#MyCareerStory -Science Policy

Career2In today’s #MyCareerStory, Amara had the opportunity to interview Gabriele Butkute. Gabriele currently works as a Science Policy Assistant at the Royal Society of Biology and the Biochemical Society and in this insightful interview helps to demystify an often overlooked pathway for science graduates. Enjoy!

APH: Can you tell us about your educational background and career progression to date?

GB – I’m originally from Lithuania, which is where I completed my high school diploma cum laude. Soon after my graduation I came to London, had a gap year working in the hospitality business – which is really what people say when they worked as a waitress/waiter! I then embarked on a BSc Biomedical Science degree at London Met, from where I graduated almost two years ago now. Right after my graduation I got a fixed term job as an Events and Administrative Assistant at the Royal Society of Biology where I was tasked with organising three national Life Science Careers Conferences. Looking back, it seems ironic that I got this job when I didn’t have a clear career plan for myself! My next job was a Student Enterprise and Marketing internship at London Met where I spent seven months developing and integrating  enterprise into the science curriculum and encouraging students to develop softer skills and business awareness which are key for a successful career nowadays. Finally, a year ago I started my first science policy job at the Royal Society of Biology and the Biochemical Society, which is where I am now. I believe in internships and placements because I undertook two between completing my degree and starting my current job. My experiences  made me feel more comfortable with the career decision I have made.

You obtained a first class degree in Biomedical Science. Did you ever consider a career as a biomedical scientist in the NHS?

#UniAdvice – Choosing the RIGHT Masters Degree for You

The demand for a Masters degree is on the rise and with the efforts of many Universities across the globe to ‘internationalise the curriculum’, there is now even more interest and perhaps, reason to embark on a Masters degree. I remember undertaking my masters degree over a decade ago and I can comfortably say it was one of the best career decisions I (Emmanuel) have made as it determined the career path which I am on today.

The Masters degree, for those who are not very sure, is a higher level qualification which you can attain after studying for a Bachelor’s degree (traditional route) or other technical qualification (for those on polytechnic or college courses + some experience). Increasingly, Universities are considering individuals with extensive experience in a particular sector to study for Masters degrees on a part-time face to face or online/ distance learning basis; offering the opportunity to use qualifications, skills and experience from other ventures to showcase themselves as certificated “Masters” of that field.

So now you have a better idea what the Masters degree is about, how do you know what Masters course is for you?

#UniAdvice – How I got my first graduate role!

Jobs
Image – Geralt

You’ve worked so hard to graduate with a good degree. You can recite your CV and personal statement verbatim. Yet, getting into your first graduate position seems like getting a camel through the eye of a needle! Worse still, you seem to be caught in the ‘Catch 22’ of ‘No work without experience and no experience without work’. In today’s article, Zohra shares her journey to landing her first graduate position with one of the world’s top pharmaceutical firms.

APH: Congratulations on getting first graduate role, please can you share your educational background?

ZA: Thank you. I recently achieved a first class BSc (Hons) degree in Pharmacology from Kingston University. Prior to this, I studied Biology, Chemistry and Maths at college.

You shared with the Aspiring Professionals Hub about how a lack of experience seemed to be a giant hurdle towards getting employed. How were you able to break through this barrier?

Why you should join a professional society!!

Societies IIOne of the first questions I (Emmanuel) ask when approached by anyone seeking any form of career advice is whether they are members of any professional societies or professional bodies in their subject areas or career interest areas. Just for reference, the terms “professional societies” or “professional bodies” are often used interchangeably.

I have to admit, at times I get a blank look like errrr…and often it tends to be a NO answer and a funny look like my question is a silly one.

Reflecting back a few years, when I worked in industry, I was not an active member of any professional societies thus, I never got involved in any professional activities with my peers outside the work place. This changed when I embarked on a PhD and advice from my wonderful mentors.  Having attended many conferences and society organised events to date, it is clear that society membership and society events are not limited or restricted to professionals from any individual field i.e. it is not only for people in academia or research hence, it is imperative for any student, early career or mid-career professional to take joining societies as a very key element in career development and positioning.

As with everything else, there are usual challenges and sometimes grumbles when people talk about joining societies. In this post, we talk about thing to be aware of when joining a society and the opportunities you can get from being a member.

But there are many societies,  how do I know which to join? – this is often the comment that I get in the discussions about joining societies. Yes! There are indeed several societies in the different subject areas which does create some confusion. In an ideal world, many would be happy getting involved with the different societies, however the reality is different. This is because membership of the societies come at a cost (annual membership or joining fees). This sometimes serves as a deterrent for some to join professional societies however in our experience, the benefits far outweigh the cost implications of membership.

However, think about it like joining a gym, we’d all obviously like gym memberships to be free, but to use the facilities, to have the social interactions and to be part of a group with a common goal of fitness and health you had to pay a membership fee didn’t you? The professional societies obviously do not work like gyms (maybe the worst analogy!!) but they provide helpful and very useful activities and opportunities that members greatly benefit from.

