How I broke into the biotechnology sector

Just in case you missed this on our Careers Service blog, here’s a post from a PhD graduate on working in the biotechnology sector.

The Careers Service Blog

Adam Inche works for BioReliance, a firm that provides contract testing and manufacturing services to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. He recently had this to say on getting into the biotechnology sector.

“Since completing my PhD in Cancer Biology, I have been working for a couple of different companies in the biotechnology field.  I transitioned from a development scientist role into the commercial side during this time.  I have been in my current role in the marketing department at BioReliance for just under 2 years, and I am really enjoying how I am both being challenged as well as being allowed to challenge assumptions within the organisation.

The recruitment process was a little different from normal, as I was approached to apply for the role – however the selection and interview side of things was just like any other job you would see advertised on a job site, or…

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Resilience in career management

Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.   Winston Churchill

I’ve been thinking about resilience lately.  It’s cropped up in things I’ve been reading and in some conversations so I thought I’d share a few reflections.

When asked what personal qualities were needed for success in an academic career, Professor Cathy Abbott, from the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, chose being robust.  It’s something you hear quite commonly, how the flip spersonal-qualities-needed-for-success-cathy-abbottide of your own academic training in critically evaluating the work of others means that your own work is also commonly subject to criticism and rejection.  It can be hard not to take this personally even when you know it isn’t but it’s one of the things you’ll have to adjust to if you want an academic career.  Watch what Cathy says below.

Cathy Abbott – being robust

But resilience is also important if you are thinking of pursuing a non-academic career at the end of your PhD.  Students often tell me that they experience feelings of failure, worry that their PhD was a waste of time, are unsure about what else they can do with their PhD if not an academic job, and worry about how they will be perceived by others in the academic world.

So how do you manage this?  Sometimes acknowledging how you are feeling is a good first step.  Career Coach and author of ‘Secrets of Resilient People’, John Lees, lists a number of questions in his book to help you identify your base-line reliance.  I’ve copied a few below.  Score yourself on the scale 1= low, Uncertain=3, High=5 to identify areas of risk and vulnerability (1 & 2), or areas of strength.

  • How confident are you in your ability to acquire new skills and knowledge?
  • How strong is your self-esteem most of the time?
  • How far are you able to remain calm when under moderate pressure?
  • How strong is your ability to persevere with a task when things aren’t going well?
  • How optimistic are you even when things are difficult?
  • How good are you at getting on with your work after experiencing rejection or personal criticism?
  • How far do you feel valued in your work?

Extract from ‘Secrets of Resilient People’ by John Lees. Hodders and Stoughton 2014*

If you are scoring low on a number of questions above then consider some of the approaches below.

Focus on what you can change.  The competition for research funding, the shortage of academic jobs compared to the number of PhD graduates, the difficulty of getting published in ‘high impact’ journals – these are all things you can’t change (at least not quickly).  But you can focus on how you make yourself as competitive as possible by gaining relevant experience, or on making a positive decision to consider other career options.

Reframe negative experiences.  It’s all too easy to obsess about things that haven’t gone well in work.  But instead, think about what you’ve learned from the experience and use this to move forward.

Spend time looking after yourself.  Take a break from work, do something that calms or recharges you, whether that’s baking a cake, going for a run, watching a film.   Create the space in your head to think about things differently.

Find your supporters.  Who will remind you of your strengths, encourage you, give you honest feedback?

If you’d like to discuss any of this with a careers consultant please book an appointment on MyCareerHub.

Book an appointment

* Available for reference in the Careers Service resource centre in the Main Library Building, George Square and the Weir Building, King’s Buildings.

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Careers beyond academia – good resource

Many PhD students are interested in pursuing a career outside academia but aren’t sure about how to make this move or even of what sort of career options are available that may interest them.  One good way to start exploring non-academic careers is to read stories of what other PhD graduates have done.  We have case studies for some of our own PhD graduates on our website plus links to other sources of case studies.

