Careers Perspectives – from the Bath careers service

Focus on your future with expert advice from your careers advisers

Tagged: Research Staff

PhD Career Stories

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📥  Careers Resources, For PhDs, Sector Insight, Subject Related Careers

The second of our guest blog posts from researchers now working in roles outside of research in Higher Education.

Vicky Just - promoting scientific research through the media

What is your current role?

I am a Media and PR Officer at the University of Bath. I promote the research from our Faculty of Science by writing press releases publicising our latest research and finding academics to provide expert media comment. I also answer enquiries from journalists and organise filming, radio interviews and other media opportunities, as well as helping run the University’s main social media channels.

Being at Bath has given me some great opportunities, including working with researchers at the top of their field to promote their work to the world; working flexibly since returning from maternity leave to have a work-life balance; and even tweeting as the Bath Uni Duck!

How did you decide what you wanted to do after your PhD?

Following my PhD in Biochemistry, I worked as a postdoc for five years, but became frustrated with labwork, feeling that as I continued to specialise further in my field, I was losing sight of what really excited me about science. So as my contract came to an end I started looking for new avenues for my passion for science.

I wanted to share my love of science with the wider public, many of whom are uninterested or distrustful of research due to misreporting in the media or on the internet.

Give a brief overview of your career history to date, and any steps you feel were important to you

Whilst still doing postdoctoral research, I got in touch with the Communications Office at my research institution who provided helpful advice and mentoring.

I tried out lots of different types of science communication and public engagement activities, including outreach in schools, freelance science presenting, helping organise hands-on exhibits at the local science fair and the Chelsea Flower Show and taking part in the Royal Society’s MP-Scientist Pairing scheme. My PI was happy as long as I got my research work done, and encouraged me as it meant he could include it under his own public engagement work!

When I was selected in a competition to be a press officer for the Society for Experimental Biology’s main annual conference, I realised that I really enjoyed writing about science for a general audience.

As a result of my work with the Communications Office I was offered a role covering maternity leave for the press officer at my research institution, which gave me invaluable experience and on-the-job training. In my first week I had to set up filming with Channel 4 News on a prestigious Nature paper, and found it thrilling to get my press releases published in news outlets all over the world.

I joined the University of Bath in 2008, and currently focus on the Faculty of Science, having previously also promoted research from the Faculties of Engineering & Design, and Humanities & Social Science.

How do you use the skills from your PhD in your current role?

Most press officers have public relations or journalistic experience or training, however my PhD does help me in my job in several ways.

I rarely have to call on my specific knowledge from my PhD, as I work on such a diverse range of subjects. However what does help is being science literate, having the ability to ask the relevant questions and not be put off by the often jargon-dense text of research papers.

I use my skills of workload planning, self-management and multi-tasking on a daily basis, where unexpected events sometimes mean you have to drop everything else to meet a deadline.

My career as a researcher on short-term contracts meant working at a variety of institutions with a range of different people. This flexibility to cooperate diplomatically with others has definitely helped my current role, where I work with academics, journalists and other press officers from collaborating institutions and funding bodies.

Being self-critical also helps, as most press releases go through many edits before all the different parties are happy with the text.

I think the most useful thing is that having been in academia, I know how the system works, the time and workload pressures that academics face and understand their concerns of promoting their research in the media which are often more interested in juicy headlines than accuracy. My role is to simplify their research for a lay audience, keeping it engaging without sacrificing accuracy, so the journalists are more likely to present a balanced story.

 What advice would you give to researchers interested in working in similar roles? 

It’s a competitive field where most people already have PR or journalist experience or qualifications, so you need to get as much relevant experience as possible! Apply for internships, volunteer in your institution’s press office, write for your local newspaper, write a blog or article for The Conversation about your work, start building a social media profile, just do anything to practice communicating and build up a network of contacts that will help you find all the available opportunities. I’d also consider some type of media or PR qualification, which again could open doors – The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is a good place to start.

Resources

Council for the Advancement of Science Writing

Association of British Science Writers

Chartered Institute of Public Relations

 

Higher Education: careers outside of academia

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📥  For PhDs, Sector Insight, Uncategorized

I talk to quite a few people who want to move outside of research but enjoy being in a university environment; if that's you, then a non-academic role in HE may be worth considering.

