What an Early Career scientist needs to know about life in Chemical research or industry

What an Early Career scientist needs to know about life in Chemical research or industry

SCI’s Early Career network is aimed at people in the early stages of their studies or research in university and industry. It is an ideal way to learn about the experiences of others who have embarked on a career path which you may be looking to follow. The network aims to provide insight on steps for career development by providing access to scientific and business knowledge, through people sharing their varied experiences at tailored events, workshops and through case studies.

The case studies showcase our early career scientists who have drawn on experiences to provide a glimpse of what to expect from a scientific career. Read on to find out what steps they took to propel them into their respective areas of work or study, and also how SCI membership could help you build on your scientific career.

They cover a variety of scientific areas, but each one offers up information that you may find useful as you think about venturing into a scientific career, or your next steps to take if you are already working or studying in science.

The case studies are grouped according to their technical areas of interest. Click the link above for more information.

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First female Cambridge Professor in Engineering set to become first female President of Royal Academy of Engineering

Prof Dame Ann Dowling FREng FRS, world-renowned expert in combustion and acoustics, became the first ever female professor in Engineering Department of the University of Cambridge back in 1998. A motivational figure for women in engineering, she was identified last year in the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List as one of the 100 most influential women in the country. 

Just last week, the Council of the Royal Academy of Engineering has nominated Dame Ann as its Presidential candidate for election by Fellows at their September 2014 AGM. Upon election by the Fellowship, she will become the Academy’s first female President and serve a term of five years.

“I am honoured to be nominated for election as President of the UK’s national academy of engineering at a crucial time when it is generally acknowledged that many more engineers will be required to help the country benefit from the knowledge economy of the future. The world faces some enormous challenges, including clean energy, resilient infrastructure, water and food supply, and engineers have a crucial role in addressing these issues.”
— Professor Dame Ann Dowling, January 2014

Dame Ann started her career as a pure mathematician, but went on to study her PhD in engineering acoustics to pursue her love of applied mathematics. Her research has helped to develop quieter aircraft and vehicles.

During her interview for The Life Scientific, Dame Ann revealed that she had yearned to fly as a child and that was what encouraged her to become an engineer. A simple dream can be enough to inspire any child to achieve extraordinary things in life; we must take steps towards a society where all children are given the opportunity to follow their dreams, regardless of their gender or background.

For those of you out there who are still hesitant about studying engineering, here’s a little gem from Dame Ann.

“Science has only happened because engineering is enabling it.”
— Professor Dame Ann Dowling, The Life Scientific, August 2012

Dame Ann is encouraging our scientific and engineering researchers to work together for our future generations. Girls and boys, this will be your generation next—what is your dream?

Read the official press release from the Royal Academy of Engineering

Listen to Prof Dame Ann Dowling’s interview with Prof Jim Al-Khalili for The Life Scientific

This article was written by Nishtha Chopra, our new Publicity Officer, and edited by Sybil Wong, Secretary.

8 tips for staying in academia: A female perspective

If you’re still looking for inspiration for new year’s resolutions, I’m listing my favourite take-home messages from our November panel discussion about the female perspective on academic life.

1. Try new places whilst you still have the flexibility to

Thinking about your next position? It might not be such a bad idea to look outside of your current city or even abroad whilst you still have the flexibility to move your entire life to somewhere new. All of our panellists agreed that moving abroad is one of the best ways to mature yourself, both personally and professionally. If you’re already in a relationship, it’s natural to worry about the distance, but try to make the best decision for yourself.  Look out for pan-EU funding schemes such as Horizon 2020, and also keep in mind that specific fellowships exist for UK academics who have worked abroad and now wish to return to the UK.

2. Be aware of the international differences in academic systems and visa restrictions

Before you take the plunge, be wary of how different academic systems can be across the continents. As an example, one of our panellists who started her career in Canada, where publishing frequently in smaller journals is advocated, found it relatively difficult to find a position here in the UK because interviewers preferred academics who published less frequently but in journals with higher impact factors. Also find out exactly what teaching and other administrative duties may be implicit in your new position. If you are planning to or already have a family, be aware that visa restrictions may mean that you’re not eligible for schemes such as child benefits or tax rebates, even if your partner is a local citizen.

