From PhD to PI: Sarah Bohndiek, Group Leader Department of Physics, University of Cambridge and Cancer Research UK, Cambridge Institute.

U2FsdHlJbWFnZU5hbWUxMzgwODIyNzQz-g3ySNzctaW1hZ2U=Sarah has a joint appointment in which she initially develops and validates new imaging technologies. She then combines these new techniques with research into cancer therapy, with the aim of achieving a better understanding of cancer therapy response and drug resistance.

PhD students and post-doctoral staff often worry about the insecurity and competitiveness of their early careers but Sarah regards this as a positive thing. She believes the opportunities should be embraced and is a strong advocate of the ability to quickly understand and get to grips with a new discipline that a PhD provides.  Reassuringly, she says, after switching between disciplines, she has been supported in her learning by her advisers and not been put under pressure to produce immediate results.

However, she does have a clear idea of what motivates her (which is the desire to develop clinical applications to improve the health of cancer patients) and this is the thread that joins up all the different parts of her career so far. Alongside this she is driven by her strong curiosity which has frequently led her to doing things she never thought she would. Research into the careers of PIs shows that this strong sense of purpose and self-awareness is significant factor in succeeding in the role (see here: http://www.topik.ie/)

The recruitment process for a post-doctoral position in her lab is very thorough. It starts with extremely wide advertising through formal and informal channels (social media, email and so on). She values ResearchGate as a particularly effective tool. She will ask for a CV and cover letter and stresses the importance of clear, grammatically correct and perfectly spelled applications with an attractive, easy to read layout. This helps spot people who are committed, enthusiastic, have an eye for detail and can communicate effectively in writing.

She will normally long-list about ten candidates who are invited to a thirty minute Skype discussion. Half of this will be the candidate’s presentation (with slides) and then a brief discussion about the presentation. Sarah sticks to time and looks out for candidates who follow her brief carefully and who provide attractive, easy to follow presentations. She also very much appreciates candidates who provide the slides in advance and offer alternative means of contact in case Skype or the internet aren’t working well.  Doing this reinforces the impression of commitment, attention to detail, communication and thoughtfulness that are essential to collaborative research careers.

She will then invite three of the candidates to a full day of selection processes. This consists of a thirty minute lecture followed by a one hour discussion of the lecture, a tour of the lab and one-to-one sessions with lab colleagues. The day is completed by a one hour interview with Sarah and a social, informal dinner. The whole process requires an overnight stay, usually.

When she’s recruiting for her team Sarah is most impressed by candidates who ask more questions than they are asked and who have obviously done their research and preparation. She particularly looks for PhDs who have at least one first author paper, who have been engaged in outreach and who have participated in committees as well as gained technical skills in their research. It can be helpful if you have won awards but it isn’t essential.

Asked for her single top-tip, Sarah says that demonstrable attention to detail is what matters most to her.

I also had the chance to speak to Michal Tomaszewski a PhD student and Joanna Brunker and Jonghee Yoon, post-doctoral researchers at the lab.  They agreed that a full understanding of the organisation you are applying for is essential and that it is necessary to send a tailored application that shows how you have understood it. This understanding needs to be demonstrated throughout the interview process as well. The work of the lab is strongly interdisciplinary and all have brought good experience from other fields to their current research (including some time in banking and finance in the case of Michal). They’ve also showed how their careers so far align with the requirements of their current research.All stressed the importance of adaptability and flexibility and the benefits of studying in many fields.

Joanna entered the lab by an alternative route, having gained a fellowship which gave her a degree of choice over where she carried out her research and chose the CRUK lab because of the research it was conducting and the shared experience (with Sarah) of researching at University College London. Joanna also stressed how important it is to take the advice of supervisors while studying for your PhD, to help avoid being distracted by issues that may not be important to your future.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Sarah Bohndiek, Michal Tomaszewski, Joanna Brunker and Jonghee Yoon for their time and generosity in talking to me and sharing so much helpful information.

Donald Lush, Careers Consultant for PhDs

 

L’Oréal-UNESCO Fellowships For Women in Science UK & Ireland

APPLICATIONS OPEN FOR 2016 L’ORÉAL-UNESCO UK & IRELAND L’Oréal-UNESCO Fellowships for Women in Science‘FELLOWSHIPS FOR WOMEN IN SCIENCE’

Applications for the L’Oréal-UNESCO UK and Ireland Fellowships for Women in Science are now open until Friday 11th March, 2016. Five outstanding female post-doctoral scientists in the UK or Ireland will be granted a fellowship worth £15,000 each. The finalists will be selected by a panel of eminent scientists chaired by Professor Dame Carol Robinson. Entries can be made at www.womeninscience.co.uk.

