Beyond Your Research Degree

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 ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod ( License: CC BY (


Podcast transcript


00:00:10,880 --> 00:00:23,690
Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter Doctoral College

00:00:23,690 --> 00:00:27,050
Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Beyond Your Research Degree.

00:00:27,050 --> 00:00:31,490
I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and today I'm going to be talking to Dr. Natalie Garrett.

00:00:31,490 --> 00:00:35,900
Natalie currently works as a private secretary to the Met Office chief scientist.

00:00:35,900 --> 00:00:41,120
So, Natalie, are you happy to introduce yourself? My name is Natalie Garrett.

00:00:41,120 --> 00:00:45,980
I work at the Met office as the private secretary to our chief scientist.

00:00:45,980 --> 00:00:48,650
I've been in this role since January of this year.

00:00:48,650 --> 00:01:01,070
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.

00:01:01,070 --> 00:01:06,530
I was working in the international climate services team still at the Met office,

00:01:06,530 --> 00:01:12,480
and I had been in that position for, I think, the best part of four years.

00:01:12,480 --> 00:01:17,400
And the purpose of that role was essentially to manage a project that was all

00:01:17,400 --> 00:01:23,820
about translating climate science into actionable information for decision makers.

00:01:23,820 --> 00:01:31,260
But prior to all of that, I was a postdoc at the University of Exeter working in the Biomedical Physics Group.

00:01:31,260 --> 00:01:39,150
And you might notice that there's a bit of a Segway there from biomedical physics to climate and weather science.

00:01:39,150 --> 00:01:45,480
And it's not necessarily immediately apparent what exactly unifies those two areas.

00:01:45,480 --> 00:01:54,790
But broadly, what motivates me at work is to do something that's meaningful and that will have a positive impact on society.

00:01:54,790 --> 00:02:05,950
So the work I did at the university was primarily translating biomedical advances into kind of taking physical interpretations of them.

00:02:05,950 --> 00:02:16,650
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

00:02:16,650 --> 00:02:21,210
nano medicines that were aimed to treat things like alzhiemers and brain cancer.

00:02:21,210 --> 00:02:27,690
And having lost a family member to brain cancer, that was obviously an area that was very close to my heart.

00:02:27,690 --> 00:02:33,200
So sometimes I feel like my career has been a little bit of a random walk.

00:02:33,200 --> 00:02:39,140
But ultimately, I've always done what I thought sounded interesting,

00:02:39,140 --> 00:02:46,230
and I perhaps naively assumed that job opportunities would make themselves apparent to me along the way.

00:02:46,230 --> 00:02:54,160
And I've been very fortunate and privileged that that has worked out for me.

00:02:54,160 --> 00:02:58,120
That's brilliant and really interesting to hear about that.

00:02:58,120 --> 00:03:06,700
That from kind of being a postdoc in researching inside inside a university to moving outside.

00:03:06,700 --> 00:03:11,710
I wondered if you could talk a little bit about your experience of that transition.

00:03:11,710 --> 00:03:17,980
So what it was like kind of moving to applying for jobs outside of academia and and how you

00:03:17,980 --> 00:03:26,780
find how different you find working in it in a different kind of research environment is.

00:03:26,780 --> 00:03:36,470
So I had been working as a postdoc at the University of Exeter since late 2009.

00:03:36,470 --> 00:03:42,050
And by the time I left, it was January 2016.

00:03:42,050 --> 00:03:48,650
So that is quite a substantial chunk of my professional career was spent working,

00:03:48,650 --> 00:03:55,100
doing the whole postdoc merry go round where you go from contract to contract without much job security.

00:03:55,100 --> 00:03:59,660
I think a lot of people in academia can empathise with that kind of situation.

00:03:59,660 --> 00:04:06,110
You don't have much job security. You're trying really hard to set yourself apart from your peer group to improve your

00:04:06,110 --> 00:04:13,170
chances of perhaps getting a lectureship or getting a fellowship or a grant and.

00:04:13,170 --> 00:04:18,720
I was in a situation where leaving Exeter wasn't really an option for me.

00:04:18,720 --> 00:04:27,470
So I was thinking about how I could give myself the best chances of securing a lectureship.

00:04:27,470 --> 00:04:35,490
at Exeter University and a lectureship position came up in my research group working for different P.I. and I went for it.

00:04:35,490 --> 00:04:45,270
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.

00:04:45,270 --> 00:04:50,850
And that was quite a bitter pill to swallow at the time that I can see what they mean in hindsight.

00:04:50,850 --> 00:05:04,350
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.

00:05:04,350 --> 00:05:12,660
At any rate, I was encouraged to apply for fellowships and I was given the opportunity of a tenured position at the end.

