Career Inspiration: KCL PhD working for Crossrail

Hearing from people who’ve trodden the road out of King’s before you can be very inspiring.  The account below is from Dr Andreas Schoeler, who left here in summer 2014.

1)      Can you briefly tell us what your PhD was about here at King’s? 

I did a PhD in Mechanical Engineering looking at charge of water droplets in non-polar oils and factors that influence it. It involved me coming up with my own experimental set up, that would allow me to observe the electrophoretic mobility of water droplets in a lab environment.

2)      Why did you decide not to continue into academia?  What drew you to working at Crossrail?

After a very lengthy and comprehensive discussion with a careers consultant I knew that academia wasn’t going to be for me. Although I was tempted by the working hours, I felt that PhD was as far as I would go in my academic career. I wanted a new challenge, a new environment and I wanted to be able to make a difference/change that could be felt immediately (within 5 years or so) rather than in a few decades, as so often is the case in academic and scientific discoveries. That’s when I decided to pursue a career in industry and I had two interests, transport and energy. I applied for a few companies, but Crossrail certainly stood out as an amazing opportunity to be part of something unique – Europe’s largest construction project, 10% transport capacity increase, innovative construction methods, etc. See here for information about Crossrail’s scheme.

3)      Can you describe the application process?  Did you have to work hard to convince the recruiters of the benefit of your PhD?

To answer the first part of the question, the application process was hard, but not as hard as some of the other application processes I embarked upon. I think it helped that I had applied for a few other positions so I knew how to approach the Crossrail application and I spend about 2 weeks filling in a 16 page application form. If I remember rightly I think I wrote about 5,000 words in my application. The application was followed by an interview (both panel and technical) and I was offered the job about a month after the interview took place.  The whole process took about 9 months from starting completing the form, to walking in the door.

To answer the second part of the question, the simple answer is I don’t think having a PhD was a particular requirement to getting the job. But I think it helped: being able to talk about grasping complex subject matters, being able to write reports and working in groups is something that I think a lot of companies are looking for nowadays.

4)      What’s the best bit about your role?  Do you get to use your PhD level-skills?  What are the main differences between working in industry and academia, in your experience?

I’m now enrolled in the Crossrail Graduate Scheme and I like that I will have the opportunity to work in a variety of different departments over the course of the 2 year scheme. I’ve started working in the Quality Department, which is responsible for performance assurance and improvement for the entire project. In this department I think it helped that I have a PhD, as it involves a lot of number crunching, report writing and reading, all of which are skills I gained from doing a PhD.

In my experience working in industry isn’t as different from academia as many people say/think. Working hours are a bit more rigid in industry, but the pressures are comparable. Whether you’re trying to write an abstract in time for a deadline or compile a report in time for a directors meeting, for example, you’re using the same skills.

5)      Any top tips for PhDs looking to get into this kind of industry?

Do your homework. Getting a PhD is good, but I think companies are looking for more than that. They want people who are keen and who fit well into the organisation. Tailor any CV/covering letter to the company you’re applying to. Why them? Why this particular role? Most companies these days have values, find out what they are and try and tailor your letter accordingly.

Secondly money isn’t everything. If you find a job you think you’ll like, go for it.