Black and minority ethnic early career researcher conference

Black Minority and Ethnic Early Career Researchers (ECRs) are grossly underrepresented in academia. ECRs find themselves conducting many postdoctoral positions, and end up leaving research as they are unable to make the transition to a lectureship. This may be due to lack of skills, support and knowledge required to stay in academia.

This conference aims to empower researchers with the skills to remain in academia, such as having a good mentor, guidance on applying and writing fellowships, tips on networking, and finally a good work/career life balance.

There will be a diverse range of academics sharing their experiences on the day.

Refreshments and lunch will be provided.

Click here for the booking page.

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


Hacking the US job market – The Professor Was In at King’s last week

Karen at King'sDr Karen Kelsky from The Professor Is In delivered a talk on hacking the US academic job market last week and offered several insightful tips:

Stand out from the slush pile of applications

  • Most US academic jobs receive 200-900 applications. This means committee members decide within roughly 20 seconds whether to continue reading an application or to reject it. While that might sound discouraging, combining a strong record with well-crafted application materials and polished interview skills are likely to enhance your chances of success.
  • Know the timetable for US academic recruitment: adverts go live typically in August/September, with deadlines beginning November, first round interviews just into the New Year and campus visits in April/May.
  • Vacancies are usually found through the US learned society for your subject area (eg see here for National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine jobs board).

Build up a strong record

  • Major, refereed journal publications (write your dissertation with the aim of publishing some chapters), receiving national grants, participating in conferences, particularly US conferences, lecturing solely on at least one course, and developing a network of individuals within and outside your institution who can recommend you, will all contribute towards a strong record.

Write well-crafted applications and interview effectively

  • Keep job applications concise, limiting cover letters to 2 pages and teaching statements to 1 page. Ensure applications are fact-based and avoid using emotion-based language (eg I am passionate/fascinated/driven, etc). Show rather than tell, your interest and achievements in your field.
  • Prepare a brief but strong statement summarizing the contributions you can make to your field.
  • Demonstrate in applications and interviews that you are thinking ahead to obtaining tenure. Make a 5-year plan of what you plan to achieve and share it with the committee.
  • Prepare concise bullet point answers for potential interview questions, practice them comprehensively, and mould your experience to the job description in answers.
  • Approach applications and interviews with the mind set of a faculty peer, not a student! Display professionalism in your language and attire, and avoid taking a backpack to interviews (unless you’re an astronomer!).

All the best with your applications!

Blog post by Nudrat Siddiqui, Research Staff Development Officer

Photo by Donald Lush

Arts & Humanities PhD Case Studies: portfolio working

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!

Full-time PhD, Portfolio career

Georgios Regkoukos

Current position: PhD student in History at KCL, Tutor and GTA at KCL, Tour Director at EF.

Starting point:

I am enrolled as a PhD student at KCL, writing a thesis on Politics, political thought and gentry liberalism in the era of Great Reforms in Russia.

End point:

When my sponsoring institution cut my funding I took a job as Tour Director at EF. I found the job advertised on jobonline, the UoL Career Group website. I liked the sound of it because I have always loved travelling and this way I am getting paid to do it! My duties consist of accompanying groups mainly consisting of students from the US and Canada throughout their tours of European countries, on-tour logistical support and organisation of activities, various educational responsibilities, such as giving walking tours of European city centres and coach commentaries.

How did you make it?

I had been working previously as tutor and really enjoyed it. My language and people skills definitely helped a lot. This is a part-time job which allows me to concentrate my travels in few stints over the year. As a result I have a lot of free time for my academic work and teaching at KCL.