00:05:12,660 --> 00:05:17,730
If I were successful in that. But ultimately I started looking at other opportunities.

00:05:17,730 --> 00:05:23,630
I saw a job at the Met office. Now, my background did not involve coding.

00:05:23,630 --> 00:05:32,060
It did not really involve modelling. So I was quite surprised when I saw a job advert that I felt I could apply for.

00:05:32,060 --> 00:05:37,410
Hence, this role was titled Senior European Climate Service Coordinator.

00:05:37,410 --> 00:05:45,710
This is quite a mouthful. The skills they were looking for those the usual planning organisation,

00:05:45,710 --> 00:05:50,330
time management, which if you have a PhD and you've actually managed to complete it.

00:05:50,330 --> 00:05:58,160
You have that in spades. But it also specifically said that they needed good interpersonal skills with evidence of communicating with and developing

00:05:58,160 --> 00:06:06,110
productive working relationships with a range of stakeholders and also communicating complex information into plain English.

00:06:06,110 --> 00:06:17,060
Now, interestingly, during my PhD, I had been very, very keen as an outreach ambassador of the university.

00:06:17,060 --> 00:06:23,750
I was in the STEM network and I participated in things like I'm a scientist get me out of here.

00:06:23,750 --> 00:06:32,150
And soapbox, science and three minute wonder pretty much any scientific outreach competition that you could engage in.

00:06:32,150 --> 00:06:36,380
I had a go at and I was very passionate about scientific outreach.

00:06:36,380 --> 00:06:45,890
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.

00:06:45,890 --> 00:06:49,550
I think in total it was about two thousand schoolchildren talking about my research.

00:06:49,550 --> 00:06:53,120
So this is something that was very, very passionate, was very passionate about.

00:06:53,120 --> 00:06:59,840
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.

00:06:59,840 --> 00:07:04,310
And at that point, you should stop and focus your efforts elsewhere.

00:07:04,310 --> 00:07:08,660
I didn't really listen to him and I just carried on doing what I wanted to, to do what I was passionate about.

00:07:08,660 --> 00:07:15,260
And in the end, because of that, it put me in a really good position to apply for this job at the Met office.

00:07:15,260 --> 00:07:17,150
Additionally, what I was doing, my postdoc,

00:07:17,150 --> 00:07:25,490
I founded the early career researcher network within the college and that was bringing together early career scientists

00:07:25,490 --> 00:07:33,800
and helping people work together to improve the quality of the jobs to improve their chances of securing funding.

00:07:33,800 --> 00:07:37,940
We had career workshops. We had the guest lecturers come in and give seminars.

00:07:37,940 --> 00:07:45,180
We had occasions where we bought pizza and blitzed the Internet trying to find funding opportunities.

00:07:45,180 --> 00:07:49,310
Because I built that network, I had experience of network management.

00:07:49,310 --> 00:07:53,670
I had experience of engagement. And I'd set up a social media channel for that, too.

00:07:53,670 --> 00:08:00,090
So I had all these communication stakeholder network management skills, which made me the ideal candidate for this job.

00:08:00,090 --> 00:08:05,620
And this is all stuff that was done in the margins. I was discouraged from doing so.

00:08:05,620 --> 00:08:12,800
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?

00:08:12,800 --> 00:08:17,060
Is that what I would say if you're considering academia?

00:08:17,060 --> 00:08:21,590
Ultimately, you may not find yourself in a position where you have a science communication job,

00:08:21,590 --> 00:08:28,100
but the skills you gain doing science communication, are massively transferable outside of academia.

00:08:28,100 --> 00:08:33,170
So I was surprised when I was offered the job at the Met office.

00:08:33,170 --> 00:08:36,120
I'm always quite negative about my performance in interview.

00:08:36,120 --> 00:08:41,720
But actually, my new boss said that it was one of the best interviews he's ever sat in on.

00:08:41,720 --> 00:08:46,700
So I think that might be typical of academics.

00:08:46,700 --> 00:08:51,650
I think we are quite hard on ourselves and our performance and always focus on

00:08:51,650 --> 00:08:55,910
what we could do better and not necessarily so much of what we've done well.

00:08:55,910 --> 00:09:03,730
I think that's an area that I'm trying to work on in terms of personal confidence and that feeling of imposter syndrome.

00:09:03,730 --> 00:09:11,310
Moving from academia to the civil service, because the Met office is where within the civil service was very different.

00:09:11,310 --> 00:09:21,510
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.

00:09:21,510 --> 00:09:25,780
And it was lovely meeting all these wonderful people that are very passionate about their work.

00:09:25,780 --> 00:09:30,060
And the next day we came back to Exeter and they said, well, you've had quite a busy day.

