This month I started a new job as an Enterprise and Intellectual Property Officer in the Enterprise and Innovation team at St George’s University of London. For me, it’s a dream come true to be employed as a technology transfer professional right after coming out of a lab-based PhD at the Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University London (QMUL). This is the result of two years of research, networking and soul searching, as like many PhD students, I realised that a career in academia was not the best fit for me. At that point I had no idea what I could do with a science PhD and what would be a good fit for me personally. When I was a PhD student, it wasn’t at all easy to figure out what my options were. Career events, articles, and career finder questionnaires were helpful, but provided limited options and insight. I found I needed to combine information, networking, defining my values, and a lot of time to discover my own path. After finding a career direction I`m happy with, I want to share my story and some resources I found helpful, hoping that they will be useful for someone in the same position.
Facing that a post-doc was not for me, and my aspiration to become a Principal Investigator (PI) in academia needed to be changed was difficult to admit. Once I had reconciled with this realisation, I decided to search for a new career starting point that really fits me. However, I knew nothing about the types of jobs that were available to me. I read countless articles, but it felt that the jobs listed were out of reach for me. About a year later, through internal email advertising I found out that QMUL has a one-to-one career advisory service and I reached out to an exceptional career consultant, Andrea Cox, whom I started meeting for about a year and worked through questions such as:
- What is my relationship to science?
- What are my values, strengths and weaknesses personally and professionally?
- What is my ideal working environment?
- What are my boundaries around work-life balance?
I drew up a plan for working through these questions systematically, and we discussed my progress every fortnight which left me enough time to do my self-imposed homework but was frequent enough to keep me in the loop. None of us knew how long it would take me to find conclusions. I definitely did not expect to spend over a year on career development. However, these meetings helped me to stay positive and productive, tackling career development step-by-step. My overall plan looked a bit like this:
My self-directed career development plan to find a satisfying career direction.
My aim was to build on my core values and work towards tactical decisions, while always feeding back to the values section as I was reflecting on my research.
Research and networking
I kept an open mind and researched any possible career options I found on the internet, and I attended dozens of career events and webinars. I recorded my impressions and saved contacts from these events. When I found a career interesting, I reached out to people working in that profession for a 15-minute chat through my personal network and through contacting people from the career events I attended. To my surprise, 90% of the people I reached out to replied and were happy to talk to me about their career journeys. High-profile professionals from prestigious consulting and law firms, teachers, scientists, charity professionals, entrepreneurs, and many others offered me some of their time to chat about their job and how they feel about it personally. These conversations were invaluable because the insight I was given was unique, personal and candid, much more informative than any article on the internet. I asked them mainly the same questions I based my own research on:
- What do you value most about your job?
- What do you find challenging?
- What is your work environment like?
- Can you talk a bit about your company culture and work-life balance?
- What role does science play in your day-to-day work?
- Do you personally feel that you have a positive impact through your job?
I have summarised the main trends I observed in the chart below. I found that based on personality, life-stage, priorities and interest, people fell roughly into seven categories, which I named for my own understanding: the business mind, Jack of All Trades, the lab scientist, the law enthusiast, the free spirit, the civically-minded, and the fixer. These categories are highly subjective, but they helped me to draw parallels between my own ambitions and values and theirs’. I realised that most people struggle with choosing a career at some point during their lives, and my situation was not unique. I felt grateful for every insight, every chat, and every new introduction I was given, and this motivated me to continue my search.
Illustrative career choices and avenues from a science-based PhD, based on conversations with professionals. Created in BioRender.
Preparing for a career change
I figured that I wanted a job close to science, but not in the lab, with a strong societal impact. A role that would allow me to use my social skills and help others in a supportive and positive work culture while staying in tune with the newest innovations and progress in science. Frankly, I had doubted if this profession existed, until I found myself leading a half-day career visit to the London headquarters of the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult for 16 PhD students, where we were introduced to the technology transfer profession. Technology transfer, a mix of science innovation, business, and law, ticked all the boxes for me. I was excited; however, I had no idea how to build skills to get a job in the sector. Thankfully, I found the LifeArc AUTM Technology Transfer fellowship, a one-year training program with webinars, mentoring, formal training and conferences that helped me build my skills, network, and confidence. I was recently asked to be a panellist with four other fellows on a freely available webinar about the fellowship programme (available to watch after a quick registration).
Applying for jobs
About six months into the technology transfer fellowship, I started applying for jobs in technology transfer. By this time, I had a clear understanding of what technology transfer involves, and I also had some training in the profession, so applying for jobs felt within reach. I researched most institutions with a technology transfer office within a 130-mile radius from my home in London and reached out to professionals working there to build a picture of each institution. When it got to job adverts, I already had a good idea of what I was applying for, and on most occasions the interviews ended up being a friendly chat where both parties were looking for a good match. I definitely felt the advantage of my previous research and networking, as I was able to target a few roles with a strong mutual match instead of shooting from the hip and applying to many places without enough research.
Just over 2 years of persistent research, studying and networking I have found a role that matched my values, expectations and ambitions. Everyone has their own journey and unique affinities, and I hope that others will find my story and the resources that I shared useful. There are so many options out there for PhD graduates, but finding the right one is not easy. Furthermore, building a career is a dynamic process, with many new opportunities arising at each milestone. For me, defining the next milestone is probably the best thing to do to progress whilst staying open, flexible and resilient in a world where an average professional could change jobs 10-15 times during their working life.
My advice to anyone who is in the position where I was two years ago is to think of themselves as a very rare, unique puzzle piece. With enough effort spent on finding a matching environment, you can find what you’re looking for.
Finally, I want to thank everyone who’s helped me in my career journey with advice, chat, resources, networking or just being a good friend.
Judit B Csere
If you would like to join ASTP's New Professionals Special Interest Group, email Arlyta at HQ