Beyond Your Research Degree
Episode 15 - Dr. Joanna Alfaro (Director of Pro Delphinus)

Episode 15 - Dr. Joanna Alfaro (Director of Pro Delphinus)

April 26, 2021

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks Dr. Joanna Alfaro, a University of Exeter doctoral graduate who is now the Director of the Peruvian conservation organisation Pro Delphinus.

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter, Doctoral College

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Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Beyond Your Research Degree. I'm your host, Kelly Preece

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And for this episode, I'm delighted to be talking to Dr Joanna Alfaro,

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who is the president and director of the Peruvian conservation organisation Pro Delphinus

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So, Joanna. Are you happy to introduce yourself? Yeah.

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Well, my name is Joanna Alfaro and I am Peruvian.

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I work in Pro Delphinus and Universidad Científica del Sur. So in 2008 I joined in the programme for PhD

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My advisor was Brendan Godley and Annette Broderick at Exeter

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And I was. That's probably my favourite years as being back a student in the U.K., a dream that I was able to fulfil.

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And for my the theme of my PhD was ecology and conservation of marine turtles.

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And that was also great because it allowed me to to apply the knowledge and the

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experience that I got to working with sea turtles in Peru towards my PhD.

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It's brilliant. Thank you. And what are you doing now?

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So when did you graduate? So the though after the PhD, the I was able to to be back at home and and keep working.

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And what I love, which is marine conservation. So the projects we we have right now are focus.

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It was a very interesting transition because we started our careers being a species oriented.

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And by that I mean that I was I love dolphins and whales and sea turtles.

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So that was my interest. But we learnt over time.

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And and my PhD was a big lesson learnt that is not only about the animals that we were,

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that we're when we're working with animals, we should also look at the people that is related to the animals.

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So in my case, these people were fishermen. And mostly small-scale fishermen.

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And so the the the current work we do now is trying to support fishermen, to keep fishing.

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But in a more clean way, in a sustainable way, in a way that they can keep fishing for the for many,

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many years to come, but also in a way that we are helping animals.

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And in this case, it'll be the ones that we have this passion for the dolphins, the whales, the sea turtles.

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So it's it's a very good combination to be able to to be in the middle between biodiversity

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and economic activities as fisheries and also communities and engaging the main users,

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which are fishermen. That's great and really interesting how, like you say, that you've moved from thinking about particular species to.

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To fishermen. And that sort of shift in focus. So can you tell me a little bit about when you were doing your PhD?

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Did you know that you want to move on to this kind of role? Oh, yes.

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Well, that's a great question. And that's a question that I mention when when I have the chance.

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When we started the PhD, we had no idea that we will end up working with fisheries and with people.

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And I think that's an idea that a lot of young people start with.

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I mean, you go with with with this love for the ocean and the creatures, but then it's it's important to realise that it's.

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It will give you have to become useful. It's a bad way to say it, but you have to become useful for society.

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And and it's great if you can, because, well, that's a role we all have.

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But but it and in a way, our careers as  researchers and biologists are key to to to make this transition

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between nature and wildlife and maintain the livelihoods of of people like fishermen,

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in my case, for example. So can you tell me a bit more about.

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The conservation organisation you work for. And what kind of what sort of work that you're doing and how you're drawing on

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your experience as a as a researcher and and particularly during your PhD

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Yes, sure. So my PhD was on sea turtles and most of my chapters had to be on sea turtles.

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And I did my PhD with my husband, which is which it was a great challenge.

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At some point, we were we were sharing the same.

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Stress, and it's but we made it through somehow.

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And the we are we can we evolve from being a species oriented.

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So my my focus was marine turtles

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workingwith Brendan and and my husband  was working on seabirds and marine mammals.

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So we shifted a little bit once being back at home in Pery to work to to apply what we learnt and

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apply it to improve fisheries and support fishermen to continue to be able to continue fishing.

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So that has changed just slightly or like I don't know.

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And the thing is, that is it continues changing, especially now with COVID

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Some of our work at Pro Delphinus has changed dramatically.

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We can no longer go to the field. We do most of the stuff by phone call or Zoom or Whatsapp

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So we are where we see changes in our work during the the latest circumstances of of health worldwide.

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And that's the fun part of it. I think the to be constant changing.

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I think it it brings challenges is not always the same.

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Every day there is something new that we are learning, but it's is where we are enjoying this.

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Right. Really. And Pro Delphinus there is we have perhaps over 20 people on the staff and we keep growing, which is very good.

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And each of them have an interest and that's the that's what it reaches the the environment

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we work in because somebody else may be interested in the social side of the work we do.

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Somebody else could be interested in the economics of it. So it's it's I'm enjoying it.

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It sounds amazing.

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And not only kind of really rewarding work, but also incredibly diverse in the different things that you're gonna be doing, especially.

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And, you know, as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic and the impact that that's had on all, you know, the ways, everybody's way of working.

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So you won an award. Last October.

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Did you not Peru's highest award for conservation? Can you tell us a little bit about that.

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Oh, man, that was fun. That was that was unexpected. So they they sent me an email saying, the name of the award is Carlos Ponce

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Premio para la Conservacion which is a very renown prize

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And for Peru, for people working in conservation in Peru. The organisers is a group a consortium is Conservation International.

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WCS, Pronaturaleza  these organisations have worked for a long time in Peru.

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And when with with the e-mail when I answered, I said yes, but I haven't applied to this award and I had no idea.

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And then the lady. Well, when I was notified, it was a big surprise.

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I enjoyed it a lot. The ceremony was by Zoom and that was that was very different.

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But it was very moving. And for me personally was very moving.

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And for Pro Delphinus, I think the staff really enjoy it because it's not an award for a person.

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But to, in my opinion, is an award for an organisation that has over two decades working.

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So it was it was a very nice recognition for our work.

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Absolutely. Could you tell me a bit more about how Pro Delphinus started?

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Yes. Well, Pro Delphinus started to  so.

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The father, the mother of Pro Delphinus, called Sipek whi is a

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a private organisation,

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a group of biologists and veterinarians living in Pucusana and working in marine mammals back in 1990s and towards the end of the 90s.

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They decided to to be more inclusive for for students and volunteers.

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And that was the start of Pro Delphinus and for for their early years.

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We didn't do much. But in 2003, we started strong.

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It was the year that we applied for a few grants and we got them all, which was a very nice surprise and a great challenge.

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We we started growing slowly. We have been growing organically.

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I want to say over the years, right now, I think we probably have.

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Ten projects and two are big.

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One is to focus on sustainable fisheries.

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The small scale and the although the other one is for leatherback turtles.

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Conservation. And and I want to take the chance to to mention that the population of Eastern leatherback pacific turtles are doing very bad.

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So there's a bunch of countries from Mexico to Chile working on improve the conservation of this species to avoid extinction.

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This is one of the species that is highly impacted and nesting sites and at sea.

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So this project is all about Leatherbacks and working with to reduce bycatch and the water.

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And is this work with turtles that led you to become involved in Pro Delphinus or

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Was it the fisheries work? It was my my work at Pro Delphinus started with marine mammals, and it started with dolphins because.

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Because then when I was a student in the 90's, dolphins were brought to shore and my.

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But if you ask me what I thought. My thoughts about a young student I wanted so badly to work with dolphins.

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It was my dream. So this group that accepted me as a volunteer, Sipek, they worked with dolphins.

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So I went there and started volunteer and.

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But I had no idea that all the dolphins were going to be dead because they brought them from the fisheries interactions to shore and.

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So it started with dolphins and then they evolved and move on to turtles.

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Because as I was observing dolphins, it was the same issue with turtles.

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One day we went to a port and there was leatherback turtle laying on this Scarapas

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And that was a pretty shocking image. Luckily, we don't see that anymore these days.

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But that was the start of my interest on sea turtles.

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And I was had had been very rewarding. In fact, the project we have that I just mentioned on leatherback turtles is trying to.

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distribute LED light which have proved to help reduce the bycatch of sea turtles.

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And with this project, we can hand them, the fishermen, to have them in their nets to avoid

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The entanglement of the turtles. And reduce mortality, hopefully.

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You're currently the director at Pro Delphinus. Did you.

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Did you go straight into that position after your you completed your PhD

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No. No. I started volunteering and my volunteer was cleaning floors, dusting bones, picking up buckets of guts of Dolphin.

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My volutneer was pretty rough, and I think it was good.

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I'm very grateful that it was a rough start because there was a test in my mind was a test and probably in the mind of my my bosses on that time.

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So I started as a volunteer cleaning, mostly helping in everything.

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And then I became a junior researcher.

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And then from there, an assistant researcher. And then now I'm the director of Pro Delphinus, which is very different.

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But I still clean. So really a case of sort of getting involved with the organisation from the ground up.

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Yes. Yes. And that has been good. I am I'm happy that it was started that way, because now I can I can place myself in the shoes of the volunteers.

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And and and I, I work my way up, which which was has been a rewarding feel is.

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So could you tell me kind of like what your typical day is like?

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I know the answer is going to be there isn't one Yeah, sure.

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My typical day has changed now.

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And there were a lot of sitting. A lot of computer time.

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But before that. And that's because of COVID then because the office is partially closed, we are starting to go but not many hours and et cetera.

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But my normal day before COVID was a little bit more fun.

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Most of my days will be meetings with government officers or in some occasions I also

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go to fishing ports because I don't want to lose the connection of with the field.

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If somebody asked me in my job, I want to be able to tell them from experience what I have been observing and respond with the experience.

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So the contact with the field and fishermen, it's important to me.

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So I will go I will combine meetings, office time with some travelling and.

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And some and phone calls, a lot of phone calls, too. We write a lot of papers.

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We we work on that. That's our most precious.

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Give give back to society and to academia and to the country that has this has been the focus.

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Last year we did over 20 papers, the year before I think 18.

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So we're we're good. The staff is great about that.

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They're really into research and publishing.

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And that sounds such a varied day and a varied kind of type of work in terms of advocacy and being in the field, writing papers and, you know,

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still having that really important kind of academic research contribution,

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as well as the wider kind of contribution that you're making to conservation.

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Sounds like a fantastic kind of combination. I wonder if we can sort of.

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To finish up what advice you have for anyone who is currently doing PhD

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Who wants to. Pursue a career in the kind of conservation organisation that you're working in.

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Mm hmm. Yeah, well, the advice in general will be if you have a topic that is of your interest.

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That's great. But if you don't, it will come up.

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It will come up at some point and you will identify something that is really interesting for you.

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So don't worry if you don't have that passion that that some people do at early age and take

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opportunities as they come to experiment and try different things within your career and out of your career,

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because sometimes you can combine things that are not specifically related to biology or research.

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And if you're thinking about working in an NGO is this is great.

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I mean, for us has been great. I know it's challenging because you have to look for your own funds.

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But the early years are difficult. And then it becomes smoother as your expertise, as you develop your expertise.

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And combining that with PhD had been for us a great step in our careers, in our lives.

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We still collaborate with Brendan So we build a little network in Exeter and that I hope it continues over time.

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And and and and I'm looking forward for what's coming in the future.

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Thank you so much to Joanna for taking the time out to talk about the really exciting and important work that she's doing.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 14 - Dr, Heather Hind and Dr. Philippa Earle (Digital Learning Developers at the University of Exeter)

Episode 14 - Dr, Heather Hind and Dr. Philippa Earle (Digital Learning Developers at the University of Exeter)

March 29, 2021

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks Dr. Heather Hind and Dr. Philippa Earle, who are doctoral graduates from English currently work as Digital Learning Developers in the College of Medicine and Health at the University of Exeter. 

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter Doctoral College

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Hello, and a warm welcome to another episode of Beyond Your Research Degree.

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I'm Kelly Preece, the research development manager in the Doctoral College,

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and I'm continuing episodes on the theme of getting jobs and moving forward with your career.

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During COVID 19, by talking to actually in this episode, two of our doctoral graduates.

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So Dr Philippa Earle and Dr Heather Huind both of whom did their PhDs in English but are now working in professional

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services roles at the University of Exeter in roles that were created in response to the COVID 19 pandemic.

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So Heather and Philippa, are you happy to introduce yourselves? I'm Dr Heather Hind

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I did my PhD in English literature, specifically Victorian literature and things that the Victorians made out of human hair.

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And I finished in while I handed in in March 2020, just before the first lockdown's started and had my viva last year.

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And since then, I've been working for the university as a digital learning developer for the College of Medicine and Health.

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So I'm Dr Philippa Earle I finished my PhD at Exeter in.

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Summer of 2018. It seems a long time ago now. And my thesis was on John Milton.

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And I'm really interested in his material philosophy, which is commonly called monism.

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And so I've kind of been floating around since then, doing various things.

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I'd really like to get into academia. I really enjoy teaching.

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I have done some casual teaching since then to different roles at different universities,

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and I then came into doing this digital learning development role kind of last September.

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So I was kind of last minute recruits and it kind of slotted in working with Heather.

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That's fabulous. Like you say, probably it's useful just to start with, kind of back it up, back a little bit.

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What a digital learning developer is. And I think particularly as well how these roles have.

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It evolved because of the situation with the current pandemic.

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And so when they were first advertised, I think I applied last June,

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I think I started my application the week before my viva, and then I had the interview the week after my viva.

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Wow. Yes, it was the time. It was honestly really fortuitous for me as it worked out.

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But they were advertised as roles to support the shift to online teaching during the pandemic.

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And to think what the job description said.

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It said, you know, supporting teaching staff, troubleshooting online issues, helping to develop the virtual learning environment.

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ELE at Exeter. But it was it was relatively vague.

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I don't know if Philippa would agree, but it was, you know, relatively, you know, job speak sort of.

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These are all of the possible things that you might be asked to do. Vague.

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But as the role has gone on and we've been able to shape it to a certain extent to what sort of support our college needs.

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It's been a lot more about kind of project management, checking over modules and quality,

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assuring them for the online side of things to make sure that the students are properly supported.

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Have all the information they need,

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online seminars and lectures and things are running smoothly and that we're continually trying to make things better, innovate, use new digital tools.

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Yeah, I think I hadn't kind of anticipated quite how much I would learn, I suppose, because I was sort of thinking, well,

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we were both kind of chucked into the online teaching through the kind of teaching roles we were doing at the time last March.

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And I kind of needed something more stable. And these were full time roles, even though they're fixed term.

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And yeah, I think Heather and I kind of came at this from a very similar angle, really.

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We're both English PhD graduates. Both interested in it and going into academia and.

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Yeah. I suppose we kind of thought of this as a way of being sort of resourceful with the kind of options that are out there,

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but also having a bit more kind of job security. So, you know, I came to this role thinking, well,

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I can bring a little bit of my experience that I've had just from having to sort of fumble your way through and shove everything online last minute,

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but actually have just learnt so much. And yeah, as has Heather was saying, about kind of quality assurance, different digital tools and the options.

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And so actually, I'm I'm really pleased that I've managed to kind of get loads out of this and

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not just for kind of improving the quality of the teaching and the college,

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but also kind of my own understanding of pedagogy and the way that you can kind of support your own teaching with digital tools and what works.

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It's just been brilliant, really. Yeah, I think it's really interesting to hear you talk about it that way and also the you know,

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the the fact that it's fitting into a kind of an aim for an academic career path.

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And because it's it's giving you obviously it's giving you some job stability in the interim, but also,

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you know, a real a range of really specialist skills that as a result of the pandemic are going to be.

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You know, the way that education is going to change in that inevitably is going to be so highly valued.

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Moving forward. And I think also, yeah.

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Because there is just so much uncertainty. These were advertised as fixed term roles.

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And, you know, the university hasn't quite decided what direction they're going in yet, whether they're going to be renewed.

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So I think we're both trying to keep an open mind and think, well, this is kind of plan A.

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But equally, you know, we're quite happy doing these roles and then they're very valuable.

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So it's a good stepping stone, really. And, you know, it's always good to have a backup plan is knowing the market as it is.

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So it's giving us a really good insight into professional services and just the other side of things at the university.

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The university structure working within kind of lots of different teams, different, introduced to different kinds of management there.

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So, yeah, really good insight. And, you know, opening up kind of alternative possibilities, you know, if Plan A doesn't work out as well.

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Yeah, I think that's that's a really, really fantastic way of looking at it and kind of,

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you know, all of the various skills that you're going to be developing.

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I wondered if you could talk a little bit about. So you both did your PhDs in English and now you're working in medicine.

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And I wondered if you could talk a little bit about what that experience is like

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and what it's like working in a different college and supporting teaching,

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learning in a discipline, you know,

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relatively far removed from your own and and what that's like and kind of what you're taking across almost from one subject to another.

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And so I think we both applied for this role, but put down our preference for working in humanities.

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I guess I had I's envisioned it, as, you know, being able to have a hand in the sorts of courses that I would be able to teach or,

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you know, captioning the sorts of lectures that I would one day give.

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And so I really had it in my mind while I was applying that I really wanted this job in the College of Humanities.

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And so when they offered it for the College of Medicine and Health, I was a little bit unsure of what that would involve.

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And to what extent I would need some sort of knowledge base for supporting medicine courses,

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but actually because we we support the postgraduate taught programmes and the continuing professional development programmes.

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What we've really been able to carry across is our experience of being in postgraduates.

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Well, postgraduates, I mean researchers now. But, you know, people that have been through master's courses and know what it's like to go through

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that very intense year where you move into an even more independent source of learning.

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So there's definitely been that that we've been able to carry across.

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We haven't needed too much subject specialist knowledge.

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Occasionally when we're captioning, we will have to Google some, you know, drug names or some bones or something.

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But it's really been about our knowledge of teaching and supporting

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Learners, that has really helped us to, for example, look at an ELE module page and say, oh,

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actually this assessment brief is not very clear or it's missing some really key information about this or the prereading for this course is,

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you know, not in the most, you know, obvious, clear place for people coming to it.

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So so it's those sorts of universal things that I think we've been able to carry across.

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Yeah, I think I would just add to that the sum of the parts I've particularly enjoyed

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have been the opportunity to actually collaborate with academics as well.

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So we have the opportunity to have one to one meetings with them to really

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discuss kind of what they ideally would like to do or the kinds of activities.

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They've usually done in the past and and kind of help them come up with something that's really going to work in an online format.

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So there's been a lot of trial and error, a few kind of failings along the way with, you know, synchronous sessions and what works best and.

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Well, you know, all sorts of things trying to put people into breakout rooms,

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reassigning on Zoom and just kind of, you know, coming across different pitfalls.

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But we've actually managed to kind of develop our own kind of ways of working and solutions and kind of recommended methods,

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which is really quite exciting. And, yeah,

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I just I particularly enjoy kind of talking through what the academic wants to achieve and then being able to kind of

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draw on my knowledge that I've gained in this role of the digital tools how ELE works the best kind of format for,

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you know,

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contact days or synchronous sessions and just really be sort of part of that and feel very much the our experience and knowledge is kind of valued.

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And I think, as Heather was saying, the fact that we do actually have some teaching experience ourselves, we can kind of, you know,

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get our minds into that that gear to really think about how it's going to work

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and what's what's really gonna be best for the students learning as well.

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And just to add to that that we've actually been given a lot of responsibility in that sense, more than I was kind of expecting really in this role.

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And, yeah. Of our kind of we've been sort of trusted to input our thoughts and in terms of kind

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of evaluating the strategy in the college and really kind of working at high levels,

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talking with the programme directors. The Dean for Education, Project enhance leadership team meetings.

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So it's it's really great, actually, that we've been trusted and given the responsibility that we've had and that we've

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actually had the opportunity to kind of shape how we do things at a higher level as well,

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as well as kind of working with individuals. That's something I really appreciated. Yeah.

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And I think there's a couple of things, really brilliant things to pick out of that.

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The first of which is, you know, there were a lot of these roles across the institution and some of them have,

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you know, gone to so they;re what, the University of Exeter call graduate business partner roles.

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Is that right? Yes. Yeah. GBPs. So some some people in these roles will be having just come out of undergraduate or postgraduate taught degrees.

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And so their experience will be will be useful and certainly kind of, you know, people with the same level, you know,

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really good digital skills, but also, you know, what you're talking about in terms of that student perspective.

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But like you're saying, what you bring that to that as a doctoral

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Graduate is that extra dimension of understanding, research, but understanding, teaching and pedagogy in a different way.

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And I think, you know, quite often when we see things like GBPs or graduate schemes,

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we assume that they're aimed at undergraduates and perhaps some of the language.

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And then the way in which they're written does kind of reinforce that.

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But actually, it doesn't mean they're not applicable to PGRs and that actually PGRs, you know.

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Or doctoral graduates will potentially have the opportunity and the roles to to do more and to go further.

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Because because of how that much further along they are in their academic career.

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The other thing that I wanted to pick up on is why I was be interested in what you're

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saying about kind of the management side and the strategy side of being involved in that.

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And I wondered if you could say something about kind of what a bit more about what you valued, about learning, I guess,

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about the more administrative or managerial side of the university,

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which you don't get as much of an exposure to what you're doing, a research degree.

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Yeah, I. So for me, as I say, it's it's great to have the insight into kind of the structure of the institution,

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obviously, to meet these different people as well and to learn from them and their expertise.

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And it's yeah, it's really kind of opened up so many opportunities that we we just hadn't anticipated.

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Lots of professional development opportunities.

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And I think it's worth noting that that is something that, first of all, you just don't really have time for when you're doing a casual teaching post,

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because as anybody who has done that will know, even if you're only doing about four.

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hours teaching a week as an early career academic or researcher.

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You're coming into that institution from outside. You're basically going to have a lot of work dumped on you.

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And because you're kind of coming in and you probably don't have much notice when you start the role.

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For me, it was essentially a full time job, even though I was only teaching about four hours a week each time.

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Because if you're producing lectures, etc., it's just an enormous amount of work.

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And so you don't really have time to kind of engage in any professional opportunities,

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personal development opportunities that might be offered by the institution. But with this role, it's something that has been very much integrated.

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So we've been able to kind of continually undertake different kinds of training for different digital tools.

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We've also been able to attend the things like the eduexe sessions,

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where we're kind of sharing best practise across the university, finding out how people do things in different departments,

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different colleges, and seeing what we can kind of take from not to to implement in the College of Medicine and Health and in PGT where we're based.

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So I think all of that does feed into our kind of connection and on what we can pass on to people in kind of more senior roles.

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And I work with managers in the college.

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We work very closely with our programme director for PGT, but also with the team director of Quality and Teaching.

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And so we got that's another nice kind of aspect of the role, is that people are interested in actually listening to our ideas.

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And again, coming back to all kind of experience as teachers ourselves, having that side of things,

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and also kind of new understanding of kind of what digital tools are out there and the the processes and functions of ELE

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It's sort of given us of a good ability to see what might potentially work and what we can take, what we can take forward and kind of.

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Yeah, pass on to people like the director of teaching quality and really feel like you're actually

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making a difference in kind of shaping our path forward in terms of online learning.

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So, yeah, I again,

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it's it's lovely to be trusted to the extent that we are and kind of valued that much really by senior people in the university, I would say.

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And just to be kind of taken seriously and be, you know, have the opportunity to actually input ideas as well.

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And I think that applies not just to us as graduate as postgraduates.

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I think it really does apply to the undergraduates, too. And, you know, we're working within multiple teams.

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We're working with technology enhanced learning where we're often asked for our views on certain things and how we work.

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And so, yeah, it's great really to be I suppose the role is so new.

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We've we've actually had to establish the way that we work.

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And Heather and I have had to kind of really specifically define what we do, how we do things in PGT

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even down to kind of, you know, the spreadsheet that we use and and the day to day running of things.

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But also, I think DLDs as a whole seem to be, you know, very much included in actually.

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Trying to define and determine what happens next, which is quite nice.

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Yeah. Now, I was thinking in terms of strategy, as you were saying, it's been really interesting to be part of larger strategy talks,

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but also on just the scale of us working with PGT programmes for the College of Medicine and Health.

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Being able to strategize what we want to do with the year that we have,

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or at least the year that we know we definitely have in this role and being able to think,

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okay, you know, what are we going to prioritise for term one? What do we want our modules to look like?

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What sorts of digital tools do we want to emphasise or demonstrate for the module leads?

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Then what do we want to improve on for term two? How are we going to go about that?

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So we've been able to do things like run college, PGT, specific student surveys,

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staff surveys and run some demonstration meetings to kind of go through the sorts of things that we think will improve courses.

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So just on that smaller scale strategy as well, it's been really interesting to kind of have a handle on that.

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And as Philippa said

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it's kind of shape the trajectory of what we're doing with the year to make things better during pandemic times with online teaching,

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but also think about what will improve things in the long term going forward to potential blended learning.

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Because I think improving these courses in their online offering is still going to help when eventually some of it is move back into the classroom.

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Yeah. I think all of that's really important. And one of the couple of things I want to pick up out of that is really interesting

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to hear you talk about the unique opportunity that you've had within these roles

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for professional development and academic professional development that you wouldn't

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necessarily have the time or scope for if you were just doing a few hours teaching.

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So I wondered if we could talk a little bit more about about what those opportunities might be, but also kind of in tandem with that.

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What? We've talked a lot about all the different experiences you're having, and I can absolutely see how all of these would be really,

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really beneficial in thinking about moving forward with an academic career.