00:09:30,060 --> 00:09:37,210
You should probably take some time off in lieu. This is not a concept that usually gets in academia.

00:09:37,210 --> 00:09:52,450
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

00:09:52,450 --> 00:10:00,340
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.

00:10:00,340 --> 00:10:03,640
More that you should be doing. It took a while for me to get over that.

00:10:03,640 --> 00:10:09,340
And I think about two months into my job, I was walking through town one day and I glanced up.

00:10:09,340 --> 00:10:16,120
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.

00:10:16,120 --> 00:10:19,420
You can see it from everywhere, in Exeter You can never get away from its shadow.

00:10:19,420 --> 00:10:26,200
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.

00:10:26,200 --> 00:10:29,740
This has no power over me. No, I'm allowed to have fun.

00:10:29,740 --> 00:10:35,980
I'm allowed to have a work life balance because there's so much in there that I think is really,

00:10:35,980 --> 00:10:41,580
really important about, you know, feelings of imposter syndrome and work life balance.

00:10:41,580 --> 00:10:48,490
And I think of somebody as well that used to be an academic and admittedly is in an academic related role.

00:10:48,490 --> 00:11:00,210
There's something about different roles that are kind of more amenable, perhaps, or more easily to to a better work life balance.

00:11:00,210 --> 00:11:03,310
Well, having you know, you said about going from kind of contract.

00:11:03,310 --> 00:11:09,910
So you've obviously had a few kind of applications and interviews for academic or academic research roles,

00:11:09,910 --> 00:11:18,820
as well as the Met office was the application and interview process, particularly different to your experience in academia.

00:11:18,820 --> 00:11:23,320
So although I have had multiple postdoc posts at the university,

00:11:23,320 --> 00:11:28,240
they were all working for the same PI because the work I was doing was so specialised.

00:11:28,240 --> 00:11:33,760
So I did have to apply and go through the interview process that given that there were

00:11:33,760 --> 00:11:37,570
basically at the time a handful of people in the world that could do that job.

00:11:37,570 --> 00:11:43,280
I didn't feel that worried. So, yeah, that was pretty straightforward.

00:11:43,280 --> 00:11:48,190
So the Met office interview was quite nerve wracking by comparison.

00:11:48,190 --> 00:11:52,200
I mean, they were very lovely. They did everything they could to make me feel at ease.

00:11:52,200 --> 00:11:58,060
But I think from a very young age, I've always been thrown into the mix with a variety of different people,

00:11:58,060 --> 00:12:01,180
different ages, and just encouraged to socialise.

00:12:01,180 --> 00:12:08,050
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.

00:12:08,050 --> 00:12:16,500
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,

00:12:16,500 --> 00:12:21,370
a kind of public speaking becomes second nature when you do that enough.

00:12:21,370 --> 00:12:25,550
So interviews didn't have the same kind of effect on me.

00:12:25,550 --> 00:12:33,880
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.

00:12:33,880 --> 00:12:39,400
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.

00:12:39,400 --> 00:12:43,420
Imagine it's like a roller coaster or something. So, yeah, the Met office interview

00:12:43,420 --> 00:12:51,160
I was massively overprepared. I identified the area that I was weakest up and that was in my climates where

00:12:51,160 --> 00:12:55,540
the science knowledge and I did an online free training course beforehand.

00:12:55,540 --> 00:13:02,920
And I printed off my certificates and I brought with me a folder with all kinds of things,

00:13:02,920 --> 00:13:07,400
like copies of papers that published copies of my reference letters.

00:13:07,400 --> 00:13:13,030
There's a whole range, a barrage of information. And none of it came out of my briefcase during the meeting, during the interview.

00:13:13,030 --> 00:13:18,790
But it was there and it helped me feel prepared. That's what I was going to ask because I do something similar.

00:13:18,790 --> 00:13:23,800
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.

00:13:23,800 --> 00:13:32,320
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.

00:13:32,320 --> 00:13:39,370
Yes. Yes. I think a lot of my life I've just expected there to be gatekeepers.

00:13:39,370 --> 00:13:44,110
So I've never been able to consider myself to be an artist or a photographer.

00:13:44,110 --> 00:13:49,750
But now I've had experience writing poetry to explain climate change with community groups,

00:13:49,750 --> 00:13:53,740
and I've had prizes for the photographs that I've created myself.

00:13:53,740 --> 00:13:57,700
So I know once said to me, hey, go, here's an award, here's a certificate.

00:13:57,700 --> 00:14:03,940
Here's an exam that you've passed. Therefore, you can call yourself a photographer, you can call yourself a poet or an artist.

00:14:03,940 --> 00:14:10,180
And because I've been so used to gatekeeping, because academia is all about gatekeeping,

00:14:10,180 --> 00:14:16,510
I think it's that does foster the whole imposter syndrome mentality.

