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- Seema, european programme director, PhD in molecular neuroscience
Seema, european programme director, PhD in molecular neuroscience
Occupation: European Program Director, Science International
PhD subject: Molecular Neuroscience
Why did you do a PhD?
By the time I had finished my degree I had already spent a sandwich year in the pharmaceutical industry, so I was set on a research career – the PhD was a natural progression. I had observed a glass ceiling in the company I worked in and came away with the impression that there were dual career paths – one for BSc graduates and another (with better prospects) for PhD graduates.
At the time there was a small part of me still open to the prospect of an academic career – perhaps 10% - but the key driver was my perception that I needed a PhD to have a successful career in industrial research.
Describe your current job briefly:
I organise career workshops and events for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers across Europe. My work is multi-faceted as I have to identify and approach local organisations to collaborate with us, organise the programme, identify and recruit relevant speakers, find venues and persuade employers and organisations to sponsor the events.
I also design and produce promotional materials for the events and make presentation to groups of students on their career options, highlighting the skills they are picking up through doing a PhD. in addition, I compile a bi-monthly newsletter and manage our email subscription list.
Why did you decide in this career?
During my PhD, I realised that I wasn’t cut out for a research career – I really enjoyed going to conferences and discussing my research, but found the actual lab work too routine. I started to look at alternatives using Science’s Next Wave website (which coincidentally I now work for!) and discovered that there were careers available which involved talking about and promoting science without actually having to do it!
My career path has been a little convoluted because I realised early on that I was unlikely to enter my first choice of career directly from my PhD. I’ve therefore undertaken a number of jobs to pick up the right skills and experience. My first job was as a technical specialist at R&D Systems (a major producer of diagnostic kits and scientific equipment) where I supported the sales team by answering scientific questions from customers and helping them to articulate the benefits of our products.
After a year, I decided to take some time out and went travelling. On my return I reassessed my situation (with help from a career management book entitled ‘Career renewal: Tools for scientists and technical professionals’), which helped me to recognise that two careers in particular met my needs – scientific journalism and event organisation. I started applying for science communication posts, but realised that I needed journalistic experience, so I changed tack and wrote to local papers asking for work experience. Much of this was unpaid (my parents thought I was MAD to work for nothing) but I built up a portfolio, whilst working part-time at a local university organising social events for international students on a TEFL course.
When I saw a job at Next Wave I applied for it and was interviewed. There was then a long silence – the post at Next Wave was new, so they needed time to work out exactly what they were offering. In this time I kept in touch with them, keeping my name in their heads whilst they considered their options! I also wrote an article for them to build up good will, which paid off as I was the person offered the job!
What was your job search strategy and how were you recruited?
This has varied - I’ve used a combination of speculative application, internet searches, local press and agencies.
Why do you think you got the job? I’ve developed my communication skills with every job. My PhD had direct relevance as a technical specialist, but my data analysis skills and ability to deal with people in a patient and effective way were probably the things that secured that post.
Since then I’ve always been enthusiastic and pro-active with potential employers – trying to build up a rapport and relationship with them.
Do you think a PhD has had a positive impact on your career?
Definitely – I wouldn’t have got any of my jobs without it. Even when a PhD hasn’t been required, having one has made me stand out because employers are intrigued by my interest in their jobs and have invited me along to learn more about me.
I’ve also accumulated so many skills through doing research – time management, project management, self sufficiency, resilience and tenacity.
What advice do you have for PhD students to boost their employability?
Now that I deal with PhD students from the other side I’m surprised by the attitudes of some who seem to think that having a PhD should be a passport to a job and that good things will just come to them. That isn’t the way it works! You need to work out what you have to offer on top of your PhD and to be proactive in identifying employers and vacancies, using networking and other strategies.
You also need to have more to offer than just your research outcomes – get involved in societies, extra-curricular events and make yourself stand out from other PhD graduates. Doing a PhD brings with it many opportunities, so if you don’t take advantage of them, you may lose out on a job to someone who has.