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BSDB/BSCB Spring Meeting 2013 – Report Part 1: Alternative Careers for Scientists

Posted by , on 5 April 2013

[Ed. comment: This is the first of a number of posts by a few people who attended this year’s BSDB/BSCB meeting. Look out for more on the meeting over the coming days]

As every year, the joint BSDB/BSCB spring meeting was taking place on the 17th – 20th of March 2013 on the vast campus of Warwick University. Over three days, an exciting line-up of speakers presented their latest research findings, accompanied by more than 200 scientific posters on display!

Among the first events of the conference was a workshop focused on alternative careers for scientists, mainly aimed at PhD and early post-doctoral researchers. Five speakers gave an insight into the paths they have taken since finishing their PhDs and talked about their current positions.

Jana Voigt, currently a research strategy analyst at the University of Cambridge, spoke about her contact with pharmaceutical consulting, which she jokingly called “the dark side”. She then mainly focused on her experience as a research programme manager at the MRC, where she was responsible for dealing with funding applications and reviews.

Ann Wiblin is a business development associate at Abcam at the moment. She described her responsibility in selecting, testing and managing Abcam product lines and also gave valuable advice to those who aspire to this career. Most notably, she recommended learning as many scientific techniques as possible and stressed the importance of networking.

Roli Roberts, currently associate editor at PLOS Biology, called himself a “recovering academic”. After going all the way from his PhD to a senior lecturer position at King’s College London, he decided that he “wasn’t having much fun anymore”. In his current role, he mostly handles manuscripts submitted to the journal, assesses their quality and arranges peer review. For people who want to enter this industry, he pointed out that publishers prefer to hire candidates with several years of post-doctoral experience.

Daniela Peukert is currently a science policy officer for the Society of Biology, where she provides evidence-based opinions for the government and funding bodies, for example in policy decisions. This involves interacting with experts of different fields of biology and arranging meetings with those who seek information. Her main advice was to remain flexible, since she was confronted with many new situations and unfamiliar tasks in her position.

Sam Gallagher introduced her talk with a slideshow of her career to date and the rock song “Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams. From hereon, her talk boiled down to “Dear god, what did I think I was doing?” as she walked the audience through her career in academic research, the pharmaceutical industry and consulting. As one of the key ingredients to a successful career, she emphasised the importance of taking responsibility and stepping up.

I was particularly impressed with the breadth of careers and personalities that the organisers recruited for this workshop. Each individual entered their line of work in a different manner, but all stressed that it is critical to think outside of one’s own specialised field of research. Every speaker highlighted their broad interest in science, which is rarely compatible with research in academia. Moreover, many took on responsibilities which had little to do with their PhD or post-doctoral work, such as organising meetings, becoming involved in societies and volunteering. The most important message that I took away from this workshop is that there is a life outside of academia and that job opportunities do exist for those science-lovers who do not wish to spend their careers writing grants or managing a lab.


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