Spotlight on Research outside Academia – notes from the panel event

If you weren’t able to come to the recent event about working in scientific research outside academia, here are some top tips from the session:

Our speakers were:

Sunish Patel

  • Title:      Senior Analytical Scientist at GSK
  • PhD:      Pharmaceutics and Drug Design from UCL

Sunish’s PhD was a combination of drug discovery and drug delivery. During his PhD he developed new hydrophobic peptides and investigated their oral and SC delivery using polymeric nano particles.

Ruth Mokgogong

  • Title: Health Outcomes Research Manager – Pfizer
  • PhD: Neuropharmacology at University of Cambridge

Ruth is part of the Health & Value Outcomes team at Pfizer, where she now focuses more upon public health than she did during her academic studies. Her work includes conducting research and analyses on clinical trials and observational studies. In addition she is also involved in health economics research.

1) Each of our speakers had not gone directly into these roles: Sunish worked as a community pharmacist directly after his MPharm, and Ruth worked as a life science consultant first.  Sunish made 60 applications before eventually going through a GSK recruitment agency (PPD) to get the role.

2) Sunish indicated that PhD entrants are likely to get selected for more complex projects because of their prior experience, which would lead to potentially more interesting internal moves.  You’re likely to be able to, for example, add extra value to a department through cutting time on SOPs, which is helpful at appraisal time.

3) The lab environment in industry is broadly similar to a university lab; there may be more safety management procedures in place but otherwise the daily routine of experiments in the morning and then analysing data in the afternoons is pretty much the same.  You are more likely to have access to your own set of equipment rather than having to book and share it with other groups.

4) Ruth’s role, managing clinical trials on rare ‘orphan diseases’, reminds us that ethical approvals are difficult to come by in industry as well as academia.  The technical skills she uses, of observational study, desk-based statistical research and systematic reviews, are those many academics regularly use.

5) While companies such as Pfizer are based in the US, the UK offices are valued by them because of the rigour involved in getting approvals for market access, essentially to sell drugs to the NHS.  Companies reason that they need UK know-how to get access to this market and in doing so, get themselves into the European market too.

6) One big change from academia is having to have a corporate outlook.  You have to learn to manage up and down, and to be good at project management.

7) Ruth indicated that in her world (health economics), employers liked people with business knowledge and that it is easier to get into life science consulting than it is into business.

8) Work/life balance seemed pretty good for both speakers.  Ruth indicated that the hours in consulting were longer than in her current role.  Travel may well be involved, specially if the company is headquartered overseas.  GSK operates a flexi-time approach.

9) There are vacancies currently in specialist areas such as statisticians or health technologists.  GSK uses a lot of ‘contingency’ staff (essentially contractors) and this is a good way to see the internal vacancy list, for example.

10) When asked how they decided to get into their particular roles, both speakers talked about taking a chance, taking a risk and not necessarily having ALL information available to them.  ‘It looked interesting’ said Ruth!

Spotlight on Management Consultancy – notes from the panel events

Ten Top Tips from the Spotlight on Management Consultancy

Read on if you weren’t able to come to the very successful event recently around Management Consultancy careers for PhDs and research staff!

Speaker profiles:

Grant Repshire

Consultant at Capco

Grant completed a PhD in English Literature at Exeter University, having formerly completed an MA in History at Exeter, and a Bachelors in History at the University of Kansas. His research focused on the rediscovered papers of the First World War soldier-poet F.W. Harvey, resulting in the first academic biographical study of Harvey’s life and work. He is currently a Consultant at Capco, joining through their Armed Forces to Capco programme, having been a military officer prior to my MA/PhD.

Philip Livingstone
Manager, KPMG Management Consulting Healthcare Team
Philip’s PhD at Bath Spa focused on the interactions between reward pathways and attention pathways in the brain and how they are affected by nicotine in order to find new therapeutic targets for disorders such as schizophrenia. He took a particular interest in how dopamine levels in the brain would change in this pathways as a result of increasing the effects of nicotinic signalling.

