Careers Perspectives – from the Bath careers service

Focus on your future with expert advice from your careers advisers

Topic: Academic Career

What does success mean to you?

📥  Academic Career, Advice, Diversity, Event, inspire

Last Thursday I had the privilege of attending Sulis Minerva Day, a day celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The final event in a day of inspirational and fascinating talks from eminent female scientists and engineers and engaging soapbox presentations from Bath's doctoral and postdoctoral researchers was a panel event on 'Pioneers and Pathways', with a wide range of speakers from academia, industry and science communication. The panellists, with help from some lively and honest contributions from the audience, discussed their own experiences and thoughts on how to attract more women into science and engineering

The Chair of the panel, Professor Carole Mundell, Head of the Department of Physics at the University of Bath, opened the panel session by asking each of the panellists what success looks like for them. Clearly this is a very personal topic with a wide range of possible answers; a Google search for 'career success' yields 27, 700 000 results. Nevertheless there were some common themes arising in how the speakers defined success. Professor  Mundell said that for her success is two-fold - 'in my personal life knowing my family is happy and thriving, that I have time to be part of that and, in turn, sharing in their successes and passions. Success in my professional life has a similar shape: doing a fulfilling job that I love and for which I am recognised, working with good people and, in turn,  recognising and celebrating their achievements, being authentic and having integrity. I am fortunate to work in fundamental research which comes with tricky problems, but when one is the first to discover something new about the world, that is a real thrill. Success for me is really an accumulation of tiny triumphs, some of which are ultimately recognised formally, which is wonderful and necessary,  and others which may go unnoticed.'

Similar themes came up in the panellists' definitions of success. Dr Patrick Goymer, Chief Editor of Nature Ecology & Evolution, also said that part of success for him was achieving work/life balance, as well as the satisfaction of launching a journal from scratch. Work/life balance was also important to Melanie Welham, Chief Executive of BBSRC. Melanie noted the importance in personal and professional success of being brave, taking opportunities as they come up and taking a leap without knowing where you'll end up. It did occur to me that 'leaps' can be fundamentally scary; and I wondered whether changes or new personal or professional directions might be more helpfully described as steps. We often take steps without knowing exactly where they will lead; career success can be experimental and exploratory as well as carefully planned. Melanie also highlighted the importance of a support network, and advised finding a mentor who is one or two steps ahead of where you would like to be - mentors who are many steps ahead of you can be intimidating.

Developing supportive relationships was also important to Dawn Bonefield, Director of Towards Vision, who said that for her, 'success looks like collaboration'. For Emily Grossman, a science broadcaster and writer, success had meant the ability to bring together her scientific knowledge and creativity, which she considered to be key aspects of her identity, and also having space to look after herself emotionally and to make a difference through her work. If 'making a difference' is important to you in life and career, this great blog post by Warwick Careers Service will help you to think through what that might look like in practice. The Warwick Careers blog also has a lovely post on how mentors can help you achieve career success, particularly by championing your cause and giving you encouragement.

To help you work out what success means to you, think about what is important to you in the different aspects of your life. What is the purpose of career for you? How will you know when you've been successful?

Many of us find identiying our successes quite challenging; take a leaf out of Carole Mundell's book and celebrate your 'tiny triumphs'; keep a mental or physical record of what you've done and think about what you're most proud of and what you learned from the experience. To help build your confidence, think about what you're interested in and enthusiastic about, and then share it with others. Dr. Gerta Cami-Kobaci, a Research Fellow in Pharmacy and Pharmacology, who did a soapbox presentation on her research on designing medicines for pain relief, said she very much enjoyed the opportunity to present her work to a broader scientific audience, and feels that it is very important to be able to communicate with specialists working in different fields of research.

And if you find putting your successes into words a struggle, this blog also has some tips on How to Sell Yourself and Feel ok about it.

 

 

 

What do research staff do next?

📥  Academic Career, Career Development, For PhDs, Uncategorized

I've just finished reading Vitae's newly-published report on where postdoctoral research staff go when they leave academia. The report is based on a largely qualitative survey of researchers' career paths and experiences on leaving academic research posts, and includes insights into how people made decisions around whether to leave and what to do next, how they adjusted to new cultures and environments, what they find satisfying about their new roles and what they miss about academia.

Now, as I've been reading the report I've been thinking constantly about how some of these ideas and data can input into my own thinking, workshops and the ways I support our research staff here at Bath. But, useful as this report is for people like me, the primary intended audience is the current postdoctoral research community, so I've also been asking myself the question, 'how can research staff use this report?'

Given that you probably don't have the time or inclination to wade through forty-nine pages, here are some quick thoughts as to how you can make use of this report:

  • scan through the sections on 'Making the transition' and 'Advice to other researchers' sections (pp.12-17). Read any sub sections that grab your attention. Notice the practical and emotional challenges people faced in moving into new roles and contexts and how they dealt with these.
  • gather some data and insights into roles and sectors you might want to explore further. There are short sections of the report with overviews of popular sectors with research staff, namely research outside of HE, research policy and administration, professional roles in HE, public engagement and science communication, teaching, writing and publishing, and 'other' occupations including business analysts, financial economists and patent attorneys.
  • look at sample job titles and possible employers within sectors of interest.
  • Check out the 'competencies old and new' section within each sector overview to get a sense of how researchers used their existing skills in a new context and which skills they needed to develop.
  • Read the mini case studies to find out how people find their new roles and what helped them make the transition.
  • Full case studies are available on the Vitae website.
  • Many of these case studies include a link to the person's LinkedIn profile. Use this to see where they have worked, what experience they built up, which groups they are part of (so you can join groups relevant to sectors of interest) and how you might be connected to them. See if you have any mutual connections and ask them to introduce you.
  • Have a think about how you can develop skills and knowledge within your current role
  • Research sectors and roles of interest further using our web pages for researchers, Bath Connection, and a one-to-one chat with the Researcher Career Development Adviser.