3. Travel to meet your future employers

If there is a particular academic you would love to work with, get in touch and make the effort to visit them if possible. One of our panellists landed her first postdoc position at the Max Planck Institute because she visited her target research group for a week, under the guise of helping them with experiments, presented her PhD work and impressed them so much that they asked her to stay! Don’t be afraid to create your own employment opportunities.

4. Distinguish between incompatibility and inadequacy

When experiments don’t go to plan, you start to question your ability in the lab. When your whole PhD feels like a losing battle, you start to question your adequacy for scientific research altogether. One of our panellists shared that she certainly considered that she might not be cut out to be an academic as she finished her PhD degree, but she stuck with it and found a postdoc position in a different field of biology. It was only then that she realised she hadn’t lacked ability—she had lacked interest for her PhD topic. When you’re feeling down about your scientific career, try to make the same distinction in your mind: are you truly inadequate, or just incompatible with your current research topic or research group?

5. Establish your independence as a researcher as soon as possible

A good supervisor for your first postdoc position will work with you from day 1 to establish your independence as a researcher. Unfortunately such supervisors are hard to come by, and most likely it will be down to you to start negotiating what you can take away as your own research after you leave the research group; this is something you should always keep in mind. Your postdoc career should be an exploratory period in which you define the research topic that you want to pursue for the rest of life, so don’t let the day-to-day pressures from your supervisor take away your focus on your long-term goals.

6. Know who to take what advice from

Senior academics are often generous with their advice for their younger counterparts, but don’t be pressured into thinking that they know your research better than you. As one of our panellists emphasised that when seeking advice for a grant application, you should certainly let them guide you on how best to present your proposal, but you don’t have to take their recommendations on what science you should do.

7. Don’t worry too much about when you will have children

Both of our panellists with children agreed: there will be a time when you will genuinely want to have a child, and when that time comes, you will try to have a child irrespective of circumstances. It still sounds pretty mystical to me, but I guess their underlying message is not to worry too much. Like any other key life decisions, there will always be doubt and fear, but once the decision is made, things will generally fall into place around it, so stop fretting excessively and let your instincts guide you once in a while. On a practical note, most academic departments have already amazing accommodations in place for new parents, so don’t be disparaged before you check exactly what you can have.

8. Love doing research

Research is at its core a compulsive act of unsatiated curiosity. If you’re driven by such a compulsion, you’ll pull through no matter what, regardless of gender biases, parenting demands and all the other obstacles between you and staying in academia. WISE@QMUL and many other organisations are trying our best to minimise these obstacles. The question is of course: do you want it enough?

Our panellists spoke to a full room of anxious PhD students and early career researchers

Our panellists spoke to a full room of anxious PhD students and early career researchers

To summarise:
  1. Try new things whilst you still have the flexibility to
  2. Be aware of the international differences in academic systems and visa restrictions
  3. Travel to meet your future employers
  4. Distinguish between incompatibility and inadequacy
  5. Establish your independence as a researcher as soon as possible
  6. Know who to take what advice from
  7. Don’t worry too much about when you will have children
  8. Love doing research :)

From everybody in the WISE@QMUL committee, we wish you all the best for 2014 and we look forward to seeing you at our upcoming events.  We will kickstart the new year with a discussion of the Athena SWAN Charter, a scheme launched in 2005 to recognise academic departments committed to advancing women’s careers.

Our four panellists

Our four panellists and our Chair, Joanne, on the far right

Our panellists on 20th November 2013 were (left to right):

WISE@QMUL panel discussion: What are the challenges facing female postdocs in science and engineering?

On 3rd May 2013, we had a very interesting event to discuss and explore the challenges facing female postdocs in STEM subjects. With demands including running experiments and applying for permanent academic positions, as well as juggling relationships and family life, the choice to work as a female postdoc in STEM is not an easy decision, and often leads to sacrifices for many.

This event aimed to assess these challenges and evaluate how female postdocs can make the most of their experiences and develop their career. We had a range of speakers and a subsequent panel discussion involving:

  • Dr Tracy Bussoli, who works with PhD students and postdoctoral researchers, advising them on career strategies. She completed her PhD in Genetics with the Medical Research Council and worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research, then as a Senior Genetic Counsellor at Guy’s Clinical Genetics Department for 8 years
  • Ros Hannen, who is a current postdoctoral researcher at QMUL
  • Gioia Cherubini, who is a former postdoctoral researcher and is now a Business Development Manager for QMUL

This event proved very interesting for all the attendees, and we extend a big thank you to our guest speakers!

