Career Planning for Research Bioscientists - Sarah Blackford

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f r e e c o m p a n i o n w e b s i t e A companion website with additional resources is available at and you can visit the author’s blog at for more information. f r e e c o m p a n i o n w e b s i t e ISBN 978-1-4051-9670-3 3 0 7 6 9 1 5 0 4 1 8 7 9 0 0 0 0 9 Sarah Blackford Career Planning for Research Bioscientists Career Planning for Research Bioscientists Sarah Blackford Career Planning for Research Bioscientists is an essential careers guide for bioscience doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers. It contains a wealth of information and resources specifically targeted at research bioscientists, with practical strategies to enhance career success in an increasingly competitive job market. Advice on how to write a winning CV together with examples adapted for different jobs is presented, as well as practical exercises to assist with skills analysis and decision making. Profiles of PhD-qualified bioscientists in a range of professions including academic research, industry, science communication, management and consultancy provide valuable insights into how others have managed their careers, and tactics such as networking and using social media demonstrate how new opportunities can be discovered. The content of this book is aimed primarily at research bioscientists, however much of the advice and information will be a useful reference for other students and researchers looking for an effective career planning strategy. Sarah Blackford Career Planning for Research Bioscientists Sarah Blackford is the Head of Education and Public Affairs of a large international bioscience learned society. With a Master’s degree in career guidance in Higher Education and a background in bioscience research, scientific publishing and university careers advisory work, Sarah is uniquely qualified to support research bioscientists with their career planning and management. For over a decade, she has been delivering talks and career workshops in university departments and at international scientific meetings and career events, as well as providing individual career coaching to students and postdoctoral researchers. Career Planning for Research Bioscientists COMPANION WEBSITE: This book has a companion website: and you can visit the author’s blog at for more information. Career Planning for Research Bioscientists Sarah Blackford Society for Experimental Biology Bailrigg House Lancaster University Lancaster LA1 4YE & Charles Darwin House 12 Roger Street London WC1N 2JU A John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Publication This edition first published 2013 © 2013 by Sarah Blackford Blackwell Publishing was acquired by John Wiley & Sons in February 2007. Blackwell’s publishing programme has been merged with Wiley’s global Scientific, Technical and Medical business to form Wiley‐Blackwell. Registered office John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, The Atrium, Southern Gate, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 8SQ, UK Editorial offices 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK The Atrium, Southern Gate, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 8SQ, UK 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030‐5774, USA For details of our global editorial offices, for customer services and for information about how to apply for permission to reuse the copyright material in this book please see our website at‐blackwell. The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except as permitted by the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, without the prior permission of the publisher. Designations used by companies to distinguish their products are often claimed as trademarks. All brand names and product names used in this book are trade names, service marks, trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners. The publisher is not associated with any product or vendor mentioned in this book. This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold on the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering professional services. If professional advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. Library of Congress Cataloging‐in‐Publication Data Blackford, Sarah. Career planning for research bioscientists / Sarah Blackford. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-4051-9670-3 (pbk.) 1. Biology–Vocational guidance. 2. Career development. I. Title. QH314.B53 2013 570.23–dc23 2012016866 A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in electronic books. Cover image: Tom Donald ( Cover design by Steve Thompson Set in 10.5/13pt Janson by SPi Publisher Services, Pondicherry, India 1 2013 Author’s note ix Acknowledgements xi 1. Introduction 1 Who is this book for? 1 The process of career planning 3 Helping you with your career planning 3 Content of the book 4 How to use this book 5 2. Planning your career 7 The importance of career planning 7 What is career planning? 8 Career planning in action 10 Conclusion 10 3. Self‐awareness 13 What is self-awareness? 