Isabel Burdallo

R&D Project Manager in the automotive sector, Spain

Research staff experience: Former researcher in materials science at the Microelectronics Institute of Barcelona and three other research institutions in Spain and the USA.

Isabel BurdalloAcademic research experience

In 2005 I became a research assistant at Basque Country University UPV-EHU, collaborating on the synthesis and characterization of bismaleimides blends with epoxy, polyester and phenlyc resins. In 2006 I participated in a one-year practical training program at IMEC (Interuniversity Microelectronics Center), where I collaborated on the synthesis and characterization of composites nanoparticles for integrated circuit applications. After that I spent two years working as a researcher at the Microelectronics Institute of Barcelona, a public research centre, to develop electrochemical micro sensors for neural cell regeneration. 

I then obtained a Spanish Government grant for Research Personnel Formation (FPI) to study the integration of microelectronic chips in microfluidic systems for biological applications (2009–13). This research was the basis for my PhD thesis, presented in 2015. Also, I spent part of 2010 at the New Jersey Institute of Technology to collaborate on the integration of microfluidic structures with sensors fabricated with microelectronic technologies. 

My main achievements were my PhD Thesis (Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB) Cum Laude), two journal papers and a patent.

Transition from academic research

I decided to leave academic research not only because of the huge job instability in Spain for academic researchers but also because, after eight years in a laboratory, I understood that to do good research you must be passionate about it, and I was not.

In 2011 I went on a postgraduate course at UAB on how to move from university to industry (U2B). This was a training course for PhD students to broaden their view of the possibilities doctoral graduates have to develop and advance professionally in the business sector. Then, in 2012, I took a course on innovation management in companies at the Universidad de Barcelona (UB). There, I acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to bridge scientific, technical, social and economic talent, and small and medium-sized enterprises, taking into account different financing systems for innovation. This course turned out to be key to joining the company where I currently work.

I now work in a medium-size company as an R&D Project Manager. I obtained my job because my profile was on a UB job board as a former student of the course on innovation management in companies.

In this role I am where I wanted to be: out of the laboratory but still close to science. I was hired because of my experience of being a researcher: I can understand what is happening in a laboratory, but also I have the knowledge and aptitude to be the bridge between the researchers in the company and the external world.

My new role was challenging for me because I became responsible for the external financial process of the R&D projects and I had to learn about business administration and external financial procedures and paperwork. My major concern was being responsible for the financial management of R&D projects worth more than one million euro!

Current job – and how it compares

As an R&D project manager in a company dedicated to the automotive sector, I coordinate the Innovation Committee and lead on external financial management of R&D projects. In this I help researchers to write the proposal, prepare the budget, liaise with external partners (companies), universities and a research centre, financial entities (EU, Spanish Government, Regional Government), take part in project meetings… Other important parts of my role are monitoring the R&D project portfolio and boosting the creation of new ideas.

This work is complementary to research in academia. Now I’m not doing the experiments but looking for money to do them. I can understand the researchers in the company and in the universities and research centre working for us because I was once one of them. 

I like to think that I help researchers to do their best, without worrying about money and paperwork.

Competencies old and new

I have a strong background in materials science. That experience helps me to understand the research that is being developed at my company, so I can look for financing opportunities with good potential. Thanks to my background I can also participate in technical meetings, give support to our researchers, and give presentations about the advances in our research.

Doing the PhD taught me about hard work and perseverance, which are good skills for any kind of work. I also learned how to write technical communications, which is useful for project proposals. I was used to working in an international environment, which is very helpful now when working with foreign partners.

New competencies I’ve had to gain are around project, people and financial management. 

Reflections on my career path

I wish I’d known about the financial management of projects when I was a researcher. Even junior researchers should know where the money for the experiments came from. 

My career aspiration is to become an expert on innovation process management. I am preparing for PMP certification.  My greatest challenge in this regard is that I must improve my level of English. I will also take part in some workshops about creativity. 

It was stressful and challenging to write my thesis when I’d already left academia (I was also pregnant when I wrote it!). But it was worth the sacrifice because now I have a title that I’ve earned for the years dedicated to investigation and which accredits my background as a researcher. This makes it easier to explain what I have been doing for eight years of my professional life.

My advice

If you don’t want to be a researcher any more, prepare yourself for the transition. Transition will be scary, because you’re going to stop doing something that you spent a lot of time studying for. That is why you should prepare over again. Think about the best way to benefit from your background and do courses about what you feel you would like to be. This will make it easier for recruiters to understand that you are not a novice in your new profile, but that you have a lot of experience. And make the leap.

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