Cara Owen

Cara completed her doctorate in molecular pathology, then worked for three years in educational development – where, amongst other tasks, she taught PhD researchers. Through this she became interested in medicine and made the decision to train as a medic.

The following text is a transcription of a career story collected by interview.

"My name is Cara Owens and I am currently doing the graduate entry level programme in medicine at Kings College, London. I did my PhD in molecular pathology. So basically I was trying to identify gene fragments in bacteria. So I spent a lot of time in the lab running molecular assays to try and identify particular areas in the gene number for bacteria we are working on. The bacteria actually infects mushrooms. I know, I used to tell people I do a PhD in mushrooms! But I didn't actually see that many mushrooms throughout the whole the whole 3 years that I was doing it. But the bacteria that I look at is called pseudamones and it's obviously a member of a family of bacteria and one of them would be an important pathogen in the clinical setting as well. So what we gain about, learn about one bacteria we can then apply and identify the same sort of things in others. I really love science which is why I did the PhD in the first place.

"And I really loved research, it's a fabulous thing to do, to sort of have three years to really focus in on something it's a bit of a luxury to be honest. I did my PhD and then I actually worked for three years in, in educational development and did a lot of teaching. And through that I met a lot of doctors who were doing their PhD ‘cos I was actually training PhD researchers at the time, and from just from talking to them I got more and more interested in what they did, and saw myself as somebody who perhaps could fit in quite well in that area, and I think there was no particular moment but I think it developed over a few months, a couple of years ago now. A lot of medics will do their medical degree first and then do a PhD later, which is probably the normal way of doing it, but for me I think I never really knew what I wanted to do.

"I knew I wanted to do science but I didn't, it wasn't until I got into research that I realised that I would like to move into medicine. I honestly, honestly thought I was definitely going to be a scientist, a researcher, a nerd as my brother would say, I was always going to be a nerd. But I really wanted to do that. I never really thought it would take me towards medicine, and I hadn't really ever thought about it much at that time. To think back when I was 18 I'm not sure I would have had the same level, of sort of focus that I have now. Perhaps because I have given up a lot to do this degree in the first place. And so therefore I am much more focused and I know that this is definitely what I want to do. And then secondly I wouldn't have had the experience of developing sort of self, you know self motivation and sort of self erm... organisation. So I think those are quite useful now. I think even simple things like being able to plan and manage my own time and my own studies. Because obviously in the graduate programme it's very intense because we only do it in four years whereas the normal programme is five years so you have to be able to be independent. And I think the PhD has enabled me to have that independence because I did my own project for three years. There are times when you do think why am I doing this? I could be out earning money, I could not have this hassle of coming in on a Saturday morning to do this little bit of research. And I think that's always the case, and in hindsight, I can look back and laugh at it now but of course there were times during the PhD when I did think oh why am I doing this to myself?

"But now, having gone through the process I am really glad I stuck with it and I would recommend it, it's the best thing you can do, it's just such a good experience for well, certainly for me and I think for a lot of others. Been a bit of an enigma around PhDs in that employers haven't really, outside of academia, haven't really recognised the value of it or understood what it's about, and I think that's quite understandable. I think now it is changing, especially when I look at some of my colleagues who have done PhDs and are employed in very different areas than you'd ever believe, that they ever thought they'd be employed in. So they're not in academia, they are in other things, so it goes to show that maybe there is a more of a recognition of the PhD as not just a, you know a research project but the person coming out of the end of it."