University of Edinburgh PhD graduate career stories

Broad options – other career stories

I recently came across another useful source, from PhD to Life.  It’s a North American site and when I last looked there was a list of more than 70 stories of PhD graduates in disciplines ranging from biomedical physics to medieval studies working in many different career areas.  Not only will you find out about lots of different jobs, but you’ll find out how PhD graduates are using the skills they developed and experience gained through their PhDs, and get some tips about how to make the transition into the non-academic role.  It’s well worth a look.

From PhD to Life – transition stories

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‘Postdoctoral Careers Beyond Academia’

The Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities (SGSAH) recently funded an event for Arts and Humanities PhD students on careers beyond academia. Some of you may have been at it. I thought it worth sharing this blog post describing some of the insights gained from the event.

SGSAH Blog

Since I’m free of D.H. Lawrence (for now!) I’ve got a wee bit more free time on my hands to take part if real life, as well as attending more PhD-related events. So last Thursday I popped up to the University of Stirling to attended the ‘Postdoctoral Careers Beyond Academia’ event, organised by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Stirling and the HaSS Graduate School, University of Strathclyde, funded by the SGSAH. This was a day long conference with a number of talks from successful arts and humanities and social sciences post-docs, all of whom have chosen to follow career paths outside of academia.

Full disclosure: I genuinely hadn’t considered any other career besides academia. Oh, except being a poet/writer, which, as we all know, is where the money money at (I do it for the love of the subject, the thrill of producing art, the emotional…

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Academic interviews

I seem to have spent quite a bit of time recently giving practice interviews for academic jobs.  The interviews were for research staff working at this University who were applying for lecturing roles at universities across the UK.

For many PhD students, the next step after the PhD –  if you want to stay in academia – is probably a research role (research assistant; research fellow) or a teaching role (teaching assistant; teaching fellow) with the lecturing job coming after you’ve built more experience.  But I thought it would still be useful to share with you a few of the questions that were asked at the interviews as something to ponder on for the future.

  • How would you create collaborations with people at this university?
  • How would your teaching fit into our program? What would you bring?
  • In five years, what should we use to evaluate your success? How will you have made a difference?
  • What research accomplishment are you most proud of and why? What impact did it have (academic and other)?
  • Do you have any anecdotes or feedback about how your research has positively impacted students’ lives?
  • If you had unlimited funds, what project would you work on?
  • What would be your first grant?
  • How would you make a contribution to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)?

Hopefully this will give you some insight into the experience you should be building for the future (some of it during your PhD but also in positions you’ll hold after your PhD).

Look at the Careers Service website for further information on what to expect at academic interviews and for examples of other types of question that may be asked.

Academic interviews

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Opportunities in software development

Murray Crease, Head of Development in the Edinburgh office of Scott Logic, a software development company, spoke at our PhD-employer networking event at the start of October.  He told students attending that:

  • the company is always interested in talking to PhD students (from many subject areas) who are motivated to work in software development.  They’re happy to talk informally about potential opportunities.
  • that they are open to interviewing a year before the likely completion of the PhD and will hold the position open. This gives the student the space to complete their studies without having to worry about job hunting in those frantic last few months.

I thought you’d be interested in reading a post on the Scott Logic blog about their recent hires of PhD graduates in neuroscience, physics and maths.  You can find it at the link below or I’ve copied the whole text underneath.

PhD entrants into Scott Logic

From the blog:

Scott Logic welcomes influx of PhDs

scott-logic

We’re proud to have welcomed four academics to bolster our high-calibre workforce in recent weeks. The new starters, all of whom are based in our Newcastle development centre, joined Scott Logic as software developers during October, the most recent starting just today!

Two of the new developers, Michael, 28, and Paul, 27, completed their studies safe in the knowledge they had a job to go to, as both accepted their offers of employment around a year ago.

Michael, from Cramlington in Northumberland, who has a PhD in systems neuroscience from Newcastle University, even attended last year’s Christmas party in an effort to get to know his new colleagues well in advance of his first day.

He said: “The job offer from Scott Logic took the pressure off. A lot of the academics around me were stressing throughout the final year of the research, right up until the end in some cases, and some had put off job-hunting until they completed their doctorate.

“As I had a job lined up, it meant I could take a short break and spend some relaxation time with my wife Ashley after my PhD, rather than having to begin the search.”