13 Practical ways to analyse your ‘self’ and increase self-awareness 15 Conclusion 29 4. The job market 31 Career sectors 32 Examples of job advertisements 34 Analysis of job advertisements 40 Self-employment 43 Where are the jobs? 44 Conclusion 51 Contents Contents vi 5. Enhancing your employability 53 The changing nature of work 53 Taking responsibility 53 Taking a proactive approach 54 Planned happenstance 55 Personal and professional development 55 Conclusion 64 6. Making applications 67 Employer perspective 67 Presenting a professional image 68 Methods of application 69 Conclusion 82 7. Successful interview technique 83 Types of interviews 83 Interview content: what questions will you be asked? 87 Answering the questions 90 Thinking of questions to ask the interviewer 91 Preparation 91 If you are offered the job 92 If you are not offered the job 93 Conclusion 94 8. Decision making and action planning 95 Careers in research 95 Other career options 96 Decision making 97 Taking action 98 Turning decisions into action 99 Conclusion 102 Afterword 103 Appendix 1: Career narratives 105 Summaried list career narratives 105 1. Michel: professor, US university 106 2. Teresa: research fellow, Austrian university 109 3. John: lecturer, UK university 110 4. Andrew: lead scientist, protein design team, large agribiotechnology company 113 5. John: scientific team leader, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics (DMPK), global contract research organisation 114 6. Joanna: product and R&D manager, small biotech company 116 7. Petra: scientific adviser, protein interaction services company 117 8. Ann: president and chief executive officer, small immunoreagent company 119 Contents vii 9. Yfke: senior medical writer, medical communications agency 120 10. Carol: freelance science editor, writer and training consultant 122 11. Mary: features editor, Teaching Tools in Plant Biology (learned journal) 124 12. Linda: teacher training co-ordinator, public research institute 126 13. Ruth: freelance science journalist 127 14. David: research associate, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, National Academy of Sciences; Outreach Committee Co-chair, AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition 129 15. Edward: clinical trial co-ordinator, university cancer trial centre 131 16. Miguel: patent examiner, European Patent Office 133 17. Florent: scientific officer, Marie Curie Actions, European Commission 135 18. John: healthcare analyst, self-employed partnership 136 19. Annie: technology consultant, international technology consultancy 138 20. Ian: sound engineer, production services provider 140 Appendix 2: Social media 143 Appendix 3: Example CVs 151 Appendix 4: Support and resources 167 Index 175 COMPANION WEBSITE: This book has a companion website: and you can visit the author’s blog at for more information. Career planning is as vital to researchers as planning experiments. To produce successful results, you need to be familiar with the career landscape, know how to promote yourself and be skilled in your techniques. Competition for permanent academic posts is fierce and to be successful you must manage your career carefully to maximise your chances of success. As doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers, numerous career options are available to you but navigating your career path can be challenging. This book aims to assist you in this process whether you are planning a career within or outside academic research. As a qualified careers adviser working in an international bioscience learned society, having previously worked in scientific research and publishing within university bioscience departments, I am well aware of the particular career issues faced by researchers. For my own part, my career track has been far from straight- forward. Having realised, during my first 3‐year contract, that research did not suit me (and, following a few mishaps in the lab, I did not suit it!), I changed careers into journal publishing, as I had enjoyed communicating my work. This editorial role was more suited to my skills and personality and was a convenient stepping stone out of the lab. However, my desire to help and support people was still not realised and it was only when, by chance, I saw an advert for a careers adviser post that I considered the prospect of changing career paths again. Although I didn’t get this job, the insights I gained into the sector during the interview process acted as a catalyst for further action. Through volunteering, networking and then, later, formalising my qualifications with a Master’s degree, I secured two successive careers advisory posts, ultimately arriving at my current role as the head of education and public affairs of the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB). My career path may seem rather disjointed but it is not uncommon for people to experience two or three different careers during their working life. I am using many of the skills I developed during my previous jobs and even publishing research papers derived from my careers work. Since taking up my role at the SEB, I have been delivering career workshops for research bioscientists at career conferences, in universities and during international scientific meetings. In addition, I offer one‐to‐one career coaching and guidance Author’s note to individuals. This book communicates this advice and knowledge in one complete compendium, which you can refer to at your convenience. I hope you enjoy reading it and find it a useful guide for your career. To keep it as accurate as possible (all information was up to date at the time of the book’s submission