

In my recent paper, “Harnessing the power of communities: career networking for bioscience PhD students and postdoctoral researchers”, published in FEMS Microbiology Letters, I list five ways you can network to achieve career success. You should be able to access it if your university has a subscription but if not, here’s a summary:

Academic-related networks
As a PhD student or postdoctoral researcher, you are likely based in an academic work environment with access to all kinds of researchers within your own institution and others all around the world. You can use this network to help enhance your academic career prospects by making contact with other research groups and individuals whose knowledge, skills and related networks will help you to expand your own horizons. For those wishing to remain in an academic work environment but to move out of research, a variety of technical, administrative and educational staff, based in other departments, can offer potential opportunities for you to gain experience or vacancy insights to help you transfer into other roles.

Internships and work experience
Voluntary or paid work experience is equally valuable, not only to extend your experience and try out other types of work, but to put you in contact with people working in new communities. Even if it’s a one-off event, a day or a week’s experience, you will be spending time with professionals with whom you can ask questions, make contacts and demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment to this new type of role. Internships can be hard to access as a postdoctoral researcher, but PhD students may be more able to step away from the bench for a few months. Negotiating with your supervisor is crucial in this process, showing them how you will make up the time and/or continue to commit to the research project.

Transient networks
Attending conferences, seminars and meetings is a common activity in the academic world, so take full advantage of these opportunities to meet new people and learn new knowledge. Prepare and plan for longer, larger events and challenge yourself to meet at least two or three new useful contacts with whom you have the potential to work with in the future. Business cards are becoming more common amongst the academic community nowadays and it’s a great way to exchange personal information and stay in touch afterwards. Remember, you are as useful and interesting to them as they are to you so don’t think of it as ‘using people’.

On-line networks
Social media has democratised networking to a great extent making people far more accessible than before. You can communicate and link with a whole range of people, exchange information and learn about opportunities. I suggest Researchgate for those interested in an academic career, LinkedIn for industry/commercial sector and Twitter for everyone and anyone to learn about research/general knowledge, jobs, conferences, opinions and facts.

Professional associations and organisations
Clubs have always been a great way for people with similar interests to join together, e.g. stamp collectors, vintage car enthusiasts, gardening gurus etc. If your interest is a particular academic discipline, for example biochemistry, microbiology, plant science, endocriniology, neuroscience, genetics, ecology (and practically any subject you can think of), joining a learned society can bring you into contact with like-minded people. Not only that, many of them offer a huge number of benefits such as discounted registration to conferences, travel grants of up to £500, committee membership, regular newsletters, awards, competitions and mentoring.

You may recognise some of these networking strategies and be using them already, but I hope I’ve given you a few more ideas.

Related blogs:

10 ways to find your next job

Keep your acquaintances close

 

 

Medical Science Liaison (MSL) Role – investigative communicator!

The number of Medical Science Liaison (MSL) vacancies is on the rise. As more and more drugs come to market, pharma companies are rapidly increasing the number of MSLs they employ. So could this be a suitable and attractive career choice for you? If you like reading and talking about science read on as former postdoc Martijn Bijker, founder/director of ‘fromSCIENCE to PHARMA’ explains the role of an MSL:

“Like many scientists, I enjoy reading and discussing new cool science with my fellow colleagues. However, when I was a postdoc I found that reading and talking about science was generally overwhelmed by doing day-to-day experiments. Working for hours on end behind a flow cytometry machine in a dark place, I frequently found myself feeling quite lonely (and bored). The fun part of “doing” science was being eroded and so after 3.5 years of postdocing, I decided to move into a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) role in the pharmaceutical industry at Abbott. And so began a new career for me that ticked all the boxes on the science menu that I had missed during my postdoc.”

Companies hire MSLs to help bring innovative new drugs to market; they are the scientific and clinical disease and drug experts working within the medical (affairs) department of a pharmaceutical or biotech company. This includes knowing how the drug works – its mode of action (MOA), questioning the disease and patient profiles, how to prevent or treat an adverse event or questioning the clinical trials from your own and competitor companies. These so-called pipeline molecules are tested in healthy individuals and/or in actual patients with the hope that these new drugs will do better than the current standard of care/best supportive care.

MSLs work at the interface between internal stakeholders in the pharma company and external stakeholders in the field – called Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). KOLs, broadly defined as leaders in their field, can be heads of departments at teaching hospitals, heads of pharmacies, professors of medicine, the CEO of a patient organisation, physicians involved in pharmaceutical clinical trials and sometimes clinical scientists themselves. Having discussions with KOLs – often referring to clinical papers and conference information – helps MSLs to gain relevant insights, allowing internal stakeholders to devise the best strategy to make a treatment a clinical success for the patient, the treating doctor and the company.