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But I wondered if you could say a little bit about.

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From your perspective about what you feel like you're going to really strongly take forward from the role.

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The roles that you're doing now and the experiences you're having now into applying for academic jobs.

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So I know there are two things that we can really do with professional development first.

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Sure. And so with both. Well, we both came into this job with the associate fellow of the Higher Education Academy as our,

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you know, professional framework teaching qualification.

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And one of the really tangible things to come out of this year is we're using our experience now in our supporting,

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teaching and quality enhancing role to go for the fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

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We've got our applications together. Fingers crossed.

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But, you know, if we can gain that, that's a really good, solid thing that we can use in our applications for other jobs going forward.

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But just as employees of Exeter, we've had the opportunity to go to the full suite of professional development workshops,

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especially with everything being online. It's been really good to be able to say, okay,

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I'd like to go to a CVs workshop to an interviews workshop to all these different things, wellbeing workshops.

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It's it's it's part of our role, part of our job.

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You know, we have to go through personal development reviews and that sort of thing.

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So so it's been really interesting having the opportunity to go to these sorts of workshops and professional development opportunities,

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but also to have them as part of the structure of what's the university wants us to do with our with our time and with our progression as well.

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And I guess I would just add to that that I think, well, first of all,

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the role itself and the kind of modules that we are assisting with because they are postgraduate courses,

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but also because they are kind of some of them are focussed very specifically on education and clinical education.

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How you effectively teach clinical practises to, you know,

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maybe GPs who are taking an extra professional development course or something like that.

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So we have actually assisted in the development of and being present for the delivery of clinical education modules,

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modules on digital teaching, which was really helpful.

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And so all of that is just so useful. We can actually learn not just from the courses, but from the module leads delivering most courses.

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We were invited to be actually we were invited to kind of be part of the teaching,

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the digital teaching module and to sort of share our own experiences with digital tools and that kind of thing.

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And it was just great to learn from the students as well with that, to be honest. I mean,

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I wish that we'd actually recorded some of the fantastic presentations because they had the opportunity

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to have a play around with some of the digital tools and experiment what you could use them for.

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And they were just simply fantastic things on improving the deliver the training for the COVID vaccine and all sorts of wonderful things

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that are going to make such a difference in the world and really make me proud to be supporting these these healthcare students.

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But with the FHEA more specifically, it's really helped me reflect on what I'm actually getting out of this role.

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So all of the stuff that we do with the quality assurance of module's, the continual evaluation of our practise,

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how successful things have been, the regular meetings with the project enhance leadership team and the college.

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And that's where we get to actually kind of talk to academics that are sort of delivering the teaching.

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And we talk through any arising problems and we kind of troubleshoot and continually evaluate.

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And all of that has been just great to write about on my application, really,

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because it's it's really helping me reflect on my own practise as somebody who's supporting teaching and who's interested in kind of teaching myself.

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So we kind of figured we'd kind of unintentionally ended up sort of hitting, you know,

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most of the criteria just just through kind of what we're doing on a daily basis.

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And so it's been great to actually have that, to really take the time to reflect on exactly what we're getting out of the role.

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So in terms of professional development, I'd say it's it's actually exceeded my expectations, really.

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And and as Heather says, if we can get this qualification at the end of it, then, you know, it's been a really fantastic stepping stone.

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And I think that a lot of roles that I've seen advertised have actually wanted somebody who

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knows about digital technology or is interested in using digital technology in their teaching,

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because, I mean, I think this is going to be kind of part of the future. It's going to be had to stay really and in whatever form it eventually takes.

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So, yeah, it's it's been a really great opportunity,

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even though we've been working in a very different field in medicine and health and we're both from English.

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There has been a lot of kind of transferable skills that we can bring to this role.

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That's really brilliant.

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And I think pulling out some of those things like the FHEA, which is really going to set you apart in applying for those academic roles,

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because it's it's rare that PGRs when they're doing their research.

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are going to have the opportunity to engage in that in that level of teaching practise and the opportunity for that level of reflection as well.

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That's needed to achieve that status. So I wondered if you could say a little bit more about how that how this kind of fits in and in.

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The longer kind of career go to work in academia and what specifically things like the FHEA that you think that

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you want to take forward and that you feel are really going to help you with those academic job applications?

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I think for me, it's it's at least understanding the real significance of evaluation and evaluating processes.

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And this is something that the university has had to do on a huge scale, shifting, you know, to so much online.

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And and basically, you know, transforming digitally.

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So I think the fact that we've kind of been forced into this situation where we're constantly having the discussions, is this working?

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Is this effective? What can we do better for me? I think that is something I would actually like to take forward.

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You know, whatever happens,

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I think even if we are doing a lot more face to face teaching eventually or supporting much more kind of blended approaches,

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I just think it's it's something that perhaps wasn't emphasised enough before was this sort of continual evaluation of processes,

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even if you've been doing it for years. You know, it's the opportunity to actually share best practise and innovate, really.

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And and just I think the value of that sort of collaborative approach to teaching is maybe something that we've not fully appreciated before.

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And the point of the pandemic has kind of pushed us into confronting really.

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And I personally feel that that's something we could really take forward.

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And I would like to adopt in my in my practise or wherever I end up, even if I'm if I'm here, if I end up here.

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I just think that's something that's so valuable. And, yeah, it's it's a focus on the process itself.

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The process of teaching. And and I think that includes our students, too.

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So, you know that they are kind of active collaborators in this process.

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I think that there's just so much to learn from the approach we've actually taken with Project Enhance and the benefits of that for,

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you know, the quality of learning as well and what the students can get out of it.

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And that's something I'm quite excited about. I'd like to do more with.

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Definitely. I completely agree.

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In terms of first applying for teaching posts in the future, we've now gained experience of the side of teaching that we didn't.

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Not that we didn't engage with before, but that weren't necessarily our top priority.

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When, you know, we need to prep for our seminars, go and teach them to have a set number of hours to do everything.

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Having this kind of reflective role and thinking about all the kind of other things that go into

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preparing a really good module and really good contact session has been really useful for that.

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But I guess the other thing for me is that I always knew there would be, you know,

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a bit of a gap between finishing my PhD and hopefully getting some sort of academic role.

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And I did think, you know, I'll apply for a job in professional services or maybe I'll get some casual teaching

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contracts and hopefully I'll be doing something linked to the university while I'm kind of,

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you know, working on a book proposal, working on more articles,

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gaining all those other sorts of research experience that I would need to get a postdoc or an academic post.

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And I guess this role has just given us a little bit of security and bought us

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a little bit of time to be doing those things and thinking about our research.

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I mean, not not to say that it hasn't been difficult.

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I think, you know, both me and Philippa feel that it's really tiring to be sat at your laptop all day doing this sort of work and then to think,

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okay, I need to turn to that to the article proposal that I'm working on.

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But that's the other side of this is a lot of post PhD will be in that position of I want to carry on with my research, develop my research profile.

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But, you know, I need some paid employment. And at least this role has felt that we've been developing the teaching side of things

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while we've been trying to continue to work on our research side of things as well.

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Yes. I just want to ask you a little bit about the application process.

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So kind of what you have to do in terms of filling in any kind of application form and then what the interview process was like.

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So, yeah, can you say a little bit about what you had to do in terms of an application?

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And sure. So the application form wasn't overly elaborate.

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I filled in much longer involved application forms before.

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But it asked for I can't remember how long it was, but a relatively lengthy supporting statement.

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So the equivalent of writing a cover letter for a job that wanted you to engage with STAR

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And I cannot remember what the acronym stands for, but it's the idea that its situation.

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task action, reflection or resolution. Yes.

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Yes,. So it it kind of wanted you to go through your experience, what sort of skills and things you're bringing to this job.

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But, you know, you talk about, you know, in this situation, I was faced with this challenge.

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Here's what I did. And, you know, here was the result.

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And I think I don't think I've consciously used that in other job applications before this role.

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But that was actually quite useful for me to talk about previous jobs I'd done and

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then have to think of some some conflict or some issue that I dealt with within that.

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So. So, yeah. So we had this supporting statement to write

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And then we were invited for interview, which was a panel interview.

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I think there were four or five people on the call. It was virtual, obviously over Microsoft teams.

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And I just remember it being very quick, I think, because there were a number of these roles advertised and they had quite a few posts to fill.

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It did need to be quite speedy.

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But the sorts of questions they asked were, I think they were to do with digital teaching, like, you know, where do you see this going?

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Or what's an example of best practise in digital online teaching?

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But I did get the impression that they wanted the answers to be quite succinct.

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So I felt a little bit a little bit rushed versus some of the job interviews I've been in.

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But I got the impression that really they they'd already appreciated what you were going to offer from your written application,

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and they were really trying to work out where you would fit in.

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And so I think the reason they put me in Philipa on PGT programmes was no doubt because of our experience being postgraduates.

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But I think they were just trying to work that out at that stage and obviously check that we were, you know, fit for the role.

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And I'd just add that I really appreciated being picked by the College of Medicine and Health.

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Even though this is not our specialism. They saw something in us.

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And it's really proven transferable how flexible English and humanities graduates can be.

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I think, you know, we've been able to bring a creative approach to the problem solving,

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to, you know, the kinds of education that we're facing in our programmes.

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So, yeah, I think we've definitely had some real strengths to bring to the role.

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I initially didn't hear anything when I applied. So Heather was in the first round of sort of employees.

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I didn't hear anything for a couple of months. And I chased it up and I was told that I hadn't been shortlisted.

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So I just thought, okay, you know, onto the next thing that's that.

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But then I had an email out of the blue a couple of months later when I think they were just they realised they needed to recruit some more DLDs

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So then I had a very last minute interview for the College of Medicine Health as well.

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And, yeah, just just it's been great working there.

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And I think we've had an insight also into the extent to which medical professionals actually do value the humanities also.

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And what they can learn from them. You know, I hadn't realised that medical students are even taught art history because it helps them with being

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able to kind of analyse the symptoms that a patient is presenting and kind of think of it holistically.

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So I think it's really been beneficial for us to bring all sort of creative approach to things.

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Also with things like the strategy Problem-Solving thinking about ways forward more broadly.

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It's been great that that has actually been valued. And yeah, that we were both taken on by the College of Medicine and Health.

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That's really, really brilliant and really helpful. Thank you.

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And I want to finish, you can just give sort of like we got any advice or kind of top tips to other PGRs who are who are coming to.

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The end of their research degree. Maybe they're not sure they want to do.

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Or maybe they're, you know, are thinking about pursuing an academic career or something in higher education.

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What advice would you give them based on? Based on your experience as a sort of almost the past year?

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I think in terms of job searches,

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I definitely had already thoughts about going into professional services just because I wanted to keep that link to a university and,

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you know, ideally Exeter. I just thought it would kind of keep me in the loop with academic things, at least being in that environment.

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So that's definitely something that I was already considering kind of post PhD.

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But I think I've realised in this role with how linked it is with teaching and supporting learning,

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is that it doesn't just have to be a monetary stopgap to kind of pay the bills while you're looking for, you know, stuff that first academic position.

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But there is an awful lot that you can gain towards your academic career from working in other university roles.

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I know the sorts of other things I was thinking of. I worked in admissions before I did my PhD.

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So that was something I was thinking of going back to. I've seen lots of posts advertised supporting big research projects,

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which I think would be a really useful thing to get involved with if you had this,

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you know, think about the admin side of of budgets and organising events and all that sort of thing.

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So I think there are lots of other roles outside of the university as well that can give you further skills and

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experience that still completely translate into the sorts of things that are valued for an academic career.

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So it's just trying to adjust your mindset.

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Think of it not just as you know, oh, I have to spend this period of time doing something that's not my academic career,

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but thinking about what sort of roles you could take on the do still kind of keep you on that path.

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Yeah, I mean, I think there's a lot of pressure on early career researchers because postdocs are essentially time dependent.

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So as you know, you're only eligible for a postdoc within like three years of finishing your PhD.

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And so given how competitive they are, you know,

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it's there's a huge amount of pressure to try and publish to try and get the book to try and make yourself stand out.

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And if you're not fortunate enough to kind of have somebody who can financially support you while you're writing your book or whatever or,

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you know, given the current situation with the pandemic, I'm sure a lot of people have got, you know, completely unexpected circumstances.

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I'm currently supporting my mum. So, you know, you want to have some more kind of security.

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And so I think my advice would be you have to be open minded, not just flexible.

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So I did, as I said, a couple of casual teaching roles.

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But given the current situation, I was I knew I needed something more so stable and secure.

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And I think it is just about having a look at what's out there and and thinking about, you know, again, those transferable skills.

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What can I get from this? Is this going to be a stepping stone?

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And I think you're lucky if you can find something that is relevant to what you want to do.

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It's not easy. I mean, I've also worked in retail and throughout my my teaching, I also worked weekends in a shop.

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So it's really not easy to juggle those things.

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But I think the professional services side of things that university does offer, if you want to go into academia.

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You know, lots of really useful skills and opportunities as we've talked about things like the professional development.

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So I think you just have to be open minded and maybe it isn't going to be the ideal path forward.

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But, you know, you just have to try and be kind of resourceful, I suppose.

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And it does open up other things and it gives you an insight into other areas.

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And, you know, for me, as time goes on, because I've been in this situation for a couple of years now,

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you kind of think, okay, well, maybe previously I can imagine really doing anything else because that means.

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It isn't going to happen quite like that. And, you know, maybe I'll find another way.

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So I just really would say. Be open minded and be resourceful in in the roles that you take on.

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So even if it isn't gonna be a teaching role, there are other roles out there that are still going to benefit you and make you more employable.

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Thank you so much to Heather and Philippa for taking time out of what I know is an incredibly busy schedule in the roles that they're in.

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Talk to me about their roles as digital learning developers at the University of Exeter.

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And I think there are a number of things to pull out of this conversation.

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You know, that's the important thing that we've been trying to focus on about starting your career and getting jobs during COVID

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but also thinking about that kind of route into an academic career, which might not be traditional,

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perhaps particularly at the moment, but going into this kind of professional services role where you might be able to develop really,

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really relevant skills and experience and expertise that will put you in a really, really strong place in the academic job market.

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And I know that the kinds of things that Heather and Philippa were talking about, their teaching and digital skills,

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their fellowship with the Higher Education Academy or the professional development they've been undertaking,

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is going to put them in a really fantastic place when the kind of academic roles, when they come up.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 13 - Charlotte Chivers, Research Assistant, University of Gloucestershire

Episode 13 - Charlotte Chivers, Research Assistant, University of Gloucestershire

February 22, 2021

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Charlotte Chivers, who secured a Research Assistant post at the University of Gloucestershire during COVID-19. Charlotte has started her role at the University of Gloucestershire whilst finishing writing up her PhD.

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter, Doctoral College

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Hello and welcome to beyond your research degree. It's Kelly Preece here, and I'm really excited to be bringing you the second in a special series that

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we're doing for Beyond Your Research Degree about securing jobs during Covid 19.

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So last time I talked to Tomir about securing a job with an NGO.

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And today I'm gonna be talking to Charlotte Chivers in a very similar position to Timur,

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writing up herPhD and starting a new job, but this time as a postdoctoral research associate.

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So we normally on Beyond your Research degree, we focus on non-academic careers.

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But given the real challenges our PGRs are facing at the moment,

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it seemed really pertinent to talk about securing academic and research jobs as well.

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Yeah, hi. So I'm Charlotte Chivers and I have been doing my PhD at the University of Exeter since twenty seventeen.

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My research is within the Centre for Rural Policy Research.

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So it's a social science. PhD and I have been exploring the efficacy of agriculture advice surrounding diffused water pollution.

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So I have now finished a draft of my entire thesis and congratulations.

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And I'm making revisions based on my supervisor's comments at this stage.

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However, back in September, I started a research position at the University of Gloucestershire.

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So I now work in the Countryside and Community Research Institute.

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So I've been juggling, working full time and finishing off my PhD.

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And again, I'm working in social science, but mostly looking at environmental stuff.

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So I now work on two big EU projects. One is called Soil Care, which it's soil health in agriculture.

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And the other is called Spint and we are looking at pesticides in agriculture.

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That's brilliant. Thank you. So there's a number of lots of different things to pick up on within that.

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But I think so firstly. So if we can go back to September last year. So was it September you started the job?

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Yes. I started in September. So when when did you when did you apply?

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What were the sort of timescales? So I applied in June last year.

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OK, yeah. So. So I wasn't. Sorry. No i was just going to say so this is so all of the application process, everything, it's all happened during COVID.

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Yes. Yes. OK. So I.

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Let's start at the beginning of that process that I'm thinking about, how it might have been affected by it.

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So how? First of all, how did you how did you find this role?

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So I had sort of had my eye on the centre

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I now work for for the last couple of years and I recognised that it would potentially be a good fit for me.

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So I kept my eye on their website and I attended one of our events.

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So they have a annual winter school, which meant that I had the opportunity to meet some of the academics working there.

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And from then on, then I kind of just kept my eye out for jobs.

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And although it was quite early for me to apply for a job because I still had, you know,

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my PhDi ongoing, I wanted to make sure I didn't miss out on an opportunity.

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As obviously, you know, academia is competitive. So I had to kind of go for it.

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When when a job came along. So, yeah, absolutely.

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And I think, you know, it is that when your when you're targeting particular departments or organisations,

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if you're thinking outside academia that are a really good fit for your passion, but also your kind of knowledge and skills.

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It is sometimes having to kind of make that compromise going okay.

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It's not the ideal time. But is this opportunity likely to come up in six months when it is the ideal time?

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Can you talk a little bit about the. Application process, particularly thinking about what might have been different about it because of the,

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you know, the all of the restrictions that we've had in the UK for the past year or so.

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Yeah. So in terms of actually applying for the job, it was it was the same essentially because,

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you know, I had to submit an application form and a CV online. And so that was quite normal, actually.

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And that the first stage where it was quite different is that my interview had to be held online with a panel of three professors,

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which was quite interesting. You know, I had to get myself into the mindset of an interview even though I was starting my apartment.

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So that day that I just made sure that I got dressed up as if I was going to an interview.

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And I just tried to get myself in that mindset. But it was quite strange having a sort of online interview.

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But luckily for panellists were lovely, really supportive. So, you know, I felt relatively at ease despite it being an online interview.

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Yeah. And I think you've picked up on a couple of really important things.

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They're about actually kind of that sense of mindset of how do you put yourself in the frame of mind of performing,

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because that's essentially what an interview it is, isn't it? You know, it comes down to it.

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You're you're kind of performing for the interview panel. And how do you do that when you're kind of in your in your everyday?

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Environments, so I think that thing you said about, you know,

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getting dressed up and doing all of those things like you would do for an interview normally are really important.

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Were there any kind of any markedly different things for having the interview online from when you've had interviews face to face?

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Was there anything kind of. I don't know. Different or challenging?

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About doing that way. Yeah, definitely so.

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And the thing is, it's because there were four of us on the call.

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And you have a lag often when you're online It was incredibly difficult to not interrupt each other.

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And and being in an interview, you obviously don't want to interrupt people.

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You want to make sure that you, you know, wait your turn and speak when you can ask the question.

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But there were a couple of times. So it's quite difficult to know when to talk and when to get a word in.

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So that's something that was a bit challenging. But again, I think everyone is aware of this.

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So I didn't I didn't see it as a major issue because I assume everyone is facing the same sort of challenge.

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So it was kind of it was kind of okay. Yeah.

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And were there any kind of any positives, any things that you felt were kind of easier or or or nicer or more relaxed because of the online format?

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Yeah, I mean, I personally do prefer in-person meetings because you can build rapport a bit easier.

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You can make proper eye contact, but not having to travel was quite nice.

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I didn't have to worry about being late, unless the Internet had died.

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But, you know, in general, our Internet is really strong.

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So I could just kind of get up in the morning and not think, oh, my gosh, I need to make sure the train isn't late or.

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Yeah. So it was quite nice, actually, not having to worry about about that.

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So, yeah, I'd say that was a benefit. But other than that I'd say I didn't find it dramatically different.

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You know, it was interviews are Always scary. You know, I think I think either way, it's not it's not the easiest of things to go through.

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But, you know, I think having a nice panel really helped.

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And, you know, I think just making sure your Internet is working and stuff is really important to you.

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But, yeah, I wouldn't say there were any massive positives or necessarily any massive negatives either.

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It was kind of. Yeah, it was it was different. But it was but it was fine.

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So can we talk a little bit more about what was involved as part of the application process?

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So you said that you did an online application form and a CV were that particular things like.

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Required as part of the application form. Did you have to do like a personal statement against the job specification or questions?

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Upload documents, anything like that? Yeah.

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So I believe I had to fill in in the application form, I had to refer to how I met the sort of essential and desirable criteria.

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And as a rule of thumb, what I always do is I actually copy across all of the headings from the job description.

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And I specifically answer each one.

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So, you know, and that's always worked quite well for me because it means that the person reading the application can literally see straightaway.

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Okay. They've actually tried to answer every single one of these essential and desirable criteria.

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So I remember specifically doing that, but I don't think it had off the top of my head.

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I can't remember having any really sort of specific things that were out of the ordinary.

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It was kind of just an application form. And yeah, your CV, which I obviously tailored for four jobs,

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I made sure that I prioritise certain things and put things at the top that were really important.

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So, you know, my publication record and my previous work experience were important for this particular position.

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So, you know, I just made sure that it was really I make it as easy as possible for us to do application to see,

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you know, the key things that they need to know about you rather than having it hidden or or further down the page.

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Yeah. Yeah, I think that's a couple of things that you said and that just really useful kind

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of simple tools like copy and cross the headings of the person specification.

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I do that and I don't necessarily use them as headings, but I make sure that,

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like with the example I'm giving the examples I have the exact language from the person.

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specification. Just say it like you're having all the signals or making it really, really clear.

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And so with the interview, was there any preparation you have to do for the interview?

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Did you have to do task or anything like that? No, I didn't.

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I don't think. But I did send across some material in advance. Just off my own bat.

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OK. So I, I basically just really wanted this job.

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So I probably came across as extremely keen. I think that's fine.

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So I essentially sent across some examples of my work just to help bolster my application.

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So part of the role was and so I work on dissemination work package for one of for projects.

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So, you know, I don't just do research. I have to help with dissemination and communication.

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So I sent across a couple of examples of infographics, ive made,

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and I think I sent them a podcast and things like that just to show that even though I'm mostly trained in research,

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I am capable of doing with dissemination side as well, because, you know, it was quite hard to articulate that without providing evidence.

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So I made sure to send that. But it wasn't a prerequisite.

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They didn't ask for it, but I just felt that it would help them to see that, you know, I'm not just saying I can do it.

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I have shown them. Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, as part of the whole job application process, that's to be being proactive.

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It is so crucial to the whole process. And do your remember what kind of questions they asked you an interview.

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Oh, my gosh. One of one of the questions I asked was actually where I'd like my career to go.

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Which one? Yeah. So and I was quite sort of.

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And I was like, well, I could just say, oh, I just desperately want.

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this job forever to try and persuade them to give it to me. But I decided to be honest and actually that really paid off.

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So I said, you know, within a few years I'd like to be a research fellow.

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And when I got offered the job, they said that actually really helped me get the job because they want people to progress and they like ambition, so.

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Yeah. So I remember they asked me that was. Oh, they asked.

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They asked questions about my research interests. So, again, you know, I don't want to end up doing research I'm not passionate about.

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So I was completely honest. You know, I explained that I'm very interested in farm advice and soil health and the environment.

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And again, you know, it was just lucky that the job I was applying for, you know, happened to be really aligned in my research interests.

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They also asked me to talk about. So this is a really common in question.

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I think I've had it in every interview I've ever done. They ask what your sort of weakness is.

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And I always. Yeah, and I always tackle that by giving an example of a weakness.

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I may be used to have.

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And then I explain how I resolved it or how I managed to kind of overcome it or how I'm working to do so so that I don't just say,

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oh, I'm really bad at this. And then that's it. I make sure to say, you know, I used to really struggle with time management, for example.

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But since then, I've decided to have to make more lists and to use my calendar more just as an example.

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So that's something that I think I've been asked in every interview I've ever had

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Yeah. I wondered, so you said that you're working on you've completed a full thesis draft and you're working on feedback from your supervisors.

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Is that right? Yes, that's correct. So you started this job in September and to those listening we are currently in February.

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So with a period of five months you've been working full time and finishing writing up your thesis.

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So are you technically still registered full time for you for your PhD

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No. No. So, I mean, continuation status. Yeah.

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Yeah. So my my funding finished in September.

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And then I started my job in September, which was quite nice because, you know,

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I couldn't afford to have a gap in and, you know, financially, it's very difficult to to have a gap.

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So I kind of did need to start. But equally, you know, due to various reasons, due to the pandemic and things, I hadn't quite finished my PhD.

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So, yeah, I just I just had to go for it really and sort of just make sure I work on the thesis as much as I can.

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So what I did once I'd settled into this ECRI, which is where I work now,

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I took a week of annual leave and just sort of really worked on a thesis because

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I find it hard to I can do some work in the evenings on the on the thesis,

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but I think it's hard to get into that headspace when you've been working on other research all day.

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So I decided to use my annual leave up to sort of get the bits of my thesis just finished.

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I needed to. And then it's been quite nice because I actually handed in my draft to my supervisors

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in November and then it took three months to get my supervisor comments back in full.