So what kinds of roles exist? A surprising variety, often broadly categorised as 'administration', though it's worth noting that that term often has a broader application in HE than it would elsewhere, and that as you progress you are likely to be able to contribute to decision-making and strategic planning.  At the University of Bath there are PhD holders in wide of range of departments including Student Services, Registry, Marketing and Corporate Communications, Research and Innovation Services, the Widening Participation Office, support and managerial roles in academic Departments, Faculties and research centres, as well as right here in the Careers Service. Roles and non-academic departments within a university include student support, student records and admissions, quality assurance, policy and governance, estates and facilities, library, finance, research support and business development, HR, training and development, community outreach, engagement and widening participation, Information Technology

... to name a few.

Getting in

Usually it will be a case of applying for individual roles, though Imperial College run a Finance and Management Graduate Training Scheme which incorporates rotations in a variety of departments. If you are currently a member of research staff and are interested in staying at the University in a non-research role, then you could apply as an internal candidate or through the University's redeployment process.

In order to demonstrate your suitability for non-research roles, you need to engage in a little self-reflection and identify the things that are important to you in a future career move, as well as the broad range of skills you have developed as a researcher. Whilst you may not use your research knowledge and technical research skills in non-research roles, many of the generic research and transferable skills you develop - project management, the ability to handle, analyse and interpret data, solve problems, think critically, and work independently and as part of a team, will be invaluable, as will your ability to communicate with and understand academics, students, and other stakeholders, and your understanding of broader issues in HE. As with any career move there will be value in getting involved in activities outside of research, such as Departmental Committees, student support, training and mentoring, organizing conferences and research seminars, Departmental open days, outreach activities, research commercialisation, and potentially part-time administrative roles, as well as voluntary activities and non-university interests. Some roles, such as counselling, will require an additional professional qualification, and others may benefit from some additional training or skills development; check out the training opportunities offered by the Researcher Development Unit Staff Development, and the Students' Union.

If there are roles you think you might be interested in, talk to people already doing them and find out exactly what they do day-to-day and what skills, knowledge and experience would be required follow a similar path. To give you a helping hand, over the next few weeks we'll be posting a series of case studies of former researchers now working in non-research roles across the University. Jobs.ac.uk also have some case studies.

 

 

 

 

 

Applying for research jobs in industry

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📥  Applications, For PhDs

I was speaking to a recruiter to research roles in industry recently, and she shared some useful feedback on what does and doesn’t work in applications for industry:

Do: - Research the company thoroughly. In cover letters and personal statements it’s very important to not just talk about your current and past experience and achievements; you need to demonstrate how what you have to offer would add value to the organisation you are applying to. You also need to have clear reasons why you are applying to that company, which takes careful research via the company website, newsletters, social media and professional contacts. Check out these articles on researching companies and explaining why you want to work for a particular company. Keep your reasons positive; you may be thinking that you want to leave academia because of the lack of security or high levels of competition, but prospective industrial employers will want to hear about your pull factors, not your push factors. What do you know about how working in industry is different and why does this appeal to you? Who have you talked to or collaborated with from industry? It's probably best not mention personal circumstances; the recruiter doesn't need to know that you have relocated with your family.

Do: - keep your CV to two pages for outside of academia. Take a look at the researcher CV examples on the Vitae website, and also Sarah Blackford’s advice on CVs for industry and academia.

Do: - expand on examples and provide clear and specific evidence that you have the skills and experience the employer is looking for. Use the STAR technique (Situation, task, action, result) to structure your examples, and talk about measurable outcomes and impact of your efforts and projects.

Do: - be aware of the broad range of skills, both technical and transferable, that you have gained as part of the PhD, and be prepared to explain these clearly and confidently to the employer. I've read a lovely article this week from Cheeky Scientist about the transferable skills that recruiters in industry are looking for; if you don't think you have all these skills, YOU DO; come and have a chat with a careers adviser and we'll help you identify them.

Do: - be positive and confident about your experience in both applications and interviews. Steer clear of apologetic and negative phrases (‘While I don’t have any industrial experience…’) and, don’t undersell or underestimate the value of both your technical research and broader skills. Just because you have never had ‘programmer’ in your job title doesn’t mean you don’t have the high level programming skills that are exactly what the company is looking for.

