Please Welcome… Dr Nessie Monster! aka Post-Viva Feelings

Hello my dears, how are you?

I am exhausted but relieved. I passed my viva, emerging with minor corrections, so you may now address me as Dr Nessie Monster!

😉

I slept for 11 hours straight last night and feel somewhat more human today, although I am yet to get out of my pajamas and red fluffy dressing-gown.

I can’t believe the viva is over and went so smoothly. It was difficult at first and there was a bit of scrabbling for answers to the more general questions at the beginning but once we got into the specifics of my text and experiments, it was fine. The first thing they did was congratulate me on producing one of the best written theses they’d read in years, that was also clearly structured, which is high praise from such experienced examiners. Their biggest criticism was a lack of illustrative diagrams for the signalling pathways and cross-talk mechanisms, and that, as with many students, I hadn’t spent enough time in “fantasy land” in the Discussion Chapter. I could have been far more explicit and specific about what I would do next if I had all the money, resources and time in the world, and if I had the opportunity to start over, what I would do differently. However, as I was able to talk about that at length in the viva, it wasn’t a major stumbling block. Continue reading

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Transferable Skills, What Are They?!

Welcome to Part Two of my careers advice notes. Part One is here. This part is about transferable skills in general: what they are and working out if you’ve got any. Part Three will cover ones specific to PhDs, and how to market the damn things. 

If you’ve had any careers’ service exposure at all, you’ll know of transferable skills. They’re those annoying things you have to demonstrate on your CV or resumé with examples of your brilliance, as opposed to just saying you’ve got them. You know, the standard “Our team won first prize for_______. I contributed to the smooth functioning of the team by_____.” instead of “I am good at teamwork“. The stuff that feels like over-egging yourself, and feels like a tick-boxing exercise of the sort so beloved by HR with their wretched ‘Personal Development Programmes’. As you can tell, I’m maybe not so fond of them! However, the speakers at the conference had a lot of useful advice, of which I’m going to share as much as I can remember.

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The first thing the speakers said was that, as a science PhD graduate looking to work outside of science, you have a reputation, or rather a stereotype, to overcome. If you ask Joe Public what he thinks a scientist is like, you’ll get a description of someone who is too focused on nit-picky details (à la classic geek), who prefers to work alone (with the concomitant lack of team-work skills), and who is so shy they simply cannot speak in public. If you come from the hard sciences, they’ll expect you to be better at numbers than words. They may also think you’re a bit wacky or expect you to have evil genius powers. Muwhahahaha.

"Same thing we do every night, Pinky..."

“Same thing we do every night, Pinky…”

Ahem.

These negative stereotypes are less of a concern if you’re looking for work in fields related to science that regularly or solely hire science post-graduates/post-docs, but you do still have to prove you have the desired soft skills. It’s hard, I know.

So, what are these elusive transferable skills?

Essentially, a transferable skill is one that you can use wherever you go. Continue reading

Leaky Pipelines and Mobility Metrics

I went to fascinating seminar the other week that was organised as part of my University’s programme for International Women’s Day. It was led by Professor Louise Ackers from the Law School, who has been studying race and gender equality issues for nearly twenty years. Ackers has published many articles and reports for international organisations, and has interviewed researchers and academics, male and female, across Europe. Her talk covered various aspects of the ‘leaky pipeline’ in academia, especially in the sciences, and looked at one issue in particular – the requirement to be mobile, that is, the ability to move between institutions and from country to country. Unfortunately, the pressure on academics to demonstrate ‘mobility’ has been growing in recent years because the Research Councils took it up as a metric for allocating grants. In terms of the issues that affect mobility, having a relationship is more of a concern than having kids or caring for relatives. One of the key findings of the research is that many academics think relationships have a bigger impact on mobility and career decisions than children do, and that the response to this gender-specific difficulty ought to be a reconsideration of the mobility metric.

First off, the ‘leaky pipeline’ refers to the declining numbers of women in academia the further up the career ladder you look. At the Undergrad and PhD levels in the Biosciences women significantly outnumber men, by as much as two-to-one in some Universities. At the transition from PhD to Post-doc however, fewer women than men express an interest in an academic science career, and over the course of the post-doc years the number of women staying in academia drops steadily. The end result is a senior academic body that is predominantly male; In the UK for example, just 20% of Professors are women and that statistic hides situations where women are almost entirely absent, such as in Mathematics where 94% of Professors are men!

Obviously, this is an issue, and it doesn’t take much searching on the Guardian UK website to find any number of articles decrying the situation and asking, “But whyyy?”

Continue reading