"I undertook a computer science doctorate in formal methods and electronic hardware design, having previously worked in the same lab as a research assistant on a three-year contract. My manager described my first year report as ‘half a PhD’ so we applied for PhD funding. I intended to submit after two years because of my head start – but this did not happen as, by the end of my first year, my eldest child had been born. Having a baby slowed my progress, but my supervisor allowed me a great work-life balance. I spent time at home while my wife worked mornings, as well as doing lots of undergraduate supervisions to generate additional income.
"My doctorate involved a pleasing combination of pure theory and engineering. Towards the end of it, one of the managers of the project I had worked on as a research assistant started a spin-off company, and offered me an irresistible mix – a salary while writing up a familiar area, and the promise of getting really rich in two to three years tops with my founding shares! It was good fun and brought enjoyable opportunities to work outside my comfort zone – because we were a small team doing customer-facing work, for example, which I realised I was quite good at.
"After about six years the company got no more funding and was sold off to one of our customers. As the entrepreneurial aspects of the work disappeared, I started looking around for other jobs. However, due to health problems I was unable to pursue this in earnest and chose to stay. Soon afterwards the choice was made for me when I was offered redundancy. After immersing myself in my family for a few months I am now looking for a research post. This is what I always hoped to end up doing once I was rich. I hope it will be interesting and give us the flexibility for my wife to relaunch her career.
"The deep knowledge I developed during my doctorate gave me an edge when dealing with customers or engineers who had practical, but often thinly spread, experience. On occasions I have used the theoretical side to engage customers – something extra to offer them. The title can help to create instant respect, especially in the US.
"My advice to postgraduate researchers would be to publish and present at conferences. I did not realise at the time how central this is and how little time I would have later. I have been involved in recruitment and interviewing – one tip is not to worry if you get the answer to a question slightly wrong. You can often use it as a starting point for discussion to show your interest, and to give the interviewer an impression of how well you can take their advice and work with them in solving problems."