00:14:16,510 --> 00:14:24,940
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.

00:14:24,940 --> 00:14:32,320
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?

00:14:32,320 --> 00:14:39,490
It's interesting this so well, I guess there's a lot of bureaucracy in academia that my experience in academia was.

00:14:39,490 --> 00:14:45,670
It's very much the academics were doing everything they could to avoid, bureaucracy, as far as possible.

00:14:45,670 --> 00:14:54,700
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.

00:14:54,700 --> 00:14:58,840
And other times it's just because that's how it's always been done and people haven't questioned it.

00:14:58,840 --> 00:15:04,720
So it makes change quite difficult at a corporate level.

00:15:04,720 --> 00:15:09,560
If you have people's ways of working and mindset so embedded in a particular way of working.

00:15:09,560 --> 00:15:18,460
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.

00:15:18,460 --> 00:15:23,590
You can tell us all the things that we're doing stupid or that don't make sense or that could be optimised.

00:15:23,590 --> 00:15:27,900
But once you're in the six months and you stop questioning stuff.

00:15:27,900 --> 00:15:33,320
Yeah. I completely yes, I can completely understand, we're saying.

00:15:33,320 --> 00:15:40,670
So the. The job that you do now as a as a P.A, isn't it, to the chief scientist?

00:15:40,670 --> 00:15:45,060
Is that right? So it's a weird one. It's called private secretary.

00:15:45,060 --> 00:15:52,580
And so it's just to academics. They focus on the secretary and think that it's an administrative job.

00:15:52,580 --> 00:15:58,610
Whereas if so, my boss is the head of the chief scientist at the Met office.

00:15:58,610 --> 00:16:03,320
He is also the head of the science and engineering profession at the met office.

00:16:03,320 --> 00:16:08,600
That's said. And that comes under something called government, science and engineering profession.

00:16:08,600 --> 00:16:16,310
And he's also on the chief scientific adviser at the CSA network with Patrick Vallance as its head.

00:16:16,310 --> 00:16:21,530
So. So Patrick Vallance is one of my boss's bosses, if you like,

00:16:21,530 --> 00:16:28,880
and I regularly attend meetings to represent the met office at the chief scientific adviser network meetings.

00:16:28,880 --> 00:16:36,200
So the purpose of these is to make sure that all the science within the civil service within the UK is all joined up.

00:16:36,200 --> 00:16:41,630
So you'll see these quite regularly with UK. All right.

00:16:41,630 --> 00:16:48,620
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.

00:16:48,620 --> 00:16:53,810
A large part of my job is liasing with government and the government office, the science.

00:16:53,810 --> 00:16:58,280
I'm translating quite complex requests with very short deadlines.

00:16:58,280 --> 00:17:01,540
Finding the right people within the met office to answer those questions.

00:17:01,540 --> 00:17:05,360
Summarising the information into a briefing, giving it to the chief scientist.

00:17:05,360 --> 00:17:09,920
And then. Asking him what he wants, what action he wants to be taken from it.

00:17:09,920 --> 00:17:20,150
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

00:17:20,150 --> 00:17:27,770
Vallance and Chris Whitty for looking at what's the reasonable worst case scenario would be for COVID this winter.

00:17:27,770 --> 00:17:36,410
So the Met office fed in regarding seasonal forecasting and air quality and aspects that relate to met office expertise.

00:17:36,410 --> 00:17:41,010
So I was involved in helping to coordinate our input to that report.

00:17:41,010 --> 00:17:45,740
And my boss was also present at the sage meeting where this was being discussed.

00:17:45,740 --> 00:17:49,770
So I had to help coordinate minutes and taking and so on.

00:17:49,770 --> 00:17:58,520
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

00:17:58,520 --> 00:18:03,440
briefings for all of us scientists we have in the region of six hundred scientists at the Met office.

00:18:03,440 --> 00:18:08,690
And my boss is kind of at the head of that that up triangle.

00:18:08,690 --> 00:18:13,820
And so we have to try to provide updates to everybody on a regular basis.

00:18:13,820 --> 00:18:19,590
And it's just incredibly varied. I think about 50 percent of my my job is reactive.

00:18:19,590 --> 00:18:21,710
So I never know what's going to come into my inbox.

00:18:21,710 --> 00:18:27,290
We might have a request coming straight from government asking us to provide a briefing on a particular topic,

00:18:27,290 --> 00:18:31,850
or it might be just regular normal work that's just going along,

00:18:31,850 --> 00:18:38,720
producing minutes for scientific management committees or for met office board meetings.

00:18:38,720 --> 00:18:47,220
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?

00:18:47,220 --> 00:18:51,380
I think when I leave this job, that probably won't be the case anymore.

