"My doctorate in geology was from the University of Leicester, researching mantle plume interactions with the sub-continental lithosphere. I went on to spend six years as a postdoctoral research fellow (three individual fellowships at two different institutions), followed by a short period of unemployment before securing an enjoyable but poorly-paid post in university administration. I worked for one year in that role before moving on to become a research administrator in a post-1992 university, while also holding the post of visiting research fellow at a research-intensive university. Two and a half years later, I moved to my current institution as the European funding officer. I spent two years in that role before being promoted to research development officer.
"My current role is to provide funding intelligence to academic staff, to advise on new developments in UK, European and US science policy and to support the submission of strategic bids to research funding bodies. I also provide training for academic staff and other researchers in bid writing, writing for publication, costing and pricing, and contractual matters. I did not make the decision to leave academic research – a change of career direction became necessary because of an absence of employment opportunities in my field. However, I have steadily built a career and reputation in research administration, enabling me to progress quickly to a senior level.
"A doctorate was not a requirement to enter my current profession, though in recent years possessing one has become desirable in order to progress to the most senior levels. Subject knowledge is occasionally useful, although my current institution does not have a geology department. Much more useful has been the academic experience and skills developed over a research career spanning nine years. This enables me to ‘understand the science’ and to empathise with researchers to a much greater degree than if I had not been a researcher myself. As a fellow, I sought professional development opportunities that, at that time, were available only to ‘permanent’ academic staff. I often had to make a specific case to be allowed to take part in such activities. As a result, I undertook a considerable amount of training to equip myself as an academic practitioner in the widest sense. I am still able to wear more than one hat – I continue to carry out academic duties such as peer reviewing for journals and grant funding bodies, and publishing research papers.
"I value the experience I gained in independent research, and the freedom of being able to organise my own time effectively and set my own priorities. I also value the friendships made as a member of the research community, many of which continue to the present day. Even with hindsight, I wouldn’t change anything about my time as a doctoral researcher.
"While the way in to academic research is clearly marked, the exits are not. If you feel that the academic life is for you, you should have in mind a Plan B in case Plan A does not materialise."