In May, we are sharing career stories from within our network of aspiring professionals! Our goal is to celebrate the variety of careers within our network as well as educate recent (and not so recent) graduates on keeping an open mind when it comes to career options! In this article, Emmanuel interviewed Eleanor Williams, a Production Scientist (Scientist II) on her career journey as a scientist in the Biotechnology sector.
Can you tell us about your educational background and career journey to date?
I did my degree in Forensic Biology then I continued further into a master’s degree in Molecular Biotechnology then stayed on and worked as a research assistant at the University of the West of England, before moving into a role in industry. I now work as a production scientist, in the manufacturing side of things making reference standards for cancer research.
How did you get into this field?
I never really loved science that much even though I did well at it throughout school, and it wasn’t until I did my A level biology that I developed more of an interest in the sciences.
You are currently a Scientist II. What does this mean?
When I applied to join my current company, I started out as a Scientist I and was promoted to Scientist II. What this entails is that I do some similar work to what I did as Scientist I but with more responsibilities; delegating work to junior members of the team and liaising with external organisations more. Hopefully after this, I will be able to progress further as a Senior Scientist.
What would one need to get into a scientist position like yourself?
A degree in any sort of biological science subject. Mine was Forensic Biology and maybe it helped that I had a master’s degree although a lot of people on my team do not have a master’s degree. Just being open to learning new things as you can’t have all the experience you need in your role when you first start and in industry, they are quite willing to teach you new things and ‘show you the ropes’.
In your opinion, what are essential skills and personal attributes required to excel in your current role?
I think you need confidence in yourself because you are part of a team but you have to get on with things yourself as well. You also need hard work to succeed at working in industry, you have customers to think about as well. You also need good attention to detail.
How did your degree and masters help you with the skills required for this role?
A lot of the fundamental theory definitely helped me with knowledge of the science behind it. You can read the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and follow the guidelines but it does help to know the science behind it. Also learning to be in a laboratory environment which I did a lot more of during my masters was quite helpful as my role is quite hands-on in the laboratory.
What are the options available to students or graduates seeking careers in industry?
There are so many different types of companies you can work for. You have biotechnology companies etc. and there are different sides to it. You can do research or even manufacturing like I do but just because you study a degree a degree in Biomedical Sciences doesn’t mean you are tied down to working in the National Health Service: people I work with did it as a degree and there are a lot of options in industry that people don’t realise.
Describe a typical working day?
I tend to spend at least half of my day in the lab and I also have paperwork to do because for every process I do, I have to fill in my results and analyse the data I collect and this is an everyday thing. I do a lot of cell culture and first thing in the morning I do my cells, various quality control (QCs), polymerase chain reaction (PCRs), running electrophoresis gels and the like.
Whilst experiments are running I can be back at my desk, doing paperwork, sending emails but at least I am not sat at my desk all day. There are always lots of different things happening.
Have you ever failed or made any mistakes and what lesson(s) did you learn?
I failed my driving test first time and I thought it was the end of the world. Looking back, you just move on, things don’t always go right first time. I did coursework at University which didn’t always go well but you have to move on and look at the bigger picture.
Do you have any mentors or role models?
My manager at work. She works really hard and knows how to manage teams and she does know type of challenges we face. She is always trying to see how we can further ourselves not just for the good of the team but for our own selves. At University, my supervisors were also very good mentors and pushed me really hard.
What do you wish someone had told you before you embarked on a career as a scientist?
I don’t know! Difficult to say. I honestly didn’t see myself becoming a scientist but now I just love it. And just knowing that things don’t always go right first time and you learn from your mistakes. It has been a learning curve at times but it has been good.
I think sometimes working in industry can be hard as there is some pressure because there are customers to think about. Working in academia I didn’t quite think about that but now there are deadlines to meet and sometimes there is a lot of pressure put on you, but you just have to get on with it.
What advice would you give any aspiring scientists who would like a similar career like yours?
You have to be confident in your own abilities, to learn new things etc. when I started I didn’t have all of the experience they were looking for but I had learned this and that at University and If you are knowledgeable and you know the theory, they are always willing to train you and support you.
How would you suggest people tackle issues of confidence going into professional work environments?
I think it is a difficult one. I haven’t always been a confident person but going to University helped me gain confidence. Even just speaking to people 1-1, getting advice, going to interviews and trying to build rapport with someone. I still don’t like to give presentations to the whole company but I have become a lot better talking to people and teams and you become a lot better at what you do and you are able to communicate that better as well
How do you maintain a sense of balance with your professional and personal life?
I always make sure I don’t stay at work too late. I get in very early and try get as much done in the morning and always make sure I leave on time if everything’s done and if there are things that can wait until the next day, I just wait until the next day.
Do you have any extracurricular activities outside work?
I am a keen netball player and in the past year I have also got into running and ran my first half marathon few months ago.
Finally, do you have any advice for others in the process of planning their careers?
You have to take chances and just because you read a job description and you think…I don’t have that experience, you should still go for it as no one will ever have every single skill in a job advert and actually you have a good chance and you just need to go for it.
Eleanor Williams (Ellie) is a Production Scientist for a Biotechnology company in the South East of England. She attended the University of the West of England, achieving an undergraduate degree in Forensic Biology and a Master’s degree in Molecular Biotechnology. She worked at the university as a research assistant before moving into industry two years ago.
We are very grateful to Ellie for sharing her career journey with us. If you want to listen to the full interview, it will be made available on our YouTube channel shortly. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and subscribe to our network! Would you like to share an article in The Hub? We would love to hear from you. Please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org.