Beyond Your Research Degree

Episode 17 - Katie Finning (Senior Research Officer, Health Analysis and Pandemic Insights, Office for National Statistics)

July 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. Katie Finning, who recently made the transition from a postdoc to a research role outside of academia. 

In the podcast Kaite mentions the Civil Service Job site and the Glassdoor repository of interview questions.

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


Podcast transcript

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

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Hi, it's Kelly Preece and welcome to the latest episode of Beyond Your Research Degree, continuing our series on getting jobs during covid.

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I'm really excited to be talking to Dr Katie Finning.

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So Katie was up until recently a postdoc at the University of Exeter and has during the pandemic made the transition into a non-academic role.

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So are you happy to introduce yourself? Sure. So I'm Katie Finning.

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I am. I'm currently working as a senior researcher at the Office for National Statistics, so I was in academia for about nine years before I left.

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I'm originally joined not long after I finished my undergraduate degree, I took a job as a research assistant to university.

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So I was working on a clinical trial of a behavioural therapy for adults with depression.

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And I kind of worked on that project from start to finish when I joined.

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And we were still kind of gaining all of our ethical approvals.

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And I stayed working in that job right up until the end where we published the results of the study.

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So that was a really great experience because I kind of saw the whole research lifecycle from start to finish.

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And in that job, my main job for most of that time was data collection and recruitment.

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So that was great. I spent most of my job kind of going out and meeting people and interviewing them and talking to them about their experiences,

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which was was a really interesting and fun job. And then I did my PhD.

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I moved over to child mental health, so I was still at Exeter university.

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So I'd always been kind of interested in mental health from a research perspective, but particularly child mental health.

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And a PhD opportunity came up just as my contract on that clinical trial was coming to an end.

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So it was kind of perfect timing. It was in a team I was really keen to kind of make my way into and the topic was really interesting.

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So it was advertised as a job rather than me kind of submitting my own PhD proposal.

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And my PhD was kind of epidemiological.

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So it looked at kind of patterns and trends in data, looking at the association between anxiety and depression in young people and school absenteeism.

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And so I used a variety of different research methods during my PhD, did a bit of systematic review, some quantitative work, some qualitative work.

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So it was a really kind of nice,

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well-rounded project that gave me experience and methods that I hadn't experienced when I was working as a research assistant.

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And I think it kind of the whole time that I was in academia, there were things I loved.

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I loved working on research. I loved working with data.

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And but I always kind of questioned whether academia was the right place for me.

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And the only reason really that I think I stayed for so long was just because the opportunities were there.

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And so I had no real reason to leave. I had it funded post for about five years, and then I had a great PhD opportunity for three years.

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And then I did a couple of years of postdoc work as well. And it was, to be honest, by complete luck that I was contacted about my job now.

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So towards the end of my PhD, I was starting to get a little bit anxious about kind of what was going to come next,

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whether I'd be able to get any funding for postdoc work. And I started quite seriously looking at jobs outside of academia.

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But there was never really anything that I saw that I felt was a good enough match for my skills and for what I was interested in.

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And and so I signed up for kind of hundreds of job alerts every week.

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I get all these alerts about various different jobs and I'd scroll through them and think,

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oh, I just don't I just don't think there are any jobs outside of academia for me.

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And kind of felt a little bit hopeless at that point because I was worried about my job security in academia,

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but also didn't feel like there was anything outside of academia for me.

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And so then I applied for some postdoc funding and was awarded postdoc funding.

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It was about a year and a half of funding. So I really stopped looking for alternative jobs.

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And then by complete coincidence,

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I was contacted by someone at the Office for National Statistics on LinkedIn about a job that they had and kind of encouraging me to apply.

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And I looked at this job description and I remember saying to my husband,

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I feel like this job's got my name on it and it just kind of ticked every box.

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It was a research role. It was a permanent job, which was really important.

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For me, it was a homeworking contract, which this was all happening during the pandemic,

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and I really benefited from homeworking, so I was quite eager to apply for jobs and that would be permanently home based.

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And yes, that's kind of how I got to where I am now. One thing led to another.

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I thought I'll just put in an application and see what happens. But I've got this postdoc funding, so it's no big deal if I don't get it.

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Let's just see what happens. And I had an interview, was offered the job.

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And so here I am. I've been in this job for about three and a half months now.

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Thank you so much for that. I think just a story that will really resonate with so many of our listeners about the

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the getting towards the end of the research degree in that kind of anxiety where,

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you know, where the hell am I going next? Is academia right for me?

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I can't see anything outside of it that really feels like it speaks to my interest or my knowledge or my skills.