 

Returning to academia after a career break

📥  Academic Career, Diversity, For PhDs

I've been reading this research report by jobs.ac.uk on views around returning to academia after a career break. A welcome and fascinating report on a much-discussed but under-researched topic.

Key findings of the report include:

-89% of respondents who had taken a career break returned to an academic role
- 34% of respondents had taken more than one career break
- the main reasons for taking a career break are maternity leave and redundancy/reaching the end of a contract.
- People's perceptions of career breaks are much more negative prior to taking it.
- a long career break is more likely to result in someone returning to work part-time
- the majority of academics stayed in contact with people in their field during their career break.
- 39% returned to their former role
- 45% returned to work with a different employer

If you are currently taking a break from an academic or research career or are considering doing so, there are lots of schemes and organisations offering advice and support:

The University of Manchester have a list of fellowships and bursaries for people who have had career breaks, as well as a list of case studies. The Daphne Jackson Trust and the Dorothy Hodgkins Fellowship Scheme in particular offer opportunities for scientists to return from a career break and to work flexibly.

The Wellcome Trust have produced a guide to getting back into research after a career break.

The Royal Society have produced some excellent case studies of researchers who successfully combine academic careers with family life as part of their parent-carer-scientist campaign.

WISE have role models and career stories of women who have returned to science after a break.

 

Beyond the Lab: Developing your Industrial Biotechnology Career

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📥  Academic Career, Career Choice, Finding a Job, For PhDs, Sector Insight, Tips & Hints

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An interesting blog worth reading from the University of Bath's Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies:

Beyond the Lab: Developing your Industrial Biotechnology Career

 

 

Research Funding and your career

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📥  Academic Career, Careers Resources, For PhDs, Tips & Hints

If you're planning a longer term academic career, be aware that academic employers will look for evidence of your ability to attract research funding. Depending on your research field it may not be easy for you to be a Principal Investigator on a grant, but it's still important to demonstrate that you have an understanding of the grant writing process and can get invloved in bids, as well as plans for future research and knowledge about possible funding sources. In the AGCAS report on Getting the First Lecturing Job that I've referenced in a previous post, responses on the extent and types of experience in obtaining research funding that recruiters would look for varied across disciplines. Respondents in Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering were more likely to look for evidence of larger independent grants and fellowships, whereas respondents from Social Sciences gave a broader range of answers, highlighting the value of travel grants, small project grants and joint grant applications.* Before tackling a larger grant or Fellowship application yourself, it could be a good idea to bid for some smaller funding or try to be involved in a grant application another academic is writing.

Even if you're not planning a longer-term academic career, or want to stay flexible, involvement in funding applications is highly transferable to other settings and will build your skills in budgeting, planning and logical and persuasive writing, as well as your collaborative skills if you're involved in joint funding bids with other researchers.

Depending on your specialism, funding may be available from research councils, trusts, charities, or industrial partners or sponsors. It's really important to speak to academics in your field, as they are best placed to know the most appropriate funding sources for your research area, and can give advice and feedback on any research proposals.
I'd never attempt to put together a 'list' of funding sources, but here are some suggestions for starting places to look:

- Research Professional is a searchable database of both large and small funding sources from a wide range of sources

- Research and Innovation Services  list funding opportunities and send out newsletters with upcoming funding sources

- The Research Councils provide small and large-scale funding for research projects, including grants and Fellowships. Some research councils only allow permament acaemic staff to be Principal or Co-Investigators on a grant, so check the eligibility criteria carefully. Even if you are not able to be a named PI or Co-I on a grant proposal, it can be possible for you to have an input into the grant writing process. Some Research Councils offer 'Researcher Co-Investigator' status to PhDs or postdocs who have made a significant contribtion to writing the funding application, so look out for this.

- Independent Fellowships (career development opportunities which give you the chance to develop, and secure funding for, your own independent research projects), are provided by the Research Councils, and other organisations including the European Commission, the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy and The Royal Society. See this University of Manchester Guide for more sources and advice on Fellowships. Some Fellowship schemes ask for a specific amount of postdoctoral research experience first. If you're applying to a Fellowship with Bath as your host institution, our colleagues in Research and Innovation Services can provide guidance and feedback on your application.

- The vacancies section of our web pages for researchers include other places to look for funding.

- small grants, including travel grants, may be available from a range of sources including the relevant learned society/professional body relating to your discipline.

- look out for internal funding sources, such as funding for public engagment activiites, or the Researcher Development Fund.

The Researcher Development Unit runs courses on grant writiing, so do check these out too.

*Do look at the relevant sections of the report for a fuller picture and interesting qualitiative comments. Views on this will vary so do talk to academics in your Department and research area.