Professional Futures: Internationalising your PhD, 18th January 2017

Charles Laing is a Research Scientist at DLR – the German Aerospace Centre. He specialises in space physiology, cardiovascular physiology and spaceflight countermeasures. He undertook his PhD in Space Medicine at King’s College London and began working internationally in 2012. Charles will provide his insights into working internationally and about how his research is understood and valued in different contexts.

Charlie spoke about:

  • The different work cultures in the UK and Germany. In Germany everyone is very business focussed and will expect quick, clear and definite responses to issues. Saying you think you can deliver on a project will make your German colleagues wonder if you can, whereas in the UK this would be a clear commitment to doing so.
  • Finding international opportunities to continue your research can be done through networking, placements and conferences. Charlie was on placement in Germany as part of his M.A. and this helped him create the necessary links.
  • The approach to research at DLR (the German aerospace agency) is very different to pure academic research on a PhD, being much more like a regular job with fixed hours and projects.
  • DLR is huge – over 7000 people on one campus – but has very little profile in the UK. Charlie recommended researching organisations in your field as you might be surprised at the level of activity and opportunity.
  • Having publications helped Charlie secure his role in Germany as these are compulsory in the German research system to gain a research job.
  • A PhD is much more respected in Germany than in the UK. Germany can also be much more formal – it’s unusual to address a Professor by first name until you are well acquainted.
  • The chance to gain skills beyond research – Charlie said he learned a great deal about budgeting and budget management that he wouldn’t have had in an academic lab in the UK.
  • The chance to learn the perspectives of other cultures as well (in his case) learn German from scratch.
  • Funding systems for research can be very different abroad and are worth researching.
  • Research in Germany is growing rapidly, thanks to their government investment and there should be many opportunities available for those who are suitably qualified.

Spotlight on careers in finance for researchers – 23rd November 2016

Our speakers were:

Andy Round

PhD (Title) – Biochemistry ‘Yeast as a Delivery Vehicle for labile actives’ – University of Leeds

Use of yeast as a microbial delivery vehicle. Using and engineering different yeast types via process and growth control factors to change the physical and biochemical properties to enhance its ability to deliver a range of different chemistries / molecules in different environments (example small molecules delivered to the GI tract, flavour molecules delivered to the tongue etc). Andy is now investment director at Spark Impact, where he invests in new businesses.

Suren Sorathia

Suren has a PhD in Quantum Physics and is now a manager at d-fine.

Ryan Warnes

In 2010, Ryan obtained a PhD in Astrophysics from Princeton University, USA and the University of Natal, SA. During his PhD he worked on an international project to detect galaxy clusters using the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect. From there he moved into the world of consulting with d-fine. Working for such a company and within the consulting space, allowed Ryan to combine his passion for travel along with his love of analytical thinking, in collaboration with like-minded individuals to solve challenging real-world problems. During his 6 years at d-fine, Ryan has worked with a number of financial institutions ranging from small hedge funds and retail banks through to large international investment banks and national regulators.

Ryan – chose a career outside academia because, although he enjoyed research, he was looking for something with more stability that allowed time for family life and avoided some of the downsides of working in Higher Education. He wanted to continue using his analytical and problem solving skills while working with likeminded people. He was very interested in risk as a concept and finding novel solutions to address it. He’s now worked successfully in finance for six years and has progressed into management. He says his current job is a constant balancing act between perfectionism and cost/effectiveness.

Suren – initially chose his PhD partly because of his desire to travel. He located a Professor who was willing to supervise him at a University in Mexico, where he had to learn Spanish from scratch. He took a post-doctoral job in the USA but wanted to move on from academia for the same reasons at Ryan, although he has always considered he could return to academic research if he chose to. He has also been promoted and now leads a team. Suren found the problem solving and analytic aspects of his role the most interesting and is very happy to be working alongside many scientists who have made similar career moves to his.