00:18:51,380 --> 00:18:58,070
So another point to mention is that the private secretary roles aren't typically what you would expect as a lifetime position.

00:18:58,070 --> 00:19:01,520
The half life is between two and four years. It's a developmental opportunity.

00:19:01,520 --> 00:19:09,500
So you get loads of opportunities to showcase your skills, which then enable you to better apply for a management position.

00:19:09,500 --> 00:19:15,920
That's the aim of the role anyway. That's really interesting and it's really interesting to have that kind of.

00:19:15,920 --> 00:19:23,360
Clear sense of. Clear sense of progression and direction, I guess, and I'm not saying that that,

00:19:23,360 --> 00:19:28,470
you know, there was a clear kind of promotion route in academia, but it's not.

00:19:28,470 --> 00:19:30,840
I think it looks like it's very clear cut.

00:19:30,840 --> 00:19:41,280
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.

00:19:41,280 --> 00:19:50,280
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.

00:19:50,280 --> 00:19:53,940
Like, you need to negotiate your salary. You need to do this. You need to do that.

00:19:53,940 --> 00:20:00,430
I went and tried this out with the civil service and now you can try and negotiate your salary.

00:20:00,430 --> 00:20:02,640
But this is as far as we can go. That's just not.

00:20:02,640 --> 00:20:08,910
It's so different to maybe applying for the private sector, you know, going to a business and trying to negotiate.

00:20:08,910 --> 00:20:14,550
You probably have a lot more leeway that the civil service is so tied down they cannot make exceptions.

00:20:14,550 --> 00:20:19,470
The met office doesn't have the flexibility to change the pay deal for new people coming.

00:20:19,470 --> 00:20:23,820
And that has to be everything has to be auditable and fair and fair enough.

00:20:23,820 --> 00:20:31,950
You know, it's it's taxpayers money. So I tried to negotiate my salary and completely failed.

00:20:31,950 --> 00:20:35,800
I said, well, how about this? You offer a relocation bursary.

00:20:35,800 --> 00:20:41,290
And I didn't have to relocate. Could you give me that instead? Is it? No, because that's all provided  onreceipts.

00:20:41,290 --> 00:20:46,980
OK. So I had to manage my expectations a little bit. Essentially, I took a 20 percent pay cut.

00:20:46,980 --> 00:20:51,870
Wow. To join the met office Yes. It was the very low end of what I was prepared to accept.

00:20:51,870 --> 00:20:57,430
Which was sort of annoying. But the compensation package was also really good.

00:20:57,430 --> 00:21:02,100
And it was a permanent job. So it was it's a tricky one.

00:21:02,100 --> 00:21:11,220
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.

00:21:11,220 --> 00:21:24,400
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,

00:21:24,400 --> 00:21:30,770
you may not stand a chance of actually getting information because it's judged based on merit and output and everything's graded.

00:21:30,770 --> 00:21:38,330
So it's quite challenging compared with academia where it felt like you progress up the spine points and it's relatively straightforward.

00:21:38,330 --> 00:21:43,540
I mean, that was my experience of it as postdoc. It's not everybody's.

00:21:43,540 --> 00:21:45,380
So there seemed to be a lot of, you know,

00:21:45,380 --> 00:21:53,920
things coming out that are quite different about the working environment and the kind of work that you're doing and the kind of.

00:21:53,920 --> 00:22:05,330
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?

00:22:05,330 --> 00:22:09,410
So the biggest similarity is the passion that people have for the work that they do.

00:22:09,410 --> 00:22:15,860
The Met office. It's just so lovely to log on and every day and locg on

00:22:15,860 --> 00:22:21,830
We have a platform online where people can discuss variety of topics is not quite social media,

00:22:21,830 --> 00:22:25,460
but people share things from, for instance, the pictures of their cats.

00:22:25,460 --> 00:22:33,670
We have a cat appreciation forum and we've also got weather photographs and people asking questions about science and technology.

00:22:33,670 --> 00:22:39,140
People are just so keen to help each other and they're so keen to share their enthusiasm.

00:22:39,140 --> 00:22:48,560
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.

00:22:48,560 --> 00:22:50,290
This is how I've seen it.

00:22:50,290 --> 00:22:56,990
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.

00:22:56,990 --> 00:23:02,600
And we have a certain amount of time, I think, to add up to 20 percent of our time is for development.

00:23:02,600 --> 00:23:05,690
So if you agree with your line manager that you want to learn a skill in a completely

00:23:05,690 --> 00:23:09,920
different area that might one day align with where you ultimately want to go in your career.

00:23:09,920 --> 00:23:20,040
You have the freedom to do that. And that kind of freedom to learn and to develop and share your enthusiasm and.

