Thinking about what next for your career or you are in the “i’m not sure” what or where to go to next in your career? Well our transition reflections are back again! Our previous article showing a successful transition from a PhD to a role in industry spurred many of our readers on towards their search for their dream careers. In today’s article, new PhD candidate in biomedical science, Ellena Elcocks shares her experience of transitioning from her degree to industry and back to the PhD.
As a failed medical school applicant out of college, I looked to the next necessary steps to get me into medical school via the graduate route. I chose biomedical science and it’s probably the most successful last minute decision I’ve made to date. In 2014 my first round of university ended and I proudly graduated with a 1st Class in Biomedical Science.
I spent the first 2 years of my BSc degree still on track to apply for graduate entry into medicine, and then my final year project began. I was smitten. Research was my jam.
Without meaning to be over zealous, I felt like what I was doing had meaning. My research project was focused at how bacteria in probiotics survive and how it applies in the real world. I was hooked! I started applying for PhDs and before graduating I had secured 3 interviews. Lacking the experience needed, I was unsuccessful with them all and I felt deflated. I went back to the drawing board and started applying to any and all jobs that would keep me connected to research.
After my unsuccessful PhD interviews, my supervisor suggested some small projects here and there after graduating. In hindsight I should have taken his offer. Had I been less panicked and a little more patient, two things I definitely didn’t excel at back then; it probably would have landed me exactly where I am now. But as it happens, I had just received a job offer in a food and water testing laboratory and I was excited, so I took it. I was heading into industry!
I turned up bright eyed and bushy tailed, eager to get stuck into my new venture. Two years later and I still craved academic research. I had climbed as high as I could for the foreseeable future, and I no longer felt like I was utilising my hard learned skills from University. I didn’t feel challenged and I didn’t feel like I was learning anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I’d learnt so much from this job. It taught me invaluable lessons and connected microbiology to business in a way I hadn’t seen before but I wanted to move on and thankfully an opportunity arose and I was offered a PhD.
As sad as it is, and not something I like to admit, my first worry was for my financial security. Going from a working wage to a stipend out of my control was scary for me, and I know I should be so lucky as to have any bursary at all, but making that shift back to student life was going to require some adjustments. But it’s all material right? It was something I was willing to risk in order to get the PhD I’d wanted for years and I’m glad I did.
Another thing! I felt I was giving up being an adult, so to speak. I felt like by going “back to school” I was postponing real life and worried that people would think I was being a cop out. But I was wrong. My parents were proud, my friends were excited and my colleagues were impressed. And so I let myself be proud and excited and impressed. But now I felt rusty. I felt like I hadn’t written more than a sentence in 2 years and I’d forgotten how to do research efficiently. And I don’t think it’s just me that has felt that whilst transitioning back from industry to academia.
The first thing I did when on my return, was google it (of course)! It’s a common theme with new starters. We do feel out of the loop!
Something I should’ve thought about more, was the independence. I’ve had to stop myself from comparing this PhD to my University undergraduate experience. Without the timetable and the calendar and the hundreds of other lost freshers, I found myself feeling a little lost. But I reassured myself that it was okay to feel like that and I would eventually get the ball rolling by myself. I’ve officially been enrolled for 2 weeks, still very green, but I’ve slowly felt the cogs beginning to turn and the cobwebs clearing from my brain.
In a lot of ways, going into industrial microbiology has given me a different understanding of the subject. Seeing the bigger picture around research and the commercial applications has given a new kind of confidence for the work I have begun. I don’t regret my choice to go into industry at all, I’m glad I did it, but I’m also glad to be back. I’m comfortable in academia, but not too comfortable. It’s the right kind of pressure for me and the right kind of challenge. I look forward to the future and hope to be able to apply all that I have learnt so far, from both my undergraduate degree and my time in industrial microbiology, to get me through my PhD.
Learning comes from experience, so far on my transition journey, I have learnt to:
- Have faith and trust your gut
- Stay positive
- Be determined and stick to your guns
- Not be afraid to ask for help
- Have a plan B
About our writer: Ellena Elcocks is a new PhD candidate in biomedical research at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Prior to commencing her PhD, Ellena worked as a Senior Laboratory Coordinator at a food and water testing company in South West, UK. Her research interests are in the areas of probiotics, survival of foodborne and medically associated pathogens.
We at the APH wish Ellena the best of luck with the PhD journey!