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And I think it's really important just to. Acknowledge how normal that feeling is.

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Yeah, and and I think as well, we're not very good in academia about talking about that.

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So I always kind of felt like I wasn't I wasn't sure if academia was right for me,

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but no one ever really talked about, well, if not academia than what

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And I always kind of felt like everybody else in academia was so committed and so sure that this was where they wanted their careers to be.

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And actually now, on reflection, I don't know that that's true.

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I think that we just a lot of people have those doubts, but it's for whatever reason, it's not really talked about.

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And the trouble with that is that it means that it is difficult to know what else there is.

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And so I think it's really great that you do this podcast. And I think that needs to be more resources like this for, you know, pre docs,

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PhD students, postdocs, just to kind of get an understanding of what else is out there.

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Because I the thought of leaving academia was really quite scary for me because I felt like nobody was talking about what happens when you leave.

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You know if I hate it. Can I come back? Will I be seen as kind of an outsider or a traitor for leaving?

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And I found that really unsettling because I felt like I was the only the only one who.

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Wasn't completely sure that I wanted to stay on this career path and kind of aspire to become a professor,

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so I think it's really great that we're having this conversation and that you're kind of

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pushing forward these sorts of topics and conversations because I think they need to be had.

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They do. And I think, you know, you said it yourself.

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There's a real taboo around talking about even thinking is academia right for academia right for me, let alone leaving.

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Yeah. And and there's all sorts of really, really problematic narratives around it as well.

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You know, a lot of people have this misconception, but, you know, it's perpetuated that,

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you know, if you if you decide not to be an academic, you've in some sense failed.

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Failed. Yeah. And and it's really difficult to to push past that.

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Yeah. Especially when the narrative is so pervasive. It is.

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And I felt as well because I wasn't sure, you know, I really enjoyed academia in lots of ways.

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So it wasn't like I absolutely hated it and I knew I wanted out. It was like, OK, I quite like this, but there's also some stuff I'm not sure about.

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And and what I worried about was if I tell anyone that I'm thinking about jobs outside of academia.

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People might not consider me for jobs inside academia, and so I never told anybody,

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I never wanted to speak to my supervisors or those that I worked with because I thought,

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well, if a job comes up, they might think, well, she's not very committed, so let's not offer it to her.

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And so there was kind of this difficult dynamic where I felt like I needed to be speaking about what other options there were,

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but also didn't want to look like I wasn't committed enough to be able to do a good job if I did decide to stay.

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Yeah, exactly, and it's something I've heard so much over the past few years, at Exeter

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is that is a real fear of if I express that I might not be interested in staying in academia, what might the consequences be?

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How might that limit my opportunities?

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And like you say, if I go out and I decide actually I don't like it and I want to come back, you know, is that going to damage my chances?

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So I wanted to pick up on a couple of things.

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So, you know, you said not knowing what was out there, you signed up to loads of  job alerts, but nothing was coming up that really spoke to you.

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Can you talk a little bit about that and about the kind of things were coming up?

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And what what what about the most resonating with you?

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I found it very difficult, a lot of the jobs that were coming up.

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So I think I signed up for job alerts that were kind of, you know, based on keywords.

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So it was like research, research, data analysis, those kinds of things.

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But there was very little in the way of kind of well-rounded research.

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So there were tons and tons of kind of data scientist, data, analyst type roles.

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And as much as I really enjoy working with data and it was one of the things during my Ph.D. that I particularly enjoyed,

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I I'm still I'm not a data scientist. Right. And that's quite a specific set of skills.

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And so a lot of these jobs were coming up where I was thinking, well, that sounds really interesting,

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but I don't I don't think I've quite got the skill set in order to do that.

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And there was very little that seemed to be out there that was kind of like a well rounded researcher role that might involve,

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you know, a bit of research design, a bit of data collection, a bit of analysis, a bit of dissemination.

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There was just nothing really coming up. But I tell you what I saw, I think I searched on, you know, all the usual places,

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Glassdoor indeed, and LinkedIn, and set up loads of job alerts through those kinds of places.

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But the one thing I didn't do was look at civil service and I honestly never even crossed my mind.

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I just never, ever. And that's why I think these kinds of conversations are so important,

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because I didn't really even think about there being research posts in the civil service.

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There are tons of research jobs in the civil service, not just ONS there.

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But I mean, there are loads of jobs being advertised at ONS

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But, you know, departments, Education Department of Health and Social Care, Department for Transport,

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depending what your topic area or area of interest is, there are loads of research jobs in the civil service.

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And I had absolutely no idea. Yeah, and I, I think it's it's so common.