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So I essentially just had three months to just work on my job and and other bits,

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too, because I seemed to just always have several other bits going on with work.

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But yeah, so I've only just got it back a couple of weeks ago.

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So I now now hatched a plan.

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I have now had my full draft back with supervisors comments throughout and I've hatched a very strict plan to make sure that I do submit and that I,

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you know, have time to sort of make sure I answer all of that comments and proofread and do any final bits.

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So, you know, my goal now is to submit at the end of March.

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And again, I've had to take another week of annual leave.

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So next week, I I've completely taken myself away from ECRI work so that I can just focus on the thesis because,

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you know, I do need to be able to get into that headspace again. And, you know, I am working a lot of evenings and I worked yesterday on it,

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but I think it's much easier to do it when you have a proper chunk of time to just focus on your PhD

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Yeah, that's what I was going to ask is how what's your plan and kind of managing your time.

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And I know I'm speaking to quite a few people who not necessarily you've kind of started a job early, you know, before they finish their PhD

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but people who've been working full time throughout and they've said that, you know, particularly in the write up stage,

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that's been the way that they've managed it the best is to kind of take a big chunk of time.

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And work exclusively on it rather than try and just do it all in evenings and weekends.

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Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, working full time, I simply don't have the time or energy and I really don't want to burn out.

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So overall, I work a lot of evenings. I can't work every evening.

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It's just not sustainable. And and, you know, my new job, I love it.

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But it does require me to work quite long hours.

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So I often actually work in the evenings on my CCRI work. So by the time I can get there, you stay.

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So, look, well, you know, it's quite late at night. So I do think for blocking out time is the best way forward.

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Really? Yeah. What was it like starting a job in a new academic department during COVID

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So it was bizarre, to say the least, because I couldn't meet anyone in person for ages.

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I have now met a few people in person.

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So we had a couple of months where I don't know if they had all these weird tiers and people were starting to go in again.

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And so I went into the office a couple of times and met people.

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But aside from that, I've I've essentially done the job for almost six months just working from home, which has been odd.

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But luckily the centre I work with a really, really lovely.

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So they have made a real effort with me. So they have like a morning coffee break.

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Twice a week just. And you can just join as you'd like.

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And it means you get to just have a chat with people. And I've had them send lots of emails.

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We even had to what sub-group where we all sort of sat running goals and things.

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So, you know, it's really helped me build some rapport. And I'm also incredibly lucky.

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I had already met a few of them, you know, in the past. So I sort of had a little bit of a rapport with them already.

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But, you know, I have other friends who started in jobs. So my friend Beth.

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She's in the same situation as me. And she hasn't been able to meet anyone.

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And I think I think it is difficult.

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But you have to just almost make that effort to just have a bit of, you know, like talk that you'd have over coffee when you're in the office.

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You always have to try and do that in meetings a little bit. People obviously really fatigued from Zoom and that

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We often have a little bit small talk before we get into the nitty gritty of it research just to help us to feel connected.

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So, yeah. But I'd say my experience has been amazing. Like, I'm incredibly lucky with that, with a sense of I've I've ended up in.

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It's really nice. Yeah. And I think the things that you're saying, I mean, because we've been I mean,

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apart from all of the different things that the difficulty is we've generally

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been in this situation for so long that actually organisations and ah and,

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you know, employees within it getting much better at kind of creating those opportunities for that more informal.

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But community building, I think.

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So, I mean, those kind of opportunities for people to talk and chat in a way that's not about work to sort of finish up.

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What advice would you give to someone who's looking at applying for kind of postdocs sort of research jobs at the moment during the pandemic?

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Is there anything that you kind of wish somebody had told you or anything you've learnt from the process that you think,

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yeah, people need to know this? Yeah, so I'd say just when you're applying.

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Just try to stay optimistic. I know it can be really difficult, especially if you have, you know, some unsuccessful applications go through it.

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It can't be quite demeaning. But just keep your chin up.

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Just keep going. And always just have confidence in yourself and your skills that you've developed in your PhD

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And I'd say also make sure that you show other people your applications and CVs

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So even if it's, you know, peers or anyone who could maybe take a look at it, you know, through a different lens and say,

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oh, actually this skill here is really useful for this criteria for looking for why haven't you suggested that?

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So, you know, I think it's really important to keep talking.

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And equally, if you're starting to feel, you know, down that you haven't got a position yet.

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Just just keep talking to people. And in the meantime, just keep developing developing yourself.

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So if there's things you could do that would both to application, for example, you know,

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completing your HEZ application or, you know, making a podcast or whatever it is that might help you to get that job.

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I would I would just, you know, keep keep trying to do that.

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And okay, so if you if you get to interview stage and I would say just be prepared, you know, have notes by the side of you, maybe have a mock interview.

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So I always ask my partner to go through some potential questions.

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And he he's not in academia. He's got you know, he wouldn't really have a clue what I'm going to be asked,

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but he knows that I'll be asked about my weaknesses and other things like that.

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So whoever it is you're living with, if you're living with anyone or have a Zoom call

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Just get people to help you, you know, practise for an interview,

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because it may be that if you've done a PhD, you may not have been interviewed in free for years.

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So it's almost like a completely new thing to go through again.

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So I think just making sure that you're really prepared for that.

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I always find reading blogs useful on how to respond to certain questions and just, you know, make sure, you know,

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the job description as well as you possibly can have your CV and stuff open during your interview so that you can have a look.

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I'd recommend printouts, though, because you don't want to be seen to be clicking about when you're in your Zoom call because it looks unprofessional.

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I'd say like taking about I wouldn't do it personally.

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I just have notes by the side of me so I can refer to those if needed.

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And aside from that, I mean, yeah, my main task is just to stay as optimistic as you can and to look after yourself while you're applying for jobs.

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Thanks so much to Charlotte for sharing her experience with me. I think it's really helpful to know.

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Actually, all of these processes are still the same and these opportunities are still out there.

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Even during COVID 19. And that's it for this episode.

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Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 12 - Timur Jack-Kadıoğlu, Technical Officer - Conservation, Livelihoods & Governance at Fauna & Flora International

Episode 12 - Timur Jack-Kadıoğlu, Technical Officer - Conservation, Livelihoods & Governance at Fauna & Flora International

February 15, 2021

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Timur Jack-Kadıoğlu, who secured a job as Technical Officer - Conservation, Livelihoods & Governance at Fauna & Flora International during COVID-19. Timur had started his role at Fauna & Flora International whilst finishing writing up his PhD.

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter, Doctoral College

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Hello and welcome to the latest episode of the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast.

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Now, we know that there's a lot of anxiety at the moment about what it means to secure

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a job and specifically a non-academic job during the COVID 19 pandemic.

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Everything has been turned upside down. The experiences we get, how we do our research and how we apply for jobs.

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So to answer that, we are talking to some of our researchers who have got new jobs during the

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COVID 19 pandemic and talk to them about how they found those roles.

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The process of applying and in some cases, what it's like to start a new job during a global pandemic.

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So without further ado, here's the first in our series of podcasts on Moving Beyond Your Research Degree and a global pandemic.

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Timur are you happy to introduce yourself? I sure am.

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My name's Timur Jack-Kadioglu I started my PhD with University of Exeter would have been February 2018

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I'm based with the European Centre for Environment and Human Health.

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Down in Cornwall.

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My PhD is working on a project called Blue Communities and it's a interdisciplinary programme that involves various departments.

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at Exeter While also working with other academic institutions in the UK,

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some NGOs and also academic partners in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam.

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I guess so I would identify as a Marine. Social scientists.

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My work is about the marine environment. But focussing on the social science aspects.

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And for my PhD. I spent time in the Philippines on the island of Palawan.

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My research was kind of looking at the relationships between livelihoods and governance.

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And especially looking at power relations and power dynamics and looking at trade offs and equity.

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Who the winners and losers are, so to speak, in terms of coastal development and conservation processes.

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Wow. Yeah. So what we're going to talk about today is actually securing a non-academic job,

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but particularly securing a non-academic job during the time of COVID 19.

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And the additional challenges that bring say. Could you tell us a little bit about the job you're going on to?

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Sure. So I started a job in November of twenty twenty.

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So I originally I still have have time in my PhD and I'm still writing up my PhD,

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but my new employer's allowed me to originally start part time for November and December.

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So I still had two days a week working on the PhD

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And I joined the Conservation, Livelihood's and Governance team of the UK based NGO, Fauna and Flora International.

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So they work with they have various regional teams in around the world.

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But their main model is working with small local partner organisations.

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And yeah,

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my my role with them is providing technical inputs on livelihoods and governance related aspects of conservation and natural resource management.

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And as I said, my my PhD is very much on that on that topic.

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And I happen to see the job ad posted on LinkedIn.

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I think it was in September. Yes.

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September time. And it is one of those things where ideally, if this job came up six months later, that would have been perfect.

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But it was almost it was too good an opportunity to miss, given the relevance to the relevance to what I did in my PhD

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So actually, the application process is quite I got invited to an interview when I was on the way up to Scotland for a camping trip.

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And they offered the interview on a day when I was supposed to be in the back end of nowhere.

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So there was some last minute rearranging of plans to be able to accommodate it.

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But, yeah, I'm really glad I did end up doing that because I ended up getting the job.

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I think I was interested to hear you say that you found the job on linked in.

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So was it an advert that the company had posted.

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Were you following the company because you were interested in? Like, how. How did you get to see it?

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Basically, yes. As I said, it's an organisation I've really quite admired for it for a while.

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So I was following them on LinkedIn. And I saw that the job, that they posted the job on there and.

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It. Yeah, it was kind of advertised. I mean, I almost scrolled right past it.

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I mean, it just it's kind of just it was the livelihood's in governance,

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but it kind of caught my eyes when I looked at it and I kind of ummed and ahhed about whether or not to apply for it.

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And like I said, the timing could have been a bit better as I'm still in I am still in the process of writing up my PhD

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But I think what really. Yeah.

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I think that what really went through my mind was needing to be just needing to be pragmatic with the difficult times that we're in.

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And especially on the I was coming towards the end of my PhD,

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this was starting to get a little bit concerned about the economic fallout of of the of the pandemic.

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And this this is a permanent contract. So.

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Well, I would probably let's be honest, I probably would have applied for anyway if it if it wasn't for the pandemic.

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But that just really. Yeah.

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It just really gave that that just happened, realising that I really needed to be pragmatic and make the most of what opportunities are available.

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Yeah. And I think that, you know, there's simple things of actually following organisations that you admire and that you have connections to.

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And it's a really simple thing that can actually kind of bring those opportunities into your awareness when,

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like you say, you might not be thinking about it. Timing wise, but actually the the role and the organisation is it's just the right fit.

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Did you have any conversation with them in advance of applying for the role?

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About the fact that you were still finishing up the PhD

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Yes. So we spoke a little bit about it in the interview, and then afterwards,

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basically I went when they identified me, as the candidate they wanted to go for.

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They got in touch. And just before offering it to me, they just wanted to speak a little bit more about.

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About starting the role while finishing my PhD So I'd kind of thought in advance of the interview and what sort of options?

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Because I knew that I just didn't want to start full time immediately.

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And so I had kind of loosely said about options like starting part time or delaying the start until the beginning of twenty, twenty one.

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And then when we had the call, when they wanted to offer me the job.

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Yeah. They, they were they were quite willing to be somewhat adaptable.

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But while also they basically is the first time they've been able to secure

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funding to hire a new person in that team for like seven or eight years.

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They were very keen to have someone start as soon as possible. But I was really glad that they were understanding of it.

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And some of the team, some of my team members have PhDs themselves.

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So they were really understanding of just what PhD means in terms of obviously from the career progression perspective,

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but also from a personal aspect. Personal perspective is a very personal experience.

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So, yeah, they were really understanding of that. And like since starting as well,

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they've been encouraging and showed an interest in it and are keen to see that as I complete my PhD and hopefully start publishing kind of seeing.

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Yeah. I encourage me to present it to people in the organisation as well as amongst some of their networks more broadly.

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That's brilliant. And it's it's fantastic that the organisation is so supportive of that.

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So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the application process, actually.

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So you see the job on Linkedin. You almost, scroll past it, but then you don't.

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You decide to give it a closer look. What what did the application process involve exactly?

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So aside from my initial umming and ahhing about whether I should apply for it or not, once I did decide, yep, why am I even.

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Why am I even debating? Let me apply for it. The actual application process.

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So it's quite a typical one, sharing CV and a cover letter.

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And then once I think it was just those two then once

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I mean, they got in touch in advance of the interview.

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And to say that there would be an assignment that could be done, there would be done immediately after the interview.

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But they kind of kept the details of that. Yeah.

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They didn't really say anything about what it would be, just that it would take an hour.

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So I had to interview with three people. I thought I really appreciated what they what they did with the with having the video

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So the interview over a video call. They each were three interviewers.

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And when one person was speaking, the other two would turn off their cameras. And I thought that was a really, really quite a nice way at that time.

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And it really helped me to to relax with it can be quite intimidating if you've got three random people you know very well.

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I suppose that does happen when you're having a face to face one. But a video as is, I will at least find it that much more difficult.

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So I really appreciated that because it did feel more like you were just having a conversation with one person.

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Yeah. And afterwards, they then sent the assignment. So I had was given a set of data and also do various types of analysis in an hour.

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So quite technical. Yeah, fairly technical and definitely pushed me as a more of a qualitative social scientist.

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And it was quite quantitative. Clearly did enough of a did a decent enough of a job to convince them to offer me the rile

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Absolutely. Did you feel that there were things within the process or thinking about applying for a job with the

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things that you concerned about that you felt were made that were more difficult due to COVID?

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And how did you kind of counteract that? Yeah, I think definitely the the thing that was the main I guess my main concern,

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and I made sure as you both me and my new employers we had an open discussion about it and it was about where to be based and expectations around moving.

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So FFIs offices are in in Cambridge.

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And for a long time they've really had a very strong policy about having people based there that they have this they share a building

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with conservation students from Cambridge and a whole load of other environmental engineers is is a real strong point of working there.

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So I was a little bit concerned that they would still really strongly want me to move during the pandemic.

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But then they yeah, they made clear they basically they they asked if I would if I were to completely rule out ever moving to Cambridge.

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And they they wouldn't offer me the role as long as there was some sort of a

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willingness with everything's just still in such a constant state of flux.

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Not to completely rule it out, but then they also emphasised that there was no expectation of moving then it

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was kind of in the short term but of course now with additional lockdowns as well.

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That's very much in the medium term. So that was a big concern of mine because, yeah, it's difficult enough to move.

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Well, I have spent. I have lived in quite a few different countries and different places, I guess moving for me is something that is quite normal.

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But even despite how normal I find it, I was very reluctant to move in the middle of a pandemic, like even knowing people there in Cambridge already.

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Just just the thought of moving somewhere and trying to start putting down some roots and finding out what you like about the place.

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I just can't really imagine doing that during the pandemic. And also just the kind of safety and space that you have,

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the safety and comfort that you haven't been a living in a space both in terms of the flat, I mean, but also living in Truro just

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Yeah, that that was a big concern of mine. And so I was really glad that they were just very understanding in terms of like starting a job in COVID

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It is quite yeah. It's been quite challenging at times, kind of not having the I guess what I would call the water cooler,

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informal conversations that you have with with people in the office and especially when you're starting out.

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But I think I was quite fortunate that I had some relationship to the organisation already.

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I worked for a small like a local partner of theirs in Tanzania before starting my career.

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Yeah, I feel really fortunate to have had that existing connection.

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How are you finding doing the writing of the PhD alongside working.

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How's that working for you. Oh, the million dollar question. Yes I know.

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Honestly I've actually found it is actually had I.

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Don't get me wrong, it is quite full on but it's actually had a very positive effect.

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2020 was it was a pretty tough year for me.

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Basically when the pandemic was declared, I was still in the Philippines after pretty intense long term fieldwork.

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And then no, I was essentially extracted as the pandemic was declared and lockdown's are being put down.

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I got back immediate. I came back to the UK and was basically straight into lockdown.

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So it was a pretty tough experience then processing.

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But like analytically processing my data, but emotionally and the whole experience and actually I,

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I feel like after getting the job, it it kind of took a it took quite a lot of weight off.

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Yeah. It felt like a weight was lifted and that but my whole relationship with my PhD changed quite a bit.

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It was no longer so kind of like tied up it and.

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Yeah, like it just started to get a bit of perspective on on on the PhD

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And being able to kind of separate it out for myself a bit. And I think also having that urgency in that pressure that still felt somewhat manageable.

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I think it helps with being less of a perfectionist and trying to really get everything perfect.

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As I remember, seeing a quote like a PhD is never done is just simply handed in at the least damaging time.

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And I feel like starting the job. Yeah. It really helped to that.

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And I think in terms of productivity. Yeah, I'm just chipping away at it when I can.

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Most mornings, not all mornings, and I'm trying to just be flexible and mostly just kind myself.

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If I have energy and I feel up for it, then I'll try and do like an hour or so reading in the morning.

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As if writing and in the mornings during the work week, occasionally working on weekends or the past few weeks since this new lockdown.

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I've been trying not to do that. So, yeah, it's I think for me it.

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November and December, when I still had those two days a week on the PhD,

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there were some of the most productive times I have felt like I kind of had the breakthrough in and theoretic,

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like drawing together my my data and theoretical frameworks.

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And yeah, I find it really fascinating, like beyond just the whole, like,

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productivity aspect of the PhD and getting closer to finishing my PhD

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I find it really interesting from a psychological perspective of time and pressure and expectation and everything.

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Because how did that kind of compare in terms of when you were when you're working on writing up the PhD

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And you weren't working as well, did you? Did you find, like you said, you make a lot breakthroughs, but did you find it easier to kind of, I guess,

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structure your time or motivate yourself once you got the once you've got the job

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than you did when you were just trying to kind of write it during the pandemic?

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I think I think it kind of it would vary quite a bit, depending on like basically the stage of of the pandemic and definitely there were some periods,

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especially when I had first come back, I get there was some periods of like being really, really unproductive.

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But generally I tried as much as possible to keep Monday to Friday, nine to five,

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or sometimes ten to four and I will have was mostly able to keep that up while still full time month on the PhD.

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But but yeah, I think it just. I can't really put my finger on it, it was almost like a switch was kind of flicked in terms of just.

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Yeah, just in terms of realising that, OK, I have this amount of time, I have this many work days, two days, work days a week for the next two months.

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So two days on the PhD or the next two months, I really need to just get words on paper.

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Felt like the edge. Getting words on paper became a lot easier.

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But then a big part of that is also to do with a breakthrough that had around that time.

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And that was kind of more to do with reading a new paper that just really clicked.

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So I think is very a combination of having that moment of data just coming together.

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But then also having that limited, limited amount of time, a limited amount of days.

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Yeah, I experienced something similar when I did my Masters by research that actually the kind of the condensed amount of time actually helped me,

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helped me focus and helped me. Keep motivated.

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Also gave me kind of head space in between when I was doing other things to kind of, you know, little cogs to turn and things to click into me.

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Guess is something that I also remember from when I did my Masters as well.

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My partner and I, we both had part time jobs while we're doing the Masters.

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And remember the whole thesis process when we spoke about this,

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we were on the same master's programme when we spoke about our experience of writing a thesis with friends who had just only had it to focus on.

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I think I was actually ended up quite a lot. Wasn't easy.

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Thesis is never easy, but it always ended up a little a little bit easier because we kind of did have that.

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A few days a week when working in retail.

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And it was something you would really focus on and be quite present in that and be able to kind of just drop away,

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at least consciously, not be thinking about about the thesis and then being able to compartmentalise your time, be like, okay.

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Now I have this. Now I've got my work shift in the morning. I've then got this afternoon where I need to be productive.

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I'll go to the library and do that. So I think, yeah, I understand it doesn't work for may not work for everyone,

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but I've definitely found that having something else to kind of give structure,

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to give structure, but also it's to give to something else where you can say find it certainly unconsciously and also consciously the PhD

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And we'll still pop into my mind when I'm doing other things.

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But kind of having that separation and being able to do something that isn't the PhD basically. the question I often

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ask people is kind of at what point did you decide that you didn't want to continue on doing research in academia?

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Was that never even a consideration for you? This is the billion dollar question now.

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Down at. So I I feel like I kind of straddle the.

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I do want to call it a divide, straddle the kind of one foot being a bike practitioner, one foot being a researcher.

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And so I was working for an NGO before my PhD and that kind of thing.

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A bit frustrated about that. And just felt like I wanted to continue my my academic education.

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I think it was a case of just do a really interesting PhD

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The opportunity came up through the work. I was I was doing that.

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That's how I met one of my PhD supervisors. And it was just such an exciting project.

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It was really. Yes. It was more the kids.

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I wasn't actively looking for PhD at all. At that point, I kind of considered that it might be something I do.

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And something really interesting came up. So I decided to pursue it.

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I think probably, I'll be honest with you, probably not long after I started, appears the I was fairly sure I didn't want to stay in academia.

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I definitely wanted to stick with the PhD and I'm glad I have stuck with it.

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Of course, there are times where you feel I felt like I was on the brink of giving up.

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But I wouldn't say I was ever 100 percent certain.

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I didn't want to stay in academia, I think, again, it would be like if it was something that really interested me or is really,

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really well aligned with my interests and my values.

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And I probably would have gone for it, but I don't think I would have looked for post-doc for the sake of doing one if if that makes sense.

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Not not that that's there's anything wrong with that. Yeah.

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I just never really was never set on a career in academia.

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But I definitely feel like compared with where I was at the beginning of the PhD

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And I do think that the PhD is the experience,

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the research experience working on a big collaborative project is it's really I've definitely grown

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a lot and a lot of what I'm doing in my current role is a technical input on social monitoring,

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evaluation and in social research.

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So there is a very strong research element to it that I feel like I probably wasn't strong enough on before doing the PhD

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So I think that this new role that I'm in is in what if if I call a crosscutting,

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teams are kind of supporting different teams with this technical input is it's kind of like

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the perfect next step in kind of balancing being both a practitioner and a researcher.

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So being. Yeah.

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Very applied and pragmatic and focussed on the ground sort of work, but then really guided by cutting edge research and theoretical frameworks.

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Yes, it's. It really does sound like the ideal combination. Yeah.

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I still sometimes kind of pinch myself that I've been able to get the job.

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And I like I say, I do feel very, very fortunate, you know, knowing other people who are applying for jobs right now.

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And it is just a very difficult market.

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So I feel very fortunate that something that really does draw together the research and practise side of things.

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Yeah, I feel very fortunate to have been able to to secure this role.

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Thank you so much to Timur for giving us an insight into working for an NGO.

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And the real tangible benefits that can bring to being a researcher in that practical

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applied context to balancing a part time job and career alongside finishing up the PhD.

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And, of course, what it's like to go through the process of all of this during the COVID 19 pandemic.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about that career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 11 - Dr. Hannah Roberts, Career Coach for Women in Science

Episode 11 - Dr. Hannah Roberts, Career Coach for Women in Science

January 24, 2021

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. Hannah Roberts, who works as a career coach with women in science.

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter, Doctoral College

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Hello and welcome to the first episode of Beyond Your Research Degree for 2021.

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My name is Kelly Preece and on the research develop a manager for PGRs at the University of Exeter.

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And I'm delighted for our first episode of 2021 to be bringing you a discussion with Hannah Roberts.

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Hannah did her PhD and a couple of postdocs and then became a career coach.

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So she works one to one with women in research and academia, particularly in STEM and scientific fields.

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So, Hannah, are you happy to introduce yourself? Absolutely, sir.

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Hi, everybody. I'm Hannah Roberts and Well first of all

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I have a degree master's phd postdoc in chemistry,

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and I spent eight years managing large multi-million pound projects between academics

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and industry and commercialising that research and parts of the commercialisation.

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I started a spin out company with three other female academics,

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and I was managing director of that company for two years and did all of that white having three children.

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And it was actually on my maternity leave where I decided that maybe I had outstretched

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outgrown the role that I was in in scientific project management.

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And now is the time to to make a switch.

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And so that's that was the moment where I decided I was going to be a career coach specifically for women in science.

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Amazing. So can we Take a step back from what you do now and talk a little bit about the spin out company and how it came about was.

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So that was you during your research degree, is that right?

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Mine;s a little bit more complicated, so. When I finished my PhD, I went straight into a postdoc.

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So I switch from chemistry to biotechnology at that point.

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And so I got really into the analytical side of mass spectrometry as a tool to help with sort of looking at the structures of carbohydrates at that

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time. Then I was two weeks.

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Well, I should say I was probably four weeks into my postdoc and I fell pregnant.

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So when I returned after my maternity leave and I kind of switched role at that point,

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say, when I started my postdoc, I was half project manager, half postdoc.

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But essentially that meant I was most of the time postdoc. So did the project management alongside.

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But when I returned and just came back as a scientific project manager.

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So at that point, I was managing lots of different these projects because I knew the technology really well.

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And one of the things that's a lots of funding bodies are looking for of obviously commercialisation is from these from these projects,

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whether that's licence agreements, whether that's spin out companies, whether that's patents or something like that.

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And we decided the best vehicle for this new technology in terms of the mass spectrometry was to do it through and through a new company,

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because that way we could get industry to be able to send those samples and all that kind of stuff independently of the projects.

