Postdoctoral Society Careers Workshop

29 October 2014, School of Chemistry, The University of Manchester
Claire Lydon

The chemistry careers workshop, held in September, was a first for the Chemistry Postdoctoral Society, as we had not collaborated with the EPS careers service before. Handily, they have been running a course of career events across the faculty, which they were able to condense into a taster afternoon for us. We started off with a series of talks from four very different academics in the department, which I found very interesting. Before helping to organise this event, I hadn’t quite realised how different their jobs could be. We heard from an established academic (Prof David Leigh), a lecturer whose main role is teaching rather than research (Dr. Jonathan Agger), a just-about-to-move-into-the-job Research Fellow in NMR (Dr. Ralph Adams), and one of the newer academics in the department (Dr David Mills). I think that many of us don’t really think about the different academic jobs that are available, or necessarily know what they entail, so hopefully hearing from those already in the jobs and on different rungs of the ladder is useful. This is especially true when you get to hear about the not so good aspects, such as constant grant proposals and lots of time spent on admin tasks, as well as the cutting edge research!

The second part of the afternoon was a workshop run by Catherine Lillie from EPS Graduate and Researcher Development, which was aimed at preparing for a career in academia. This included CV tips and preparing for interviews (with a selection of potential questions contributed by Prof Winpenny) and a small section on thinking about where you might be up to and what you need to work on to go further. This was done in small groups, with discussions about what made good CVs and how you might answer the interview questions. I found it useful to see what other people thought, especially for the interview questions, as our answers differed a lot depending on our previous experience. This was all followed of course with a drinks reception, where those who attended could chat about what they’d learnt and get to know some of the other postdocs in the department.

Overall (if I can say this having helped organise it!), I thought this workshop was a good insight into career prospects in academia and how to get there. Catherine provided us with an array of sources for further information and I hope that we can do something similar in the future focusing on industry and non-lab based career options. Massive thanks go to everyone who participated and helped to make it a successful event.

Postdoctoral Society Inaugural Seminar – “Careers outside the lab: from publishing to policy making”

15 September 2014, School of Chemistry, The University of Manchester
Fabrizio Ortu

After our first event organised earlier in the summer by the newly formed Chemistry Postdoctoral Society, we received a very strong feedback. Such a positive experience gave us strong motivation to carry on with the organisation of similar activities, with the aim of covering different aspects of career development. We believed that this could help young researchers like us in their future professional adventures, together with promoting an important amalgamation process of the employees of the School of Chemistry. After pinpointing several areas we wanted to cover, we agreed that a good place where to start would have a been a big launch event that could become a recurrent meeting for postdocs in Manchester, organised in conjunction with the start of the new academic year.

The theme chosen for the first meeting was “Careers outside the lab”, with a particular focus on career ideas outside of academic research. When it came to deciding what speakers to invite, we thought it would be particularly beneficial to hear personal experiences of people who stepped out of academia and understand how they came about this change. Following this idea we were extremely excited when Stuart Cantrill (chief editor of Nature Chemistry) and Julie Carlisle (legal patent attorney at Mewburn Ellis LLP) agreed to take part in out event. Stuart comes from a very strong academic background, having worked for two of the most successful chemists of the past few decades (Sir Fraser Stoddart and Prof Robert H. Grubbs), which he left to pursue a career in scientific publishing. Similarly, Julie abandoned the laboratory after an experience as a postdoc in Belgium, seeking asylum in one of the biggest patent protection firms in the country.

Alongside Stuart and Julie, we were also able to recruit Alan Handley (LGC) and Sian Masson (Business Science Fellow, University of Nottingham). Unlike the other invited speakers, Alan Handley left academia straight after his degree, albeit keeping a close contact throughout his career at Imperial Chemical Industries first and LGC next. Rather different was Sian’s professional development, as she instead found herself bouncing in and out of academic research and eventually establishing herself as a Business Science Fellow within the Business Partnership Unit at the University of Nottingham.

The seminar kicked in with the welcoming remarks, presented by our master of ceremony Guillaume De Bo. Then the baton was handed over to me for chairing the first session of the event. All the speakers gave great talks, packed with important extracts of their professional growth, fitting perfectly with the general idea behind the organisation of the Seminar. The second part of the event was structured as a panel discussion, during which the invited speakers addressed questions from the audience and discussed career ideas, guided by the excellent work of our moderator Peter Harvey. The great interaction between the panellists and the engagement of the other participants made the second part of the event a very inspiring experience. What was even more rewarding for the members of the Committee was the generally enthusiastic feedback received. This enthusiasm became particularly evident during the final drinks reception, which everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy—invited speakers included!

All in all, our series of events could not have had a better start than this! The success of this seminar, catalysed by the amazing participation (over 100 attendants!) and the great work of our invited guests, will surely serve as a future inspiration for the work of the Postdoctoral Society. A great thanks goes to the long list of people and sponsors who made this event possible (RSC Dalton Division, School of Chemistry UoM, Sigma-Aldrich, TCI, Nature Chemistry, Mewburn Ellis LLP, LGC). And of course well done to all the member of the Committee involved in the organisation!

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