Do: - break cover letters and CVs down into separate paragraphs. Lack chunks of text will seem intimidating to a busy recruiter. The same principle applies to CVs.

Do: - proof-read all application materials carefully. Typos look unprofessional and hint at laziness.

Don’t: - repeat information. Busy recruiters don’t have time to read the same information twice. If you’ve written in earlier sections of an application form that you have a relevant undergraduate or Masters degree it isn’t necessary to repeat this in a personal statement.

Don’t: - include long lists of publications/conferences/posters. At most you could include one or two examples of particular interest to the company you are applying to; it can be better to briefly refer to having a strong publication record as evidence of communication skills or scientific impact, and include a link to your LinkedIn or Research Gate profile that the employer can look at if they choose.

Don’t: - include a photo with your CV for UK recruiters.

Don’t: - make the employer dig for the information they really need – use clear formatting, relevant subheading (e.g. research experience, research techniques, project management), and appropriate (though not excessive) use of bold to draw attention to your key skills and achievements, which should be tailored to the skills the employer is looking for.

 

Personal Statements for Academic Jobs

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📥  Advice, Applications, For PhDs

I've been reading a few of these of late. Here are some thoughts on suggested structure and content, answers to 'FAQs' on personal statements and thoughts on pitfalls to avoid.

Before you start

It's very tempting to jump in straight away and start writing the statement, especially if the role is precisely in your research field, at your dream university and the deadline is midnight tonight. However, it's really important before you start writing the statement to do thorough research into the Department/Faculty/research group and university you are applying to. Academic job descriptions can vary widely in how much information they give about the precise content of the job. If anything seems unclear or you feel you would like more information, do make use of the commonly-given opportunity to contact the recruiting manager (usually the Head of Department). This will give you the opportunity to find out more about the teaching/research responsibilities of the role and give you the opportunity to make contact and demonstrate your enthusiasm before you even apply. Setting up email alerts from sites such as jobs.ac.uk will help avoid a situation where you see an advert for your dream lectureship six hours before the application deadline.

Read any instructions carefully; for some positions clear instructions will be given about what to include in the personal statement, so do make sure you follow these. Read the job description and person specification carefully and think about examples from your experience to show that you meet these criteria.

Putting the statement together

Your statement needs to be consistently tailored to the particular post you are applying for. Realistically you may be taking material you have used from previous applications, but it's vital to reorganise it and rewrite it for the current application. It will be obvious if you have simply cut and pasted generic material.

What to include:

- A brief opening statement including information about who you are and what your current role is. Including a key achievement in relation to the role you are applying for can work well here.

- your reasons why you are applying for this particular job. If you are applying as an internal candidate or to a department where people know you well already, don't assume these will be obvious. You need to give clear reasons to demonstrate your interest; the research you have done into the role, department and institution will be helpful with this

- evidence of how your research interests fit with those of the department. Do your research into the profiles of existing staff members and think about who you could collaborate with and the unique contribution you would make. This type of information could be included in your reasons for applying.

- clear evidence and examples to show how you meet the criteria on the person specification. It's not enough to simply say 'I have excellent presentation skills'; how can you demonstrate this? In terms of structure, you may want to avoid listing each of the criteria individually as this can be tedious; think about grouping similar criteria together, or structuring your statement according to research, teaching, and administration, depending on the focus of the job. Try and use the language and phrases given in the person specification where you can; this will make it easier for a busy academic recruiter to see quickly that you have the required skills and experience.

- Information about your future research plans, including clear goals and potential funding sources. This doesn't need to be hugely detailed and lengthy, particularly as many jobs will ask for a separate statement of research interests, but it does need to be there. Link your goals with the research strategy/goals of the department you are applying to wherever possible.

Do:

- proof-read your statement carefully and check for grammatical and spelling errors and typos. If you are like me you will need to proof-read a hard copy as well as an onscreen version

- save a copy of your statement to refer to if you are shortlisted

- be positive about your achievements and future potential

- get feedback on your statement from academic colleagues. You can also get feedback from the Researcher Career Development Adviser.

- upload a copy of your CV including lists of publications and conference presentations. Check out the advice and CV examples from Vitae.