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And that way we could start to then find our own funding and our own money to to make that a company in its own right.

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Well. I mean, it sounds impressive on paper.

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I'm not I'm not sure that's how I felt about it at the time.

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Yes, I can appreciate that. I think there's two things I want to pick up on that.

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The first is about kind of so there seems to be quite a shift in that to from kind of scientific

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research to project management and more kind of business and entrepreneurially related skills.

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How did you find that that shift in focus?

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And to be honest, I I missed out a bit from the career history because I try and make it sound succinct so that it's,

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you know, degree masters PhD Postdoc chemistry.

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So actually, between my degree and my PhD I went on a squiggly loop of not knowing what on earth I was doing.

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So I worked for Croda Chemicals on a graduate development scheme for a couple of years and tried lots of different areas of the business.

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And so I spent quite some time in sales because I thought I would be quite good at that and which I did.

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I did enjoy to degree. And and then I felt I was too far removed from the science.

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So then I got a business development, manager role in cancer studies and down at the Patterson Institute

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And that's where I learnt how to and a little bit more about how to write grants and then how to manage them and how to manage the funds of them.

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So I did that for a couple of years. Then I decided I need a vocation, so I'm going to become a teacher.

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So I did my teacher training for. Yeah. Wow. And yeah, quite a few different things.

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And then I oh this isn't for me. All the kids are stressing me out.

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They're not listening. It's not like being in university where everybody just listen because they want to be there.

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And I was on a real, a real spiral of I've got to find something because and everybody around me was

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off with their careers and I felt like I was just restarting all the time.

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And so I was actually offered a PhD by my old supervisor because it's the first time he'd had funding since since I left i was like

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Like, I'm just going to do that because that's where I where I excelled and where I could feel feel good again,

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because at that time I was quite anxious and having panic attacks and all kinds of things.

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So actually having that PhD set me back up on a path of sort of a good a good place to build a career from.

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To be honest. So and the PhD was kind of kind of a saviour for me, which is not what you hear from most people who don't necessarily.

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But I think it's really it's always really nice to have people who have the experience of do of doing a research degree.

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I mean, to end it being very much the right thing and the thing that they needed at that point in time, career wise, you know, and life, wise.

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Mm hmm.

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The second thing I wanted to pick up from what you said was about the fact that you started your postdoc within a very short space of time, you got.

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Pregnant. Yes. Went on maternity leave and the role changed.

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If you if you feel comfortable talking about it, I wondered, you know, if you could talk about.

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What that was like career wise in terms of, you know,

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going so soon into a job and then taking maternity leave and then coming back to a slightly different role.

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How what was that experience like? I think that's a concern for a lot of women.

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Absolutely. And because I'd had those different interim roles before I do my PhD at that point,

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I was 28 years old when I got married and I just finished my PhD So I really was at a time in my life where I was looking to to start my family.

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And I was in the last year of my PhD I looked ahead at the other women in the department.

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So I was in the Department of Chemistry and I found five of the women out of over 200 people.

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And I was looking carefully at what they were doing. And I think to two or three had children and I was very concerned.

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That's what what it looked like to me was that to make it work, it had to be all consuming, because in my mind,

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when I had children, I wanted to have this kind of maybe just work three days a week and I just couldn't see this elusive thing.

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That was a part time professor. It didn't seem to exist for me.

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But as is the nature of these things,

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I was recommended for a postdoc and it seemed like I was on this conveyor belt and it was the next logical progression.

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And that and having had when I went to the interview, which was an informal chats, because, of course, had been recommended.

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So I had this interview and it was just sort of proposed that well we had this postdoc.

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But it also needs to include some project management. You have that in your history.

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Are you okay with doing this? And and of course, I just say yes.

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Yes, of course. That's absolutely fine. And she was willing to wait for eight months for me to start.

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So I had time to finish up my postdoc and my experiments. I'm writing my PhD

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So a couple of months before I actually started the postdoc, I actually fell pregnant.

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And unfortunately, I had a miscarriage at that time. So my supervisor, my.

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who, I was moving to actually knew about that. So it wasn't a massive surprise to her when I started the job.

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And then, you know, a few a few months in, I said that I was pregnant.

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And she was she was really pleased for me and happy and and really supportive, actually.

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So it was more of a it was the time in the life. You can't kind of change the the biology of you can put it off.

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But for how long? Because I'm on that conveyor belt at that point. There's never a good time to have a child is there in terms of your carer

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And so my husband is five years older than me.

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So we were we just decided that was the time to do it with stability or without stability.

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And at least he had a very stable job.

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And at least with postdocs you know exactly how long the contracts for.

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So I found stability within the instability of knowing.

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At least that Coming on to what you do now, can you talk a little bit about that?

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The coaching you do and the particular focus that you have?

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Yeah, I think because of the experiences that I had and, you know, being on that conveyor belt but not seeing what I really wanted out of academia,

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you know, that part time professor kind of role and then having gone a completely sort of.

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Being moulded in a way to do a different position. But it wasn't necessarily using my natural talents and capabilities.

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So we actually had someone she was in the personal development sphere when we were running a meeting for one of these projects I was managing.

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And she used what's called talent dynamics profiling. And she profiled all of us in the team.

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And when I got my profile back, I was like, Oh, this isn't me.

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I've answered the questions as if I'm in my current role.

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But it's not my natural preference. And when we had a debrief about it,

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it was really clear that the role I was doing was the complete opposite end of the spectrum to my natural preferences.

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And that's and I was like, oh, I'm doing the complete wrong, wrong career.

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I'm in the wrong job here and I don't have the confidence to get out of it.

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So I didn't feel it was I had stability, I had another five year contract,

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I could keep kept rolling on and on and on, and I could design and do whatever I wanted within those roles.

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So and it was actually having coaching for the last two years before I finished that role that enabled me to

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have the confidence to be able to to move on to something different because my my first two maternity leaves,

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I actually worked straight through them. So I was concerned that I wouldn't have a contract to go back to.

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So I decided to say, oh, I'll just continue with my job while I'm on maternity leave.

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So that basically that I would be indispensible. And this is a common practise with lots of people.

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They they write their fellowships on maternity leave. In fact, most of the female academic said to me, oh,

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I wrote my fellowship the first twelve weeks of academia and of having a baby or I went back to

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work after two weeks and got a nanny or these are the kind of things people were telling me.

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So I thought, well, I should be doing something on maternity leave.

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And I did try. I did start try to write a fellowship, but I quickly decided I wasn't quite good enough to do that.

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At that moment in time, funnily enough. But actually having coaching those last two years,

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which came about as as business coaching through the company and but I found it really

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helpful at a personal level and having restored my confidence to to that level.

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I then went onto a third maternity leave and said, no, I'm not doing anything on this maternity leave.

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And having that time and space to think and explore different things and not

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maternity leave was really crucial to me than not actually returning to that role.

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And during that maternity leave, it was wonderful.

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You know, it's a really nice summer. I started a rock painting group and I was looking for loads of stuff.

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And then I found this thing online about Superwoman.

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I was like, oh, my goodness, it sounds just like me, you know, running at 200 miles an hour, pushing to prove myself.

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All this stuff. And when I entered into it, they had these foundational courses in time and energy management and and some coaching stuff.

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And I had to look at it. Did the courses and was like, oh, oh, I can see a link now between.

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Between this coaching stuff and the difference that I want to make within universities, particularly for women.

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When I made that link, I was like, I can do this through coaching, having being coached.

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I knew the impact that it had on me.

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And then I thought as a coach, I can then help the people to navigate this career path much more smoothly than I ever did it.

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And that's what's really important to me.

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Having having this smoother pathway, that doesn't necessarily mean continuing along this conveyor belts of academia.

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It can mean lots of different things.

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But finding the right pathway for you and the other part that's really important to me is having more women in leadership positions.

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Yes. In academia, but also the world around because we know that and the more diverse the leadership is and the better decisions that are made.

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So those are the kind of the two components that I'm trying to combine together within my own coaching company.

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And so you even though, you know, some academic, you're working a lot with academics.

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Yes, I my my coachees tend to be  from postdocs, I get a lot of postdocs fellows, group leaders and also similar positions in industry as well.

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And so it tends to be. Tends to be more of the way you've got a natural kind of career progression, say career transitions,

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say for postdocs it's that kind of lasts 12 months on the contract cause and get to be on the brain all the time, you know.

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Oh, my goodness. I've got to go to sort of line something up.

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And I've got lots of fellows that have done that whole or part way through the fellowship and not sure if they want to continue.

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Because of the stress and the pressures of anxiety and of academia and and it's around, one,

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helping people to manage the current situation more powerfully and more confidently with the right tools to equip them to do that.

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And at the same time, trying to figure out this piece about who they really are and what impact they want to make on the world.

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Because your value or your self-confidence can come from your vision, mission, purpose, natural talents and capabilities and your values.

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And when all of those five pieces are defined that so we can truly know in value,

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we'll be doing the thing that we love doing, finding fulfilment in it and getting paid what worth with as well.

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So those are the kind of key pieces for me.

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Yeah, um, I. I think it's really interesting that you said that you talk about that because it's clear how much of an impact,

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the kind of that assessment of values and reflection and had on you and your career path.

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And then the kind of having those conversations with your clients. And I know from my own experience, I used to be an academic and I.

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Did it for a number of years and then realised I was quite unhappy and.

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It was only when I took a step back for the first time in my life,

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I kind of had that reflection of my values and the kind of work life I wanted and the work life balance.

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I wanted that I realised I was in completely the wrong job.

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And that's the kind of started me on the on the path that led me to working in a professional services job in a university.

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But I know from experience when we kind of say to people or, you know, doing these kinds of psychometric tests or,

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you know, values, assessments and everything is really important to understanding why you want to go in your career.

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I think sometimes people feel a bit like, oh, yeah, all right, okay, whatever.

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And I think no  it really will change the way that you do things.

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For sure. It did for me, but on that point, I was that person who was too busy and I think these things are interesting,

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like, oh, you know, this is a researchers into management course.

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I'll apply for that. And this imposter syndrome workshop, I'd apply for all these things.

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I'd be booked on them. And then I wouldn't show up i'm that naughty person that was far too busy and important to actually turn up because

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I have too much work to do because I'm superwoman ing and I'm too busy like I've got I've got to be gone.

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at half past four to pick up the kids and I'm doing this and doing this and I can't

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actually find the time to go to the things that are most important to me.

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And so I think some of the things to address that actually the culture that causes the superwoman

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kind of archetype that prevents us from actually accessing these things in the first place.

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Yeah, absolutely.

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And and I think that is it's interesting kind of the focus that you have on on women and moving women through their career path and leadership,

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because, you know, we know that that is a particular problem that women face.

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Is that kind of that expectation or the expectation we put on ourselves and the

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expectation put on us by society and our workplaces to be that superwoman? Yeah, it yeah, it's a complicated beast, superwoman.

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So we have these sort of statistics that, you know, only and I saw it myself.

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So 43 percent of women will start with a chemistry degree.

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And certainly when I was doing chemistry, everyone around me looked just like me, you know?

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I didn't see a problem. And it wasn't until I got to that.

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And just looking ahead to that p h d to postdoc position where I really noticed.

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Oh. Two steps ahead of me. There's not so many of them about.

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That was the very first inkling I had that, you know, there was this kind of leaky pipeline.

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And now the statistics show and I quote chemistry. But you can look them up in everyone's own personal fields.

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But only nine percent of women become professors. Nine percent.

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And 43 percent going in.

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So this is a huge dropoff of an already of a pipeline of a conveyor belt that isn't going to be for everybody in the first place.

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But all of those women that start out, there's not many people making it through.

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And I sort of have a theory on this because I'm a scientist.

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I like more of a theory. So does this statistic that says that women are 60 percent more likely to suffer job stress?

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and burn out than men and there's some components to that, so first of all

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There's some work by Hofstedder. And he talks about masculine versus feminine coaches.

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And there are six different independent studies that feed into what determines the masculine qualities of a culture.

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But they came up with things like material rewards for success, individualism, competition is celebrated.

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These kind of qualities and the more feminine qualities were seen as collaboration and

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caring for the weak and the sick in society and and a more collaborative type of society.

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And interestingly, from the research, Japan came out as the most masculine country in the whole world.

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Unsurprisingly, actually, and Finland was lowest on the score

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Now, the U.K. was actually the ninth most masculine country in the whole world.

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Nine. And that was super shocking to me because we're swimming around in a soup that is celebrating this competition culture that drives Superwoman.

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And another factor to layer in on that, then, is also a personal paradigm.

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So I come from quite a masculine paradigm family because my dad works away Monday

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to Friday and my mom was in charge of the family superwomen her way through.

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And if we go through back a generation, my grandma was the only one to actually show up to work when bombs were coming down on their village.

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And because it's that kind of push through, show up, no matter what mentality in my family.

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And then layering on top of that, a workplace hierarchical culture where actually your your colleagues in academia are also your competition.

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And it's very hierarchical as well, because we've got, you know, professors, senior lecturers, lecturers, fellows, postdocs.

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You can see how all those three things combined create this soup.

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And there's also a statistic to show you that women are less happy as a gender than we were 40 years ago.

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And that is irrespective of and of lots of different factors,

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like how how many children you have if you have children, whether you're married, single, divorced, whatever.

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The only exception is African-American women. And they are slightly happier than they were 40 years ago, but still less happy than the men.

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So why are we getting And even though now we have more opportunities than ever before.

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Why are we getting sick? Why are we burning out? So my theory is that this archetype of superwoman that so many of us are using

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is actually the very power that is preventing us from and being happy.

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The thing that's now burning is out in the workplace.

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So it got us these amazing opportunities, but it can't it's not actually sustaining goes long term.

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And certainly that's what I see a lot with my clients.

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Those in Superwoman may also be getting, you know, poorly once every three months, that sort of tonsillitis, seven times a year.

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That's what I used to get. It's that kind of pushing too hard for too long and has to be a different way to get stuff done.

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And what we say about Superwoman. Is that it's operating from fear?

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Because if there's an underlying fear there, then Superwoman is going to show up to make us feel even.

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And, you know, so we that we don't have to feel bad or or ever again.

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You know, it's the perfect antidote to imposter syndrome. So if I'm not good enough, don't worry.

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Superwoman can step in and save the day. So I don't have to feel like that again.

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But of course we do. And so superwomen just continues. Yeah.

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You know, all of this all too well my so much of myself and so many of the amazing women around me in that.

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So can you talk a little bit about. You're coaching them.

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So what it actually involves so you work one on one with clients.

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And quite often with with postdocs or people on that kind of career track.

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What what sort of work are you doing with them? What kind of conversations are you having?

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Here it is. It's a mixture of different things because, yes, I am primarily focussed on career coaching,

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so I'm looking at people who have formed that identity around their career.

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As is the major parts of their life. Typically, these people are really concerned with making an impact, making a difference, helping the people.

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And so the first piece of work that I always do is to drill down and get clarity on what the actual core of the problem is.

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And often that can come down to a number of different factors.

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But it could be the perception or the judgement of other people.

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You know, when we worry what other people think, it can cause us to pre-empt situations or overthink it in the moment or catastrophizing.

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So there is some of the things people might be coming to me with or procrastinating,

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because if we are very concerned about the perception or the judgements for the people,

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it can be hard for us to complete upon tasks, particularly the big tasks like grant writing or papers,

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because we know that we're going to get criticism in return

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So what I'm doing right at the beginning when I start working with people,

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is figuring out what the actual underlying challenges are for them by giving clarity from lots of different perspectives and angles.

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Once we have that, we set out a series of aspirational intentions for future.

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And we break things down in the very first actions that she can get to start to maybe towards those intentions.

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And if them from that point, they went to continue, we then look at the core of the problem, how the brain works.

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You know, that cyclic, iterative thinking.

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You know, how we create meaning from situations, attach emotions to them, and then that feeds into the next scenario.

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So we look at that iterative cycle of thinking and break that down with tools that you can apply to stop overthinking.

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And from that point, we layer in another piece of awareness about Superwoman and had disempowering archetypal cousins of the bitch

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the martyr and the victim, and we use a tool to tigger trap

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Those behaviours and I use specific NLP based tools to let go of that stuff because it's important

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to me to let go of the challenging patterns of behaviour before we start career planning,

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because you could have a very different outcome from if you're coming from a confident point of view as to when you first coming into coaching.

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So it takes me about six sessions to to really get to the core of it and move people beyond it.

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And then the last six sessions are really focussed towards defining your value and working on your leadership capabilities.

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So defining your value is that piece around vision, purpose, mission, natural talents and capabilities and values.

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And then from that piece, I'm also using another profiling tool.

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So I use talent dynamics.

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I also use the women's five power types in my coaching, and I help people to enhance the qualities of, say, for instance, if Superwoman shows up.

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superwoman doesn't make us a better communicator. It just makes us more anxious.

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If we're in an interview, we don't want it being superwoman. I'd be just very nervous.

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We actually want to step into the queen power type who is serene, calm in command, and he can articulate a vision really, really powerfully.

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So it's about showing people how to access those five different power types.

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Also, for leadership enhancement

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And then we do a five year detailed five year plan and design a network of support consciously to help put that plan into place.

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So when I'm removed from that picture,

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people will have the right people to help them get there in terms of mental sponsor's and other kinds of support as well.

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Perhaps the obvious ways that you all are using your experience of working in academia and in a research context.

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To work with them, relate to your clients.

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But one of the things we always try and kind of ask and talk about is how actually, you know,

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what what what skills and experience specifically are you using from your research degree, and your postdoc in the role that you're in now?

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Are there things that have transpired over really, really clearly or do you feel it's a completely different.

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You know, it's been a completely different kind of role and you've needed to learn a completely new set of skills.

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I think with em, with postdocs and PhDs, there are so many transferable skills that are really, really helpful and for any given job.

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So the things that I,

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I definitely fall back on time and time again are I did my whole PhD was on using different spectroscopic techniques and analysis.

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So I'm very analytical in the way that I approach coaching too.

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So for instance, I have those aspirational intentions for people's futures

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but it's not breaking down the analysis of what they said, this and this history session and noticing this.

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And I've I've got a tool for that.

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And I know I'm constantly analysing what people are saying and the context and bringing it all together into into a big picture.

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And I'm also analysing the progress that people are making on a fortnightly basis in terms of scoring's and rating.

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So I've become very scientific about whether or not the coaching is beneficial and working.

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And I need to see that progress to know that I'm making a difference and an impact to that person and tangibly.

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So I think that that those analytical skills are crucial and creating systems.

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So I don't know about you, but in my PhD, I had to create protocols and systems that were new to do everything and am and I'm always working in.

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Okay. I've done that with that client. But how does that translate to the next one?

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And how can I create a more streamlined system to do that thing?

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And how can I make things iteratively better on each cycle? So that's important to me.

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And the other part is in terms of in terms of the PhD

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I think creativity is one of the big things that most scientists, whether they know it or not, is a big part of science having that creative freedom.

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And that's what I find really exciting about coaching.

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It's having that creative freedom to to shape a particular session in a particular way, too, to when I work one to one.

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It's not a set programme. It's okay. They've brought this in this day and this in and this is how I'm gonna shape it.

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And I find that really exciting, that creative freedom.

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Although, yes, it often leaves me with many taps open at the same time that that's the nature of creativity.

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What else is important from that?

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I guess in terms of the obviously having run a business before was important in terms of just being able to do that thing.

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That was a big piece for me because it didn't feel as daunting to incorporate a

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company and then run all the books and that kind of stuff and set targets and goals.

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So. So that was also helpful to me as well. That's brilliant.

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And really insightful about how you apply those analytical skills.

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And I know when a lot of all researchers have an anxiety about searching for jobs outside of academia and that feeling of,

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well, how am I going to find something in. Spectroscopy.

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I said that right? And actually, you know, nine times out of ten people won't necessarily be moving into a role outside academia.

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Academia. That's specific to that discipline, but is about the application of the skills that they used to conduct their research.

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More than a topic they were researching. And so it's great to hear you articulate that so.

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So clearly, and, and eloquently

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It's yeah. It's really, really useful.

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Well. One is the other sort of things that we ask people.

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Because it's it's a key thing people like to know is. What are the main differences?

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You know, if we've done you've done a post, doc.

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Moving into kind of the business. So one to one coaching. What's different about working in that environment?

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Oh, my goodness. What's different about working in this environment?

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It's like I said, there were these terms, translational skills that I'm using, but it's completely different to to that world and that environment.

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Completely different. Yeah.

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So in academia, you have, you know, your colleagues that you work with and you can get people to bounce ideas off.

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And that's I always used to find that really, really helpful. And when I was maybe it wasn't my natural talent or capabilities.

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I knew exactly who to find to help me proofread my grant applications.

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He was really good on the detail because I'm more of the big picture thinker.

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Now, when I'm working in coaching, I'm I'm running my own business.

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I'm I'm by myself at the moment. So what I found superimportant, one of the big differences for me is I'm by myself.

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And so tapping into a big community of the people, doing the same thing as me, where I can bounce ideas off them.

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I have my own coach. I have a coaching mentor as well, supervisor so that I can get even better what it is I'm doing.

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Having all of these different people in place has been really important to bring structure

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that I used to have now into something that could be really lonely if it wasn't for for the.

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Yeah, I think that's a that's a really and I think a really key.

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Really key thing to consider when people are thinking about kind of what kind of environment they want to be working in.

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Yeah, when I'm I, I do I do have a two part workshop on defining your legacy, your life's work,

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and one part of that is the vehicle of choice that you use to express what it is that you want to do in the world,

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whether that's being an employee, whether that's in a not for profit sector or whether it's as a freelancer or an entrepreneur.

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Now, I would bracket myself as a freelancer as opposed to an entrepreneur,

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because although I like that freedom and I quite like an element of risk, I actually don't want a massive team of people to manage.

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That's not my strong point. My strong point is creating new stuff all the time and finding that creativity with helping the clients that I have.

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You know, that's the bit that really excites me, helping other people,

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making an impact and then doing new stuff all the time, whereas I don't actually want to manage a massive amount of people.

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So when you really understand yourself really well, you you can find the right vehicle of choice for you.

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Which doesn't necessarily mean that because you started a business, suddenly your having to be this massive entrepreneur all the time.

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So I am figuring out who you really are is a key part of which vehicle you'll choose to to express that in amazing.

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What advice would you give to someone who's thinking about.

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Taking the kind of path that you have, so moving into something that is more an.

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Kind of freelance, but also looking at something that's kind of coaching and developing people.

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Well, I remember having this conversation with the coach, our coaching certification programme.

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She was a research fellow. And had gone into the coaching certification programme,

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having never been coached herself, having never undertaken that kind of personal development.

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And she got there and she said, I really feel that if I'm coaching other people them perhaps I should have some coaching myself.

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And I said, yeah, definitely,

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because I had had coaching for two years before it made that connection that this was the way that I could make the difference.

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And that was really important because I knew that what a difference it made to me.

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So anybody who's thinking of moving into coaching or research development in some way and really do the work yourself

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first before you take all the people along because you want to be at least a few steps ahead of the other people,

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because we're all, you know, taking off layers, peeling back layers, becoming more of ourselves in the process.

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But it's great to get a head start before the clients, basically.

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Yeah, I think that that's that's really. That's really useful.

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And, of course, would be useful kind of thing to do.

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Anyway, are there any apart from kind of being coached are there, any experiences that you would advise?

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Current researchers to make the most was.

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Whilst that whilst they're still within that university system or is, you know, still completing their degree.

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Yeah. I think if I had my time again, I would do more of the courses that were available and actually carve out the time to do them.

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Because we lose so much time and energy on so many other things.

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And I would have a specific time of the week where I'm working specifically on my own self and my own career development,

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as opposed to blocking out all the time to do everything for everybody else and for the projects that I'm working on to have that self reflection,

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self development time factored in. And there are so many more things available within universities now and to take up on stage of them, really.

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Thank you so much to Hannah for taking the time to speak to me and to have such a rich and

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fascinating conversation about finding your fee and trying things out and identifying values,

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but also, you know, some of the very particular challenges that women face,

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not just in academia and research careers, but in the job market in general.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 10 - Dr. Natalie Garrett, Private Secretary to the Chief Scientist at the Met Office

Episode 10 - Dr. Natalie Garrett, Private Secretary to the Chief Scientist at the Met Office

November 29, 2020

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. Natalie Garrett, Private Secretary to the Chief Scientist at the Met Office. You can find out more about Natalie on the Met Office website, and the British Federation of Women Graduates scholarships.

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter Doctoral College

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Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Beyond Your Research Degree.

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I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and today I'm going to be talking to Dr. Natalie Garrett.

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Natalie currently works as a private secretary to the Met Office chief scientist.

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So, Natalie, are you happy to introduce yourself? My name is Natalie Garrett.

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I work at the Met office as the private secretary to our chief scientist.

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I've been in this role since January of this year.

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So more than half my time in this position has now been spent working from home, which has been an interesting kind of journey like before January.

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I was working in the international climate services team still at the Met office,

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and I had been in that position for, I think, the best part of four years.

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And the purpose of that role was essentially to manage a project that was all

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about translating climate science into actionable information for decision makers.

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But prior to all of that, I was a postdoc at the University of Exeter working in the Biomedical Physics Group.