Similarly, Paul, from Sunderland, who has just completed his PhD in neuroscience at Newcastle University, focusing on the brain’s interaction with and interpretation of 3D technology said: “I was offered the job in October 2015, and that meant I could relax somewhat. It focused my attention to help make my research more enjoyable.”

After a couple of months of respite, during which keen sportsman Paul also met several of his team mates at the Scott Logic summer party, the pair are enjoying their transition into industry so far.

Michael, who initially studied Physics at the University of York before completing an MSc in Computer Science at Imperial College London and converting to an MSc in Advanced Computer Science at Newcastle University, said: “It’s a steep learning curve, but not too dissimilar in many ways to my PhD, which looked into the nitty gritty of how the brain works, in particular focusing on the visual cortex.”

And Paul, who had been keen to remain in his native North East as he prepares to become a father, added: “I’m still very much learning the ropes, but the work is very interesting and everyone has been very friendly. I’m particularly enjoying the problem solving aspects of the role.”

Originally from Loughborough, Thomas, 26, completed an MPhys in Physics at Durham University before moving on to a PhD in Particle Physics, also at Durham. He also became aware of Scott Logic several months ago, and accepted an offer early in 2016.

He said: “As I spent so much time working on learning simulations and programming these for my thesis, it made natural sense to become a computer scientist, and I came across Scott Logic at a STEM careers fair and spoke to one of its volunteers.

“I was keen to stay in the North East and I really like the company; everyone seems pretty relaxed. So far it’s been quite a transition, but very interesting and lots to do, with more flexibility than I expected having come from an academic background.” Thomas is now keen to get involved in our work on big data.

This morning, the trio have been joined by Lithuanian maths graduate Andrius, 32, who came to England in 2008 to gain an MSc in software engineering from the University of York, before completing his PhD in computer science at Newcastle University last year.

Keen reader Andrius, who was referred to Scott Logic by a friend already working here, said: “I’m looking forward to building good systems that we can be proud of. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist and I am most happy when I get a really good outcome in what I’m doing.

“I’m looking forward to going back to coding and using the latest technologies and approaches to do my work.”

The quartet are in good company, as several of our technologists have higher degrees, including several PhDs, helping us remain at the cutting edge of technology.

Recruitment Manager John Wright said: “We’re incredibly proud of our track record in attracting gifted problem solvers to our consultancy, and it’s been great to welcome four such individuals to the team during October alone.

“We hope Michael, Thomas, Paul and Andrius feel at home here, and we’re excited to see them apply their considerable skills to our client projects in due course. In the meantime we’re always keen to hear from anyone in academia who may be considering the move into industry.

“As we’ve demonstrated in the case of Michael and Paul in particular, we’re happy to start the process quite a way before the completion of your studies, so don’t hesitate to contact us for an informal chat.”

For more information on roles we have available at Scott Logic, visit scottlogic.com/careers/vacancies, or to contact John, email applications@scottlogic.com.

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Academic superheroes?

I’ve had a paper sitting on my desk for a while that I’ve been meaning to read.  It’s an analysis of academic job adverts at Australian universities and asks the question ‘What do academic employers really want from the PhD now?’

academic-superhero

I’m just going to copy below a paragraph from the paper which for me seems to capture some of the changes in expectations of the academic job role over the last decade or more.

The academic super-hero conforms to university strategic priorities (including in directing their research focus and undertaking pastoral care for students and colleagues) and is always alert, if not alarmed.  At any moment our hero must be ready to deal with the multiple uncertainties that beset the higher education sector in Australia, all the while collecting business cards for that next round of student placements, soothing hurt feelings and smiling graciously at the crowds of prospective students at Open Day while publishing prodigiously and creating innovative learning opportunities for their students across multiple media. 1

It’s obviously reporting on data from the Australian academic job market but there are probably similarities with the UK and possibly other parts of the world in this global academic market.   I’d be interested to hear what you think.  Is this really reflecting the academic job role?

  1. Academic superheroes? A critical analysis of academic job descriptions. Rachel Pitt and Inger Mewburn. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 2016. Vol. 38, No. 1, 88-101
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