- keep the statement to two sides of A 4.

Don't:

- simply repeat all of the detail in your CV, for example lists of publications or modules you have taught; pick out a few key highlights where appropriate

- write in big blocks of text - break the statement down into short paragraphs. Subheadings can work well.

- get drawn into talking at length about your research interests. You will need to mention these, but make sure you focus on research achievements and future goals as well.

- be tempted to use short forms, e.g. 'etc', or say 'see attached CV' rather than provide evidence that you meet a particular criteria

 

 

 

 

Applying for jobs in academia - resources round up

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📥  Applications, For PhDs

As the time of year is approaching when I spend quite a bit of my time giving feedback on academic job applications, I thought it would be a good time to draw together some useful resources on applying for jobs in academia. I doubt very much that this is an exhaustive list; do share any other resources you have found useful in the comments.

Vitae - sample academic CVs from across the disciplines, an extensive list of interview questions, advice on writing a statement of research interests and finding funding

Manchester Academic Careers website - advice on CVs, covering letters, personal statements and interview presentations, as well as video career stories of current academics

jobs.ac.uk - articles on a range of topics relating to careers in academia, including this one on writing personal statements for academic jobs. They also have a range of free e-books on topics including academic job interviews and covering letters for research jobs, and last year ran a Google Hangout on academic job interviews.

Cambridge Early Career Blog - Steve Joy writes engagingly on a range of topics. I particularly liked his advice on talking about teaching in interviews and academic cover letters.

The New Academic - tips and stories from Nadine Muller and other early-career lecturers, including a detailed article on academic interviews.

Check out also our in-house guide to finding postdoctoral research positions, which includes on applications and interviews.

I appreciate that most of these resources are UK focussed. Our vacancies web page for researchers contains links to vacancy and information sites on academic jobs outside of the UK, and a previous post also contains resources on global academic careers.

Careers advisers can provide 1:1 support with academic job applications, including CV feedback and practice interviews and presentation practice.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Entrepreneurship and Research - Innovation and Independence

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📥  Entrepreneurship, For PhDs

While looking through the Researcher Career Stories on the Vitae website recently, I was struck by how many of the researchers had started their own business or undertaken some form of freelance or consultancy work. Some set up their own business alongside a PhD, part-time teaching or research work or other paid employment. Others became entrepreneurs during a period of unemployment, through commercialising their research and developing spin-off companies, or in response to dissatisfaction with the values or working practices of their current employer. Connections are often drawn between the skills and attributes needed to build a successful research career and those needed to be a successful entrepreneur. As highlighted in yesterday's blog post, both entrepreneurrship and research involve problem-solving. As well as this, both involve creativity, confidence in the value and originality of your own ideas, risk-taking, independance, building effective networks and collaborations and communicating the value of your ideas to others. One of the Vitae case studies, Max Robinson, talks about these connections between entrepreneurship and research: 'My background of doctoral completion provided me with skills and experience in writing technically demanding concepts clearly and succintly. This part of doctoral study is so important, because it is about selling your ideas and convincing people that there is a gap for your research.' Max goes on to highlight the importance of a mentor in setting up a business; mentoring relationships are also highly valuable in academia. In both contexts, mentors can introduce you to their contacts, be a sounding-board for ideas, read through funding applications, and provide encouragement, reality checks and the wisdom of their own experience.

Max found a mentor useful because he felt 'naive about commercial issues'. In a 2009 Vitae reort on Employer Practice on recruiting researchers, commercial awareness was ranked bottom among seven skills on which employers were asked to judge university researchers. Getting involved in entrepreuneurship activities during your PhD or postdoctoral research contract, whether of not you're intending to start your own business, is a great way to demonstrate knowledge of the issues businesses have to take account of, as well as developing contacts with industry.

So how do you get started? The Researcher Development Unit runs courses on research commercialisation and entrepreneurship.  If you have a research idea you would like to commercialise, get in touch with the Entreprise and Knoweledge Expoitation Team within the Research and Innovation Office. Something else well-worth checking out is the Researcher to Innovator Programme, which can help you think through the impact of your research and offers access to industrial mentors and advice from other researchers-turned-entrepreneurs. Our researcher web pages have other advice and useful links relating to entrepreneurship and self-employment.