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And you might notice that there's a bit of a Segway there from biomedical physics to climate and weather science.

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And it's not necessarily immediately apparent what exactly unifies those two areas.

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But broadly, what motivates me at work is to do something that's meaningful and that will have a positive impact on society.

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So the work I did at the university was primarily translating biomedical advances into kind of taking physical interpretations of them.

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So one of the major projects I worked on my role was to provide mechanistic validation for the claims that were being made in patents for novel

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nano medicines that were aimed to treat things like alzhiemers and brain cancer.

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And having lost a family member to brain cancer, that was obviously an area that was very close to my heart.

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So sometimes I feel like my career has been a little bit of a random walk.

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But ultimately, I've always done what I thought sounded interesting,

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and I perhaps naively assumed that job opportunities would make themselves apparent to me along the way.

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And I've been very fortunate and privileged that that has worked out for me.

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That's brilliant and really interesting to hear about that.

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That from kind of being a postdoc in researching inside inside a university to moving outside.

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I wondered if you could talk a little bit about your experience of that transition.

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So what it was like kind of moving to applying for jobs outside of academia and and how you

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find how different you find working in it in a different kind of research environment is.

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So I had been working as a postdoc at the University of Exeter since late 2009.

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And by the time I left, it was January 2016.

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So that is quite a substantial chunk of my professional career was spent working,

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doing the whole postdoc merry go round where you go from contract to contract without much job security.

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I think a lot of people in academia can empathise with that kind of situation.

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You don't have much job security. You're trying really hard to set yourself apart from your peer group to improve your

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chances of perhaps getting a lectureship or getting a fellowship or a grant and.

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I was in a situation where leaving Exeter wasn't really an option for me.

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So I was thinking about how I could give myself the best chances of securing a lectureship.

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at Exeter University and a lectureship position came up in my research group working for different P.I. and I went for it.

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And although I scored highest at interview and my presentation, I was told that I couldn't bring added value because I was already there.

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And that was quite a bitter pill to swallow at the time that I can see what they mean in hindsight.

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And if I had applied to other universities for lectureships it may have been more feasible for me to negotiate or leverage contract at the university.

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At any rate, I was encouraged to apply for fellowships and I was given the opportunity of a tenured position at the end.

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If I were successful in that. But ultimately I started looking at other opportunities.

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I saw a job at the Met office. Now, my background did not involve coding.

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It did not really involve modelling. So I was quite surprised when I saw a job advert that I felt I could apply for.

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Hence, this role was titled Senior European Climate Service Coordinator.

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This is quite a mouthful. The skills they were looking for those the usual planning organisation,

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time management, which if you have a PhD and you've actually managed to complete it.

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You have that in spades. But it also specifically said that they needed good interpersonal skills with evidence of communicating with and developing

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productive working relationships with a range of stakeholders and also communicating complex information into plain English.

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Now, interestingly, during my PhD, I had been very, very keen as an outreach ambassador of the university.

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I was in the STEM network and I participated in things like I'm a scientist get me out of here.

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And soapbox, science and three minute wonder pretty much any scientific outreach competition that you could engage in.

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I had a go at and I was very passionate about scientific outreach.

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In fact, the Institute of Physics had me as a guest lecturer and I was travelling all around the south west of the UK giving talks to some.

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I think in total it was about two thousand schoolchildren talking about my research.

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So this is something that was very, very passionate, was very passionate about.

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But my boss had said to me, you only need to do one piece of outreach a year for it to count on your CV.

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And at that point, you should stop and focus your efforts elsewhere.

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I didn't really listen to him and I just carried on doing what I wanted to, to do what I was passionate about.

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And in the end, because of that, it put me in a really good position to apply for this job at the Met office.

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Additionally, what I was doing, my postdoc,

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I founded the early career researcher network within the college and that was bringing together early career scientists

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and helping people work together to improve the quality of the jobs to improve their chances of securing funding.

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We had career workshops. We had the guest lecturers come in and give seminars.

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We had occasions where we bought pizza and blitzed the Internet trying to find funding opportunities.

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Because I built that network, I had experience of network management.

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I had experience of engagement. And I'd set up a social media channel for that, too.

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So I had all these communication stakeholder network management skills, which made me the ideal candidate for this job.

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And this is all stuff that was done in the margins. I was discouraged from doing so.

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Yeah, it's an interesting one. I don't know if it would always work out that way. But ultimately, do things that matter to you?

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Is that what I would say if you're considering academia?

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Ultimately, you may not find yourself in a position where you have a science communication job,

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but the skills you gain doing science communication, are massively transferable outside of academia.

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So I was surprised when I was offered the job at the Met office.

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I'm always quite negative about my performance in interview.

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But actually, my new boss said that it was one of the best interviews he's ever sat in on.

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So I think that might be typical of academics.

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I think we are quite hard on ourselves and our performance and always focus on

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what we could do better and not necessarily so much of what we've done well.

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I think that's an area that I'm trying to work on in terms of personal confidence and that feeling of imposter syndrome.

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Moving from academia to the civil service, because the Met office is where within the civil service was very different.

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And my first day on the job, I got on an aeroplane to go to Paris for the Kick-Off meeting for the project and had an overnight stay.

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And it was lovely meeting all these wonderful people that are very passionate about their work.

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And the next day we came back to Exeter and they said, well, you've had quite a busy day.

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You should probably take some time off in lieu. This is not a concept that usually gets in academia.

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The actual contracted hours. So my second day on the job, I came home mid-afternoon and ran myself a bubble bath with the blessing, nay the

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It was it was pretty great. It was pretty great. And to be honest, that feeling that you should be working, you should be writing.

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More that you should be doing. It took a while for me to get over that.

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And I think about two months into my job, I was walking through town one day and I glanced up.

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If you've been in Exeter High Street and you look up the hill to streatham campus at the university, you can see the physics tower.

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You can see it from everywhere, in Exeter You can never get away from its shadow.

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If you feel like, oh, I should be working on my paper, I should be working on my thesis. That's the first time that I looked up at that.

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This has no power over me. No, I'm allowed to have fun.

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I'm allowed to have a work life balance because there's so much in there that I think is really,

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really important about, you know, feelings of imposter syndrome and work life balance.

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And I think of somebody as well that used to be an academic and admittedly is in an academic related role.

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There's something about different roles that are kind of more amenable, perhaps, or more easily to to a better work life balance.

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Well, having you know, you said about going from kind of contract.

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So you've obviously had a few kind of applications and interviews for academic or academic research roles,

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as well as the Met office was the application and interview process, particularly different to your experience in academia.

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So although I have had multiple postdoc posts at the university,

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they were all working for the same PI because the work I was doing was so specialised.

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So I did have to apply and go through the interview process that given that there were

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basically at the time a handful of people in the world that could do that job.

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I didn't feel that worried. So, yeah, that was pretty straightforward.

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So the Met office interview was quite nerve wracking by comparison.

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I mean, they were very lovely. They did everything they could to make me feel at ease.

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But I think from a very young age, I've always been thrown into the mix with a variety of different people,

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different ages, and just encouraged to socialise.

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My father was very active in local politics and I was kind of co-opted into helping him out, handing out kind of things at events.

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So the idea of talking to strangers, I just lost all fear of that and talking to thousands and thousands of people about my science,

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a kind of public speaking becomes second nature when you do that enough.

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So interviews didn't have the same kind of effect on me.

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And I've discovered a tip, a trick. If you convince yourself that you're excited rather than afraid, then it becomes a lot more manageable.

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And then you can actually enjoy it. So if you ever have a public speaking engagement and you feel nervous, you go, Oh, I'm so excited.

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Imagine it's like a roller coaster or something. So, yeah, the Met office interview

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I was massively overprepared. I identified the area that I was weakest up and that was in my climates where

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the science knowledge and I did an online free training course beforehand.

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And I printed off my certificates and I brought with me a folder with all kinds of things,

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like copies of papers that published copies of my reference letters.

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There's a whole range, a barrage of information. And none of it came out of my briefcase during the meeting, during the interview.

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But it was there and it helped me feel prepared. That's what I was going to ask because I do something similar.

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When I prepare for interviews, I do. I prepare and I have this kind of folder of lots of stuff that I never refer to.

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But it's it's not necessarily about the kind of using that knowledge I need to be, but the feeling of it's kind of like psychological armour.

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Yes. Yes. I think a lot of my life I've just expected there to be gatekeepers.

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So I've never been able to consider myself to be an artist or a photographer.

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But now I've had experience writing poetry to explain climate change with community groups,

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and I've had prizes for the photographs that I've created myself.

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So I know once said to me, hey, go, here's an award, here's a certificate.

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Here's an exam that you've passed. Therefore, you can call yourself a photographer, you can call yourself a poet or an artist.

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And because I've been so used to gatekeeping, because academia is all about gatekeeping,

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I think it's that does foster the whole imposter syndrome mentality.

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If you take yourself out of that headspace and realise, oh, maybe I can actually do these other things too, maybe I don't need someone's permission.

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What's your experience of that, working in the civil service? Does it still have that sense of gatekeeping or does it feel a little open?

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It's interesting this so well, I guess there's a lot of bureaucracy in academia that my experience in academia was.

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It's very much the academics were doing everything they could to avoid, bureaucracy, as far as possible.

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Whereas my experience of the civil service? Is that bureaucracy is sort of embedded in the ways of working, and sometimes that's for good reasons.

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And other times it's just because that's how it's always been done and people haven't questioned it.

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So it makes change quite difficult at a corporate level.

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If you have people's ways of working and mindset so embedded in a particular way of working.

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Like my boss, the chief scientist was keen to get my impressions of the job within my first six months because he said, you come with fresh eyes.

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You can tell us all the things that we're doing stupid or that don't make sense or that could be optimised.

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But once you're in the six months and you stop questioning stuff.

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Yeah. I completely yes, I can completely understand, we're saying.

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So the. The job that you do now as a as a P.A, isn't it, to the chief scientist?

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Is that right? So it's a weird one. It's called private secretary.

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And so it's just to academics. They focus on the secretary and think that it's an administrative job.

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Whereas if so, my boss is the head of the chief scientist at the Met office.

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He is also the head of the science and engineering profession at the met office.

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That's said. And that comes under something called government, science and engineering profession.

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And he's also on the chief scientific adviser at the CSA network with Patrick Vallance as its head.

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So. So Patrick Vallance is one of my boss's bosses, if you like,

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and I regularly attend meetings to represent the met office at the chief scientific adviser network meetings.

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So the purpose of these is to make sure that all the science within the civil service within the UK is all joined up.

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So you'll see these quite regularly with UK. All right.

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It's it's baffling how many connections and how many partners and how many stakeholders there were that the met office is involved with.

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A large part of my job is liasing with government and the government office, the science.

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I'm translating quite complex requests with very short deadlines.

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Finding the right people within the met office to answer those questions.

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Summarising the information into a briefing, giving it to the chief scientist.

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And then. Asking him what he wants, what action he wants to be taken from it.

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So, for instance, I've seen in the news the Academy of Medical Sciences report that was that was created at the request of the Patrick

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Vallance and Chris Whitty for looking at what's the reasonable worst case scenario would be for COVID this winter.

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So the Met office fed in regarding seasonal forecasting and air quality and aspects that relate to met office expertise.

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So I was involved in helping to coordinate our input to that report.

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And my boss was also present at the sage meeting where this was being discussed.

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So I had to help coordinate minutes and taking and so on.

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So it's that's just one aspect of the roles I take. I also produce regular scientific updates for within the Met office that we produce quarterly

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briefings for all of us scientists we have in the region of six hundred scientists at the Met office.

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And my boss is kind of at the head of that that up triangle.

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And so we have to try to provide updates to everybody on a regular basis.

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And it's just incredibly varied. I think about 50 percent of my my job is reactive.

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So I never know what's going to come into my inbox.

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We might have a request coming straight from government asking us to provide a briefing on a particular topic,

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or it might be just regular normal work that's just going along,

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producing minutes for scientific management committees or for met office board meetings.

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So it's what I enjoy most about this role. Is that because I'm the private secretary to the chief scientist, people just answer my email straightaway?

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I think when I leave this job, that probably won't be the case anymore.

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So another point to mention is that the private secretary roles aren't typically what you would expect as a lifetime position.

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The half life is between two and four years. It's a developmental opportunity.

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So you get loads of opportunities to showcase your skills, which then enable you to better apply for a management position.

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That's the aim of the role anyway. That's really interesting and it's really interesting to have that kind of.

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Clear sense of. Clear sense of progression and direction, I guess, and I'm not saying that that,

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you know, there was a clear kind of promotion route in academia, but it's not.

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I think it looks like it's very clear cut.

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In fact, is not, I think well by, to be honest when I say so, I'm going to backtrack a it when I applied to the Met office.

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I tried to use all of the skills that I had been sort of instilled in me from the doctoral training college at the university.

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Like, you need to negotiate your salary. You need to do this. You need to do that.

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I went and tried this out with the civil service and now you can try and negotiate your salary.

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But this is as far as we can go. That's just not.

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It's so different to maybe applying for the private sector, you know, going to a business and trying to negotiate.

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You probably have a lot more leeway that the civil service is so tied down they cannot make exceptions.

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The met office doesn't have the flexibility to change the pay deal for new people coming.

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And that has to be everything has to be auditable and fair and fair enough.

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You know, it's it's taxpayers money. So I tried to negotiate my salary and completely failed.

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I said, well, how about this? You offer a relocation bursary.

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And I didn't have to relocate. Could you give me that instead? Is it? No, because that's all provided  onreceipts.

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OK. So I had to manage my expectations a little bit. Essentially, I took a 20 percent pay cut.

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Wow. To join the met office Yes. It was the very low end of what I was prepared to accept.

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Which was sort of annoying. But the compensation package was also really good.

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And it was a permanent job. So it was it's a tricky one.

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And it's not necessarily the right choice for everybody. But I've managed to it's quite competitive getting promotion within the met office.

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And it's a competitive. So depending on the year, if people who are regularly publishing scientific output in science and nature are up against you,

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you may not stand a chance of actually getting information because it's judged based on merit and output and everything's graded.

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So it's quite challenging compared with academia where it felt like you progress up the spine points and it's relatively straightforward.

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I mean, that was my experience of it as postdoc. It's not everybody's.

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So there seemed to be a lot of, you know,

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things coming out that are quite different about the working environment and the kind of work that you're doing and the kind of.

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What the similarities were. What really kind of carries across from your experience as a as a researcher at a university into the role you're in now?

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So the biggest similarity is the passion that people have for the work that they do.

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The Met office. It's just so lovely to log on and every day and locg on

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We have a platform online where people can discuss variety of topics is not quite social media,

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but people share things from, for instance, the pictures of their cats.

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We have a cat appreciation forum and we've also got weather photographs and people asking questions about science and technology.

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People are just so keen to help each other and they're so keen to share their enthusiasm.

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And you can end up going down rabbit holes. And it's really lovely that I think academia, you get paid essentially to think a lot of the time.

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This is how I've seen it.

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And there aren't necessarily that many jobs in the world where you get that freedom to just pursue an idea and see where it takes you.

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And we have a certain amount of time, I think, to add up to 20 percent of our time is for development.

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So if you agree with your line manager that you want to learn a skill in a completely

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different area that might one day align with where you ultimately want to go in your career.

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You have the freedom to do that. And that kind of freedom to learn and to develop and share your enthusiasm and.

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I guess it's peer to peer learning that that's very similar to academia.

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One big difference I've noticed is I've not seen so many examples of that kind of toxic.

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Relationship where some people appear to be friendly, and then we'll take your idea and then publish before you.

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I've not seen that at the Met office. I'm not saying it doesn't necessarily happen,

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but my experience has been that people are in it together for the group benefit rather than their own individual benefit.

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Perhaps that's naive. Perhaps I've just said a sheltered experience.

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But as a for instance, at one point I had a handover between two managers because one was leaving alone, was taking me on,

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and I was sat in a room and these two people were not quite arguing, but they were just very, very focussed.

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And trying to discover the best ways for me to develop in the direction that I wanted to develop.

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And I feel I've never had this before. I've never felt so and nurtured.

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I had a line manager is trying to find opportunities for me because before it felt

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like I was doing things whenever I found an opportunity that I knew would benefit me,

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but not my line manager in academia.

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I had to do the other stuff kind of behind his back because I knew that he would never give me the go ahead for it.

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And in fact, there was one occasion when I got a travel grant from the Royal Society to do some independent research in Australia,

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and my P.I. turned around and said, well, that doesn't benefit me, so you're going to have to do it.

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on your annual leave. Wow. And I naively thought that he was allowed to make that call

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But a few years later, I was talking to the head of school and mentioned this, and he said, well, that that's not OK.

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You should come to me about that. But I naively thought, well, he wouldn't tell me something that wasn't true.

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So another another top tip.

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A don't assume that your line manager necessarily has your best interests at heart or B knows what is best or what can be done for you.

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So do ask around to ask other people.

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And it's it's amazing that in spite of that pushback, you still continued with the outreach work and the ECR network,

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which actually became so fundamental to help you move forward.

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I was wondering what other things you did, maybe as part of your research, but also, you know, on the fringes,

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let that have been really important or formative in kind of helping you move forward with your career.

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So instead of procrastinating in the traditional sense, I used to just look for competitions and awards and things that I could.

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It felt like it was wasting my time because I've been indoctrinated in the idea that if I'm not actively working on a paper in some way,

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then I'm not doing anything productive, which is quite a toxic one set in itself.

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So, for instance, I discovered the British Federation of Women graduates.

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Is that something you've heard of? No, never say I've never heard of it before until I was Googling for opportunities.

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So they offer scholarships for academic excellence and they also offer hardship bursaries.

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Now, I haven't actually checked that they still offer these. But in 2009,

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they sent me to it and I managed to secure myself five and a half thousand pounds for academic

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excellence as part of the Women British Federation of Women Graduates Academic Awards in 2009.

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And if you have experience of securing grant money, even if it's a competition like that, then that's always going to look good on your CV.

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And as I said, I got a international travel grant to go to Australia.

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So I went to Melbourne and I was looking at malaria.

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I'm trying to detect it using spectroscopy and weirdly using butterfly wings as a substrate for doing this.

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So that was quite a bizarre. When people say, explain what you did for your PhD, I kind of go hmmmm the experience of the early career researcher network.

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It also gave me the opportunity to apply for funding from within the university.

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And then I also ran competitions for outreach activities and online poster competitions.

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So I was then able to get experience of managing sort of grant funding so I could say that I've had that kind of experience,

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depending on where you want spend up.

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If you think I want to be able to tick various boxes for different types of job, I've these opportunities enabled me to do that.

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And in kind of roundabout way, even though my main main job didn't.

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I was also part of the working group for the Athena Swan Initiative at the School of Physics.

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So equality and diversity has always been very important to me to.

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And I think it's, you know, really interesting as several of the things you've said, like you said early on, about,

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you know, if you've done a research degree, you've got time management and project management and everything in spades.

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But actually, you know,

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there's other fundamental skills which in some ways you just do need to go outside of that initial kind of bubble of your research to develop that.

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And absolutely and it's really interesting to hear you talk about actually the motivation for that for you was just a follow.

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Follow your interests. Yeah, the things that mattered to me most.

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I think another thing that helped me was going to conferences by myself.

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And not with my research group and not with anybody else from the university, because it forces you to stop talking to the same people.

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Because conferences are massive networking opportunity. But it's so hard to make inroads.

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I struggled a bit initially because it felt very cliquey and it's hard as an outsider just to essentially barge in on someone's conversations.

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Hi. Can I introduce myself?

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But it was some it was because of going to a conference by myself that I met Baden Wood of Monash University in Melbourne.

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And he was the one that suggested I apply for Royal Society travel grant

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which is why I was then able to demonstrate some independent research and have

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a first solo publication without my P.I. from University of Exeter on it.

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So these chance meetings are so important.

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And if you're able to I know socialising at conferences can be really uncomfortable for those people.

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And perhaps the current situation,

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the current pandemic is therefore opening more doors for people who find it challenging to do face to face networking.

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I hope so. I know not all conferences are offering the opportunity for a career networking, but it's a good idea if,

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if, if, if anyone listening is involved in organising workshops or seminars or conferences,

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do allow specific time for early career people to engage in network and have an invite

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to come as coffee breaks because that's where the important conversations happen.

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That's where the next big collaboration starts to form.

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That's really, really.

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Yeah, that's really, really great, because they're all of the things that I think sometimes in in the kind of in the Doctoral College

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that kind of central well, we're kind of going on and on about all the time,

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you know, how important the networking is and how important doing stuff outside of the research degree is,

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because it's it's the stuff that builds your experience and builds your skill, your skill base.

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But I think sometimes people think, oh, no. You know. I wouldn't think about that just now.

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Oh, it can't have that much. It's easy to yeah, it's easy to put it off because it's not something that will immediately provide a tangible benefit.

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Something that's a slow burner and learning how to use LinkedIn and Twitter.

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And it's not for everybody. But if you figure out how to use these platforms, then it can leverage more opportunities in the future.

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What advice would you give to somebody who's looking at making that transition from a, you know,

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a research career or a postdoc into a role outside academia, but particularly thinking about moving into a civil service role?

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I would say. Sure, well, you may have people within your current network who all people that work within

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the civil service or who are working in a kind of field you'd like to go to.

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Always, always talk to people who you already connected with.

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We can give you insight, especially if they're working closely with an area that you want to work in,

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because there may be subjects, specific skills that you need to work on in order to be a viable candidate.

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But more generally, it's a numbers game.

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And do be prepared for failure. People in academia especially don't tend to talk about the grants.

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They didn't get or the papers they've never managed to get accepted in a journal

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or all the things that they tried and didn't work out or the experiments that failed.

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Because why would you why would you talk about that? So it's all about self promotion.

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It's all about creating and curating this successful persona.

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It's all about your H index and trying to find metrics that show off your skills?

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The truth is, unless you apply for dozens and dozens and dozens of things, you're not going to get the one that really matters.

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And that takes so much time and resilience.

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And it can annoy the people that you've put your references for you, especially if they get contacted by every single one.

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So that's another tip. Talk to the people here.

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You've put down as your references to make sure they know that these things are coming out,

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because honestly, they do sometimes get contacted out of the blue before you even get shortlisted.

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So prepare them for that. So, yeah, it's a numbers game.

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And women especially are more likely to not apply for jobs if they don't feel that they fulfil all the criteria.

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And there's been research that's showing that whether you meet 50 percent of the criteria or 90 percent of the criteria,

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the chances of getting an interview roughly the same. So you might as well just apply for the thing.

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And at worst, you're going to get feedback that you can use to improve your next application.

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So you have to treat applying for jobs as a job, put time aside for it, do it regularly, try and sign up to jobs that ask around.

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A lot of jobs come up and it's word of mouth. So put in those cold calling emails to people saying, I love what you do, I'd love to work with you.

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one day if I was to. Can you give me any advice on my current CV?

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What things you'd be looking for? That totally an out. It feels like cheating, but it's part of networking.

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And certainly in my experience as well, people actually quite a quite receptive.

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And, you know, more often than not, willing to help. Absolutely.

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It reminds me of when I was an undergraduate.

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The professors would make time for the students who genuinely wanted to understand and would say, can I talk to you about this particular integrals?

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I can't solve. And the professors would sit and make the time thing.

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So, yeah, ultimately, people are in that job for a reason.

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And if I care about it and if they want to share the enthusiasm with other people, then of course they can go help.

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That's brilliant. And one thing I wanted to pick up on is this thing about resilience and failure.

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How what advice do you have for. For dealing with that, I guess, for dealing with that.

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That sense of failure or rejection, which which is just common in the drug market, is common.

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I think. It's a difficult one, personally.

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It's not always been easy to accept failure and rejection.

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But the thing that I found that's helped the most is if I reframe it and instead of

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feeling like if I don't get to interview that I failed in the application process.

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What I've done is I've succeeded at submitting application.

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And if I don't get past the interview stage, then what I've done is I've succeeded in getting to interview.

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So, yeah. You haven't managed to get the thing that might have been the ultimate goal that you have done.

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The really difficult steps in getting there. And each time you get to interview, each time you'll almost shortlisted.

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You're improving your skills. And it is a skill. And to improve.

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You have to practise. So I would say definitely apply to things that.

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Maybe hit 70 percent of the things you're looking for because at least you don't get it.

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You don't feel like it's such high stakes and apply for the things that might not

357
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necessarily excite you so much initially just so that you get that experience.

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Thanks to Natalie for that really interesting conversation, thinking about the move from postdoc to civil service application processes,

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the importance of networking and building that wider skill base outside of your immediate research project.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 9 - Dr. Celia Butler, Senior Applications Engineer at Synopsys Inc

Episode 9 - Dr. Celia Butler, Senior Applications Engineer at Synopsys Inc

October 27, 2020

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. Celia Butler, Senior Applications Engineer at Synopsys Inc.

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter, Doctoral College
 
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Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Beyond Your Research Degree.
 
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I'm Kelly Preevce And today, I'll be talking to Dr Celia Butler, who is currently senior applications engineer at Synopsis,
 
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having graduated with her PhD in physics in 2012. Celia, you happy to introduce yourself?
 