Andy Round – began his academic life with a sponsored PhD during which he started a business and has worked continuously since then helping business be more innovative both in large and small businesses. This led him to many different roles including working in North Eastern England on regeneration schemes and working for and with venture capitalists. Andy has always been willing to move to find new opportunities and says, for him, five years in one role is enough to complete its natural cycle. He has recently become owner of his own business raising money for small businesses. He says the skills and qualities gained during his PhD in analysis, flexibility, resilience, enthusiasm, independence and responsibility have been called on throughout his career so far.  Andy identified the ability to work well with a range of different people as critical to success as an entrepreneur.

Spotlight Series – Patent Law, October 12th 2016

Our speakers were:

Nicholas Noble

Title:      Patent Attorney at Kilburn Strode

PhD:      Medical Image Analysis at King’s College London

Following the completion of his PhD studies, Nick initially pursued an academic research career at both King’s and UCL. In 2006, he made the transition into becoming a trainee patent attorney and has remained in the industry since this date. He continues to involve himself in academic life, regularly lecturing at universities including Queen Mary’s and Imperial College London.

Anna Leathley

Title:      Associate at Carpmaels & Ransford LLP

PhD:      Cell Biology and Cell Signalling at King’s College London

Anna began her pursuit to become a Patent Attorney immediately after her studies at King’s, and spent over ten years at Dehns law firm. More recently, she has been working at Carpmaels & Ransford, where she specialises in helping clients to develop and execute their IP strategies.

Nick’s route into patent law began with choosing not to pursue an academic career as he wanted more variety and scope. He did take one post-doc role before (after some advice from a careers consultant) applying to many companies before securing his first position.

Anna’s route was more direct, via Biochemistry. She liked lab research but thought she wanted more intellectual stimulation, building on her research skills. She looked outside because of appeal of using scientific knowledge without having to be in a lab. Anna made use of her professional networks to get advice and applied.

How does patent law work?

Nick and Anna are patent attorneys. They help to draft patents, file them at the patent office and help refine the application. They can sometimes appear in court. They’re trained to help people get patents and both specialise in acquisition of rights. An education in science is an essential requirement and you must have a degree that European courts recognise. Patent lawyers help with assertion of rights in court and IP solicitors deal much more widely.

What is your company is like and how does it fit into the sector?

Anna – Cartmels is quite large and one of the oldest firms in the sector, all on one site. There are about 200 staff and 8 to 10 new trainees each year. They also have solicitors and trademark attorneys litigating. It’s different to other firms because of size and scope of activity. Anna advised applicants to look at the client base, the strengths of particular firms and to think about your own ambitions.

Nick – noted big contrasts between his first and second firms, although standards are high everywhere. In his first firm, things were very income and time focussed. His current firm is single site, with 150 staff. The ethos and attitude distinguish them with short, business like communication, very client focussed. There’s lots of fun and social life.

Nick recommends applying to as many firms as possible as it’s a small profession, but to tailor applications. He advises – do your research, be ready to answer why you want to work there. Be honest on applications but positive. Applications should be perfect on attention to detail, which is an essential skill. Interviews often include reading tests for this. Having a PhD and post doc experience is very valuable and helps build confidence.

He also say to research market, for example at the moment there is a shortage of electronics specialists but markets change. Adaptability and willingness to are learn important and your science background can matter. You need an eye for detail, pedantry, and your ability to write is very important. PhDs have better writing skills.

Non-native English speakers are welcome as their languages are useful but good confidence in English matters. The application season is usually one year ahead for an Autumn start like most graduate schemes.  Interviews by Skype and then there are selection days. There are vacation schemes for penultimate year PhDs. Work experience is good as always as a way of making you stand out.

What do you do day to day?

Drafting, searching, reading documents, moving application through stages. Lots of communication. Advising clients on patents and other people’s intellectual property. Lodging appeals against grants of patents on behalf of clients. Very desk based, thinking, reading, and writing. You need to enjoy problem solving and meeting client’s needs and there’s lots of variety and challenge.