He is now a Manager in the KPMG Management Consulting Healthcare Team. He specialises in redesigning healthcare services across whole care systems, involving the NHS, local government and not-for-profit sectors.

Nick Faull

Nick Faull is a Principal in Oliver Wyman’s London Office within the Financial Services practice. He has nine years of experience in consulting to Financial Services institutions across Europe with a focus on strategic IT and operations topics. He joined the firm after completing an atmospheric physics DPhil and a 2-year postdoc at the University of Oxford, working on the largest climate modelling experiment in the world.

  • Talk to your careers service! Both Grant and Phil used the careers events at their university to help with career inspiration and choice, as well as application feedback.
  • Choose a consultancy based either on your interest area (eg finance, life science) or because it has a very broad base and will expose you to multiple sector areas
  • Consulting is a good profession for allowing you to find out more about what other roles are possible in the world; consultants often move into the industries they have been supporting through their consultancy work, or become more senior and specialist in their particular consultancy practice.
  • There are many transferable skills from PhD or other research work; researching data or interviewing client employees is similar to many people’s research methodology; drawing conclusions from your own data; report writing; tender writing is very similar to applying for grants; and making presentations. Consulting is about understanding a problem and solving it, much like writing a PhD.
  • The main differences are the fast pace – clients will often want work produced at very short notice – and the number of projects on the go at one time. The stress is often higher and there is less time to sit and reflect.  You rarely use the academic knowledge that you have in a particular research field, though Phil did get to work on data for the ABPI.
  • Travel is a given, unless you choose a consultancy (such as CapCo, for example) that focuses on a particular geographical area (financial services technology). As you become more senior, you would be better able to choose the kind of clients you work with and therefore the travel you have to undertake.  Consultants can usually choose to be available for emails etc during their leave and many firms actively discourage this practice.
  • PhDs and other researchers are usually very positively viewed by consultancy firms. Be clear about what the reason is you are being pulled towards consultancy as they are likely to ask you at interview why you don’t want to continue in academia.  Reasons given by the panel include the opportunity to work on a variety of projects at once, and seeing a more immediate impact.
  • The kind of work varies enormously. Phil was a tutor on some NHS management training recently; Grant got to advise a charity during his induction period; Nick works within financial services advising regulators.
  • Different companies will have different ways of managing recruitment and subsequent progression within a company. All three entered via a graduate training scheme, though Grant came from a specific Armed Forces scheme and hence started perhaps slightly higher grade than a standard graduate.  Oliver Wyman has no timeline for promotion and works with individuals to help them develop; CapCo you are finding your own project and almost applying for each new piece of work; KPMG you may well find yourself studying for an accountancy qualification.
  • Areas likely to remain buoyant within consulting include IT, data, technology; leadership development and organisational conduct and culture. And strategy will never go away!

 

Kate Murray

Oct 2016

Spotlight Series: Careers in Policy – notes from the discussion on 26th October 2016

city-hall-719963_640Our speakers were:

Lila Caballero-Sosa

Title:      Policy Adviser at ActionAid

PhD:      Government; focusing on the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, at LSE

Lila has extensive experience in policy research, advice and management. As part of the policy team at ActionAid UK, she carries out research and develop policy analysis and strategies on aid and development finance. Although she has never formally studied at King’s, Lila has strong affiliations with the college and is currently carrying out a collaborative research project with the King’s International Development Institute.

George Windsor

Title:      Senior Policy Researcher at Nesta

PhD:      Political Science and Government; Highly skilled migration and the promotion of entrepreneurship in the UK at Loughborough University

At Nesta, George focuses upon carrying out research relating to the creative and digital economies here in the UK. This includes analysis of policy documentation such as the revised ‘Creative Industries Council’ strategy, as well as exploring concepts such as ‘The Fusion Effect’ which explores the utility of businesses combining knowledge from both the arts and sciences.

