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:

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 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

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:

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.

Arts & Humanities PhD Case Studies: the other side of academia

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 Cultural Studies and Media Phd to Academic Services Research: the other side of Academia

Dr. Laura Speers

Current position: Laura is Post-Doctoral Associate at Queen Mary University London. She works in the Post-Graduate Training and Knowledge Exchange Unit.

Starting point:

I received a BA in Philosophy at the University of Newcastle. Prior to beginning my PhD at King’s, I studied for an MA in Telecommunications at Indiana University.

First turn – Temporary Research Position

Immediately after finishing my PhD I was not sure whether I should pursue an academic career. I got a temporary research position through my supervisor. This was at 53 Million Artists, a collaborative project between KCL Cultural Institute and an external organisation. My role involved helping shape the research agenda of the project, synthesising academic and policy literature for research reports, and devising evaluation activities to assess project progress.

Second turn – Post-Graduate Training and Knowledge Exchange Unit

My position, for which a PhD is a requirement, entails researching, developing and co-ordinating the delivery of research training and knowledge exchange activity for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences as an associate member of the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP), which is an AHRC-funded Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). The role involves the planning, programming, organisation and delivery of knowledge exchange activities by working closely with academic Schools, external partners and cultural institutions both in London and overseas.

I am very happy with the change. This postdoc position offers the best of both worlds (academia/outside) as I’m still in Higher Education so have university affiliation and library access (I’m in the process of publishing my PhD). I’m doing something new by applying my PhD experience and knowledge to researcher training and development. Researcher development is satisfying because it’s people-focused and you’re making a direct difference to the working lives and experiences of PhD students and ECRs.

How did you make it?

I encourage a twofold strategy to career transitions: hunting for information on the short run and chasing one’s interests and passions on the long run. Before applying for jobs I would make sure to shadow and interview people in that position, to understand better what the role implies. My active participation to extra-curricular activities led me to discover Post-graduate Training. As a PhD student I attended training sessions, which gave me the opportunity to understand the importance of Postgraduate Training and to understand how this service could be improved. At King’s I was Humanities PhD Students Representative, in such a capacity I organised workshops and gained valuable experience in chairing meetings and events. This made me realise that I enjoyed managing people and facilitating ideas exchanges. I had been cultivating these skills since her time at Indiana University, where I was an associate instructor, research assistant and served on the Graduate and Professional Student Organization (GPSO) committee.

For an in-depth interview to Laura and for pratical tips about how she made the transition, see the following article on King’s Careers Blog.

Arts & Humanities PhD Case Studies: Staying in Academia

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 Postdoc: The Academic Route

Dr. Pyi Phyo Kyaw

Current position: Pyi Phyo is Research Associate in Abhidhamma Meditation at King’s College London.

Starting point:

After studying a BA in Economics and Management at Oxford, I completed an MA in Buddhist Studies at SOAS in 2010, and eventually studied at King’s for my PhD in Buddhist Studies (2014). Prior to that I trained as a precept-nun in Myanmar in nunneries at Pyay in 2007 and Sagaing in 2012

What was your first step outside academia?

To date (2015) I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Buddhist Studies at King’s. Although this is a research post, I teach two modules: Introduction to Buddhism and Buddhist Ethics. I am very busy organising conferences as well as juggling academic commitments and juggling admin work.

How did you make it?

Upon applying for this post I had already published two articles and gained teaching experience as GTA. Patience, determination, and passion were key factors in securing the position, however.

What is the next move?

I hope the fellowship will be renewed. Most of my colleagues are employed on 1 or 2 years postdoc contracts – either on research-only programmes or combining research and teaching, depending on the funding body.

Women in Academia

I recently attended the launch of a new report by the Institute of Physics jointly done with the Royal Astronomical Society, Gazing at the Future.  The report looks at the experiences of male and female physics and astronomy researchers during their PhDs and their expectations of whether or not they will enter academia after the PhD.

The stats in the report make pretty depressing reading: female doctoral students rate the overall experience of their doctorate lower than their male peers; and the proportion of female doctoral students happy with their doctorate is on average 7% lower than for male doctoral students.  Only just over 55% of female doctoral students across all years of study agree that they would make good research scientists (70% of male students overall would agree).

Particularly stark was the finding that 48% of female students, in their final year, envisage that they might have a university role in 3-5 years’ time, compared with 65% of male students.

The report suggests reasons behind these stats, including the issue of a lack of role models (thus reinforcing unconscious bias amongst recruiters and setting an unconscious bar on ambition on the part of candidates).

It doesn’t seem to me, though, that physics and astronomy are particularly alone in these findings.  While efforts such as Athena SWAN and the Equality Charter Mark, as well as the fantastic photos of female professors in the Strand building, all help to promote academia as a welcoming place for women, the conversations I have with female researchers across all Faculties point to structural issues around the competition for grants and working culture that are off-putting.  In fairness, they are often off-putting to men looking for work/life balance too.

What to do?  Find resilience, set examples, seek good advice, take opportunities.  Find a mentor, find a ‘supporter’ [someone who actively looks for opportunities for you], and don’t be pigeonholed.  Think about protecting your self-esteem and promoting your self-confidence.  And retain a love for research.


Athena SWAN successes across the Health Faculties

This month three faculties: the Dental Institute, the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience and the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery have been conferred Athena SWAN Silver awards by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU). A further four Divisions in the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine have been granted Bronze awards.

The Divisions: Cancer Studies, Genetics & Molecular Medicine, Health & Social Care Research, and the Randall Division of Cell & Molecular Biophysics join the five existing award holders in the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine that received awards last April.

The awards recognise commitment to advancing women’s careers in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics) subjects.