00:23:20,040 --> 00:23:25,860
I guess it's peer to peer learning that that's very similar to academia.

00:23:25,860 --> 00:23:35,380
One big difference I've noticed is I've not seen so many examples of that kind of toxic.

00:23:35,380 --> 00:23:41,180
Relationship where some people appear to be friendly, and then we'll take your idea and then publish before you.

00:23:41,180 --> 00:23:44,530
I've not seen that at the Met office. I'm not saying it doesn't necessarily happen,

00:23:44,530 --> 00:23:52,480
but my experience has been that people are in it together for the group benefit rather than their own individual benefit.

00:23:52,480 --> 00:23:55,330
Perhaps that's naive. Perhaps I've just said a sheltered experience.

00:23:55,330 --> 00:24:02,980
But as a for instance, at one point I had a handover between two managers because one was leaving alone, was taking me on,

00:24:02,980 --> 00:24:10,240
and I was sat in a room and these two people were not quite arguing, but they were just very, very focussed.

00:24:10,240 --> 00:24:15,220
And trying to discover the best ways for me to develop in the direction that I wanted to develop.

00:24:15,220 --> 00:24:19,140
And I feel I've never had this before. I've never felt so and nurtured.

00:24:19,140 --> 00:24:24,010
I had a line manager is trying to find opportunities for me because before it felt

00:24:24,010 --> 00:24:28,420
like I was doing things whenever I found an opportunity that I knew would benefit me,

00:24:28,420 --> 00:24:30,820
but not my line manager in academia.

00:24:30,820 --> 00:24:37,030
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.

00:24:37,030 --> 00:24:44,890
And in fact, there was one occasion when I got a travel grant from the Royal Society to do some independent research in Australia,

00:24:44,890 --> 00:24:49,480
and my P.I. turned around and said, well, that doesn't benefit me, so you're going to have to do it.

00:24:49,480 --> 00:24:55,820
on your annual leave. Wow. And I naively thought that he was allowed to make that call

00:24:55,820 --> 00:25:01,720
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.

00:25:01,720 --> 00:25:06,520
You should come to me about that. But I naively thought, well, he wouldn't tell me something that wasn't true.

00:25:06,520 --> 00:25:07,960
So another another top tip.

00:25:07,960 --> 00:25:17,380
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.

00:25:17,380 --> 00:25:19,760
So do ask around to ask other people.

00:25:19,760 --> 00:25:28,330
And it's it's amazing that in spite of that pushback, you still continued with the outreach work and the ECR network,

00:25:28,330 --> 00:25:32,140
which actually became so fundamental to help you move forward.

00:25:32,140 --> 00:25:38,110
I was wondering what other things you did, maybe as part of your research, but also, you know, on the fringes,

00:25:38,110 --> 00:25:44,140
let that have been really important or formative in kind of helping you move forward with your career.

00:25:44,140 --> 00:25:55,150
So instead of procrastinating in the traditional sense, I used to just look for competitions and awards and things that I could.

00:25:55,150 --> 00:26:01,270
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,

00:26:01,270 --> 00:26:08,600
then I'm not doing anything productive, which is quite a toxic one set in itself.

00:26:08,600 --> 00:26:13,570
So, for instance, I discovered the British Federation of Women graduates.

00:26:13,570 --> 00:26:19,830
Is that something you've heard of? No, never say I've never heard of it before until I was Googling for opportunities.

00:26:19,830 --> 00:26:26,350
So they offer scholarships for academic excellence and they also offer hardship bursaries.

00:26:26,350 --> 00:26:30,250
Now, I haven't actually checked that they still offer these. But in 2009,

00:26:30,250 --> 00:26:36,520
they sent me to it and I managed to secure myself five and a half thousand pounds for academic

00:26:36,520 --> 00:26:43,630
excellence as part of the Women British Federation of Women Graduates Academic Awards in 2009.

00:26:43,630 --> 00:26:52,480
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.

00:26:52,480 --> 00:26:58,690
And as I said, I got a international travel grant to go to Australia.

00:26:58,690 --> 00:27:02,080
So I went to Melbourne and I was looking at malaria.

00:27:02,080 --> 00:27:09,450
I'm trying to detect it using spectroscopy and weirdly using butterfly wings as a substrate for doing this.

00:27:09,450 --> 00:27:19,510
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.

00:27:19,510 --> 00:27:23,830
It also gave me the opportunity to apply for funding from within the university.

00:27:23,830 --> 00:27:32,380
And then I also ran competitions for outreach activities and online poster competitions.

00:27:32,380 --> 00:27:40,990
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,

00:27:40,990 --> 00:27:42,340
depending on where you want spend up.

