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- Jo, specialist in higher education, PhD in chemistry
Jo, specialist in higher education, PhD in chemistry
Occupation: Specialist, Higher Education, Royal Society of Chemistry
Sector: Charity/ Not for Profit (Professional Body)
PhD subject: Chemistry
Why did you do a PhD?
Principally because I enjoyed my undergraduate degree so much and knew that I wanted a career in chemical science. In order to work out exactly what I could do, I spoke to careers advisers, academics and employers (at employer presentations at the university) and came away with a clear message that doing a PhD would broaden my horizons and keep my career options open.
Describe your current job briefly:
I’m now based in the Education Department at the Royal Society of Chemistry where I work with universities, employers and schools to enhance teaching and learning in higher education and improve the uptake onto chemistry degree programmes.
It’s an extremely varied role involving liaison with the government and its agencies, employers and other organisations on any issues which may impact on the education system for those intending to practice as chemical scientists.
Why did you decide on this career?
I’ve always been interested in promoting science so when I saw the advert for this job I instinctively knew it was perfect for me. I got involved in science education promotion as an undergraduate by helping out at UCAS visits and open days. I also got involved in academic committees, such as the Staff Student Consultative Committee and Science Faculty Board.
As a postgraduate I developed these interests further chairing the Postgraduate Student Committee and through student tutoring. I also helped out at a resident summer school for widening participation students and at sixth form chemistry conferences.
What was your job search strategy and how were you recruited?
I’ve actually had four jobs since finishing my PhD! The first two were in the University of Nottingham and came through networking – through my work on committees and outreach programmes I had a good network in the university and I told people that I was looking for a job after my PhD and what I was interested in. I did a 6 month post-doc in the research group I had worked with for my PhD, which was great as I was familiar with the project and able to “hit the ground running”. As the funding for this came to an end, I was offered a post as a Business Science Fellow in a liaison role between the university and business in the East Midlands and nationally, trying to exploit the commercial potential of research conducted at The University of Nottingham. This included studying patents in detail and making consideration of intellectual property.
After this I found temporary work at Nottingham City Council through an agency. I was very specific with the agency about what I wanted, as I didn’t want to end up as a glorified photocopying assistant! Although I didn’t have relevant experience, I was able to convince them to give me a real job with responsibility and the scope to develop new skills.
The job search strategy which led to this job was mostly internet based, looking at sites like New Scientist and Jobs.ac.uk, but I was actually told about the vacancy at the RSC by a friend who sent me the advert – networking again.
Why do you think you got the job?
I didn’t have much relevant work experience, but I had credibility because there was a lot of evidence of my interest in science promotion from the voluntary activities I had been involved in. I feel very strongly about promoting and developing the value of science which came across at interview along with my passion for chemistry!
I was also lucky that the RSC saw my potential. Now I am in the job I realise how little I actually knew about what it involves, but I was very enthusiastic and confident that this was the right role for me.
Do you think a PhD has had a positive impact on your career?
Definitely, on a personal level - doing a PhD really boosted my confidence and gave me an opportunity to develop the skills I needed to get this job and to do it well. Many of these came from the generic skills training that I received, particularly in things like presentation skills. I also went on a GRADschool which taught me about team work in a real way – not just theories, but observing and participating in teams and realising how to make them work effectively.
It is hard to say whether the PhD will have a long-term impact on the rate of my progression as I’m near the start of my career, but I know it was the right thing to do because of the self-belief it has given me.
What advice do you have for PhD students to boost their employability?
Go on a GRADschool – they are free to Research Council funded students and the RSC also funds a number of places for its student members. It helped me become aware of my skills and weaknesses, gave me access to incredibly supportive and helpful people, gave me an opportunity to meet other students and made me realise I could work productively to short timescales and whilst under pressure. I came back from my course really motivated and with a real “can do” attitude to the rest of my PhD (and beyond).
The RSC has developed resources provided to help with Personal Development Planning (PDP), such as the Postgraduate Skills Record. This should help students to reflect upon their experiences and plan their skills development. A completed PDP transcript can be really useful when completing application forms and writing CVs and can be used as evidence of skills and achievements when applying for membership of a professional body.
If you are interested in science promotion or science policy then you need to show willing and get involved, usually in an unpaid capacity, in science or education promotion in your own institution or through your professional body. The Researchers in Residence Scheme is an excellent way to do this. I know that many PhD students feel they don’t have time for extra-curricula activities, but if you are planning to start a career in these areas you need to make the time. It pays dividends as you are building up experience which WILL help you get your first job.
A PhD alone isn’t enough – you have to have skills on top of your knowledge in order to have an impact in a job, particularly in industry where you are often working in interdisciplinary teams. Doing a PhD brings with it many other opportunities – it is what you do with these and how you develop your skills and confidence that will impress employers.