As an MSL you have to be up-to-date on the latest literature and be a good communicator, since you are working with the most influential stakeholders in the country. Having a pharmacy or scientific degree and strong personal and communication skills is essential to breaking into the MSL role. Because of the highly scientific and clinical nature of the MSL job without you having to directly sell anything, it has become a very popular career choice for pharmacists/MSc/PhDs/postdocs who enjoy talking science for a (very well paid) living.

“The combination of being a disease expert, reading clinical papers, discussing science with top clinicians in the field, having autonomy in your role and being able to travel a bit (across the globe to international conferences) was for me the ideal science job outside academia, while at the same time being able to influence how patients are being treated, and will be treated in the future, with the most innovative drugs on the market.”

To find out more about this up-and-coming career and how to break into it visit Martijn’s training company website www.fromSCIENCEtoPHARMA.com and join their free MSL webinar on “How to become an MSL without industry experience” by signing up at www.fromSCIENCEtoPHARMA.com/resources.

 

Employable you!

Two recent blogs, published in InsideHigherEd and Nature, got me thinking about how advantageous it can be to have a PhD when looking for a job – but you need to think beyond your qualification to be employable.

The two articles focus on the employability of PhD-qualified graduates and diversity of roles to which they can aspire. Career possibilities range from directly relevant roles within academia, for which a PhD is a requisite qualification, through to those where a PhD is not required at all, such as management, accountancy and finance.  For all of these roles, associated experience, skills and personal qualities are the key to entering the profession – and I think this might be where many PhD graduates fall down: unlike applying for a PhD where educational success is the main factor required to secure the post (for example, in the UK you need at least a 2.i or 1st class degree and even a master’s to be considered), most employers look beyond qualifications when assessing candidates for particular roles within their organisations. Even for a first postdoctoral position you need to demonstrate your functional skills such as lab techniques, computing expertise, methodologies, as well as publishing and funding successes when making your application. However, as you progress in your career “employable you” needs to think more strategically.

Look at your professor/group leader and consider his/her responsibilities: Are they doing functional work in the lab? Very probably not. They are horizon scanning for new research ideas and avenues to investigate, writing research grants to test hypotheses, recruiting and mentoring postdocs and PhD students, contributing to departmental activities, teaching, writing papers, reviewing papers, handling rejections, setting up new collaborations, etc. So, for those aspiring to an academic career beyond the position of the functional postdoc, you can see that acquiring an independent fellowship or two will be advantageous, gaining an international reputation, publishing papers and connecting with other research groups, etc will be strategically important to enhance the likelihood of being employed as a permanent academic. If you think you’d like to move out of academia, you will need to enhance other experiences and skills to place yourself in an equally strong position to make a successful transition into your chosen career sector.

As pointed out in Polk and Wood’s blog, spending your time during your PhD or postdoc on extra-curricular activities such as taking relevant courses, doing voluntary work or networking will help you to re-direct your career into one where a PhD is not essential, and will provide evidence of your potential value as a new employee in the organisation. Many employers like PhD-qualified scientists who have much-needed technical skills, are not afraid of technology, are can-do problem solvers, numerate and who think objectively and creatively. For some posts, relevant experience may be needed, blocking your eligibility to apply. In these cases, it’s worth trying to secure an internship or network with someone in the profession to gain insights and access to their community. However, sometimes, transferable skills can be enough to demonstrate your suitability. For example, if you were involved in project managing or marketing events during your PhD, if you took part in other activities where your experiences related to your new non-academic role, these will provide evidence that you have the aptitude to use and develop them in your new non-academic role.

Finally, to show the employer just how employable you are, don’t forget to target the content of your CV and covering letter to the organisation and job specification!

 

Career stories – what’s yours?

A ladder, a journey, a winding path, stepping stones, a meandering river, a roller coaster ride …. These are all typical metaphors that people often use to describe their careers. The analogies and imagery they use can be quite revealing, indicating positive or negative experiences, ups and downs, progression and stasis. As biologists, you may even use scientific associations such as metamorphosis, branching, differentiation or ‘survival of the fittest’.