The challenges facing postdocs was of interest to many

Left to right: Ros (speaker), Gioia (speaker), and Joanne (WISE Chair)

28th Feb 2013: Evidence for gender bias in science?

We hear anecdotes about sexism in employment but what’s the evidence for bias against women in science?

Come and hear senior academics and researchers into equality and diversity explain recent research. There’ll be time for a panel discussion and questions from the audience. Men as well as women are welcome. Lunch and coffee provided!

Speakers:

Lucinda Hall graduated in Biology from the University of York in 1978, and gained her PhD from the University of Glasgow in 1981. She joined what was then the London Hospital Medical College in 1986 following four and a half years of post-doctoral research in molecular biology at the University of Geneva. She became Professor of Molecular Microbiology in 2010 and was elected Centre Lead for the Centre for Immunology and Infectious Disease in 2009.

Emily Yarrow is a PhD candidate in The Centre for Equality and Diversity (CRED) and is researching equality and diversity issues in the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Emily has a strong commercial background with experience in finance and business, and she has studied in Edinburgh, Sweden and Newcastle. Emily’s research interests include RAE/REF datasets, equality and diversity, early career academics, and educational inequalities.

When: 28th February 2013, 12-1:30 pm
Where: SEMS Seminar Room, 3/F, Engineering Building, Mile End Campus
Map: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/docs/about/26065.pdf (Building 15)

Related links

6th Dec 2012: Parenting and careers

WISE@QMUL presents our final event of the term a lunchtime panel discussion: “Parenting and Careers”.

Everyone is welcome to this informal networking event exploring how to combine family life with an academic career. There will be plenty of opportunities to question our panel of student and staff parents, as well as short talks from QMUL HR. We’ll finish up with relaxed networking over refreshments.

We welcome men as well as women, and academics from undergraduate level to professors.

When: Thursday 6th December 2012, 12-2 pm
Where: Room UPC (148a), Engineering Building, Mile End Campus
Map: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/docs/about/26065.pdf (Building 15)

To help us get an idea of numbers, please register for this event here (use code: RW204)

Programme:

12.00 Reception
12.30 Sam Holborn (HR Consultant for Science and Engineering)
12.40 Bertille Calinaud (Diversity Specialist)
12.50 Panel chaired by Marina Resmini with QMUL staff: Jeanne Wilson, Jo Cordy, Lourdes Agapito and QMUL students: Colombine Gardair and Sara Heitlinger
13.40-14.00 Networking

Speakers and panellists:

  • Sam Holborn is the HR Consultant for Science and Engineering.  Her role is to offer support and advice to the faculty on HR matters.
  • Bertille Calinaud is the Diversity Specialist for Queen Mary, she also project managed the Athena SWAN programme, which is a Charter to advance women career in sciences and engineering.
  • Marina Resmini is a Reader in organic chemistry in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.  She has been at QMUL since 1999 when she started as a lecturer.  She works full time and has two young children.
  • Jeanne Wilson is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Physics and Astronomy.  She has recently returned from maternity leave after the birth of her second child.
  • Jo Cordy is the Development Adviser for Research Students, based in the Learning Institute.  She runs workshops and events for researchers as well as offering advice and support.  Her son was born at the beginning of March and she has recently returned from maternity leave.
  • Lourdes Agapito is a Reader in Computer Vision at the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science and mother of 3 children aged 4, 6 and 8.
  • Columbine Gardair is in the process of finishing her PhD in the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science whilst also teaching Design for Human Interaction module this term.  She has a 2 year old daughter who attends QMUL nursery full time.
  • Sara Heitlinger is an award winning artist, writer and currently PhD student in the Media and Arts Technology programme.  Her research looks at how digital technology can support grassroots urban food growing communities.  She has a two-year-old son, who was born in the first year of the four year PhD programme and helps keep things in perspective.

We hope to see you there!

Thinking about having children vs. an academic career?

Prof Dame Athene Donald’s latest blog post “Get a wife!” makes some interesting points about the work-life balance of academic and non-academic couples.

Here at WISE@QMUL we are putting our thinking caps on about the topic of having kids and an academic career… hopefully hosting a ‘Planning Parenthood’ event towards the end of this term.  Ideas? Comments? Post below or use our contact form.