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It's you know, if you're interested in an academic career, I mean,

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I'm not saying it's easy because it's highly competitive, but you're surrounded by the people with the information.

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You're surrounded by the gatekeepers. Well, and, you know, you can you see very clearly in front of you what the options are.

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Yeah. Outside it. You know, it's it's such a big sort of open ended market of possibilities.

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And knowing where you might fit within that is really difficult.

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So. In thinking about what kind of didn't resonate with you.

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About those roles, what was it about this role that you're now in?

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that did speak to you. What is it that made you go at that?

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That sounds like it might be for me. It was the fact that the job description was so the job title was senior research officer,

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but the job description mentioned the whole life cycle of research.

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So it said something along the lines of, you know, roles might include.

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And it was everything from designing research, working with stakeholders, you know, managing a team of researchers, data analysis, dissemination.

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It was basically a postdoc researcher, but working for government.

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And I thought, well, that's exactly what I want.

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I don't want to be stuck into, you know, being a specialist data scientist that's a bit outside the realms of what I'm capable of.

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It's it's a bit of everything and everything that I've learnt along the last nine years of being academia.

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I've done all of that. So I literally looked at the job description and I thought, well, I can do that.

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I can do that. I can do that. There was nothing in it that made me go that's a bit outside of what I can really do.

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And it just felt like it fit

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My skills and probably the skill set of a lot of kind of early postdoc researchers, early career researchers, perfectly.

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But it had the benefit of being a permanent job, which I hadn't had, you know, at the age of thirty two, I'd never had a permanent job.

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And that was I felt like it was the time of my life where I was just a bit tired

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of being on fixed term contracts and always having to worry about what came next.

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And so to have a kind of well-rounded research job that was working from home and that was permanent was just I mean, it was a no brainer.

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Yeah. And I think, you know, we don't talk again.

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We don't talk enough about or we talk a lot about precarity in academia, but we don't talk enough about actually why that might be a reason to leave.

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Yeah. Yep, that's right. It's it's almost something that you just kind of expected to put up with.

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And it's like, well, that's just how it is, you know, and and all of the kind of more senior academics have been through that process as well.

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So all you see is, you know, even kind of the role models and the people that you aspire to,

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to be like eventually still have to go through that process.

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So it's kind of just like, well, that's if you want to be in academia, that is just what you have to put up with.

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And I think in you know, in the time of covid as well, I felt kind of.

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Like, it was extra precarious and I thought,

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I don't know what the landscape is going to be like over the next couple of years, and that was really scary.

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It is, and lots of people, for various reasons, it can be, you know,

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the fact that you just don't have the kind of life circumstances where you can work precariously.

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It can be, you know, that you are incredibly tied geographically for various reasons

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You know, there's lots of different reasons why.

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That kind of that kind of system doesn't really work for people, and therefore it can be a reason to leave academia,

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but that doesn't mean leaving behind research and the things that you're passionate about in terms of your subject area,

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but also in terms of your skills.

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Yeah, exactly.

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And I think one of the things I really was quite nervous about leaving and from the point where I accepted the job to the point where I left, I.

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Was anticipating that I was going to regret leaving from day one and I was going to wonder what I'd done and I don't know,

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I sort of feel like I'd maybe put academia up on a bit of a pedestal where I thought,

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you know, this is the best thing in the world and I'm not going to have that anymore.

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And one of the things that I particularly worried about so one of the things I love about academia is working with,

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like some of the brightest minds in the world. Right. Like, no exaggeration.

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And you get to sit in on conversations and be involved in conversations or it's like, you know, groundbreaking research, really smart people.

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And I just love that I found it really exciting.

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And I thought if I leave academia, I'm going to lose that, that actually there were tons of really bright people at ONS and there were tons of ex academics.

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I went as I didn't lose that at all.

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You know that there are things and we can talk about that, you know, there are things that I miss and things that I lost.

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But working with bright people definitely wasn't one of them.

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And I can honestly say that I haven't looked back for a second and I haven't had once I left,

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it was kind of the couple of months up to leaving that were horrible because I was so worried about whether I was going to regret it.

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As soon as I started my new job, I. I just knew I'd made the right decision and even in those first couple of months and starting a new job,

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which is always a bit unsettling and especially, you know, it was a big change going to civil service from academia.

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It's in some respects, it's totally different. And and there were moments where I felt quite unsettled.

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Even now, you know, three and a half months down the line, I still have moments of feeling a bit unsettled, but never for a second.

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I thought I wish I hadn't left. There's something really for me, this is something really to do with identity,

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and I experienced it myself when I stopped being an academic and I moved into professional services.