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Hello, my name's Celia Butler and I did my PhD in Microwave Metamaterials in the electro magnetic materials group at the University of Exeter
 
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which is part of the physics department or it was at the time. And now I work for synopsis
 
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I'm a senior applications engineer with the simplewear support team.
 
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And what I do is I provide support for a software package that allows you to take 3D image data and like scans from MRI,
 
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and CT and turn it into a computer model and you can do all sorts of things with that computer model from 3D printing to finite
 
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element analysis all the way through to just simple visualisations to learn something about that data that you're inspecting.
 
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Amazing. So can you tell me a little bit about the transition from doing your research degree into the current role?
 
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Did you have any were there any jobs that you took in between or was it a straight move?
 
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Yes. So when I left my PhD, I actually went into a job which sort of spanned the gap between academia and industry.
 
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So officially, it was a postdoc role, but I was actually more of a research and development engineer with a pre-spin out company.
 
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So it was still part of the university and it took on a role.
 
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kind of like a technical consultancy?
 
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So like an R&D consultancy role. And my specific area was to look at improving radio frequency identification tagging.
 
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So RFID tagging is now quite popular, popular. You see it all over the place in tags, in clothes shops.
 
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RFID tags are embedded into shoes. When you buy them all sorts of things.
 
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But the specific area that I was looking at was how to tag structures that have a lot of
 
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metal in them because essentially they're an antenna and when you place them on metal,
 
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they don't work very well. And I was looking at tagging RFID circuit boards.
 
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So these circuit boards have very high value and you really try to understand what you can do.
 
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So I worked with a few different people locally to try and address this problem,
 
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using some of the knowledge from my PhD, but also past experience from before that as well.
 
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And after that role, I left it and started a new position for a company called Subten Systems.
 
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Now, this was a very small Start-Up company, possibly the best and most exciting research I have ever done.
 
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It was looking to create wireless Ethernet bridges.
 
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What that means is point to point, a transmission of data, at very, very high frequencies.
 
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So in the millimetre wave region. And this was so exciting because I was quite new to the R&D world and I was given a lot of responsibility,
 
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but also worked in an amazing team and we just got things done.
 
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It was fantastic. But unfortunately, like a lot of start-ups, it didn't make it.
 
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And I had to make the decision to leave. Possibly the hardest decision of my life.
 
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But yes. So I left subten systems and that fantastic team.
 
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And then I found a job in the centre of Exeter working for at the time, simplewear
 
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which were, again, a small company, not really a Start-Up, but about 30, 40 people.
 
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And from there. This company was bought out by synopsis.
 
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But my job role has stayed pretty consistent. Most of the way through.
 
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And I actually I'm able to use a lot of my experience from my career, but also interests outside of work to perform my job, which is it's just a.
 
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Varied and keeps me on my toes most of the time.
 
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That sounds amazing. And in a short space of time, you've worked in quite a lot of different.
 
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Different organisations. So what was it like making that transition from your phd into a.
 
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Non-academic Role did. Did you always know you wanted a job outside of academia and doing research in industry or so?
 
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I think when I did my PhD, I really enjoyed my time doing the research element before I did my PhD.
 
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I worked in industry for a few years.
 
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So I was very aware of what it was like to work in a team doing commercial R&D as opposed to quite academic research.
 
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And it is very different. And I preferred the industrial research, the kind of work.
 
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Working towards one product or one specific goal,
 
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but also having the flexibility to change projects or move into different roles within the same organisation.
 
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Whereas in a PhD, you're very focussed on your path, your route to completing whatever your project might be.
 
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I didn't find the transition very hard.
 
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Moving from academic research to sort of industrial R&D, I think, because it's something that I knew and I was comfortable with.
 
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I was looking forward to moving back. I also had very good kind of time management skills during the PhD.
 
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I viewed it more as a day to day job because of my past experience.
 
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There is one exception for that, which was when I was writing up.
 
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When I wrote up, the time really went out the window. I was just working all the time, it seemed.
 
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But after that, I was really able to relax into that role,
 
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to work with lots and lots of different people and to really focus on a product, which is what we were aiming for.
 
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So, yeah, that worked really well for me. So, yeah.
 
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Can you say a little bit more about what it what it is about doing R&D work in industry that you prefer to academia.
 
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Is it that kind of. Is it something to do with the pace. Is it the pace of it or is it the kind of clearer sense of product, and impact.
 
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So I think industrial R&D has a clear focus, a clear aim.
 
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But people work slightly differently. In my experience in commercial R&D compared to academic R&D or academic research, in academic research,
 
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you are striving to understand every single little part of whatever your problem or area might be in commercial R&D,
 
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although you need to understand what's going on. There's a limit to how much detail you need to go into.
 
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You need to be able to solve the problem. But you are working towards a different goal and that goal will come to an end and it will change.
 
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There will be a second level, another stage or something that you are building on.
 
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You need to understand this area. Make a decision. Produce a product, whatever that might be, and then you move on.
 
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It's also quite normal to have multiple projects going on at the same time.
 
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And for me, I need that that ability to be able to switch between projects to keep me fully invested and sort of just enjoying what I do.
 
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I need lots of little things to dip in and out of just to keep me entertained.
 
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I guess. Yes, I absolutely know that feeling.
 
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So you said about the time management skills that you developed during your PhD and how important they are to what you do now.
 
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And certainly if you're working in lots of different projects, I can really see that.
 
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What other skills and experiences have you taken from your PhD that have really helped you with an R&D role in industry?
 
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I think the biggest thing that I learnt during the PhD, as opposed to other roles I've been in before,
 
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was to be able to take a big project and be able to divide it up into small chunks that seem more manageable,
 
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because I think when you start the PhD, it can be a little bit overwhelming because you've got this three,
 
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four years plus and you've got to produce something at the end of it.
 
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But I'm not really sure what that is.
 
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So to be able to take that huge idea, chop it up and then manage yourself to be able to to achieve whatever that might be is really important.
 
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And then the other thing, the sort of skills that I learnt.
 
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I did a course on how to read sounds ridiculous, but how to speed read, how to take academic papers and top and tail.
 
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And that's been really useful in other projects that I've done because in industrial research,
 
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you haven't got loads of time to do a full literature review on most projects.
 
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You need to extract the information that you need. Put it together and then use it in whatever form that might be.
 
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The other thing I think was really important is how to present robustly.
 
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So I've never really had a problem with the actual presenting side of things.
 
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But the questioning was something that was sort of really drilled into me during my PhD
 
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That you need to know your subject well enough.
 
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You need to have done your research to be able to answer questions robustly and kind of stand up to someone standing up and saying,
 
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oh, I'm not I'm not sure about this. Tell me more or I don't believe that.
 
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What's your evidence for it? And to be able to stand there and and defend the research that you've done and to present a reasoned argument.
 
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And I think that was probably the biggest thing to take away.
 
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Yeah. So really, it it's project management. It's. Ability to read and synthesise information and presenting.
 
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Yes, it's kind of a soft skills. I mean, obviously I learnt a lot of physics in my actual PhD
 
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But I wouldn't say that I've applied much of that in my other roles.
 
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It's more being those kind of soft skills that have been the most useful.
 
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Yeah. And I think that's that's always what's really interesting about looking at careers beyond academia,
 
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because I think we get really entrenched in this idea that I.
 
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I need to be looking at something that's very specific to the very niche topic area I am working in, whereas actually.
 
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When people are going to work in industry, that they're more using the working in the general subject area in some shape or form.
 
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But it's those soft skills that become even more important because they're the ones that are transferable.
 
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Absolutely. And I can give you an example of that. So. Right. One of the first things that I did when I joined Simplewear
 
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whereas it was then now synopsis was I had a Web meeting with someone who is using this software and they were doing knee replacement.
 
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And now my PhD is a microwave metamaterials. I'm looking at electromagnetic interaction with materials and it has nothing to do with knees.
 
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So very quickly, I have to understand the different parts that need to put the bones are called some of the key muscles or tendons.
 
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I had to understand how you perform in knee replacement so that I was roughly on the same level so that
 
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we could talk in similar terms because there are terms that are specific to different industries.
 
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So I had to come up to speed very fast on all of that and then understand how this particular
 
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customer wanted to use the software and what what the challenges were that they were facing.
 
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And then I had to take all of that presented back to them in a Web meeting in under an hour.
 
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So very quickly, you're having to take a problem.
 
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Understand it. Do your research. Kind of problem solve along the way and then present it back and answer questions all in one.
 
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So I think that would take about maybe between one and two days to complete the whole project.
 
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But at the same time, I had three or four other projects and sort of mini projects like that that I'd have to answer as well.
 
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And meetings and emails and all these other things. So it's really a bit of a juggling act.
 
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But you've got to focus on each problem, solve it, and then present it back to your customer and make sure that they're happy with that solution.
 
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Make sure that you have understood and solved whatever they're looking to work towards and make sure that it fits for them.
 
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So it it's quite a quite large challenge, but it's really fun.
 
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Yeah, and I think that there seems to be something there that's really about problem solving,
 
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but using your research skills and your creativity in finding solutions to your work problems.
 
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And I think you draw on all your past experience in order to do that Problem-Solving.
 
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So in before I started the PhD, I worked in manufacturing.
 
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So there are lots of things that I learnt in terms of tolerances, in terms of manufacturing processes.
 
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So when I work with someone who's using additive manufacturing, I can relate to certain areas there as well.
 
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And I bring that experience to help me to solve that.
 
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So, yeah, there's lots of different areas that kind of draw together.
 
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But the PhD brings a skill set of tackling a very large project and helping you to form it all together.
 
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One of the things people get. We get feedback that our researchers are quite nervous about is the application process for.
 
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Jobs outside of academia, because they're sort of the. Academic kind of job application promotions process feels very familiar.
 
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When you're in that environment, can you talk about your experience of.
 
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Applying for jobs in. industry and specifically kind of how you talked about and framed, your research experience?
 
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Yes, absolutely. So I was very lucky with the jobs that I went to.
 
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Most of them, I had some connection to the company.
 
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And throughout my working career, I seem to have fallen into jobs rather than applied through the formal process.
 
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So I would definitely say to any PhD tudents and create a network and tell people that you're looking for a job,
 
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because the one that I got at Subten Systems, I found out through a guy that I used to go gliding with.
 
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He'd started at this company and they were looking down on and I was able to apply
 
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and get a lot of things have kind of fallen into place through that network.
 
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I have done very few formal applications. Having said that, all my positions have involved some kind of interview.
 
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So I can certainly comment on that. I guess the key thing is to think about how you've applied your skills and
 
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any way that you can show that you can talk about how you've used that skill.
 
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So it could be that you.
 
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Looked after a colleague's child, say, for a few hours.
 
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And that was very challenging for you. You can apply that situation and say this was a very stressful situation.
 
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Not something that I'm familiar with. And this is how I managed it. That might not be particularly relevant to an industrial R&D engineering job,
 
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but they can see how when you went into a new situation, how you managed it.
 
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And I think those how you can form an example, if you can draw on your PhD, if you can draw on your sort of formal experiences, that's great.
 
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But if there's an area where you think importantly, where to go with this, look at your your life outside of work,
 
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outside of academia and think, are there examples that you can draw from there as well?
 
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Because that's a really key area that people sometimes sometimes miss.
 
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I think the other thing about applications and interviews is.
 
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It's almost always evidence based. So really try to give as many examples of how you fulfil the job.
 
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Job skills and competencies which will be listed on the job description, try and like focus on those specifically.
 
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And then you've got a stronger application. Are there particular things that you did?
 
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So you said you talked about kind of the importance of forming those examples and those examples,
 
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not having to be really specific to the role the industry that you're working in.
 
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Are there things that you did during your OhD that weren't necessarily kind of just about the doing the research
 
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and writing the thesis that have been really useful to you as examples and job applications and interviews?
 
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Oh, that's a great question. So there are lots of things I did during my PhD
 
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I travelled extensively as part of the PhD, which is something that I would definitely recommend to everybody.
 
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And actually that travel led to multiple collaboration's.
 
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Regarding my research. So that was extremely helpful in terms of outside of the actual PhD and the research environment.
 
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And I was also a Brownie leader. So that's part of the Girlguiding structure.
 
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And that was something that kept me really rooted during the PhD because I was working with girls aged seven to 10 and they can be so challenging.
 
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They can really come up with so many questions.
 
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Things that you don't think about a child's mind is a fascinating array of ideas, and they're so inquisitive.
 
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So that was really amazing. And I am quite lucky in that I was able to actually bring them into the physics building.
 
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And we did a whole evening in the physics building with a little talk and we did some bridge building and and all sorts of things.
 
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So that was that was really fantastic. I think I also did just after my PhD, I did some volunteering through girlguiding.
 
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So it was sustainable. Volunteering is what I called it.
 
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Call it. I'm not a builder. I don't have any skills in that area.
 
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So I can't go and build houses for people or anything like that.
 
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But we we ran a programme where we went out and asked the people what they were
 
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looking for and actually what they wanted was something much more simple or simple,
 
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something that I could deliver. Which was how to build CVs
 
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How to present yourself to different people. And it was a very simplistic level, but that was something that we were we were able to do.
 
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So that was fantastic. And as part of that, we also developed the girl guiding programme in the country with the leaders,
 
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very simple ideas that don't take lots of resources or money or time, but just ideas for things that they could do to to get more people involved.
 
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So that's something that I often talk about in interviews,
 
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because it's something that also changed me as a person to understand that I finished my PhD.
 
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But actually I have a lot of skills that are useful to other people and I can
 
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teach them in an informal way and about the world around them and how it works.
 
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I never really appreciated that before I went away.
 
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So that was really great. That's very interesting and how did you how did you balance doing that kind of activity alongside doing your PhD?
 
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I was quite lucky. We're part of a team.
 
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So when my work load up for my academic workload was quite high, I was able to kind of step back from the brownie preparation for the sessions.
 
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But when I was a little bit quieter, I could jump in and do more.
 
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And what I really tried to do was make sure that every Monday night when it was the meeting, I was always there.
 
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And that was a kind of a non-negotiable aspect for me. That time was Brownie time.
 
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And that was it. Apart from obviously when I was travelling for conferences and and other such things.
 
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But I think that's all about teamwork. That's about communicating with the team that you have and understanding each other's pressures.
 
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One of the other ladies that runs it is a school teacher. So there are key aspects during the year which are particularly busy for her.
 
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Another lady is a solicitor, so she has big projects.
 
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So sometimes it coincides that we we are all really busy.
 
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In which case we all do a little bit to contribute to what we need.
 
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Having said that, there's also a good aspect of just winging it,
 
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turning up and just having some fun and nothing to planned and just having a couple of things in your back pocket that you can just get on with.
 
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And I think that's that's really fun as well.
 
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I wouldn't want to do all the time, but that helps. And it is quite an important skill to have.
 
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Like you say, it's not something that we would necessarily want to make.
 
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The way that we operate on a daily basis, but quite often in in the working world and in your PhD, you do kind of have to just turn up and wing it.
 
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Absolutely. So there's always that time when you go to a conference and someone's talk doesn't load properly or is corrupted,
 
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or I went to a talk where all the graphs were in neon colours and you couldn't see any of the lines.
 
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And so I give him his due. That guy stood there for 20 minutes.
 
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He talked about his research and we could not see a single thing on any of his slides.
 
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And I think that is a real skill. And I think there's a bit to be said for preparation in that situation.
 
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Maybe you can go in the night before or just a couple of hours before your talk and just
 
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check it over to make sure that it does work on the projector that you're going to use.
 
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However, it's if you really know your subject area,
 
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hopefully you'd be able to talk a little bit about your research without these slides, you know, just giving it a go talk.
 
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And actually, it was a really good talk because it got people asking questions.
 
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And I think that's really key. I guess one of the big questions is what advice would you give to someone who's currently starting out or doing well,
 
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coming to the end of the research degree, who is thinking about R&D roles in industry?
 
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What advice would you give them about things they should be doing now, about applying for applying for jobs?
 
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Is there any kind of key tips you would give them? Absolutely.
 
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I would say try and extend your network.
 
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Now, you could do that by going up to conferences, talking to people about your research, but also talk to your family,
 
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your friends locally, because lots of my business contacts have been made through unusual links.
 
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So really use that network to understand what opportunities are out there.
 
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What kind of skills people are looking for right now. Because it changes it.
 
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It changes all the time. We're seeing more of a focus towards automation and more scripting is required.
 
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So things like Python are becoming more necessary and lots of job roles.
 
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And I would say focus on that to kind of understand what areas you might want to go into, on what kind of skills they're looking for.
 
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And then you can focus on sort of fulfilling those before you get there,
 
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but also using those contacts to understand actually is there an opportunity that I'd be perfect for.
 
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And actually, I can look to apply and say to them, look, it's conditional.
 
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I want to finish my PhD and then start or something like that.
 
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There are lots of opportunities out there. And you just need to be a bit flexible in looking for them, how you find them.
 
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And I think people often overlook that. Thinking that they have to apply through a formal route.
 
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And there will be a formal route. That is how you find those opportunities that I'm saying can be can be less orthodox.
 
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Yeah, I think I think that's really key and it seems to have been a key theme in your career so far.
 
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Actually, the importance of networking and making Connections to actually creating those opportunities.
 
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Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, before my PhD, most of my jobs were through word of mouth.
 
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One of the jobs that I had was because I'd used a particular software for my dissertation and a company contacted the university and said,
 
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Do you have any students who can use this software? Any graduates who might be looking for jobs?
 
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That was another way that I that I got an opportunity there as well.
 
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So there are lots ways. Talk to your supervisor about what you're looking for.
 
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Maybe they have someone who's sponsoring PhDs in another area that maybe you're not aware of and they're looking for people.
 
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So that can be a huge help as well. Yeah, that's really brilliant.
 
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I'm. Is there anything that you.
 
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Wish that you had done. While you were still a PhD student that you think would've benefited your career so far?
 
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I don't think there's any opportunities that I missed. I think probably I should have spent some time learning how to code properly.
 
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That would be really useful in my career.
 
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Now, I've picked up bits along the way, but I have to say I'm not a superb coder.
 
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I think that's a key area. But in terms of conferences, in terms of experience, I was always quite cheeky.
 
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So I'd always ask if I wanted to go to a conference, if I saw it was somewhere amazing.
 
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Then I'd just ask and we'd see if there was budget and I'd make sure that I had something new to present.
 
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When I went to my supervisor to say I would go to this conference and most of the time we made it happen.
 
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So, yeah, be cheeky. Just go for it. Yeah, that's that's the benefit of being.
 
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Proactive. And also just accepting that, you know, if you ask.
 
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They might say no. They might say yes. Exactly. My mom always used to say, if you don't ask, you don't get.
 
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And that, I think, is very true. So couple of examples on that.
 
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Specifically, before I started my PhDD, I did a placement with Kinetic.
 
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And there was a project that we were working on, which was on a warship that was in for refits.
 
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And I I've never been on an aircraft carrier.
 
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And I thought I'd really like to go. So I went over to the guy who's running projects and I said, I'd really like to go.
 
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And he said, Oh, I dunno And then I ended up being down there for two weeks.
 
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And it was absolutely fantastic. And in another example, in my current job, I was working on a project.
 
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And one of the surgeons said to me, you should come down and see surgery.
 
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And I said, okay. So I asked my boss and he said, Well, yes, I guess so.
 
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So I went down and I saw a knee replacement and a hip replacement. And I've never seen anything like that.
 
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It's it's brutal and it's fascinating. And I had no idea how I was gonna react, whether I was going to faint on the floor or be engrossed in it.
 
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Turns out I didn't faint on the floor. Fantastic. Didn't embarrass myself in front of the surgeons, but it was just the most amazing experience.
 
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And I've got so much more insight into how these surgeries are performed.
 
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So when I work with a surgeon now, I know that if you're talking about fractions of a millimetre,
 
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it's probably not going to be achievable in surgery because you you just can't see does that level of detail that you can give them a guide
 
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and that that really the understanding of the situation of the kind of equipment that you have to wear of the how hot it is in the room.
 
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You know, all these things really help you to to speak to the customer and to to be able to direct them to the best solution for their problem.
 
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What do you love most about your job? Oh, just working with loads of different people.
 
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All the different industries. So I've got a project at the moment where I'm working on trying to automate a learning process to defect,
 
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to find defects in addictively manufactured parts.
 
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So that's one project.
 
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We're also working on automated learning to build models of hearts and knees and hips for things like pacemaker design or stent placement.
 
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So just working with that huge range of industries and everything in between,
 
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I'm just really allows me to keep my brain active and learning lots of new, different things.
 
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But like I've said, applying those skills,
 
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I've learnt through the experience that I've had before to be able to come up with innovative solutions that don't only solve, you know,
 
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sort of minor problems, but they're they're really addressing critical problems like defects in aircraftg wings or,
 
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you know, my my mum's knee replacement. She could have.
 
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Now, she could have a personalised knee replacement rather than one that was probably a bit smaller, a bit too big.
 
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But she was somewhere in the middle. And I think helping to address those problems gives you a real warm glow feeling inside.
 
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Thank you so much, Celia, for taking the time to talk to me and giving some really interesting insights on kind of R&D roles,
 
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but also the hidden job market. And that's it for this episode.
 
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Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.
 
Episode 8 - Dr. David Jacoby, Research Fellow at the Zoological Society of London

Episode 8 - Dr. David Jacoby, Research Fellow at the Zoological Society of London

September 28, 2020

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. David Jacoby, Research Fellow at the Zoological Society of London. You can find out more about David on his LinkedIn profile.

 

Music credit: Cheery Monday Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) 
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License 
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ 

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter, Doctoral College

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Hello.

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I'm Kelly Peece and welcome to this episode. Today I'm going to be talking to David Jacoby.

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David works as a research fellow in a university affiliated institution, so he's kind of bridging that gap between industry and academia.

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Hi, David. Can you introduce yourself? My name is Dr. David Jacoby.

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I'm a research fellow at the Institute of Zoology, which is part of the Zoological Society of London.

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I've been working there for roughly seven years now. I graduated from the University of Exeter with a research degree in 2012.

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My PhD was in animal behaviour and that was from the School of Psychology at the Streatham campus,

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and it focussed predominantly on the application of network analysis for understanding shark behaviour.

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So, David, can you tell me a little bit about your current role and what it involves as a research fellow?

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I have a growing research lab around the theme of network ecology and telemetry,

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and this focuses on my main research interests, which are predominately the ecology and conservation of shark species.

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So that is things like how they reside with inside and outside marine protected areas, the threats they face from commercial and illegal fisheries.

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But another component in my research is also various different animal tracking

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technologies and how we can use that to understand things about movement, ecology and behaviour.

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And finally, the third strand of my research is into animal social network analysis as well.

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So why animals aggregate predominately in the marine environment for my focus.

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What this means for population dynamics and how do we quantify social behaviour in fish at all.

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So this role really involves supervision of both PhD and masters students, as a research and pure research institute.

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We do some degree of teaching associated with some of the other London universities whose masters courses are affiliated to us.

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But it's predominantly my role is around data analysis. The writing of grant applications and papers, reviewing grant applications and papers,

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as well as a big component, and then everyday meetings with students and colleagues.

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For example, I sit on the Equality and Diversity Committee within the Institute of Zoology, and this is really about taking inward.

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Look at how we as an organisation represent the diversity in society and how we can improve diversity across academia in general.

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In addition to that, we have a lot of responsibilities around communication and outreach activities.

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So I spend quite a lot of time trying to present my work to people, be on the scientific community and whether that be at conferences,

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non-specific scientific conferences and events for the public evening symposia which we put on for public at the Zoological Society of London.

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And then extra curricular activities include things like editorial responsibilities.

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So I am I've been an assistant editor at the Journal of Fish Biology for the last six years.

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So that also takes up quite a bit of my time as well. So what's it like working in a pure research institute?

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Is it similar or different to conducting research in academia?

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And what's the what's your day to day work life like?

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I really enjoy working at ZSL or the Zoological Society of London.

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It's a pure research institute. And as an organisation, it is absolutely steeped in history.

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It's nearing its two hundredth anniversary. Charles Darwin was a former fellow of that as well.

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And Sir David Attenborough is the current patron. So the place is really inspirational in terms of some of the research that's come out of there.

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There's a real diversity of research, a diversity of methods and study systems as well.

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So you never really know what you're going to be discussing when you meet people in the tea room.

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There's so many different study systems from terrestrial animals to aquatic, from various tracking to genetics.

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So there's a real mixed bag of people working there. And that's what I like about the place.

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In many ways it's similar to university, but without the pressure perhaps to conduct quite so much teaching,

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we do contribute to master's courses from Imperial College, London, University College, London as well.

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King's Royal Vetinary College and a number of other institutions. So I can do as much or as little teaching as I want,

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but I experience the same pressure that you get at a university to bring in grant

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money to justify our position to publish regularly in high impact publications.

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I have an honorary position at UCL, which is one of our main collaborative organisations,

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and there's broad collaboration across all of the London and London groups and London universities.

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And this includes the London doctoral training programme from which we have a kind of annual cohort of these students as well available to us.

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My average day, I would say, is desk based predominantly, and it will include student meetings, some analysis, a bit of writing,

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quite a lot of internal meetings as well, and also external international collaborative meetings,

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which can run out of hours as well, depending on who is speaking to.

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Then on the flip side of that, I have regular fieldwork each year as well.