00:27:42,340 --> 00:27:50,670
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.

00:27:50,670 --> 00:27:54,580
And in kind of roundabout way, even though my main main job didn't.

00:27:54,580 --> 00:28:02,170
I was also part of the working group for the Athena Swan Initiative at the School of Physics.

00:28:02,170 --> 00:28:07,070
So equality and diversity has always been very important to me to.

00:28:07,070 --> 00:28:11,910
And I think it's, you know, really interesting as several of the things you've said, like you said early on, about,

00:28:11,910 --> 00:28:18,960
you know, if you've done a research degree, you've got time management and project management and everything in spades.

00:28:18,960 --> 00:28:20,160
But actually, you know,

00:28:20,160 --> 00:28:30,900
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.

00:28:30,900 --> 00:28:39,390
And absolutely and it's really interesting to hear you talk about actually the motivation for that for you was just a follow.

00:28:39,390 --> 00:28:44,220
Follow your interests. Yeah, the things that mattered to me most.

00:28:44,220 --> 00:28:49,140
I think another thing that helped me was going to conferences by myself.

00:28:49,140 --> 00:28:57,380
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.

00:28:57,380 --> 00:29:03,760
Because conferences are massive networking opportunity. But it's so hard to make inroads.

00:29:03,760 --> 00:29:11,670
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.

00:29:11,670 --> 00:29:14,610
Hi. Can I introduce myself?

00:29:14,610 --> 00:29:25,770
But it was some it was because of going to a conference by myself that I met Baden Wood of Monash University in Melbourne.

00:29:25,770 --> 00:29:29,250
And he was the one that suggested I apply for Royal Society travel grant

00:29:29,250 --> 00:29:33,990
which is why I was then able to demonstrate some independent research and have

00:29:33,990 --> 00:29:38,580
a first solo publication without my P.I. from University of Exeter on it.

00:29:38,580 --> 00:29:43,020
So these chance meetings are so important.

00:29:43,020 --> 00:29:49,070
And if you're able to I know socialising at conferences can be really uncomfortable for those people.

00:29:49,070 --> 00:29:51,360
And perhaps the current situation,

00:29:51,360 --> 00:29:58,440
the current pandemic is therefore opening more doors for people who find it challenging to do face to face networking.

00:29:58,440 --> 00:30:04,950
I hope so. I know not all conferences are offering the opportunity for a career networking, but it's a good idea if,

00:30:04,950 --> 00:30:09,990
if, if, if anyone listening is involved in organising workshops or seminars or conferences,

00:30:09,990 --> 00:30:15,690
do allow specific time for early career people to engage in network and have an invite

00:30:15,690 --> 00:30:19,200
to come as coffee breaks because that's where the important conversations happen.

00:30:19,200 --> 00:30:23,460
That's where the next big collaboration starts to form.

00:30:23,460 --> 00:30:26,010
That's really, really.

00:30:26,010 --> 00:30:33,370
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

00:30:33,370 --> 00:30:36,200
that kind of central well, we're kind of going on and on about all the time,

00:30:36,200 --> 00:30:41,560
you know, how important the networking is and how important doing stuff outside of the research degree is,

00:30:41,560 --> 00:30:45,700
because it's it's the stuff that builds your experience and builds your skill, your skill base.

00:30:45,700 --> 00:30:51,310
But I think sometimes people think, oh, no. You know. I wouldn't think about that just now.

00:30:51,310 --> 00:30:59,550
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.

00:30:59,550 --> 00:31:04,700
Something that's a slow burner and learning how to use LinkedIn and Twitter.

00:31:04,700 --> 00:31:14,240
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.

00:31:14,240 --> 00:31:21,760
What advice would you give to somebody who's looking at making that transition from a, you know,

00:31:21,760 --> 00:31:31,270
a research career or a postdoc into a role outside academia, but particularly thinking about moving into a civil service role?

00:31:31,270 --> 00:31:39,600
I would say. Sure, well, you may have people within your current network who all people that work within

00:31:39,600 --> 00:31:44,040
the civil service or who are working in a kind of field you'd like to go to.

00:31:44,040 --> 00:31:47,550
Always, always talk to people who you already connected with.

00:31:47,550 --> 00:31:52,500
We can give you insight, especially if they're working closely with an area that you want to work in,

00:31:52,500 --> 00:31:57,720
because there may be subjects, specific skills that you need to work on in order to be a viable candidate.

00:31:57,720 --> 00:32:01,870
But more generally, it's a numbers game.

00:32:01,870 --> 00:32:10,020
And do be prepared for failure. People in academia especially don't tend to talk about the grants.

00:32:10,020 --> 00:32:15,360
They didn't get or the papers they've never managed to get accepted in a journal

00:32:15,360 --> 00:32:19,470
or all the things that they tried and didn't work out or the experiments that failed.