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I really felt like I was going to be leaving a huge part of myself behind and that I you know, I felt like it was going to be gut wrenching.

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Yes. To leave my leave my research topic. And I,

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I to the extent that I thought I would probably carry on with some of my research

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and it was only I've been in this job six years so about two years ago,

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that I finally had an exodus of books and research materials.

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When I realised it's been four years, it's probably not going to happen.

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Yeah. And because actually, you know, that it was so tied to my sense of identity that I thought it was going to be this massive,

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massive thing to stop doing it and to leave and to forge a different path.

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And, you know, like you, when I started it, I thought, oh, actually, this this feels right.

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It feels like the right environment for me. It feels like doing the right thing. And I'm not looked at once and I've never missed it.

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Yeah, that's really interesting. And I think I can really relate to that kind of sense of your identity being wrapped up in academia,

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because in academic research it's all about you, like it's about you, your research interests, your proposals.

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You know, it's so centred on you that that it does become part of your identity.

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And and I think it feels like it probably felt like one of the biggest life decisions I've ever made and probably still does to leave.

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It felt like this huge, huge decision, and especially because I'd just been awarded some postdoc funding.

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So I was like, I'm I'm literally like I'm walking away from a really good opportunity.

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And I guess as well, you know, it's always talked about how competitive research funding is.

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And, you know, if you've been awarded something, it's like, wow, that's amazing. Well done.

00:20:29,980 --> 00:20:40,840
You should be so pleased that like to walk away felt really difficult and almost like I was letting people down or letting myself down somehow.

00:20:40,840 --> 00:20:46,060
But yeah, it's funny how pretty much as soon as I did that,

00:20:46,060 --> 00:20:51,250
I kind of I saw things from a slightly different perspective and I realised how the culture

00:20:51,250 --> 00:20:57,130
of academia kind of perpetuates that way of thinking where it's all focussed on you.

00:20:57,130 --> 00:21:02,860
You're not letting anybody down if you decide to leave, like you're not letting anybody down, you're just not.

00:21:02,860 --> 00:21:08,740
And you know what? Your self identity will change and evolve, OK?

00:21:08,740 --> 00:21:14,320
It won't be wrapped up in, you know, this really kind of specific area of speciality that you've developed.

00:21:14,320 --> 00:21:22,540
But you'll have a new identity and you'll still have many of the aspects of your old identity, but it will just evolve and change.

00:21:22,540 --> 00:21:29,430
But that's just part of life, right? We change anyway. So nothing to fear.

00:21:29,430 --> 00:21:33,870
Yeah, I think that I think that's so, so important to acknowledge,

00:21:33,870 --> 00:21:40,080
and it was going to be one of my key questions for you was kind of what happens when you when you leave and what does that feel like?

00:21:40,080 --> 00:21:46,860
Because it is it's a huge source of anxiety for people because it feels like a complete unknown.

00:21:46,860 --> 00:21:51,450
And like you say, we don't talk about it, you know, so we fear it.

00:21:51,450 --> 00:22:03,900
That's right. And and, yeah, you know, academia, it's not just a job when you're in academic research, it is more than that it is wrapped up in your identity.

00:22:03,900 --> 00:22:11,040
So it's a big deal. But, you know, and I'm sure there are people who leave and find that transition really difficult.

00:22:11,040 --> 00:22:15,210
But for me, it wasn't difficult at all.

00:22:15,210 --> 00:22:24,870
And actually, you know, I've still got some old projects from my academic career kind of rolling on.

00:22:24,870 --> 00:22:32,490
And honestly, if anything, I've had moments of thinking, God, I just want to get those things done so that I can put it behind me and move on.

00:22:32,490 --> 00:22:41,100
And it's it's funny how quickly my loyalty has changed.

00:22:41,100 --> 00:22:44,780
And I felt like actually that was something from the past.

00:22:44,780 --> 00:22:50,430
And I'm ready to just move on and, you know, learn it, learn a new job and develop a new life.

00:22:50,430 --> 00:22:59,040
And and for my job to not be such a strong part of my identity anymore, I actually find that really refreshing.

00:22:59,040 --> 00:23:06,060
I did too. there's quite a burden. I think at the time I didn't realise because I thought it was cool.

00:23:06,060 --> 00:23:11,700
But, you know, my research was so important and then it was all wrapped up in me and my self identity.

00:23:11,700 --> 00:23:17,820
And and so I didn't realise it until I left. But actually, I think for me that felt like like a bit of a burden.

00:23:17,820 --> 00:23:28,190
And it's it's nice to feel like, although what I'm doing now is still really important and it's impactful, it's I can see it more as just a job.