Career stories or narratives of PhD graduates and former postdocs who have forged successful careers can sometimes help those looking for inspiration with their own career planning. Many universities and research institutions invite alumni or other external visitors to give talks on their careers, highlighting the ups and downs, key moments, tips and advice for entering their profession. These in-person appearances are really valuable if you are looking for ideas and information, and can also be an invaluable networking opportunity. The only ‘health warning’ I would attach to these individual accounts is that they are just that: personal and unique to that individual. For many people, networking and unique chance meetings play a major role in their career story, so it’s best to take a broader perspective of their career experiences and think of them in a wider context. For example, if they say they got into their profession through a particular contact, obviously you’re not going to be able to make use of the same contact but, in the wider context, it shows that you will need to network, make connections and be proactive to generate similar opportunities.

Autobiographical reflections are powerful when thinking about your own career. They offer clues to your personal interests, passions, motivations and values, factors which are fundamental when making career choices (even if you’re not consciously aware of them). Imagine that you have been invited to tell your story to those aspiring to your career. What will you say? What will you highlight? What tips and advice will you give? Even though most PhD students and researchers would argue that their experiences are very similar, your personal narratives will be distinct and unique. Your personality, background, personal situation, values, interests and a variety of other aspects set you apart from each other. For a workshop I ran last year, I asked the participants to bring in an image or object which represented their career: everyone brought something very personal to them; some were literal, encapsulating their everyday experiences, whilst others were more obtuse and conceptual. Each required an accompanying narrative so that their peers could understand its meaning. The image I have used to accompany this blog of one of my bookcases represents my career – always travelling around delivering workshops in different countries (and I’m a bit messy too).

Consider your career: [Preferably in a quiet space away from your working area]. Which metaphor would you use to describe your career? What object or image best describes it? Once you have done this, think about why you have selected these analogies and what they tell you about yourself and your experiences. Are you happy with your current situation? What’s good in your life right now? What’s not so good? What do you want to do more of? How can you improve your situation? How would you like to move forward? Where do you want to go next? The answers to these questions, and others which may be evoked through this self-reflective exercise, may help to inform your decisions about your next career move.

Here is a link to on-line PhD career stories

How to be a STAR performer

How good are you at answering interview questions? Are you confident that you’re performing at your best? How well do you express yourself? Are you able to convince interviewers how well suited you are to the job over and above other interview candidates?

It’s always excellent news to find out you’ve been called for interview, but your next challenge is to make sure you perform well to get the job offer you’re looking for. Nowadays, employers use a number of different interview formats including phone ‘screener’ interviews, on-line video interviews and more conventional panel interviews. Whichever type of interview it is, you will need to use coherent and convincing language to engage and interest the interviewer. Humans respond well to stories (the derivation of the word “history” is “his story”); it is your story-telling skills which will help you to bring your content to life and capture the attention of your interviewer listeners.

This is where the STAR technique comes in. An abbreviation of SITUATION – TASK – ACTIVITY – RESULT, this handy acronym can help to guide you to tell mini-stories during your interview, adding colour and life to your experiences. The idea is to set the scene for a situation when you had to put into practice a certain skill or strength to achieve a particular outcome.

For example, if you are asked a question about your problem-solving skills, think of a project you have been involved with (SITUATION). What problem were you trying to solve? (It could be technically, people, ideas, etc. orientated) (TASK). What exactly did you do, which skills and experiences did you draw upon in order to solve the problem? (ACTION). What was the result of your action, what impact did it have – you can use quantities to make it even more interesting (RESULT).

Another example to demonstrate working in a team: You may have taken part in organising a departmental event (SITUATION). What were you organising? (TASK). What was your role? What part did you play? (ACTION). What was the outcome? (RESULT).

The interviewer(s) may then go on to ask you questions around your STAR story such as what kinds of difficulties did you encounter, how could you have done things differently, what did you learn from the experience, etc. If you can predict from the job description/role, the types of skills and competencies the interviewers are likely to be interested in hearing about to help convince themselves of your suitability, you can prepare the examples ahead of your interview so you can talk about them succinctly and coherently. Beware of spending too much time on describing the situation; this is usually the least important part of the STAR story. Your actions form the most important part of the story, demonstrating the way you think things through, tackle tasks and interact with others.

Bear in mind that even when you are asked questions about how you envisage yourself carrying out certain duties in the future as part of your potential new role, e.g. setting up a lab, applying for grants, thinking innovatively or communicating to different audiences, you can still refer to past experiences and examples using the STAR technique. Refer to a past or current situation to demonstrate how you have already done these types of activities in a different setting and how your skills can be transferred into future responsibilities. Whatever gaps you have in your skill-set can form the basis of continuing professional development opportunities in your new role.