Before you join – to help you decide on what society to join, the first thing we’d advise you to do is look through the pages of the society website. Where there are no functional websites for the society (not a good indicator!!), find someone who is an active member of the society and enquire about the activities and benefits of the society generally and also what the individual has benefited from the group. Keep in mind the interests of people joining these societies are not always the same and tend to be for different reasons. Thus, try and identify what would you would like from the society before forking out membership fees to join any society.

Once you join – now this is the important part, the easiest part is joining the society, the harder part is navigating through the society and having real benefit from your membership. It is important you have an understanding of how the society functions and the different activities as well as opportunities that you can take advantage of as a member.

We will now briefly highlight some of these opportunities……

Conferences and workshops – every functional professional society runs at least one conference annually or two years (dependent on the size of the society as well). Some societies run an annual conference for all members and smaller local meetings and workshops which are open to members in different regions. This is a good place to take advantage of things like discounts on books, new and existing technologies and freebies. For many, this is a chance to unwind whilst interacting with other professionals in their field of expertise. I (Emmanuel) love attending conferences as it not only offers me a chance to showcase my research, I also get to listen to and see new and ground breaking research in my field whilst developing new networks, collaborators and many new friends.

CPD – the added advantage of joining professional societies is the ability to have some level of professional development. These could be in the form of courses or attendance at seminars and conferences and is useful for professional progression or career development.

Career and mentor events – this is fast becoming a key part of the activities of many big professional societies. For example, the American Society for Microbiology at the annual general meetings hold career workshops for students, PhD and Post-doctoral members. At these events, different employers especially those from major organisations including Biopharma, National institutes, Universities, Marketing and Commercial speak to the delegates and offer free advice on careers and offer mentoring which the delegates find incredibly useful.

Collaboration – this is a key part of society activities and active membership. If you are already a member of a professional society then ask yourself this question. How many functional collaborations have you made as a member and how many of those are active? Being part of a professional society means you have better access to different sectors within your field and you should make use of this. If you are a student and seeking opportunities for the next phase of your career then you are in a good position where you also have access to key employers in your field who are always seeking great talents and in our experience comment on the enthusiasm and zest of young individuals who make the effort to attend conferences or engage with them at society sponsored events.

Grants and awards – I tend to refer to this as a “mini lotto”. You pay £2 with the hope of winning millions or at least more than £2 if you have that magical pen. Well professional societies offer grants and awards which enable members attend events, conferences and support members who have ideas or initiatives that are a beneficial and of relevance to other people in that field. Memberships grants could be anything from support for travel costs to thousands of pounds/dollars to attend major events or for international capacity develop activities. Both Amara and I have benefited from some of these grants such as the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) conference studentships which enabled us attend the annual summer conference in different cities in the UK and Ireland for many years.

Committee activities – want to bolster your CV?  Join a committee!! Within the societies, there are usually several committees such as student committees, organising committees for conferences, editorial groups etc. where possible, get involved with a committee within your professional society after you join. This is not only beneficial, it is rewarding and you can develop yourself a lot more than as a by-standing member.

Networking & Friends – We have discussed networking in some detail and would suggest you read our previous posts. Joining professional societies would undoubtedly enlarge your scope for networking and as we mentioned before, the aspiring professionals’ hub was a child of networking at a professional society event from many years ago. Also, in these professional societies, you will find many people like you, looking to interact and engage with others. We have had many contacts that have become friends and we have shared many great times and memories as a result.

So what are you waiting for? Join a society today and reap the benefits that are widely available to you in your field and area of expertise or go make a friend or two.

Would you like to share or discuss your experience with professional societies, please  leave your comments or sending in your reflective pieces to be published here. Please contact us via info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com or@AspProfHub. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and follow! 

Career Options for Life Science Graduates – Part II

In last week’s post, Emmanuel discussed several career options and pathways for life science graduates and for anyone interested in a career in the life sciences. In part I , the following areas were discussed; Teaching, Lecturing, Research, Transition to medicine, Business management and entrepreneurship and Sales.  In part II, we will now conclude on other career options including non-traditional career routes that are open and might be of interest to life science graduates.

Graduate School (PhD & Professional Doctorate) – whilst a number of life science graduates are interested in transitioning to medical school, a larger number of life science graduates proceed into postgraduate studies. This might be studying for a MSc degree, Masters by way of research or Masters Philosophy (MRes or MPhil) or a PhD. There has been an increase in the numbers of graduates embarking on postgraduate studies in the life science subjects in the UK perhaps due to difficulties in finding jobs upon graduation or the hope of better job opportunities with a higher degree. To embark on postgraduate studies in the UK, a minimum of a 2.2 is required i.e a GPA of 2.5 – 3.0 (dependent on University). With a 2.1 (GPA 3-3.5) classification, life science graduates are able to apply directly for PhD studies in the UK and in other countries. More universities in the UK now offer professional doctorate degrees which are equivalent to a PhD but focuses on the context of the workplace or practice of the applicants. Graduate school in the UK and USA are slightly different in the structure and modalities (we will expand on this later on in the future). We do encourage graduates to consider postgraduate studies as a great option however not before exploring the range of opportunities available to them first! After all, not everyone in a great career or job in the life sciences is a masters or PhD holder.