00:23:28,190 --> 00:23:32,040
And I think I really appreciate that. Yeah.

00:23:32,040 --> 00:23:39,420
And I, I thought exactly the same about, you know, actually I don't think I necessarily felt it was a burden at the time.

00:23:39,420 --> 00:23:45,150
But when I realised the weight had been lifted. Yeah. I realised realise what a burden it was.

00:23:45,150 --> 00:23:50,520
But at the same time I always say, you know, it's not like that for everybody.

00:23:50,520 --> 00:23:57,810
It's it doesn't feel like it's not a burden for everybody. And, you know, that's an important thing to recognise, too.

00:23:57,810 --> 00:24:01,950
But if it is for you, then maybe this is it's not the environment.

00:24:01,950 --> 00:24:08,340
Yeah. And if your passion is research, there's plenty of things that you can go and do.

00:24:08,340 --> 00:24:13,580
So the thing that I wanted to talk about next was the application process for your job.

00:24:13,580 --> 00:24:20,790
at ONS cause again, it's something that feels in academia we sort of know a bit about if we're in the system,

00:24:20,790 --> 00:24:26,340
about how job adverts and applications and interviews and how all of those processes go.

00:24:26,340 --> 00:24:34,530
But it feels like a really huge unknown when we're talking about public service or industry, particularly the civil service.

00:24:34,530 --> 00:24:40,500
So I wondered if you could talk a little bit about what the application involved and what the interview process involved.

00:24:40,500 --> 00:24:51,600
Yeah, so it was a very different experience to jobs that I had applied for in academia, and the application form was fine.

00:24:51,600 --> 00:24:56,310
I actually um because like I said, I hadn't been looking out for civil service jobs.

00:24:56,310 --> 00:25:00,180
So I hadn't spotted this job until someone messaged me on LinkedIn.

00:25:00,180 --> 00:25:02,820
And I didn't get the message until the day before the closing day.

00:25:02,820 --> 00:25:08,580
So I literally had like one evening and a bit of the next day to put my application together.

00:25:08,580 --> 00:25:18,060
So it was very rushed and I think it involved a CV and a description of my previous work experience.

00:25:18,060 --> 00:25:24,150
And then I had to do a statement. So I think it was seven hundred and fifty words.

00:25:24,150 --> 00:25:28,080
And I had to discuss a piece of work,

00:25:28,080 --> 00:25:34,980
that I had led or a piece of research that I had led and there were specific criteria about what I needed to include.

00:25:34,980 --> 00:25:38,870
So it was how I had led a team, what the outcome was,

00:25:38,870 --> 00:25:44,670
and there were some other things that were specified in there that was pretty easy, to be completely honest.

00:25:44,670 --> 00:25:51,780
If you've got kind of post PhD level, you'll be able to talk about a piece of work that you've led.

00:25:51,780 --> 00:25:55,080
So that was more just kind of, you know, like a lot of job applications.

00:25:55,080 --> 00:26:01,710
It's a bit tedious having to put that together and because I didn't have much time to do it, but that was fine.

00:26:01,710 --> 00:26:11,130
And then I was contacted fairly soon afterwards inviting me to interview.

00:26:11,130 --> 00:26:17,640
And then I had to log on to Civil Service Jobs website.

00:26:17,640 --> 00:26:20,160
So it's worth mentioning for anyone listening to this,

00:26:20,160 --> 00:26:25,920
if you think you might be interested in a research job in civil service, they're all advertised by a civil service.

00:26:25,920 --> 00:26:27,940
Jobs, I think it's

00:26:27,940 --> 00:26:37,930
So all civil service kind of government organisations will all be posted on there and the whole application process is managed on there as well.

00:26:37,930 --> 00:26:41,200
And so then I had to book myself an interview date

00:26:41,200 --> 00:26:46,840
So basically it's all done on an automated system and you got a choice of different dates and then you select one.

00:26:46,840 --> 00:26:58,540
The interview itself was hard. It was about an hour and a half long and it was broken down into three parts.

00:26:58,540 --> 00:27:02,410
The first part was a presentation. I think it was only a five minute presentation.

00:27:02,410 --> 00:27:07,450
And they sent me information about what I had to present on about a week before.

00:27:07,450 --> 00:27:16,720
And basically by the content of it was that they gave me a general topic area with a list of specific research questions.

00:27:16,720 --> 00:27:22,840
And I had to kind of a bit of a brief that some government department wanted this research and what they wanted it for.

00:27:22,840 --> 00:27:29,050
I had to pick a couple of the research questions to focus on, and then I had to design a study to address those questions.

00:27:29,050 --> 00:27:35,970
So the first part of my interview was presenting that. And then the panel asked me a bunch of questions about it.