in 2012), I welcome any suggestions (via my blog or Twitter - see following page) for further resources which you think would be helpful to readers of the book. Author’s note x Acknowledgements At the risk of reading like a Hollywood acceptance speech, I have many people I would like to thank who helped me turn this book from an idea into a reality. For their invaluable input and contributions to this project, I would like to acknowledge the following researchers, academics, careers advisers and associated professionals: Dr Tennie Videler (Vitae), Dr Teresa Valencak (Veterinary Medicine University, Vienna), Dr Barbara Tigar (Liverpool Hope University), Dr Jenny Sneddon (Liverpool John Moores University), Dr Sara Shinton (Shinton Consulting), Professor Dale Sanders (Director, John Innes Centre), Dr Marie Reveiller (NYU Langone Medical Center), Dr David Proctor (independent con- tractor), Dr Jeremy Pritchard (University of Birmingham), Cathee Johnson Phillips (Executive Director, National Postdoctoral Association), Charlotte Lindsay (freelance editor), Dr Calum Leckie (University College London), Dr Alison Kingston‐Smith (IBERS, University of Aberystwyth), Dr Hilary M. Jones (University of York), Sarah Jones (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry), Clare Jones (University of Nottingham), Dr Anne Forde (University of Cambridge), Professor Tony Farrell (University of British Columbia), Dr Gordon Dalton (University College Cork), Dr Simon Cutler (BBSRC), Dr Anne Borland (University of Newcastle) and Dr Alun Anderson ( former Editor‐in‐Chief, New Scientist). Not forgetting also, all those whose Career Narrative is featured in Appendix 1. I would especially like to acknowledge Dr Irene Hames (editorial consultant), who inspired me to start the book and gave me the benefit of her time and expertise during the writing process. My thanks also go to those who were involved in the production of the book: Holly Regan‐Jones, Suvesh Subramanian, Kelvin Matthews, Carys Williams and Ward Cooper of Wiley Blackwell. For their support and encouragement, I am indebted to my friends and family. I would also like to express my appreciation to the Society for Experimental Biology, with whom I have worked for over 10 years and who champion the professional development of bioscientists. In particular, my thanks go to Professor Bill Davies (Lancaster University), who initiated the SEB’s education programme and has been a much‐valued mentor during my career. Sarah Blackford @bioscicareer Believe in yourself and anything is possible Career Planning for Research Bioscientists, First Edition. Sarah Blackford. © 2013 Sarah Blackford. Published 2013 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. CHAPTER 1 Who is this book for? Are you a research bioscientist looking for help with your career? Do you want to know where to find out about jobs? How to write an effective CV? Improve your interview technique? Or learn more about how to take control of your career? If so, this book should help you. It contains advice and information specifically tailored to the needs of research bioscientists. It offers you strategies to enhance your chances of success, following a recognised theoretical model for effective career planning. It contains information about research and non-research jobs, funding and courses, how to present yourself in a CV, enhance your employability and be successful at interview. Also included are less tangible, but highly impor- tant, aspects of the career planning process such as self-analysis, decision making and action planning. The world of work has changed and will alter even more rapidly in the future. The concept of a ‘job for life’ has long gone in many professions in most countries, replaced by a relatively insecure employment culture. However, as highly qualified and skilled researchers, you have the opportunity to forge a successful career in many occupational fields. Whatever ‘successful career’ means to you, it will be your actions and your purposefulness which get you there. Don’t rely on your supervisor or manager to organise things for you; you need to be proactive and plan your career strategy. This book aims to help you to succeed by providing you with the information, tools and resources which will assist you with your career planning. Planning your career can be challenging as not all career choices are within your grasp. You may not know in which direction you want to take your career or how to do it. Career plans and career direction vary from one person to another. If you are considering an academic career path, it may not turn out to be possible. Competition for permanent academic research positions is notoriously harsh in many countries. Statistics show that only between 7% and 14% of postdoctoral researchers will achieve a full academic career and secure a tenured position (Bradley 2009 ; Kirshenbaum 2008; Newman 2007). The situation is worse for women (see Chapter 5, Box 5.5). Therefore, it is advisable to keep your options open and have more than one career plan. Maybe you are considering other career options, such as a job in industry, science administration, policy or communica- tions work. Some of you may be unsure about what you want to do. Personal circumstances change throughout the course of your life; sometimes you will be Introduction 01.indd 1 01.indd 1 8/21/2012 2:45:35 PM 8/21/2012 2:45:35 PM