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In Case You Missed it: The Next Summit – Careers Outside of Academia

After weeks of diligent preparation, the NBI’s efforts culminated in a successful evening of inspirational talks and lively networking on Wednesday the 22nd of March 2017 when we hosted a panel event at the University of Manchester highlighting different careers paths for PhD graduates interested in exploring opportunities outside of academia. Based on the crowd that gathered, it was clear that a large portion of our graduate student community is looking to broaden their professional horizons and weigh all potential career options. In fact, despite the event being oversubscribed, additional seating was required to accommodate the number of unregistered walk-ins. However, we couldn’t have been happier to see this amount of people in our midst. It was SO rewarding to see pure dedication to a specific cause yield a fruitful outcome.

Now, for those of who were unable to make it or want a bit of a summary of the full event, we invited talks from 6 accomplished presenters who walked the audience through their professional trajectories.

Dr. Ashworth outlined all the various non-academic careers you can go into and how it’s not such an “uncommon” pathway as most people believe it to be. She disclosed that 50% of PhD graduates don’t enter academia and opt for alternative careers and the results of a National survey across England mirrored this result! She discussed that if, as a PhD student, you like the concept of research, but want to transfer it to another setting (such as consulting, finance or clinical trials) then that is entirely possible! On the other hand, if you’re passionate about the subject, but not so keen on the research aspect, then you could pursue school/college teaching, medical writing/editing and specialist consultancies. For example, the Brilliant Club support researchers in teaching in secondary schools but also sustaining their research profile. The careers service also offers faculty-based advice with the aim of distributing specialised information to cater to each student, which includes Careers Consultants with extensive experience of working with PhDs and researchers. On a final note, she emphasized the value of finding opportunities through interpersonal networks such as connecting with professionals through LinkedIn – so hop on and use it guys!

2. Dr. Lucy Colgan and Mr.Andrew Wilson - VRS Recruitment Consultancy

Their recruitment consultancy originally specialised in analytical chemistry, but over the years has expanded to the life sciences and engineering sectors. They are based in Manchester, but have clients all over the country. Their clients include pharmaceutical companies, Clinical Research Organisations among others. They create and promote job adverts, review CVs, phone candidates about job interests, and also prepare candidates for interviews. Dr Colgan described her job as great if you have good people skills, but can be emotionally challenging at times- such as when you become invested in a candidate and have to deliver bad news following an application or interview. Dr Colgan spoke about how having a PhD certainly helped in her job, particularly when discussing technical experience with candidates. Her biggest piece of advice when applying for jobs: don’t lie on your CV!

Top tips they would give regarding CVs/job applications:

  • Think about applying for jobs 3-4 months beforehand (no earlier than this)

  • Polish your CV and ensure it is 3 pages MAX (this differs from academia)

  • Get in touch with a recruitment agency to help you promote your CV to job companies

  • Consider your social media profile (some companies use this to assess you!)

  • Tell the TRUTH and nothing but in your CV

  • Briefly mention your hobbies/interests – indicates you’re well-rounded

  • Provide a positive description of yourself in 1-2 sentences in a “Personal Profile” section of your CV and mention what you’re looking for in your next job

  • Provide a link to your journal publications when applying for non-academic job roles – no need to provide a list unless specifically relevant for the job

3. Dr. Sarah BrearleyPatent Attorney at Mewburn Ellis

Sarah is a European and UK patent attorney specialising in small molecule drug candidates, chemical processes, carbon and related nanotechnologies and bioactive polymers. She helps her clients protect their inventions and impedes other people from stealing their brilliant ideas!

Her job involves a lot of reading and more reading. She described it as a “desk-based” job, so if you don’t like the sound of that… patent law isn’t for you! Qualifying as a patent attorney requires passing a series of exams and it is very competitive. However, it is a very rewarding and lucrative role. As well as being a patent attorney, she is also a guest lecturer at a number of UK universities as part of their undergraduate courses whilst also providing guest talks at other universities. It is not ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to have a PhD in order to become a patent attorney. However she believes her extra qualifications were useful; the more qualified you are in terms of having a PhD or MSc, the more your experiences work in your favour. Despite starting at the same level as someone without a postgraduate degree, those with additional qualifications often progress faster in their career.