00:27:35,970 --> 00:27:41,230
You know, why did you select those questions? Why did you pick this design?

00:27:41,230 --> 00:27:46,570
How could you do it differently? What the strengths and weaknesses.

00:27:46,570 --> 00:27:57,890
And then that was followed up with quite specific I think they call them research skills questions.

00:27:57,890 --> 00:28:03,980
If you had just come out of your undergraduate degree, particularly in something like psychology,

00:28:03,980 --> 00:28:08,510
which was what my degree was, it would probably be relatively easy.

00:28:08,510 --> 00:28:18,560
But if you're a few years or more, as in my case, kind of post undergrad, it was things like, you know, what is a normal distribution?

00:28:18,560 --> 00:28:28,040
How would you explain a P value to a lay audience and things like that, which, you know, if you work with day to kind of day to day, you know,

00:28:28,040 --> 00:28:35,780
those things, but actually being able to provide like a really neat definition for it in a high stress interview situation was really,

00:28:35,780 --> 00:28:39,740
really difficult. That's really tough. Yeah, it was hard.

00:28:39,740 --> 00:28:42,260
And there was about 20 minutes of those kinds of questions.

00:28:42,260 --> 00:28:50,750
But I was lucky that I had before my interview, I'd gone on to the Glassdoor website and I looked up.

00:28:50,750 --> 00:28:57,380
So on there this is a very big tip to anyone listening to this who's thinking of applying for other jobs.

00:28:57,380 --> 00:29:01,280
And there's a there's a tab on Glassdoor for interviews.

00:29:01,280 --> 00:29:05,090
So if you go to whatever the organisation is they search for, say,

00:29:05,090 --> 00:29:12,890
I want to go to the interviews tab and there will be people who have posted about their experiences of having an interview at the organisation,

00:29:12,890 --> 00:29:20,810
and it includes interview questions. And so I had seen on that, I think it was only, I don't know, a few days before my interview,

00:29:20,810 --> 00:29:24,560
my husband actually said, well, have you had a look on Glassdoor? And I didn't know this was a thing.

00:29:24,560 --> 00:29:30,080
So we stood and we stood there together. I was kind of over his shoulder. He was on his computer pull up these interviews.

00:29:30,080 --> 00:29:35,840
And I saw a few for the specific kind of job role that I had advertised for.

00:29:35,840 --> 00:29:41,690
And it said on there, you know, people were saying I was asked these kind of very specific research questions,

00:29:41,690 --> 00:29:47,480
statistics type questions with some examples of the kinds of questions that I remember standing there and saying to a husband,

00:29:47,480 --> 00:29:50,870
oh, my God, there is no way I'm going to be able to do that.

00:29:50,870 --> 00:29:56,360
And so I spent the next three days, like revising all my undergraduate stats and research methods.

00:29:56,360 --> 00:30:04,040
If I hadn't have done that, I think that interview process would have been a lot more stressful than it was and would have been really difficult.

00:30:04,040 --> 00:30:13,960
But thankfully, I was quite prepared for that. And then the third part of the interview was what they call civil service behaviours.

00:30:13,960 --> 00:30:20,240
So there are a bunch of kind of civil service behaviours, things like what was I assessed on?

00:30:20,240 --> 00:30:24,380
I can't remember. I think that's about 10 of them. And I was assessed on two.

00:30:24,380 --> 00:30:29,750
And so I think it was maybe leadership and effective decision making.

00:30:29,750 --> 00:30:36,470
I think those were the two that I was assessed on and that was those kinds of smart questions.

00:30:36,470 --> 00:30:42,530
So it's like, you know, tell us about a time when you did such and such,

00:30:42,530 --> 00:30:47,810
or they'll present you with a scenario and say, what would you do in this situation?

00:30:47,810 --> 00:30:52,340
And those are the kinds of questions where you have to say, OK, this is what the situation was.

00:30:52,340 --> 00:31:00,950
This is the action that I took. This was the outcome, et cetera. And that section of the interview specifically was really new to me,

00:31:00,950 --> 00:31:07,850
although I know that that's kind of quite typical in many organisations in academia.

00:31:07,850 --> 00:31:13,340
Certainly when the jobs that I applied for that that kind of interview process wasn't used at all.

00:31:13,340 --> 00:31:17,960
So I found that quite difficult. And if I'm honest, a little bit artificial.

00:31:17,960 --> 00:31:23,240
There were no questions like, you know, why do you want the job?

00:31:23,240 --> 00:31:27,350
What do you think you bring to the organisation? What relevant skills have you got?