00:32:19,470 --> 00:32:25,140
Because why would you why would you talk about that? So it's all about self promotion.

00:32:25,140 --> 00:32:29,320
It's all about creating and curating this successful persona.

00:32:29,320 --> 00:32:33,630
It's all about your H index and trying to find metrics that show off your skills?

00:32:33,630 --> 00:32:40,720
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.

00:32:40,720 --> 00:32:43,920
And that takes so much time and resilience.

00:32:43,920 --> 00:32:51,510
And it can annoy the people that you've put your references for you, especially if they get contacted by every single one.

00:32:51,510 --> 00:32:54,870
So that's another tip. Talk to the people here.

00:32:54,870 --> 00:32:59,550
You've put down as your references to make sure they know that these things are coming out,

00:32:59,550 --> 00:33:03,700
because honestly, they do sometimes get contacted out of the blue before you even get shortlisted.

00:33:03,700 --> 00:33:07,470
So prepare them for that. So, yeah, it's a numbers game.

00:33:07,470 --> 00:33:16,200
And women especially are more likely to not apply for jobs if they don't feel that they fulfil all the criteria.

00:33:16,200 --> 00:33:23,990
And there's been research that's showing that whether you meet 50 percent of the criteria or 90 percent of the criteria,

00:33:23,990 --> 00:33:29,830
the chances of getting an interview roughly the same. So you might as well just apply for the thing.

00:33:29,830 --> 00:33:35,280
And at worst, you're going to get feedback that you can use to improve your next application.

00:33:35,280 --> 00:33:43,700
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.

00:33:43,700 --> 00:33:53,200
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.

00:33:53,200 --> 00:33:57,600
one day if I was to. Can you give me any advice on my current CV?

00:33:57,600 --> 00:34:04,170
What things you'd be looking for? That totally an out. It feels like cheating, but it's part of networking.

00:34:04,170 --> 00:34:10,790
And certainly in my experience as well, people actually quite a quite receptive.

00:34:10,790 --> 00:34:15,130
And, you know, more often than not, willing to help. Absolutely.

00:34:15,130 --> 00:34:17,020
It reminds me of when I was an undergraduate.

00:34:17,020 --> 00:34:26,680
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?

00:34:26,680 --> 00:34:30,400
I can't solve. And the professors would sit and make the time thing.

00:34:30,400 --> 00:34:34,480
So, yeah, ultimately, people are in that job for a reason.

00:34:34,480 --> 00:34:43,050
And if I care about it and if they want to share the enthusiasm with other people, then of course they can go help.

00:34:43,050 --> 00:34:49,870
That's brilliant. And one thing I wanted to pick up on is this thing about resilience and failure.

00:34:49,870 --> 00:34:56,410
How what advice do you have for. For dealing with that, I guess, for dealing with that.

00:34:56,410 --> 00:35:02,140
That sense of failure or rejection, which which is just common in the drug market, is common.

00:35:02,140 --> 00:35:06,860
I think. It's a difficult one, personally.

00:35:06,860 --> 00:35:11,900
It's not always been easy to accept failure and rejection.

00:35:11,900 --> 00:35:17,150
But the thing that I found that's helped the most is if I reframe it and instead of

00:35:17,150 --> 00:35:21,830
feeling like if I don't get to interview that I failed in the application process.

00:35:21,830 --> 00:35:25,310
What I've done is I've succeeded at submitting application.

00:35:25,310 --> 00:35:31,220
And if I don't get past the interview stage, then what I've done is I've succeeded in getting to interview.

00:35:31,220 --> 00:35:35,750
So, yeah. You haven't managed to get the thing that might have been the ultimate goal that you have done.

00:35:35,750 --> 00:35:45,560
The really difficult steps in getting there. And each time you get to interview, each time you'll almost shortlisted.

00:35:45,560 --> 00:35:49,130
You're improving your skills. And it is a skill. And to improve.

00:35:49,130 --> 00:35:55,100
You have to practise. So I would say definitely apply to things that.

00:35:55,100 --> 00:36:00,920
Maybe hit 70 percent of the things you're looking for because at least you don't get it.

00:36:00,920 --> 00:36:05,300
You don't feel like it's such high stakes and apply for the things that might not

00:36:05,300 --> 00:36:09,590
necessarily excite you so much initially just so that you get that experience.

00:36:09,590 --> 00:36:20,360
Thanks to Natalie for that really interesting conversation, thinking about the move from postdoc to civil service application processes,

00:36:20,360 --> 00:36:29,610
the importance of networking and building that wider skill base outside of your immediate research project.

00:36:29,610 --> 00:36:45,354
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.


Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App