Ben Whitham

 Title:      Policy Research at Citizens Advice

PhD:      International Politics – University of Reading

Recently a Policy Researcher at Citizens Advice, a part-time Lecturer in International Politics at the University of East London, and a (voluntary) member of the Board of Directors at the Nuclear Information Service, Ben has many years’ experience of professional research and teaching in both Higher Education and policy roles. Ben is now a lecturer at Loughborough University. At present his work focuses upon the public services complaint landscape and he is utilising innovative social media research and big data analysis.

 Here are some of the questions and tips provided by our speakers:

Some common features of policy work:

  • Organisations are often small and run on tight budgets – multitasking and flexibility is needed
  • Work is often politically sensitive and discretion is frequently needed
  • Small organisations often mean opportunities to try new areas of work and take responsibility quickly
  • There are often benefits such as international travel or the chance to work with government departments and ministers and have impact nationally

Does your PhD have to be relevant to policy work?

All three panellists agreed that this was not necessary and that transferable skills from your PHD were more important.

How can you become more employable in policy?

Take internships if you can but also take less formal approaches, be willing to collaborate on writing blogs, approach someone who is already working in the field and suggest working together. Be imaginative it’s often easier than you think to approach and work with someone.

You can try getting an administrative role in an organisation you want to work for and wait for a good opportunity to come up. It’s usually easier to move within and organisation than it is to enter from the outside.

How can you prepare for this type of work?

Learn (or re-learn) to write specifically for a non-academic audience. This may be harder than you realised. Your new employers, however, will probably appreciate your academic skills and draw on them for example in gathering and analysing data.

Policy work is often quite different to academia – results are required more quickly and the methods used to research are often different to the ones you’ve used up to now. It’s a good idea to get familiar with quantative methods and software like SPSS, if you aren’t already.

Can you re-enter academia after a period working in a non-academic role?

Yes, and this can be a strength, bringing skills and experience that you might not have otherwise. You can also mix further study or academic work with a policy role. Two of our speakers had direct experience of this. Your connection with and understanding of academia can also be very useful.

Top tip for policy job application:

Read job description carefully, show you have the essentials, trust yourself – have confidence in yourself! You’ve done and achieved a lot. Be succinct and plain in your answers to questions. Use evidence and tangible examples.

Many thanks to our speakers who gave up their time so generously and our audience for their excellent questions.

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

 

‘The best careers event ever…’: case studies from the NMS careers day

Listening attentively to a speaker

Listening attentively to a speaker

The NMS Careers Day this week was a great success, with 60 PhDs and post-docs attending and listening to ten employers talk about their transition from PhD and post-doc onwards.

Key learning points from our opening speaker, Robert Bowles from the Royal Society of Chemistry:

 

  • Industry is changing – look at SMEs as well as large corporates as they are outsourcing much of their R&D
  • Use the professional body for your sector area (eg Royal Societies and Institutes – eg see IMA for maths, RSC (Chemistry), IOP (Physics) and so on) for networking, jobs, other opportunities, and news
  • Your subject matter may not be what gets you recruited, but instead the high level analytical skills you bring – consider your values and interests when thinking about moving on.

Steffen Zschaler, Senior Lecturer at King’s, talked about his role as an academic.

  • Remember that PhDs from other countries have more time to be building a CV, as their PhDs take longer.  Other countries might consider a 3/4 year UK PhD to be pretty short.  How will you write about it in your application?
  • What do academics actually do?  Steffen spends less than a third of his time conducting ‘research’ – he tries to steal some research time from his teaching and admin, but it is tricky.  A good third of his time is spent in administrative tasks, and there is a lot of marking involved in the large subject cohorts.
  • The best thing about the role is the freedom it brings.

Parimal Patel – Schroders

Parimal began his academic career at the University of Leicester, graduating in 2002 with an MPhys in Astrophysics. After completing a PhD in this topic in Nottingham, in 2006 Parimal made the transition into the corporate world, becoming an analyst, for Standard Bank plc. In this role Parimal was able to put his studies to use, particularly with regard to developing pricing models and analysis. Since 2013, he has been operating in risk analysis at Schroders.