Forensics – Ever watched CSI, Bones, Law and Order or other US or UK TV Crime Drama? If you have, you’ve probably  imagined yourself as a forensic scientist or cool scientist, paleontologist or anthropologist of some sort. In our experiences dealing with prospective students interested in life science subjects we often find those interested in the area of forensics simply because of the television dramas. As scientists, we do welcome the interest created by such shows though we occasionally advise the young enthusiastic kids that life as a scientist is not usually or always as glamorous as the television dramas show. To embark on a career in forensics, a good degree in biomedical, biological or forensic science is a starting point – it’ll also help to study some chemical science or molecular biology during your degree. I (Emmanuel) remember interviewing for a role as a forensic scientist with the forensic science service (FSS) many years back and was presented with a very technical laboratory based practical alongside the formal interview. Thus, you will need good laboratory or technical skills to go with your degree.

Advisory and Consultancy – Do not be surprised about this, there are several advisory roles open to life science graduates globally. Several companies offer roles for Scientific Advisers, Medical Advisers, and Life Science Advisers. To be eligible for these posts, you will need a good honours degree (2.1 and above) with other skills such as good communication, analytical and presentation skills among others. Consultancy is also another area open to life science graduates and whist this is not a very common option for recent graduates, postgraduates (often PhD graduates) and experienced life science professionals work as consultants either on short term projects or in full time roles.

Scientific & Medical Communications – Life science graduate, not-interested in laboratory work but very capable when it comes to reading, analysis, interpretation, presentation and writing scientific or technical material? If yes, then a life in scientific or medical communications might just be the right career path for you. The terminologies for these roles are often interchangeable and sometimes these roles are also referred to in the same context as healthcare communications and medical writing. Many scientific organisations especially the biopharma sector contract some of the technical writing to medical communications firms who employ life science graduates to produce reports, study designs and writing of core scientific and general materials. This is a highly sought after career hence it is very competitive albeit with good remunerations. As usual you will be required to have a good honours degree and in some cases a postgraduate qualification and evidence of your ability to write including ability to design online materials which may or may not include blogging. Some Universities offer MSc degree programmes in Science Communication which is open to people of other disciplines which offers intensive training on different ways to communicate science and graduates from such degrees go on to practice in different environments including media, journalism and politics. For a good example of a MSc Science communication degree, click here

Recruitment – who is better at recruiting a science graduate than a science graduate? Working as a recruitment specialist or adviser for recruitment firms or other organisations that employ science graduates such as career departments at Universities and Colleges is also a good career path. Several friends have embarked on the journey into recruitment and have found it informative and interesting. working as a recruiter can be difficult for many reasons but it is also a great career as you get to interact with many job seekers as well as companies and imagine how much you learn about some of the clients and their products when you work as a recruiter (the science is never lost outside the lab!)

Government and Politics – surprised about this? Don’t be! Following our involvement with events run by the UK Biology professional scientific societies we became more aware of the possibility for scientists to work directly or in close association to government and politicians. In the UK for example, the biology societies have a designated representative in parliament who acts as a liaison or link between government and the respective societies. Also, members of parliament (senators or the like in other countries) have scientific advisors in their staff who can advise them on matters relating to science within their constituencies. In recent years, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) have offered fellowships with research councils, learned societies and charities to sponsor PhD students and Post-doctoral candidates for about three months to carry out parliamentary placements. This offers experience for the fellows to learn about politics and policies also creating opportunities to work closely with politicians and law makers.

Life Science Solicitors – with the rising interest in medical ethics and law and with increasing discourse in genetics, climate change, assisted suicide and genetic modifications (GM) this is another interesting option for life science graduates. This would require undertaking a Masters degree or PhD degree in Bioethics and Medical Law or Jurisprudence. To embark on a career in this area, an undergraduate degree at 2:1 or above is required in the life sciences or other subject areas such as social sciences, law or medicine among others.

Whilst we highlight a range of career paths open to life science graduates, this is by no means the end of it. With the range of skills developed by life science graduates, there are undoubtedly other areas graduates of life science disciplines have found themselves so do not despair if you have not found something on here for you. if after reading this article, you have identified a career path that interests you, we would encourage you not to hold back and to chase your dream career.

For further detailed advice on Life Science Career roles and challenges, look out for our career profiles pages from people who have had success transitioning from University to professional life. To contribute an article, please contact us on @AspProfHub

 

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