Mewburn Ellis has offices in Bristol, Cambridge, London and Manchester, and, while recruitment varies year on year, usually hires a number of trainee patent attorneys across a variety of scientific disciplines each year. More generally, careers in IP are varied: roles which may be of interest which include patent attorney, patent examiner, Intellectual Property solicitors/barristers, and trademark attorney, (brands/trademarks) in specialisations as well as roles in technology transfer and commercialisation, in companies, universities and government agencies.

Dr. Thompson is a specialist in medical communications who works for Complete HealthVizon, which is part of the large multinational Interpublic Group.Complete HealthVizion is one of three medical communications brands in the McCann Complete Medical group of agencies based at their Macclesfield head office, with other offices in Manchester city centre, Glasgow and Chicago. A majority of his colleagues have PhDs so this qualification is very advantageous. The company works on a wide range of projects, from the preparation of manuscripts/abstracts and congress presentations, through to digital media from websites to augmented reality, and on the strategic planning of education and communication plans.Their clients are primarily pharmaceutical companies and they prepare educational materials for a range of audiences, from healthcare professionals and physicians through to patients and the general public.

Dr. Thompson would say that the benefits of working as a medical writer include:

  • It’s secure – continual demand for experienced medical writers in a growing industry

  • It’s very flexible – you can work from the office or home

  • There’s the opportunity to travel for client meetings and to work in offices abroad

  • Offers structured career progression - 6 months of probation as an Associate, Medical Writer after 1 Year, Senior Medical Writer after a further 2 years, with more progression options thereafter

There are various job roles available in this industry such as Account Manager (client facing/financial), Medical Writer (using a PhD qualification, enjoy writing), and Medical Editor (focused on grammar/punctuation). Applying for a position at a medical communications company would involve highlighting a breadth of writing experience on your CV (from blogs to journal publications, etc.) as well as an online test, followed by an interview and another on-site test (see job vacancies here: The minimum requirement would be a BSc, but having a PhD would be beneficial. Internships are also offered and encouraged at medical communications companies, as they show that the applicant is keen and passionate about medical communications.

5. Dr. Karolina Szczesna, Product Manager, ProteinTech

Dr. Szczesna studied the central nervous system and oncological disease models during her PhD at the University of Barcelona. She is now an international product manager at Proteintech Europe, an antibody company that understands the importance of antibodies with high specificity and reproducibility. Her presentation drew attention to the differences between project and product management, and how having a PhD equipped her with the skills to do both. She also promoted the benefits of travel and cross-border collaboration, as her international research experience has aided her a lot in her job role.

6. Dr. Masih Alam, Immunosys

Dr. Alam holds a PhD in Immunology and spent 12 years as a researcher at the University of Manchester before becoming an entrepreneur. He discussed the challenges he faced when starting-up his company, ImmunoSYS, a biotechnology consulting company providing services in capacity development in laboratory systems, immunological modelling and immune analysis. He also gave an overview of academic and non-academic careers and spoke about his own personal academic journey. As a scientific entrepreneur, he highlighted the importance of looking for “a gap in the market” as his company is able to offer services that the bigger companies are too busy to offer particularly in emerging economies around the world.

By this point in the series, students’ brains were ticking and ideas were bursting at the seams. It was time to NETWORK and secure that future job! This was a period where students approached the invited professionals and each other, exchanged ideas and made connections. It was a buzzing and scintillating environment to behold. This was also an opportunity for people to stretch their legs after sitting down for 2 hours!!!

Students left feeling that they had gained new and useful information. One attendee appreciated the insider’s perspective on roles which would otherwise be rather mysterious unless you’re already in the industry and said, “This event was very helpful as it extends our knowledge about the diversity of jobs we can apply for. Each expert [gave] a talk from their role’s aspects, which included plenty of details that we were eager to know. A lot of thanks!

Another attendee felt that this event came at the right time as they approach the end of their degree: “I’m a 3rd year PhD student so I felt like this was a great opportunity to give me some insight into what I could potentially do after my PhD. Overall the talks gave me a feel for what I really would like and also what I know I don’t want to do…so brilliant!

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