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So I have two main field sites currently up and running where we track sharks using acoustic telemetry.

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My main field site is in the British Indian Ocean territory, one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.

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And here, the groups tracking reef sharks to understand the role that the marine protected area has on trying to conserve these species,

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which are still facing large threats from illegal fishing activity.

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The second field site is in northern Lanzarote in the Canary Islands,

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and this is tracking critically endangered angel sharks, about which we know very little.

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So we're using technologies there to try to understand some of their ecology,

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some of their daily seasonal and annual variation and movements and distribution.

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And this usually involves being out on the water from the vessel based research for anywhere up to three weeks at a time, at least once a year.

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Sometimes there are more trips and I also attend both national and international conferences as well.

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So that's another component of my time. But that's a broad overview of what I tend to do on a day to day basis.

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So what skills and experiences from your research degree?

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Do you use specifically in your current role for key skills?

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My PhD, I would argue that I really relied on some of the project management experience I got during my PhD

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This included things like budgeting, time allocation, delegation of responsibilities and roles to research assistants and to students as well.

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But also the importance of reading and reading a lot. Reading around the subject, reading as broadly as possible.

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Things like practising presentations as well. I used to be terrified of giving presentations.

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The more I do, the easier I find it.

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So certainly practising that more and more was a skill that I began to acquire during my PhD, which is still really important today.

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Also, I would say a willingness to kind of see where a conversation or a train of thought can lead you as well.

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So I'm very fortunate at the moment in my role that I'm able to kind of explore different avenues of research.

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But one of the great things about a pure research institute is that you can have a conversation that can set you off on a whole new direction.

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It could be bring in whole new techniques, a whole new set of collaborators,

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and it can really set start your day or your week or your year off in a very exciting direction.

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And the only other thing I would say about what I learnt from my PhD was the importance of listening to people,

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taking onboard advice and learning the kind of better habits of people I admired,

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but also learning from bad habits of others and generally just trying to treat people in the way that I enjoyed being treated as a student myself.

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I learnt a lot from my supervisors and I learnt a lot from the people I interacted with.

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During my PhD and I've really made a conscious effort to try and take some of those good

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components and repeat them and pass them on to students that I now supervise as well.

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Are there any additional activities or extracurricular projects you would advise research

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degree students to get involved in to help make them more employable extracurricular activities?

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As I said, I. I have my editorial roles for various different journals.

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These have been extremely rewarding for me as I've learnt a lot about the peer review system and about research in general.

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It's meant I've had to interact with a lot of different researchers worldwide, both for requests for review,

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but also managing the comments as they come in and then dealing with the authors

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and and being the Go-Between between the authors and reviewers as well. That's been a really rewarding and interesting experience.

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So I would highly recommend if those opportunities come up. Taking those organising events is certainly a very useful thing to do.

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Again, this comes down to project management.

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And I helped organise a behaviour meeting while I was at Exeter during my PhD and that was a very useful thing to do.

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I currently run a twice monthly bio logging journal club where we discuss and critique new papers in the field of animal tracking.

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And this really, again, encourages people to read. It stimulates discussion amongst people of a like mind.

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It enables you to keep on top of the literature and learn new new things.

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But just just having to run that really forced me to to bring the group together

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and to meet on a regular basis and to discuss things on a regular basis as well.

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I would advise offering yourself out to help out on committees that, you know,

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really try and have an impact on the environment you work in and try and really be

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be an individual that pushes forward better practises within that institution,

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an organisation that can always be improvements made both at an institutional level, but also at a wider.

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Academic level as well. So I would say use your voice.

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Everyone, everyone has an important thing. Everyone has important things to say.

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And I would use that to try and improve the surroundings that you're in.

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And the field as a whole. And finally, what advice would you give to students who are thinking about applying for roles in pure research institutes?

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The advice that I always give isn't necessarily specific to a research institute at all, but it is useful, I think.

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And that is learn a skill, whether that be coding or learning a programming language.

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Genetic techniques and mathematical processes or all things from physics, anything like that.

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And bring that skill to the organisation that you want to work at or the study system that you want to work on, particularly in ecology and zoology.

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We are crying out for interdisciplinary research techniques, people to bring in research from other areas.

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I mean, science is becoming an increasingly interdisciplinary thing to do.

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So thinking outside the box is a must. And outside skills often pave the way for new, very novel research.

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And these can be be the difference in, you know, really progressing the field.

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So I would I would definitely recommend trying to learn a skill as opposed to being

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focussed on a particular system or a particular study organism or something like that.

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The second and final piece of advice I would also give is to be really persistent as well.

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There is no tried and tested method from going from your PhD  to the job you finally want to end up in.

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It took me many years to get to the point where I was being paid to lead my own research and often just a foot in the door is really important.

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So I actually took up a six month unpaid internship after my PhD, which wasn't wasn't ideal.

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And it's also not feasible for everyone as well. But it was really important.

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I was able to get a foot in the door at the Zoological Society of London.

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And since then I've stayed and I've slowly developed my own strands of research, my own research group over time.

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So people take different routes. There is no right way of getting from A to B.

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And it's important to remember that, but it will take a lot of persistence. So stick at it if you're keen and the rewards will come.

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Thank you so much, David, for taking the time to share your thoughts and your experience.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 7 - Dr. Natalie Whitehead, Co-Founder Exeter Science Centre

Episode 7 - Dr. Natalie Whitehead, Co-Founder Exeter Science Centre

September 3, 2020

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. Natalie Whitehead, co-founder of the Exeter Science Centre.

Here are some links to the different organisations and schemes we discussed in the podcast: 

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter Doctoral College

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of Beyond Your Research Degree.

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I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and I'm delighted for this episode to be joined by one of our recent graduates, Dr Natalie Whitehead.

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Natalie, are you happy to introduce yourself? OK, great.

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So I'm Natalie Whitehead. I recently finished my PhD in physics.

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I was looking at spin waves through magnets, which are just a special type of wave that travels through magnets.

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That was my PhD and that finished in September.

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And I'm now the founder and director alongside my colleague, Dr Alice Mills for the Exeter Science Centre.

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Talk to me about the Exeter Science Centre. How how did this come about?

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So this is something that I've been thinking about for, oh, I don't know, probably just a bit over a year now.

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But a year and a half. And basically, I I was trying to work out what to do after my PhD

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So this who was in physics and during my PhD and undergraduate degree,

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I was really involved in doing public engagement with research and a lot of science outreach.

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I absolutely love talking about science and and speaking to the public about it and showing them demos and getting their

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views and trying to answer questions and things and basically just trying to inspire them about how amazing science is.

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So I was trying to work out what to do after the PhD, which would, you know,

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be good for me, but also for something that I can really contribute towards.

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So, you know, the climate crisis is a really big thing at the moment.

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Of course, it should be and should have been for the. I don't know how many decades.

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And I really feel like I have some kind of responsibility to do something with my physics training, which is useful.

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So I was trying to work out what to do and whether, you know,

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whether I should go and work for one of these amazing Start-Up companies doing cool things.

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You know, I was looking at the the ocean clean up.

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I think what they're doing is amazing, using science and tech to solve the problem and a global issue and lots of other companies like that.

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It's nice thinking. Well, you know, I could go and work for someone like that. Will I be the best scientist or engineer to do that?

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I don't know. But I thought really what my what my skills are.

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One of the things I'm really passionate about, as I mentioned, is science communication.

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And this idea really just came to me one afternoon having lunch and thinking like, why don't I just make a science centre in Exeter?

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It's just something that I've always kind of thought, wow, we should really have one of those here

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I've been to a few around the UK and across the world.

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And I just I love going there. And I see adults and people of all ages just absolutely loving,

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understanding different things about science and playing with scientific equipment and just really engaging with science.

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And I just figured, why don't we have one here? And why don't I just make it?

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So I approached my colleague Alice, and she's a very passionate science communicator as well.

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And she loved the idea here. And we've just been talking about it since then.

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So, yeah, we're just super dedicated to making it happen.

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So what stage are you at with your plans for the science centre?

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We're still in the very early stages. So, as I mentioned, I finished the PhD in September.

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And of course, when you, you know, hand in a PhDthesis,

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you still got a lot of work to do afterwards to kind of, you know, do the viva and make corrections.

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So that's been kind of continued and maybe into about January or so.

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And then I really properly submitted it put in online and then then could properly focus on this that I've been working on.

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It's pretty much full time on and off, you know, around the thesis since September.

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So what we're what we're doing at the moment is trying to get trying to get the public to be aware of our plans and try

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to get their input and really just try to establish ourselves as a science discovery centre for Exeter and for the region.

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And just trying to raise awareness, try to raise money as well.

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That's a big part of it. And just trying to make it happen.

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We've got a a team of advisers who are amazing and super inspiring from different areas of science education and business as well.

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And they're kind of our advisory boards. They'll be moving over to be our trustees.

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Once we establish ourselves as a charity soon. But there's there's loads of things to do about it.

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When you take on such a big project, you realise that, you know, you're running a business.

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You're also trying to create a charity here, charitable business.

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Engage with the public. And that is just a kind of multidisciplinary project ready, which is really exciting or very overwhelming.

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But at the same time, it's some I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.

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I was going to say it's it's a huge project and and it is there must be an awful

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lot of business based skills and business based work that needs to be done.

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How how has that been? How has it been. Yeah.

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You know, going from an academic environment to doing much more business related work.

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Have you found that transition easy?

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Have there been kind of skills and experiences you've been able to take across or has it been a complete learning curve?

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It's been a very steep learning curve. So am I. I don't have any experience of running a company myself, and nor does my colleague Alice.

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So we're learning. However, I feel like when you you do a PhD and you study.

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I mean, you know, from my experience of studying science and physics,

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you you have to take in a lot of information and and process things and think logically.

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And, you know, you you can learn things very quickly.

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And although the business and accounting and finance and all that kind of stuff is it's not my first language at all

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I feel like there's there's a lot of information out there that just needs synthesising, understanding.

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And really, that is the way we're approaching this.

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Of course, we understand it. We we shouldn't be expected to be absolute experts.

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Everything we're doing and this projects, rather,

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it's it's understanding when we need help and need assistance and guidance from people who really have experience in this.

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So we've been very lucky, actually, to have a lot of assistance from the university in.

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In this kind of Start-Up venture, if you would call with the start-ups team, setsquared programme.

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They've been absolutely wonderful and giving us the kind of business advice.

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So we've been assigned a business adviser, David Solomides, who is just super inspiring and really, really, really helpful.

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And he's become one of our kind of formal advisors and hopefully one four trustees will move to a charity as well.

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So so the help is out there.

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I suppose if I was to give advice to someone perhaps who is thinking about doing something unusual like this, who doesn't have the experience.

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I guess it's just you just have to go for it and be prepared to ask and and reach out to people and organisations who can help you,

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such as the university and and others. It's just been wonderful.

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Actually, the amount of support and help that we've received from from various kind of organisations across Exeter and mostly really the university.

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But, yeah, I feel like we've we've been assisted the whole time with them.

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With things like this, especially business, which is kind of scary and unusual for the physicist,

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for scientists, but I but I think it's it's totally doable and it's always going to be a learning curve.

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But if you're determined enough, you'll you'll make out. Yeah. And I think there's a couple of things I'd like to pick up on there.

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The first of which is to just acknowledge that that the support is out there in it.

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And it's not about knowing everything yourself and having all of the skills yourself, but knowing how to access your networks, I guess.

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And and and in this case, for you, it is the university and the start-ups team.

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Definitely, definitely. That's really important, too, because you you can't possibly know everything,

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really recognising that is really important because otherwise you just try and do everything yourself.

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It get stressful. It gets overwhelming.

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It's kind of it's almost like knowing when to delegate and knowing when to knowing that you can't possibly know everything

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and that there is a big support network there if you're part of the university or have been part of the university.

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They are just wonderful in in encouraging and helping and facilitating anything to do with Enterprise or Start-Up Ideas.

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That is just been even the kind of encouragement that you get of, you know, wow, this is a great idea.

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You should speak to this person or have a look at this. It's it's just been really, really helpful.

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And I think people don't expect that to be a department of the university that has this kind of business expertise.

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And they really do. Yeah, that's it.

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And I seriously encourage anyone to to go visit the the Innovation Centre as the start-ups team are over in the deck over there.

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And they're just they're just great. You just pop in and speak to them and they can they have lots of kind of seminars, workshops and advice for you.

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So just go and speak to them. They're really great. So the experience you have of writing papers, your thesis reports, funding applications,

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all those sorts of things clearly and stood you in good stead for what you're doing now.

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Are there any other skills or experiences you had during your PhD day that have been really, really crucial to starting this venture?

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That's a good question, because I think, to be honest, the whole thing really the the way that I was approaching this,

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they're calling it a project, is there's more than a project.

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So that is an ambition. But, you know, you have to break it down into small, achievable steps because, of course,

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you know, Mount Improbable really in this case is building a multi-million pound science centre.

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But they're kind of finite steps you can break this down into.

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Okay. We need to talk to people. We need to make a plan.

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And then those have some steps as well.

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So the important thing is when you're doing a Ph.D., you cannot say, right, I'm going to just just solve this big problem I have for, you know,

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it's going to take four years and a PhD in this case, it might take about I dunno about seven years if we're if we're lucky to get the funding.

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But at the same time, it's a seemingly insurmountable task, but it can be broken down into small, achievable chunks,

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some of which you're doing all at the same time, which just makes it a little bit more challenging.

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But, um, but yeah, I think that the whole time management and understanding that things can be done,

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they just need to be done in small chunks is very helpful from a PhD

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So what else. Things like presentation skills. That's been hugely important to them during the a PhD

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We've had a lot of opportunities to to do presentations, you know, preparing PowerPoint,

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doing either conference presentations or presentations to our colleagues about the way that we're doing.

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Again, you have to be clear. You have to be kind of clear enough to a to a broad audience who don't necessarily have your expertise.

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And you have to express complicated ideas in a very short space of time, sometimes five, 10 minutes or so that you've got.

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And I found actually that that I've had that experience here as well. So we've had a number of number of opportunities where we will be doing business

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pitches to various audiences and they might be five minutes long or so.

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So I've had the same problem I have to express to people this kind of amazing

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vision that I that I and my colleagues have about the Exeter science centre.

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And I have to explain it in five minutes and everything that could possibly encompass and that's challenging.

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It's something I'm still kind of learning about because, of course,

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they people think of it from a business sense to not only have you got to express the vision,

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you have to express, you know, how you're going to get funding and all of this kind of extra detail to in five minutes.

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So that's been challenging. So, yeah, there's some really cool things are coming across.

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That's the the writing, as we've already talked about, but also the kind of product and time management presentation skills.

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So I think the thing that's. That's really interesting to reflect on is that it's not necessarily obviously what you're doing is science related,

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but it's not necessarily the the science specific skills that you're using certainly at this moment in time.

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It's it's the broader kind of skill set that you develop through the process of doing the research degree.

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Definitely, definitely. I think it's not necessarily you know, you don't have to have done a science PhD to to be able to do this stuff.

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But certainly, from my perspective, it has helped a lot because I feel I said and I hope I'm sure it's the same in other disciplines.

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Of course, I have no experience of it, but I just feel like doing a you know, doing a PhD in general,

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I think gives you this this ability to take on and face a lot of information and and that kind of stuff, that that's really incomprehensible.

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Synthesise it down and make logical steps when you understand what what needs to be done.

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So it's definitely helped. I guess that the difficult question but the one that I know that people will be

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wondering is obviously this isn't making you any money at the moment to be to be blunt.

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So are you working alongside it? So that the way that I'm doing it at the moment is we don't have any specific income, which is, you know,

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obviously would be difficult for a lot of people, to be honest, being pretty thrifty throughout the PhD

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I know a lot of PhD students often, you know,

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work an extra year sometimes to write up results and and maybe their funding ends and they have to continue writing the thesis.

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Luckily, with the way that I did the PhD in the centre for doctoral training in metamaterials, they were wonderful.

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And they would they would, you know, pay you for the full amount of time.

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So you had a good four years to write up.

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But what we're trying to do is, well, we've got some it's called co creation funding from one of our advisors who's amazing, Dr. Janet Anders.

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She's provided us with some funding to basically pay a very small stipend that will start soon.

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Yeah, it is a bit of a problem because when you when you do start something like this way,

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maybe you don't have an immediate income source or or reading something current kind of charitable.

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You do need to have a bit of a business head on you.

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You need to think about how how you're going to make money from it, mainly because it has to be sustainable.

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We don't want to make a big salary for ourselves. We're not interested in that.

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We want to do something good. To be honest, it would just be great if, you know, we could we could all just live for free and do nice things.

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But of course, that, of course, you have to you have to think sustainably long term.

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So this has been something we've been thinking about for a while. How on earth do we do this?

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Because, of course, you know, I initially were like, we need to make this amazing building, amazing centre, because that will have the most impact.

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And, of course, we need a lot of money for. How are we going to get to that stage?

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Well, we think that since our expertise, mine and Alice's when Alice joins us properly in September,

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our expertise really is public engagement with science.

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And of course, we we've had a lot of experience working with academics and working in academia.

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And we think that's a really important way for us to bring money in initially just to

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kind of pay ourselves a small salary and enable us to work on this properly for for

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a longer term is to work with academics to kind of basically do public engagement on

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their behalf or with them and take the hassle out of that whole process for them,

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including the reporting back and making sure that everything's clear for the for the the ref, the research excellence framework.

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So what we're what we're doing is starting now to work with academics to make public engagement programmes of their research,

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which involve, you know, working schools, the public.

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And we've got, of course, a big growing audience across the Southwest to reach and do public talks for them, help them make exhibits.

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And eventually we hope that this will transition into working with them properly for,

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you know, putting putting their amazing exhibitions in the science centre itself.

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But the way we've kind of reframed thinking about this project is that, you know, it's not just working towards a building.

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You know, that isn't the end goal, really. It would be wonderful. We really, really want it to happen.

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But the really important thing that we can be doing right now is having an impact with the public.

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You know, even though we don't have a centre, we can still be a kind of a kind of abstract idea of a centre, which is just,

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you know, we're doing something great where we're communicating science to the public in a scientific research.

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And by the way, I have to clarify, like I'm using science, but really, that's an umbrella term for STEM or science,

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technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine, which we're using but I tend to just use science because its shorter

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So we want to communicate science, the public. We want to have an impact now.

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And and we don't need a building to do that. Of course, when we have a building,

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we'll be able to have so much more influence and impact and have a space that people can actually visit and engage with.

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But for now, we're going to be working with academics that should bring some money in to enable us to do this.

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And at the same time, we're going to be working to get grants from from various funding bodies and of course,

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working towards getting what we hoped might be some philanthropic or some capital grant funding to make the building itself where we're optimistic.

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That's brilliant. And just sounds like a really, really considered a weay to.

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Support yourselves, but also develop and support the.

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The business slash charity. And develop those connections and that interest and engagement with the future centre.

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Definitely. Yeah. I mean, we're really I guess the thing is we're not trying to do something on the side,

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which is I don't know for example, selling scientific toys

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Maybe that would make some money. It's kind of relevant, but not really.

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But that's more of a kind of profit making enterprise, which is just trying to,

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you know, and whether that profit goes towards the stuff that we're doing.

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We we thought we might as well try to get some some income through doing the activities we really ought to be doing anyway.

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It's just kind of lucky, really, that some that there is a market for, if you want to call it that.

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We know that a lot of academics are really busy and they don't necessarily have

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the skills or the the time to do proper public engagement rather than just,

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you know, going to a school once throughout the whole course of of of a grant.

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Instead, what we can do is say, look, you know, you don't need to bother about sending all those emails and organising things and

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reporting back and and trying to reach a broad audience will do all that stuff for you.

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And at the same time, we're doing something good,

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because it's we're getting to talk to the public about science and about exciting research that's going on locally.

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So it just ticks loads of boxes, really. We really hope that's gonna be a viable income source for us.

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But we're working on it. Yeah. Yeah.

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As I said, it sounds incredibly exciting. And the.

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The idea of of the centre, and I mean certainly as a kind of I grew up locally and I remember taking school trips,

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we always had to go to Bristol, you know, to the science centre. And so the idea of having having that in Exeter seems.

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It almost makes me sort of when I when I saw saw the work you were doing,

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it made me think what actually given this exeter science park, we've got the Met office here, the university.

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Why don't we have one? Yeah. Exactly. Really pleased you said that

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I guess this is a good opportunity to kind of explain, you know, a rationale for putting it here and also what we're trying to achieve.

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So if you. The clearest thing I tend to start with, of course, on a podcast, so I can't show you it.

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But if you look at the map of science centres across the U.K., these are.

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I have to kind of define science centre first.

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So a science centre or Science Discovery Centre is a kind of Hands-On science museum, which isn't about exhibits behind glass,

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which are kind of historical or, you know, and and have a more historical kind of background.

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It's more about Hands-On experiences which are trying to, you know, infuse and inspire people of all ages and backgrounds about science.

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So that's what a science centre is.

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And if you if you look at the map of science centres across the U.K., there is just a gap in this region which needs filling, quite frankly.

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So, as you mentioned, there's one in Bristol, which is really curious and that's amazing, really a really great centre.

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And they've got a wonderful planetarium. And it's just it's just really cool.

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It's actually one of the the earliest science centres in the UK in its original form.

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And also what else we got down in the Southwest where we've got these projects, of course, amazing and really iconic.

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And the Eden projects is still quite specialised in its aim

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So that, you know, it's more about kind of I kind of want to get it wrong, but more horticultural, you know,

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it's it's it has a certain theme associated with it isn't really general science, including like space and astronomy and biology and things like that.

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It's it's more specialised in what it does. And there's also the Plymouth the Aquarium in Plymouth.

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That, again, is very specialised. It's a it's an aquarium. And it says more about, you know, it very specialised theme.

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So what we're trying to create is a is a general science centre,

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which covers all aspects of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.

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And we are trying to to fill this gap of science engagement in the Southwest and why Exeter

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Why not Tiverton or Cullompton?

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Or something like that.

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Well, Exeter itself is is really trying to establish itself and is doing a wonderful job at being a real science and tech innovation hub.

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I mean, you're right. We have the Met office, we have the university,

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we have the exeter science park and this consists of a load of really exciting science and tech companies who are who are doing great things.

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So Exeter already is a hub of science and that does lots of great things going in the region are going on in the region around here.

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And it really just is the perfect place for it, not only because they know it has great connections,

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particularly for North Devon and the more rural areas across the southwest, you know that the roads all head towards Exeter.

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And, of course, the train service as well. So we're trying to take as many boxes as we can in terms of location.

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We want to really locate it in the centre of Exeter so that people don't have to drive to get to us.

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You know, they could use public transport or they could use a park ride service and and you know that.

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Or they could cycle in and whatever, depending on where they live with.

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You know, if we were located out in the countryside, pretty much everyone would have to drive to get to us or,

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you know, it would just make it more difficult for people to reach us.

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And also, we're just we're trying to become a real cultural centre.

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You know, we don't want to be a kind of tourist attraction on the outskirts.

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We want to serve the public and and host clubs where if we get this amazing building that we'd like to create,

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we'd love to have green walls of rooftop garden.

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You know, maybe we'd love to work with the RHS for example,

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and the Eden project to create a kind of rooftop Eden where people come and they they have mindful kind of gardening activities

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and clubs they might take part in from a kind of gardening for mental health kind of idea that we'll have public lectures.

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So I just imagine it being this kind of space that people, you know, whether they're.

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Interested in science, whether they're interested in the arts, though, will come in and an experience this place in lots of different ways.

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The thing I haven't really emphasised too much. Mainly because it's it's something I'm really excited about.

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I don't necessarily have the expertise in is the fact that we want to tie in art with the science centre really strongly.

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And I'm still working out ways to do this. I met with residents at the amazing and inspiring Studio Kaleider

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And that's the kind of organisation which not only facilitates lots of artists who work together and and

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work on really inspiring things that they create these amazing kind of art experiences and installations.

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So I'm a resident there, which means that they very kindly let me use their office space and, you know, work amongst their colleagues.

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And I'm hoping that will, you know, help me get an insight into this. This amazing arts community we have in Exeter in the Southwest,

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and we're trying to we're trying to ensure that that isn't just a, you know, science centre for science nerds.

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You know, even that would be some nerdy components of the science centre.

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We wanted to ensure that it's appealing to a broad audience and we want to emphasise that science, isn't it?

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Well, okay. The subject isn't just you're a scientist or you're an artist.

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You know that you can be both. You can use the skills from both areas to to to basically understand the universe.

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We find ourselves in and that's what artists are trying to do, you know, interpret and understand the world.

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And that's what scientists are trying to do as well. I don't see them mutually exclusive, I think.

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I think we can learn a lot from each other. And I just think it would just make it so much more interesting.

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We have been to a few science centres, the one in particular that really resonates with me,

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and that is a great inspiration for the place we're trying to make is the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

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They have a an artist in residence.

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They have these amazing creative and kind of psychologically interesting art installations which have loads of science behind them.

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And they just I can't even express it. It's it's really inspiring stuff.

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And we'd really love to emulate that. And that's something I'm trying to work on at the moment.

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We're trying to understand how we can embed and and make a thread running through a whole centre of art as well as science.