The L’Oréal UK & Ireland Fellowships For Women in Science were launched in January 2007. The Fellowships are awards offered by a partnership between L’Oréal UK & Ireland, the UK National Commission for UNESCO and the Irish National Commission for UNESCO, with the support of the Royal Society. Five Fellowships each worth £15,000 (equivalent € for candidates in Ireland), the Fellowships are tenable at any UK or Irish university / research institute to support a 12-month period of postdoctoral research in any area of the life, physical sciences, mathematics, computer science and engineering.

The Fellowships have been designed to provide flexible and practical financial support for the winners to undertake research in their chosen fields. Winners may choose to spend their fellowship on buying scientific equipment, paying for childcare costs, travel costs or indeed whatever they need to continue their research. In addition to financial support each year past and present fellows receive training and networking opportunities supported by L’Oréal. For example in January 2016, previous fellows joined L’Oréal and General Assembly to undertake training in digital media, such as creating a digital brand and translating their science knowledge to a digital audience.

The 2016 awards will be adjudicated by a panel of eminent scientists. Steve Shiel Scientific Director at L’Oreal UK & Ireland commented, “I have been fortunate to hear the impact that The For Women in Science programme can have on fellows. It is a privilege to be on panel which is to be chaired by Professor Dame Carol Robinson, the 2015 L’Oréal -UNESCO International For Women in Science European Laureate and I am excited for the 2016 UK and Ireland awards.”

The closing date for application to the 2016 L’Oréal -UNESCO UK and Ireland Fellowships For Women in Science is Friday 11th March, 2016. For further information and to apply, please visit: www.womeninsceince.co.uk

Arts & Humanities PhD Case Studies: Ministry of Defence

This interview, and the others published over the past and next few weeks, are with the employers represented at the recent King’s College London Arts & Humanities PhD careers event. They have been written by PhD candidate Valeria Valotto, to whom we are very grateful!

From Politics and International Studies PhD to Defence and Security

Dr. Victoria Tuke

Current position: Victoria Tuke works in the Defence Strategy and Priorities team within the Ministry of Defence.

Starting point:

Between 2008 and 2011 I completed a PhD in Politics and International Studies, writing my thesis on Japanese foreign policy.

First turn – Daiwa Scholar

For many years I have been keen to enter public service but with a specific interest in Defence and Security issues. My PhD was a means to an end: a career in government, think tanks and NGO. Immediately after finishing the PhD in 2011 I was lucky enough to get a two-years long Daiwa Scholarship (Daiwa is an Anglo-Japanese Foundation). The scholarship allowed me to hone my Japanese language skills while working ‘hands-on’, this time, for the British Embassy and a Japanese politician, in addition to continuing my own research.

Second turn – Civil Service Fast Stream

Upon returning to the UK in 2013 I secured a job as part of the Civil Service Fast Stream. I had the chance to work in a range of departments including Cabinet Office, Ministry of Justice and on a short secondment to BAE Systems. In April 2015 I eventually landed my current position at the Ministry of Defence.

How did you make it?

The move from academia to government has been challenging and quite an adjustment. If you are keen on a specific sector or industry my advice is to get your foot in the door first, and only then work your way to your ‘dream job’. Because I did my PhD with the transition in mind I put extra effort in securing a number of internships (editorial, research) in Government and Think Tanks alongside my PhD.

What is the next move?

After developing experience in the ‘reality’ of public and foreign policy, I would very much welcome a portfolio career and any opportunity to return to some form of an academic career in the future.

Arts & Humanities PhD Case Studies: A Portfolio Academic Career

This interview, and the others to follow over the next few weeks, are with the employers represented at the recent King’s College London Arts & Humanities PhD careers event. They have been written by PhD candidate Valeria Valotto, to whom we are very grateful!

From PhD to Lecturer and Chaplain: A Case of Portfolio Career

Revd. Dr. Rosie Andrious

Current position: Rosie is New Testament teacher at KCL and Chaplain for Imperial College Healthcare Trust.

Starting point:

After reading Theology I completed an MA at King’s, where I then returned for my PhD after being ordained. Prior and alongside my PhD I was a mental health chaplain for fourteen years for the South of London and Maudsley Mental Health Trust.

What was your first step outside academia?

There was never a moment when I ‘leaped’ outside academia. Throughout the PhD I have been building a portfolio career, combining research and teaching with full-time chaplaincy.

How did you make it?

My previous role as chaplain was crucial in allowing me to carve out my unique career profile. While doing the PhD I had been teaching, it was natural to continue this activity alongside my job as a chaplain, which provides financial stability.