00:31:27,350 --> 00:31:36,380
It was all very structured and it did feel a little bit artificial and a little bit like a tick box exercise.

00:31:36,380 --> 00:31:46,190
So I found that quite difficult. And it was a stark contrast to academic job interview processes.

00:31:46,190 --> 00:31:53,900
But, you know, I got through it and apparently I was I did a good enough job to be offered to be offered the post

00:31:53,900 --> 00:32:02,360
And I will say as well, actually, I've since been to the talks and not long after I joined,

00:32:02,360 --> 00:32:11,600
there was a civil service wide kind of talk about disability adjustments in job application processes.

00:32:11,600 --> 00:32:18,410
And I have long term health problems, but I hadn't mentioned that on my job application.

00:32:18,410 --> 00:32:22,310
I think like many people with disabilities or long term health issues,

00:32:22,310 --> 00:32:27,560
I worried about whether that would minimise my chances of being offered something.

00:32:27,560 --> 00:32:34,820
And so I didn't mention it. But actually, I now know that that absolutely wouldn't have been the case.

00:32:34,820 --> 00:32:41,240
And I would really encourage anybody listening who's got any kind of disability or needs any kind of adjustment

00:32:41,240 --> 00:32:50,630
in order to assist them with the interview process and make it fairer to absolutely put that down when you apply.

00:32:50,630 --> 00:32:56,630
And I know that ONS And I'm no doubt other government organisations as well.

00:32:56,630 --> 00:33:00,980
Take that. Very seriously.

00:33:00,980 --> 00:33:10,640
That's really helpful, just to reassure people that there is that support there on that accessing it isn't going to disadvantage you.

00:33:10,640 --> 00:33:20,040
Yeah, definitely. And all say that's one thing I've been really impressed with since I've joined is the support for people with disabilities.

00:33:20,040 --> 00:33:26,330
So actually, after I joined, there's a whole kind of official process. I would ask if you've got any kind of disability.

00:33:26,330 --> 00:33:30,950
It's called a disability, sorry. Now it's called a workplace adjustment passport.

00:33:30,950 --> 00:33:38,300
And it's basically a form that you that you fill out in collaboration with your line manager that says, you know, these are my difficulties.

00:33:38,300 --> 00:33:42,350
These are the kinds of adjustments I need. And they're agreed.

00:33:42,350 --> 00:33:45,830
And it's kind of formally attached to your records so that if you move around within

00:33:45,830 --> 00:33:51,020
the organisation that goes with you and it could be reviewed and changed as needed,

00:33:51,020 --> 00:34:00,320
but they are really brilliant at making any adjustments that are required the helpful for you as an individual in order to perform at your best.

00:34:00,320 --> 00:34:06,650
And I've been really impressed with that from ONS. That's that's really amazing.

00:34:06,650 --> 00:34:14,570
I was just going to say the other thing that I'm really valuing is work life balance and flexitime.

00:34:14,570 --> 00:34:18,300
So ONS has a flexitime system, and it was one of the things I was quite worried about.

00:34:18,300 --> 00:34:25,940
But having chronic health issues, one of the things I really valued in academia was that I could kind of manage my time myself.

00:34:25,940 --> 00:34:32,450
So, you know, if I was having a bad day, I could take the afternoon off and I didn't really even need to tell anybody.

00:34:32,450 --> 00:34:39,290
I didn't need to record it is sick leave necessarily I could You know, I was you're almost your own boss in in many respects.

00:34:39,290 --> 00:34:43,070
And you have a lot of flexibility over how you manage your time. And I really valued that.

00:34:43,070 --> 00:34:53,060
And I was very anxious about losing that. But, oh, there's a there's a flexitime system and it really is very flexible.

00:34:53,060 --> 00:34:58,340
So if you want to take an afternoon off, you know, as long as you don't have any really important meetings going on,

00:34:58,340 --> 00:35:07,130
you can just do it and you don't really even have to ask for permission. So that's a real bonus and something I've been really impressed with.

00:35:07,130 --> 00:35:16,190
And things like part time working is really common, even in very senior staff members.

00:35:16,190 --> 00:35:23,540
So several of the kind of the highest level directors are part time workers,

00:35:23,540 --> 00:35:29,540
there were lots of women in senior roles, you know, people with young children,

00:35:29,540 --> 00:35:36,500
people with caring responsibilities, people with disabilities are represented across the whole organisation at all different levels.

00:35:36,500 --> 00:35:40,700
And on reflection, I don't think that's done very well in academia.

00:35:40,700 --> 00:35:45,530
And I always found it difficult because I dropped to part time working.