The faculties who received Silver awards carry out a range of impactful activities that support gender equality for both staff and students. Some of the activities for postgraduate students and postdoctoral staff include:

In Nursing & Midwifery, male staff and student ambassadors are encouraged to participate in recruitment events and outreach activities. The Faculty has seen an increase in male students on PGT pre-registration programmes by 5% since 2010/11. Read the full Athena SWAN Silver application here.

At the IoPPN, the submission noted initiatives such as a PGR parenting network launched in 2014, and a post-doc network to help staff with making the transition to lecturer posts. Read the full Athena SWAN Silver application here.

In the Dental Institute, online promotion of work by women researchers through their Women in Science campaign, is used to celebrate success internally and to make the Dental Institute more attractive to female job applicants. Read the full Athena SWAN Silver application here.

To achieve Athena SWAN awards, applicants sign up to the Athena SWAN Charter and undertake a thorough self-assessment of their practices, and develop measurable action plans to further good practice and address areas for improvement within three years.

The ECU commented that: ‘It is the highest number of awards [across the country] presented to date, with the success rate increasing in this round’.

Throughout 2015 and 2016 Health departments across the university that do not currently hold an award, or which hold a Bronze award, will continue to work towards progressing to Silver status.

Careers Inspiration: Researcher Development

A case study kindly contributed by Dr Laura Speers, KCL Alumnus now working at QMUL within researcher development

Can you remind us what your PhD was about at KCL?

My PhD, undertaken in the department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries, explored the identity politics of participants of the London hip hop scene, focusing on how artists negotiate authenticity and what ‘keeping it real’ means lived out on a day-to-day basis. This involved looking at issues surrounding race, class, commerce, creativity and place.

How did you decide what the next best step for you was?

Towards the end of my PhD, I was unsure whether I wanted to continue in academia so began exploring various jobs both inside and outside higher education. There were many personal preferences that I factored in too. For instance, I wanted to stay in London and was not prepared to move abroad or around the UK to chase academic jobs.

I attended various career events exploring my options, making the most of the services whilst I was still a student. For example, sessions held at UCL as part of King’s membership to the Bloomsbury Postgraduate Skills Network. I also informally chatted to friends, family members and contacts I had in various sectors to get an idea of what opportunities were out there as it’s a common pitfall that humanities PhD graduates think the only career paths are academia or in the publishing industry.

I started applying for jobs immediately after submitting my thesis. I registered on and set up email notifications alerting me to any new jobs. I kept an excel spreadsheet of the roles I was interested in, the application forms required, type of CV (whether academic or not) and most importantly, deadlines. I also went to see Kate Murray, the PhD careers consultant, to get feedback on my CV and advice on applications.

I landed a temporary part-time research assistant post through contacts in my department which I really enjoyed. However, the whole time I was keeping an eye open for more permanent positions and applying to them. In total, I applied to 12 different jobs (roles inside and outside academia to keep my options open). I got shortlisted and interviewed for two different posts which was a really good experience before getting my current job at QMUL. Of the few sociology lectureships I applied for, I was informed by the institutions that they had received unprecedented numbers of applications. Around 200-300 applicants were chasing each position so most universities were not interested in junior, fresh-out-of-PhD candidates.

How did you get your new role, what are you now doing, and what do you do day-to-day?

My official title is Postdoctoral Associate for Knowledge Exchange and Postgraduate Training at Queen Mary University of London. I found the position on and immediately started compiling the application materials. I emailed the named contact on the job advert to ask specific questions about the role so as to tailor my application. I asked a colleague in my department whether I could see her successful postdoctoral application which was a really helpful starting point to structure mine. I had my CV and application form checked by the careers consultant at King’s.

After being shortlisted for an interview, I contacted a person in the Graduate School at King’s who was doing a similar job to the position I was applying for and asked whether I could do an informational interview with her. This was really valuable as it gave me an insight into the role and the type of issues I might face, which I brought up in the interview. I then had a practice interview with a careers consultant which was instrumental in me getting the job, as the feedback I received was critical in shaping my presentation and answers to tricky questions.

On the interview day I was required to give a presentation on three questions that were sent to me beforehand. There was a panel of five people asking rather challenging questions but I felt quite confident with all the preparation I had done. I was offered the job that very afternoon!

My day-to-day job centres on events management – basically planning, programming and organising innovative research training for PhD students in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. In addition, I work one day a week for the London Arts & Humanities Partnership (LAHP), which is an AHRC-funded Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) so I also have a desk at UCL. For LAHP PhD students, I also programme training activities, though focus on collaborative training with external cultural partners. These various responsibilities involve working closely with all levels of the university – from the Executive Dean and the Director of the Doctoral College, to academics and PhD students, and professional services staff – and increasingly with external partners and cultural institutions in London.

Have you experienced any differences in terms of working in a different academic institution?

As LAHP is a consortium between King’s, UCL, the School of Advanced Study and QMUL as an associate member, I am getting to experience quite a range of academic institutions all at one go! There are immediate differences one encounters such as in the infrastructure of how the university works and the communication channels one has to go through. It’s quite a steep learning curve realising how bureaucratic academic institutions are – you can have a brilliant idea but it often takes months and months to make happen because of the chains of command and budgeting protocol you have to go through!

When your time at QMUL ends, what might you move on to do?

My current post-doc position is for three years and I’m still unsure exactly what I’d like to do afterwards. However, I’m coming to many realisations about my ideal working conditions and that I enjoy variety so I’m starting to think about a ‘portfolio career’ and working on a freelance basis. In an ideal world this would involve working maybe 2-3 days a week in a fixed post and the other two days working on my own creative projects or writing/research.