 

Gifts Differing

18th December 2017: Christmas is coming and, at times like this, many of us are looking forward to exchanging gifts. We will have been out shopping for suitable presents for our loved ones and angsting over what will suit them in terms of the perfect gift – something practical, maybe an ‘experience’, perhaps something quirky, edible or perfumed.

As much as we differ in our preferences for gifts, so we differ in our personal gifts; that is, our talents and what we are good at. Qualifications such as a PhD are both an asset and an obstacle when it comes to career decisions. Whilst you want to feel that your PhD is giving you an advantage, it can also act as a disadvantage and even an obstacle to free-thinking about your career possibilities. It can get in the way of considering your gifts, talents and skills, the essence of ‘you’ and what you feel passionate about. Sure, you may be someone for whom research is your ‘calling’, but for others it may be science communication, science policy, science business or perhaps a non-science career that “floats your boat”.

For me, it became clear very early on in my scientific career that practical, functional science was the antithesis of my ‘gift’ and that communication and empathy, intuition and people were where my talents lay. Hence, I’m now a PhD careers adviser with a penchant for science communication!  So what about you? What are your gifts? Cast your mind back and remember what your career ambitions were when you were younger. Weave this into your career decision making, think more widely about your essential skills, interests, personality and values. The Science Council identified 10 types of scientist which will guide you in your reflection and my PhD Career Choice Indicator may also help you to think beyond your qualification, not forgetting other resources such as personality assessment tools and books such as ‘Gifts Differing’.  

Have a great Christmas break and all best wishes for 2018!

10 blogs to help you on your way

“Be careful what you wish for”, so the saying goes, but sometimes “Be careful what you don’t wish for” is more wistful advice. Recently, Nature published the results of their survey of PhD students and it wasn’t surprising to see that the no. 1 wish was to have a career in ‘Academia’ (52%), with ‘Industry’ coming in second at 22% and other sectors figuring very marginally.

A career in academia has long been the favoured career of PhD students, despite the diminished chances of securing a permanent position, let alone a professorship. Many of those who sense that they may not achieve academic success opt for ‘industry’ instead – in whatever sense that may be. In the Nature survey, ‘Industry’ in this instance is defined as ‘research in industry’, but there are many other roles requiring a PhD in this sector of small, large and wide-ranging employers, e.g. pharamacovigilence, medicine and medical affairs, clinical operations, production operations, quality assurance, regulatory affairs, licensing, publications management, medical science liaison, data science management, marketing and sales, market access, consultancy.

Closer examination of the survey’s raw data reveals how well the participating PhD students were familiar with the career landscape, what was their knowledge of non-academic employers who would appreciate their skills, as well as being able to recognise their strengths and what they have to offer the non-academic world: all scored low in the survey. This may be a classic ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ situation – with no knowledge or experience of external opportunities, graduate students may be more inclined to choose ‘research in industry’ as it’s the most closely aligned to what they are currently doing.

It’s possible that you took part in this survey, or that this may be the kind of situation you find yourself in. The survey indicated that most of the students chose to do a PhD because of the intellectual challenge, stimulating work environment and creativity. It’s questionable whether over 50% make the initial decision because they hanker after a career as an academic, rather their career aspirations may become more allied to doing research and remaining in a stimulating work environment as they progress in their early career; the work focus of a PI is very different to that of a PhD student or postdoc, with the majority spending much of their time writing grants and papers, teaching and doing administration, not to mention dealing with intense competition. Of course, there are plenty of positive aspects, but you need to be passionate and strategic – as well as lucky – to attain tenure and to have the stamina to forge a life-long career in academia these days.

Moving out of academia into the wider world of work offers a cacophony of career options, maybe too many! PhD graduates and postdoctoral researchers can be overwhelmed with choice, but don’t know anything about these jobs or where to look for them, let alone whether they would be suited to them and vice versa. In the survey, having access to information about the job market and career guidance were both cited as being lacking along with other barriers to transitioning out of academia.

The majority of those surveyed use the internet to locate opportunities and research careers so with that in mind, here are ten of my career-related blogs to help you to wish for something else other than academia:

  1. Get to know the job market
  2. Use specialised job sites
  3. Increase your self awareness
  4. Recognise your skills
  5. Link your skills and interests with possible types of careers
  6. Get LinkedIn
  7. Adapt your CV to the job
  8. Make your own luck
  9. Investigate non-academic careers in more detail (e.g. career stories)
  10. Get career support