00:35:45,530 --> 00:35:51,350
during my PhD because for health reasons and then in my postdoc work, I was always part time.

00:35:51,350 --> 00:35:57,260
And it really worried me that nobody senior seemed to work part time.

00:35:57,260 --> 00:36:02,900
And I always thought, I don't think I'll be physically capable of doing that job full time.

00:36:02,900 --> 00:36:09,320
So therefore that career path just isn't an option for me. But I guess it just doesn't matter.

00:36:09,320 --> 00:36:14,300
Your job, you can be part time. It doesn't matter how senior you are.

00:36:14,300 --> 00:36:22,070
You know, it's recognised that people have lives outside of their jobs and ONS are very good at accommodating that.

00:36:22,070 --> 00:36:25,890
Fabulous. Yeah. Isn't that nice to hear.

00:36:25,890 --> 00:36:37,400
Is it. Is. So I think to wrap up well what advice would you give to someone who is, you know,

00:36:37,400 --> 00:36:42,860
in the position that you were you're not really sure if working in academia is the right thing for you,

00:36:42,860 --> 00:36:46,250
but you you don't really know what's out there.

00:36:46,250 --> 00:36:52,210
What advice would you give them in hindsight? I would say.

00:36:52,210 --> 00:36:59,230
Join LinkedIn, I wasn't on LinkedIn for years, and I kind of always thought, oh, what's the point of it?

00:36:59,230 --> 00:37:02,800
I couldn't really see how it would benefit me if I wasn't on LinkedIn.

00:37:02,800 --> 00:37:11,950
I wouldn't have known about this job and I'd probably still be in academia, still having all those same concerns and,

00:37:11,950 --> 00:37:18,370
you know, keep your options open where I think where you feel comfortable doing so.

00:37:18,370 --> 00:37:22,930
Have those conversations with your managers and your colleagues. And I appreciate that.

00:37:22,930 --> 00:37:29,020
That's really difficult. And I guess if there are any managers listening to this, I would say,

00:37:29,020 --> 00:37:34,390
please have those conversations with your staff, with your junior researchers, you know,

00:37:34,390 --> 00:37:39,530
acknowledge that not everybody in academia wants to be a professor one day,

00:37:39,530 --> 00:37:45,160
you know, make it known that it's OK to be thinking about alternative careers.

00:37:45,160 --> 00:37:54,850
And I've actually been been invited by a professor at Oxford University who I worked with kind of came across during my PhD.

00:37:54,850 --> 00:37:59,200
She since approached me and has asked me to do a bit of a mini presentation to her research team.

00:37:59,200 --> 00:38:04,090
So she's a very senior professor at Oxford who wants me to come in and talk to

00:38:04,090 --> 00:38:09,250
her research group about my job and about civil service and leaving academia.

00:38:09,250 --> 00:38:20,590
And I just feel like that's like just such leadership there to to proactively get someone who's no longer in academia in to talk to her team.

00:38:20,590 --> 00:38:27,110
I really feel like more managers need to be doing that. But, you know, if you're in the position that I was in,

00:38:27,110 --> 00:38:33,400
try and seek out people who you do feel safe having those conversations with and that there was one particular person,

00:38:33,400 --> 00:38:37,180
quite senior person, who I who I worked with, who I did have these conversations with.

00:38:37,180 --> 00:38:42,130
And I really valued that. And I still chat to him now.

00:38:42,130 --> 00:38:49,690
So, yeah, I think, you know, find out, find out people who you feel safe having those kinds of conversations with and have those

00:38:49,690 --> 00:38:55,750
conversations and just keep your options open and know that there is research happening everywhere.

00:38:55,750 --> 00:38:59,710
And just because you don't know about it, it doesn't mean it's not happening. So just keep looking.

00:38:59,710 --> 00:39:04,330
Keep searching that there are lots of jobs out there.

00:39:04,330 --> 00:39:11,980
It's just about kind of finding them and knowing where to look. But look on civil service jobs because there are tons and I had no idea.

00:39:11,980 --> 00:39:22,810
Thank you so much to Katie for that really insightful and really in-depth discussion about that transition from Ph.D. to postdoc to leaving academia.

00:39:22,810 --> 00:39:29,260
I think it's really beneficial to have these really in-depth conversations about the process, what it involves,

00:39:29,260 --> 00:39:38,320
how it feels so that we can reassure our listeners that actually it's it's OK, it's going to be OK.

00:39:38,320 --> 00:39:44,890
And it was great to also hear about the support of access for the disabled employees

00:39:44,890 --> 00:39:51,640
and knowing that that that support is out there in industry as well as in academia.

00:39:51,640 --> 00:40:07,508
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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