There are some opportunities to work at home and flexible working is possible. You need a real interest in helping a business develop and must learn to see the difference between academic and commercial interests. Orientation into the business can be steep learning curve and the training is demanding and quite long.

Professional Futures, 16 November 2016 – Think you don’t need to network? Here’s why you do.

network-586177_640Our speaker:

Dr Triona Bolger, whose PhD was in Craniofacial Developmental Biology, is now a Managing Consultant in the Life Science Practice at Navigant Consulting with a strong interest in EU/Emerging Market commercial strategy for both speciality and big pharma.

Here are Triona’s top thoughts about networking and how to be a successful networker:

  1. Words that come to mind when thinking about networking:
  • Elevator pitch
  • Selling yourself
  • Awkward forced conversation
  • Schmoozing
  • Working a room
  • Speed dating.
  1. All of these things can seem like barriers to a useful conversation.
  2. Networking is nothing more than making connections with people – be interested, be present and be honest. Talk openly about the things that you are passionate about, ask engaging questions and truly listen to the answers. People seek connections and respond well to honest and open conversations.
  3. Networking shouldn’t mean that you are false or behave in a manner that isn’t yourself – this comes across as fake and people will close off .
  4. The purpose of networking varies so try and be open to opportunities – you may be looking for a new flat mate, funding, a job, inspiration, a collaborator and many other things.
  5. You can network anywhere – the residents lounge of your building, at parties, sports, on-line, on a flight.
  6. Generally, I don’t network with purpose, I just try to pay attention to who people are and chat, but this is my approach. Others need to be more studied and others are more gregarious.
  7. Be true to yourself – if you aren’t outgoing and able to introduce yourself, then don’t go to events where you have to put yourself out there. Work out a networking style that works for you.
  8. Identify your ‘party personality’ – are you the centre of the party? Are you holding up the wall, are you chatting in the kitchen in a smaller group, are you making yourself useful clearing up after other? Know yourself and find ways to talk to people that work for you
  9. What do you want to be known for? What do you need / want to know about others? Try to work out your answers to the following:
  • Do you have to be purposeful vs. passive?
  • What is your story?
  • Who is the other person?
  1. Keep in touch with the connections you make through messages, emails or personal contact.

Professional Futures: Industry v. Academia – Comparing Research Opportunities, 9th November 2016

Our speaker was Dr Terry Parlett – Head of IP & Commercial Research at Guy’s and St. Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust. Terry’s PhD is in Immunology.

Terry completed his studies at King’s in 2004 and has since held professional roles in molecular biology, health innovation and delivering medical technology.

At present, he leads the development and commercialisation of NHS intellectual property assets to create new products and services for patients.

This involves both protecting the intellectual property generated by research in the NHS and setting up new ventures to exploit it commercially for the benefit of the Service.

Terry’s career has been varied. He decided that although he enjoyed academic science research he wanted more control over his professional life and wondered if he was likely to make a full career in this field. This helped him to decide to move outside academic research.

He began his current career while still writing his PhD, taking a job in media sales which led to working for a King’s College London spin-off company. The progression from there to his current role has been a series of natural developments, using his research and commercial skills.

Terry identifies several differences between academic research and his current role:

  • Team dynamics are different, being less collegiate and more shaply business focussed
  • He’s often asked to work outside your comfort zone and expected to respond professionally. Terry commented that he has come to enjoy this aspect of his work.
  • Terry says there are no typical days (which is an advantage) although his work now benefits from well worked out processes and systems which he has developed.

For this kind of career, Terry recommends gaining some experience through internships or work shadowing. It can be a real benefit if you have patents from your research already and a science background is essential to the job. Terry also emphasised the necessity of growing and maintaining a useful professional network.

Terry recommends:

  • You need to be resilient and flexible
  • Learn how to manage upwards with senior colleagues
  • Thoroughly understand the role and accept what comes along
  • Seek coaching and mentoring as soon as you can
  • Be confident in your skills and knowledge – Terry rejected several career possibilities before settling on his current path