Adele Julien – Researchers in Schools

Adele is in the third year of her PhD at The Open University. Her PhD research focuses on pollen-vegetation relationships in Ghana and pollen wall chemistry. This work helps to inform the interpretation of the pollen fossil record, which in turn aids our understanding of climate change over time. Alongside her studies, Adele is actively involved with The Brilliant Club, the organisation that oversees the Researchers in Schools initiative. Adele works closely with the RIS Head Office team to educate organisations and institutions about the scheme, which places PhDs in secondary schools as trainee teachers whilst allowing them to maintain a research profile.  She also regularly speaks about the research that is produced through the initiative within universities. She has also experienced what it’s like to be on placement through the RIS program.

Neal O’Riain – Pivigo

Neal is the Community Manager at Pivigo, a data science training and recruiting company. Originally from Ireland, Neal has a PhD in Astrophysics from Trinity College, Dublin, and in his research career he worked on modelling the atmospheres of stars. During his time in academia he was heavily involved in science engagement and education. He is the founder of Student2Scientist, a science education initiative funded by Google and SFI, aimed at introducing computing centrally in the Irish STEM curriculum. At Pivigo Neal’s role is to support PhDs in their transition from academia to jobs in Data Science.

Jassel Majevadia – IBM

A scientist by training, Jassel completed a PhD on the fracture properties of materials for nuclear applications, where she worked within the faculties of metallurgy, mechanical engineering and condensed matter theory. It was here that Jassel first developed her programming skills using C++, Fortran, Python and SQL. This experience supported her in making her transition into the commercial realm, and at current her work at IBM is focused on delivering Proof of Concepts for cross-industry analytical solutions. At Imperial College London, Jassel founded an international summer school and conference on materials science and communications and also participated in a significant amount of science communication work, including presenting on the Discovery channel. Jassel is a passionate advocate of disseminating academic science within the public realm and regularly speaks for organisations such as Soapbox Science.

Karola Graupner & Alexei Mulko – Government Operations Research Scheme

Karola currently acts as an Operational Researcher at the Ministry of Justice, where she is involved in analysing statistics relating to the Criminal Justice system. Her academic background sits in physics, and she completed her PhD at Queen’s University Belfast. Following on from her studies, Karola continued to operate in a HE setting both as a Research Associate at Loughborough and as Assistant Laboratory Manager and the University of Oxford. She also holds a PGCE, and thus her varied background means that she is happy to advise people from a range of perspectives when it comes to answering the question What’s next? following the completion of your PhD.

Alexei holds a PhD in Mathematics from the Lobachevski State University (Russia). His area of research was systems of differential equations with periodic functions, existence of limit cycles and stationary points and analytical structure of the systems’ first integrals. Prior to this, Alexei completed an MSc in Financial Engineering from Birkbeck, where his area of research was commodities and commodity derivatives pricing. Within GORS, he worked as an operational researcher at the Department for Education (DfE) and later – Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). He is the leading analyst in carbon pricing at DECC and his work consists of developing pricing models and providing modelling advice across the government as well as driving the EU ETS policy development via analysis, impact assessments and engagement with the government and external stakeholders.

Judith McMarron – Elekta

Judith acts as functional lead within her team at Elekta and also works closely with the company’s Regulatory and Quality Assurance group. Prior to her commercial career, Judith studied a wide range of core physics and maths at The University of Manchester before moving onto The University of Edinburgh where she completed her PhD in Elementary Particle Physics, which was part of a project with CERN.

Stephen Harrison – Capco

As a consultant within the Innovation & Digital practises at Capco, Stephen delivers large complex programs that intersect innovation, strategy, technology and financial services. Stephen has been lead developer and product owner for a number of pieces of software, including both mobile and web-based applications for retail banks and internally at Capco. He is also part of the Digital R&D team, exploring new and leading-edge technologies such as machine learning, Blockchain and big data analysis. He has a 1:1 in Astrophysics, and a PhD in Theoretical Physics, both from University College London.

Notes by Aimee Wilde, Employer Engagement Officer, King’s Careers & Employability