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So there's a lot of information. It just sounds incredibly inspiring.

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And it's great to hear that you're working with Kaleider as well is that a connection that the university that through the start-ups,

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set up, or is that something that you sought out yourself? So I'm trying to think how that happened.

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I think I was doing a pitch. This was I handed my PhD thesis in on the Monday and on the Tuesday, I had a pitch at an Exeter Cits Futures event.

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Oh, wow. Yeah. And I hadn't written my presentation for it, so I had zero I had to hand, my thesis on the Monday morning.

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And then that afternoon prepared my presentation. And then I'm quite literally on that Tuesday.

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Everything starts kicking off. So I had of emails and really started working on the Science Centre the next day.

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So that was intense. But yeah.

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But I think from that meeting, the kind of networking meeting, I met Andy at Kaleider and he said, oh you need to come in to our open Fridays.

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So they have this wonderful thing where on a on a Friday anyone can go and use their

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office space and just kind of mingle and do some work there and talk to people.

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And. And I I did that a few times.

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I just thought, this is so cool. You know, everyone is so interesting and they're working on great things.

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And they were really welcoming. And I guess I just I just wanted to be part of it.

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So I applied to become a resident. And they very kindly let me in. And yeah.

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So it kind of happened through just one of the networking events that these wonderful events that Exeter City futures organisers.

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I heartily encourage anyone who is thinking of setting up or being part of or doing something locally.

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They should just go to these kind of events.

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You know, there's lots of no on exeter city features have this amazing, you know, idea for the future of, exeter, that they're really proactive.

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It's just a great place to get things done. I can't really explain. I think it's it's.

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Exeter. It's the kind of people that are working here that are doing things here.

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There is a lot of encouragement and a lot of help and a lot of opportunities. So it's really the best place to be doing something great.

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That's that's brilliant. That's really, really brilliant. I think we probably draw to a close, but in doing so what?

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What advice would you give someone that's thinking about.

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I guess setting up their own business or venture or or project or, you know, we can use a variety different terms,

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but they're getting towards the end of the end of the research degree of the day, they're thinking about what's next.

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They want to set up on start up on their own. What advice would you give them?

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Okay. I would suggest that they have to.

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If they say they've got the project, they they understand what they want to do or even if they have a brief idea.

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First of all, if that part of university, I'd suggest talk to the kind of student entrepreneur team we have.

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We have one at Exeter. Of course, they're amazing. Go and talk to them and they will probably give you some amazing advice.

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Maybe you attend a seminar about, you know, how to put your put your business ideas into practise.

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They have lots of things about how to make a business plan, how to, you know, make you go to networking events and and make Connections.

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So I would really firstly suggest just talking to people about it,

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preferably people from the business entrepreneurship team, and also try and get a bit of a team behind you if you can.

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Trying to do something as a single person is really tough because, you know,

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not only is it really helpful to have a sounding board for other people to come say, well, should we do it this way or maybe we should try this.

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You know, I think this is why, for example, in in university lab work, you know, when you we have we have lab projects.

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You have to do it.

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They usually put you with a partner or there's a small team of you that really helps realise working in a series is hugely important to this.

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So maybe they'll be two of you, maybe three of you.

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And then, you know, eventually you'll start thinking about getting advisors on board maybe who have business experience,

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maybe you who are just super enthusiastic about your cause and have experience from other areas.

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But it's it's just I suppose don't be afraid of going and doing something unusual.

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You know, it might when you when you say to people, oh, I want to make a case, maybe 40 million pound science centre in Exeter,

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I think a lot of people would just like you're completely mad and you kind of say,

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well, you know, you have to be a bit crazy to do something like this. But, you know, it can be done in that it should be done and that it can happen.

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If you're motivated enough. You really I guess you have to have the enthusiasm for what you're doing.

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You have to be motivated and particularly resilient to setbacks,

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to the kind of overwhelming nature of what you're doing and just get people around you who can support you, who can guide you and who can help you.

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Yeah. Talk to First of all, the first thing to do is talk to the amazing people and the student start-ups team.

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That's my advice. Absolutely.

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And you've mentioned lots of different resources here, like the start-ups team at the Innovation Centre, set squared Exeter City Futures, Kaleider

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And I'm going to put links to all of these organisations and information in the show

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notes so that people can kind of follow up on on those brilliant recommendations.

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And that's it for this episode.

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Thank you so much to Natalie for taking the time to talk to me about what is an incredibly exciting project and the range of support.

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You can access it if you're interested in this kind of charitable, entrepreneurial venture after your research degree.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

Episode 6 - Dr. Denise Wilkins, Researcher at Microsoft Research

Episode 6 - Dr. Denise Wilkins, Researcher at Microsoft Research

July 27, 2020

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about non-academic careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. Denise Wilkins, Researcher at Microsoft Research.

 

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter Doctoral College

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It's Kelly Preece here research development manager ing the University of Exeter Doctor College.

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And I'll be your host for this episode.

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I'm delighted to be talking to another University of Exeter doctoral alumnus, Denise Wilkins, who is currently working as a researcher in industry.

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Denise, are you happy to introduce yourself, I'm Denise Wilkins and I'm a social scientist and I work at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.

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So my job there really is to conduct research. So I'll be trying to understand people.

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Social scientists trying to understand their needs and really try to feed insights back

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to people who are looking at the future of technology development to really think how,

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you know, what I'm hearing, what I'm talking to, people might translate and be applied to products that we might want to develop in the longer term.

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And so at the moment, we're working in a theme called The Future of Work.

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So we're really interested to understand what the work might look like in the future and how technology might support that.

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And my project is looking at knowledge in large organisations, say,

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trying to find ways to help workers in large organisations share knowledge and have knowledge kind of more available to them in their work.

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What was your research degree in at Exeter? My degree was in psychology.

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Say it was it was very kind of similar themes.

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I was looking at technology and in particular I was looking at a social media and how it might affect people's willingness to engage in activism.

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So to put it, I was really inspired by things like the Arab Spring and where you might have

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seen or have kind of had news stories that social media played a role in,

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acts as a catalyst by inspiring people to go on the streets. But at the same time, there was also kind of a slacktivism narrative going on which said,

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well, you know, people are just like him things and sharing things on social media.

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And they're not really kind of going on the ground and doing the hard effort. So really

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Well, what I tried to do in my PhD was to really understand when and how social media might facilitate activism

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and social change and what are the type of circumstances where it might maybe have a different effect.

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And reduce people's willingness to do that. On what? When might it have more kind of negative effects and social change?

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So although I was in psychology,

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my research will always have the interest in people and technology and how technology can be a positive driver for change.

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And that's kind of followed me on to my work at Microsoft. So I'm interested to know what what your plan was, I guess,

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when you were doing the coming to the end of your research degree in the write-up, which is incredibly challenging in and of itself.

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Did you have a clear plan of what you wanted to do afterwards? Was the plan always to go into a research career in industry?

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Yeah. Well, at the time, I don't think I was aware.

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of the different options and career paths that there were.

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And I knew that I love researching. I knew that I love talking to people.

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And I knew that I wanted to have an impact, say,

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thinking about how technology so pervasive in our everyday lives and how new technology is being created all the time.

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I was aware that, you know, that there are kind of negative impacts that technology can have, say how can.

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And so the idea as a researcher take a role in shaping that.

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And I wasn't really sure then about the opportunities that existed in industry.

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It wasn't something that I heard much about. You know, psychology's part of STEM in Exeter.

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So I often heard about people with like a chemistry or biology degrees and how they might go to kind of pharmaceutical companies.

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But I didn't really hear much of the narrative about what kind of psychology PhD could do with their degree.

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So I wasn't really aware and I was mostly looking for the kind of jobs in academia and postdocs in academia.

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And I actually I went on. And prior to working in Microsoft, I did a postdoc and I Exeter.

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So that was with the same P.I.

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He supervised me for my PhD. And that was looking at a different form of technology in different contexts.

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And I was looking at block chain and how and how it could be used to create new peer-to-peer energy markets.

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I was looking at the energy sector there. It was only when I started doing that postdoc

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One of the other researchers on the same project really told me about kind of user research.

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They told me about HCI as a field. And they told me about my research in Cambridge and how they do lots of they have lots of engagement,

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kind of which social science and which social scientists that there really is a role for kind of social scientists in large

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organisations like that and engaging with different users and generating insights that can be used by design and developers.

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So was that an immediate move?

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So when you finished your postdoc, did you go straight to a job at Microsoft Research or was there something in between?

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Yeah, there wasn't anything in between. So from talking to her it just sounded really inspirational

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It sounded kind of exactly what I wanted to do

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So no, on the one hand and. So Microsoft research is slightly different from like Microsoft, so there's kind of two arms to Microsoft.

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You have sort of Microsoft and the product groups and they'd be directly they still do user research

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and they and they would be directly trying to impact the products we use every day in the short term.

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So it really is. As far as I totally understand that it's about sort of what really focussed on finding insights that can improve specific products.

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Whereas Microsoft Research has its longer term or indeed vision.

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So I'm not part of any particular project, product group, but I hope to have insights that could perhaps impact and shape any of the products.

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And other large tech companies have similar.

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You have Google and you've got Google product groups, but you will see what people research.

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So, yeah, that's that's kind of one of the splits that you have.

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So really what I liked about Microsoft research is that you have the opportunity to have the real world impact on the products.

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And by really doing that I'm aiming for that kind of thought leadership and find it,

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finding these insights that can impact the longer term vision that there really is this kind of academic community.

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So we're encouraged to write publications and to submit them to journals and to conferences.

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Really, really there is this academic engagement.

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We also have. So that's another reason why that's those kind of opportunities with Microsoft Research really appealed

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to me because I felt like it ticked both of the boxes of what I really loved about being in academia.

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So on the one hand, trying to have real world impact or say being part of a broader academic and scientific community where you're able to sort of

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push your learnings out more broadly and beyond kind of the immediate project that you might be working on through publications,

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for example. Yes, and what you're saying about not being aware of the opportunities in industry,

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but particularly where social science type research might be happening in industry is something we hear a lot for from students.

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So from what you're saying, it sounds like there were a lot of similarities between the role that you're doing now and a research role in academia.

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So could you talk a little bit about what the differences are? So what's different about researching in industry compared to academia?

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Yeah. So I think, you know, one of those pieces that I like, which is much stronger is is the impact.

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Say, I feel like maybe for me as a junior researcher in a university, that idea of impact was probably quite far from my mind.

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So I want to see the research I wanted to write out for publication.

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And then you heard stories about people talking about impact are more senior.

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Well, I never really knew what that meant. I didn't really know how I would go about having impact.

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And I think sometimes on a personal level, I would think I'm I'm doing research and I'm I'm writing papers.

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But who's reading them. Who's going to do something with them.

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Is is it other folk from the psychology community, which is great.

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But, you know, how can you go beyond your community and and really encourage people who are designing technology to do it differently?

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And for me. That was just perhaps a kind of psychological gap in my head,

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like I couldn't see how those steps joined up, whereas in my soul, for me, it's much clearer.

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And so I'm just a really practical examples. We have regular meetings, we have different product groups, and I'll be sharing my insights with them.

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So really, the stakeholders of the research are really clear.

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And, you know, you have those in mind when you're trying to design the research and you have the opportunity to really think,

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well, how how might this kind of shape shape their thinking?

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So that's the kind of steps are a lot clearer to me, which is one thing that I really liked.

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I think it perhaps changes some of the type of things you might produce.

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So I think sometimes in sort of academia where we're taught to write

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Kind of papers and the papers can be really long. And, you know, people are really interested in the details.

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So they want to know exactly what methods you used and they'll want to know a

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lot about kind of the background and your kind of theoretical justification. And again, I want to know at the end,

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how does how what other kind of impacts of this and other academics will really have time to kind of read those long papers.

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And we need to still learnings from it.

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But I think one of the things in industry is that you're trying to communicate # to lots of different people.

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And some people they might be the same specialism as you.

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So there might be other social scientists and I might have a lot more time to read all of that.

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But you also might be talking to kind of leaders or designers or people need to make that decision about their product really quickly.

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So they will just really want to have something that they can absorb like, say,

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really a PowerPoint and they just want to know on know even two slides, like what are the key things I need to know?

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And so it's about communicating a lot and a lot more kind of concise ways.

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And also perhaps not being afraid to have an opinion and how they're a strength and say these are tje recommendations is what I would advise you today.

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And again, for me, at least in academia. I felt like that wasn't something that I did before.

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I didn't really make lots of presentations, only occasionally of us going to a conference, for example.

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And again, I, I think it was just my personality but I would shy away from making really strong recommendations and say,

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well, because of this study, we need to be X, Y and Z.

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But that's really what people are looking for in industry.

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You to give the practical recommendations for that for that work and what they should do next.

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So I'm hearing a lot and what you're saying about the core skill set that you use in your current role

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and communication in a variety different forms and formats seems to be an important part of that.

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But I wonder what other sort of general skills did you learn or develop during your research degree that you use on a daily basis now?

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I think because of my degree, I think one of. The core skills that I learnt was really planning research and then sort of learning

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how to conduct research on having sort of a variety of different research methods.

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So really that kind of expertise with people and being able to interview people and get them to talk to you about whatever,

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whatever topic they might they might have and then really been able to put that together into a narrative.

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So I feel that's one of kind of the strongest, the strongest skills that I've kind of taken from my PhD

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So something that I think would be really interesting for our listeners is that you've

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interviewed and been successful for a research job in academia and in industry.

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So can you talk about the interview, and application processes for those roles?

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And if they were similar or if they were different and if so, what the differences were and they were different.

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So the the entry process at Microsoft was much longer.

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So there were a number of calls first.

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I think first I submitted an application, which was I think it was a CV and maybe maybe a statement, a short statement as to why the job was with.

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Interesting. And then I had a call from a recruiter.

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He just really wanted to cover some kind of fundamental thing.

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So the job I actually have with Microsoft, it is called a postdoc.

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So it was just really checking things of, you know, how have I finished my PhD?

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And just trying to get the basics to kind of field. And then I was passed on to a telephone interview with the person who is now my manager.

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So I think she interviewed me, for about an hour.

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And then after that, I got invited to the lab where I would give a presentation, say the presentation was an hour.

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And then I had an interviews with one to one interviews with a number of different researchers at the lab.

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So it really was like a whole When I was there, it was really like a whole day event, the number of different activities.

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Whereas my postdoc, Exeter, I did the I think it was the normal application of the CV and the cover letter.

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And then I got invited to an interview and I was interviewed by a panel of three people who ask questions.

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And I think, you know, that interview was for less than an hour.

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So I think that the length and the number of stages was much different.

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And in industry compared to the university, you know, and I think because the task the difference I didn't give a presentation,

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was interviewed at the university, say again, that had a different type of preparation.

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So I had to kind of put the presentation together.

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But I think in terms of like the the fundamental preparation for the interview and thinking, you know, why do you want the job?

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Why what have you got to offer? How does that fit into your career path?

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Why this organisation? Why this role? And those things were great.

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And also say when I was applying for both jobs I got help from the career service at Exeter.

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So I had a one to one session with one of the career advisers.

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She specifically helps PhD students. And that was really sort of invaluable both times in terms of sort like just helping me think about it.

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So I really felt like that kind of preparation that I did beforehand would be really key.

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And I would encourage anybody who's applying for any type of job, reallu to put the work into that preparation.

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You know, any any might even that work might even span a few days when you go away and you'll really be searching and understanding things.

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So, yeah,

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I feel like that was something that really helped me with both with being able to do that kind of up from preparation and get my my head into space.

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So I need kind of a story that I wanted to tell. Absolutely.

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And did you find you articulated that story and those skills differently in the different contexts?

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I feel like it was similar. Yeah, I do feel like it was similar.

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I think because, you know, the job I have with Microsoft is a postdoc.

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So they are expecting somebody. who doesn't have you know

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Somebody who i new to industry is somebody who has completed a PhD and they're looking for that kind of first industry position.

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So they weren't you we'd expect me to come and say, you know, I've got years of, you know,

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working with product groups and, you know, delivering insights and having this massive impact on how organisations run.

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And it really was trying to articulate how the findings from kind of my my PhD, for example,

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of how some of the findings that I have could be relevant and impactful for them and kind of Microsoft as stakeholders.

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What would that look like? And I think that was kind of similar. to my postdoc interview in academia, they really want to kind of, you know,

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know some of those kind of transferable skills, so the postdoc that I did at Exeter.

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And it was a completely different topic.

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But they wanted to able you know what what skills would you bring and how how would she make sure that they that that could benefit all project?

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So I feel like that was there were lots of similarities. Yeah.

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It sounds like the threads between the different research roles in different contexts are actually really strong.

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Can you talk to me a little bit about your average, say? I know there's no such thing as an average day right now,

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but how different is you kind of working day and working life to when you were a research degree student and a postdoc?

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So I think my average day I'm now in industry is quite different to how it was as a PhD student.

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And for me, at least mostly in my PhD, I was really working on on my own.

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Say, a lot of the time I was in wasn't meeting with many other people to discuss my research.

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Other than my academic supervisors, I'm very rarely.

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I would give maybe a presentation to kind of the lab group that we had.

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So it really was a very individual work. I felt like I was kind of doing it for myself.

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And I also felt like, you know, this is for me when I'm ready to

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Share that. When once I got the paper or once I've done the presentation, I'll share that with other people.

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But I think the kind of flipside of that was always that question. My model, who's really interested in the in the results of this?

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Like, what's going to happen to it later? Whereas in Microsoft, it's much more collaborative.

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So I'm working as part of a multidisciplinary team, so there's designers on the team.

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And there's machine only researchers and theire's engineers. And we have sort of regular meetings throughout the week.

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So in any one day I might be meeting with the team members to tell them about the things I've been doing, so to update on

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The things I've been doing during the week, or also to hear about what they've been doing.

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I might be helping people conduct their own research, say some of the designers they do research on might be helping them like recruit participants.

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I might be helping them think about some of their findings and distil insights.

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I might be kind of contributing to a PowerPoint that we're making to show other people the work we've done.

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And there is I might be I might be participating in a brainstorm or workshop where we're

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trying to understand the next phase of the project and what some of our priorities are.

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But there is still space for individual work. So I would still conduct my research studies.

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I'd be doing literature reviews. I'd be doing going through an ethics process, say, to get ethical approval for my study.

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I'd be analysing the results and trying to trying to write these up and trying to write papers.

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And there is also an we have sort of a kind of lab culture say I'm part of the future of work theme.

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And every other week we would have a meeting where we would, for example, listen a presentation from one of the other researchers.

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So I think really my day could be split up with any of those tasks, depending on what stage I'm in the project.

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And I wouldn't. There is no one day that looks the same.

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And I think those types of tasks on that kind of individual level, they are very similar to what I was doing in my PhD

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And there is this other collaborative layer where you are really part of a bigger team and anybody trying to kind of help the team be successful,

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which I feel is different from from my PhD because it was kind of a very individual project and working style.

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So thinking about the emphasis on collaborative working, what experiences did you have as a research student that helped prepare you for this way

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of working or helped you develop the skill set that you would need in the workplace?

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I got involved in different types of extracurricular activities, I feel like that helped more than what was in my PhD per se

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So when I was Exeter,

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that was the opportunity to be a facilitator on Grand Challenges Week and so that was really a great point of collaboration for me in trying to

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kind of think about what what kind of team of undergraduates are doing and how I might also support them in their work and kind of facilitate them.

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So that didn't feel as kind of individual. And there were other things that I did.

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So I I'd be included on a grant application, it wasn't successful, but I kind of helped prepare some of the work for that.

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So there were kind of brainstorms and kind of workshops, sessions, and people were collaboratively authoring kind of documents.

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So that was really another aspect that really facilitated that.

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And another thing that I.

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got involved with was the widening participation programme at Exeter so that's with the with the residential team, say and also open days as well.

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So those I was working as part of a team where we collaborated said, think about what?

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What activities do you want today? Well, some of the things you want to present to people.

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So I felt like those extra curricular things were what really helped.

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And we have that kind of collaboration aspect in my PhD

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And I also mentioned the postdoc I did at Exeter. was looking at the kind of peer-to-peer energy markets.

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And that was more collaborative that because I was working in a multidisciplinary team with computer scientists and software engineers and say, yeah,

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that was a lot more collaborative in terms if we had more kind of regular meetings where we would

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give updates about the work that we've done and look at the different kind of pieces of work,

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we tried to understand how the different pieces kind of fit together.

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So I felt like it wasn't perhaps things that I did kind of directly through my PhD

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But I felt that there were other things that I got involved in during my PhD that helped.

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So what other extra curricular things you got involved with that really important

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or formative for moving onto the stock and your current job at Microsoft Research?

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Yeah. So I know that I got I took part in a summer school as well.

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So in the psychology department and social psychologists, we're part of a broader kind of the European association social psychologists.

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And there was a summer school. So I took part in that. And that was in a way of about how we have kind of grand challenges for the undergrads.

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It was sort of you kind of came in for I think it was a week or two weeks and

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we just tackled like a brand new problem or brand new area of research us

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And we kind of worked in small groups and we thought about what a study would look like and what kind of questions we'd want to ask,

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what kind of data we want to collect. So that kind of rapid and that trying to gain a rapid understanding of any topic and

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then tried to kind of spend that up into what kind of project proposal might look like.

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That was really good as well. So I think. Those types of opportunities where you know that you can be working with other people,

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doing a different type of task than you might do in your everyday work. That was good.

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And yeah, I had a few other things that I did so that I always kind of get the names of the schemes

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but I think it was I think this actually came under public outreach.

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So when I got involved in things like the Sidmouth Science Festival and put together, I just sort of like a little demo from psychology,

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but just got me talking to other audiences say those are kids, you know,

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young children and members of the public and say again, you know, I didn't even talk about my own research.

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I feel like sometimes that's a barrier or you might think, oh, I don't have anything to say about my research,

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but I just talked to them about kind of classic psychology experiments and bought them things that they could play with.

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So there's a little bit of an IQ test that they got to kind of shift ground blocks and try to put patterns together.

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But I think that as well,

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it just helped me just with communication skills and thinking about how to explain kind of research to people who aren't academics.

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So, yeah, I thought both in the communication and in just kind of planning that and setting them up and talking about the team,

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all we got to do and how are we going to do that? That was also another aspect of collaboration.

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So thinking about those those extra curricular things you did, you know, Sidmouth Science Festival,

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Granch challenges the summer school, going to a careers consultant for one to one appointment.

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What other advice would you give to current research degree students to.

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What opportunities do you think they should make the most of during their research

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degree to help them prepare for that transition to a career in research,

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but also a role outside of academia? Yes. So I think the one thing that I didn't do, which I've learnt about, is internships.

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So, you know, so organisations like Microsoft Research.

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But I think anybody anybody's interested, potentially interested in tech in the summer.

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Lots of these companies have internships where they're looking to these students.

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They're paid. They're like well paid.

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And you can go for three months over the summer, say, I think a lot of places they start to kind of advertise things in September,

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say, you know, it's a bit of forward planning involved.

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But I would definitely say to look and see if there's an internship in the type of area that you might be interested in,

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because it really does give you a head start on.

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You know, some people come back and do the internship every single year.

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So they, you know, they start in their first year.

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And then by the end of their third year, they've done an internship with the organisation three, three times.

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And you really think, you know, they've almost got kind of years work experience directly in the industry that they want to go into.

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But even if you do the internship and you might think, oh, actually,

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this isn't anything like I thought it's going to be and I've I've realised I don't want to do this.

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I think it will give you a whole new set of skills that you probably wouldn't get from your PhD

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And also, it gives you that learning. It might give you that closer understanding of what is it that I want today.

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And I think even if you kind of really feel strongly I want to go into academia

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and doing something like an internship might help you get industry connections.

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So when you're thinking about, like your own grants and how you might want to have an industry sponsor when

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they're doing internships with a relevant industry could help you get a build.

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That network can have these connections where later you can say, oh, actually, maybe I can find out these can be an industry partner on a grant.

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So I would definitely advise you to look for these things.

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I think one of the challenges that I always had thinking about my career was I had relatively limited geographic mobility.

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So I know that lots of people end up going abroad after their PhD

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And, you know, for me, because of my family circumstances, that wasn't an option.

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But I would encourage people here don't underestimate like what companies are kind of not too far off on your doorstep.

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I really I didn't even know that Microsoft had a lab in Cambridge and other companies in London isn't isn't too far from Exeter.

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So, you know, you might be surprised kind of what there os and what they're doing, the type of opportunities that they have.

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And so I'd really encourage you to think about that.

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And I'd just talk to people who I talk to people at conferences and yeah, just reach out to people on linkedin

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If you think they're really interesting and even if they're not somebody you could work directly,

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they might have advice and say, well, you know, maybe I should try this place or maybe should look at this programme.

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And I think that that's fabulous advice,

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whether you're looking at roles inside or outside of academia to really think about starting to build and maintain that network of contacts,

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because whether you're looking for roles in industry or collaborators or industry partners for funding applications,

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those networks will sustain you for your career. Thank you so much to Denise for taking the time to talk to me.

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I found our conversation really fascinating to get into some of the detail of what a research career in industry is like,

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what that transition from postdoc to research an industry is like,

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but also what experiences to make the most of to help facilitate that transition and get you the skills that you need.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

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