“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.“
Creativity and innovation are key tools integral in growth of any business which has a long term strategy. In my consultancy roles for small, medium enterprises (SMEs) I quickly learned how cut-throat the business world is and how much creativity and innovation is needed for the businesses to thrive or even survive. The ability to create and innovate whilst integral to business is at the core of science and informs the everyday research and scientific developments we have observed through time.
In the UK, the government has identified innovation as an important factor in growth and sustainability and as a result has created several schemes to encourage creativity and innovation. These schemes are meant to link businesses with each other or with academic institutions to harness ideas and turn them into marketable products. Examples include the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP), Invention for Innovation (i4i) and from a global perspective, the Global Innovation Fund aimed at providing grants to transform the lives of people living in poverty. For anyone looking for innovative projects, I often recommend the KTP as it is a superb route to innovative funded postgraduate degrees which also gives experience working with an industrial partner.
What I find particularly odd and often worrying however, is that in the sciences we are always expected to create or innovate (in the eyes of the external “real” world) but more often than not, innovation or enterprise is not a core part of the curriculum. Even more mind boggling is the expectation that PhD candidates are expected to create something novel from their research or add something new to the body of existing knowledge. Going with the quote from ol’boy Einstein above, they are expected to be innovative without giving them the tools to be able to enrich or harness that creativity.
Last week, Amara and I had the pleasure of sharing a platform with other blogging “experts” at the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) summer conference at Edinburgh to chat all things blogging with a group of early career scientists… Edinburgh itself is a really good welcoming city, with great sights to see and lots to do and if you are a big fan of shopping, well, you might quite like it..oh and the scottish shortbread biscuits..enough said there!!..
The conversation about blogging was varied and went from the simple to quite complex. I’d like to share some of the questions which were asked and responses from the session and for the benefit of our readers, some extra useful information Enjoy reading!
Starting from the basics, what is a blog?
There are different definitions of what a blog is – according to the Oxford dictionaries, a blog is “A regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group that is written in an informal or conversational style.” Blogging can be formal or informal – blogging can be as simple as having an online diary where you share your thoughts or experiences on a regular or irregular basis (whatever is convenient for you) or it could be something much bigger e.g. blogs run by University departments, biopharma companies sharing information with shareholders and consumers or simple trivia blogs with lots of fun things. In effect, a blog could be whatever you want it to be and that is what makes blogging an exciting and often rewarding activity.
I have a personal blog, is there a space for it out there and how do I grow it?
In 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?
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.
For some time now we haven’t shared much on the doctoral front and as the season for new starters on the doctoral journey is nigh, hence is the need for a new post! Often I am left wondering whether these type of posts are supportive or detrimental to PhD candidates due to the complex and non-linear nature of the experiences. As one man’s meat is another’s poison so is the nature of the doctoral beast i.e. no such thing as a generic PhD.
I won’t belittle you with the suggestion there is a right or wrong way to do the PhD (who am I to know?) but I’m positive some things are particularly key in helping navigate the journey from the initial thinking phase, development of the proposal, getting the application through and starting on the road to “permanent head damage” as some people refer to it.
The seven steps I have chosen to discuss here are in no particular order and the first is to “know why you want to do the PhD and what your career options and end points are before you begin”. This is very important as far too often the idea is that once you complete your PhD, jobs will be lined up for you everywhere. That in itself is a fallacy as the job market can be just as brutal to PhD graduates as it is to graduates from first degrees. Believe me, one thing you do not want after your PhD and spending countless ££££ and $$$$ is #JOBLESS…..there is nothing as demoralising as knowing they you are a broke ass jobless DR.
The second step is that you’ll need to “get career and mentor advice early on”. This is very important! I have come across many PhD graduates who have spent between 5 and 10 years, sometimes even more on contract/temporary, rolling post-doctoral research careers which for some ends up in a blind alley career. In some of those cases, these over qualified individuals look for opportunities to change career paths, taking much lower salaries to break away from the unending slave-like performance that a lengthy post-doc could easily turn into.
Now it might be that you already know your career plan and you eventually would like to be an academic, working as a lecturer at a University beyond your PhD. If that is the case, my advise would be to seek opportunities to embark on a postgraduate teaching qualification. I was fortunate to have had a mentor who changed the course of my career taking me away from my obsession with returning to medicine and telling me that she saw a career as a lecturer or educator in me. Alongside this, came two senior academics who had convinced me on the importance of starting the teaching qualification during the PhD. I won’t deny how arduous the task was; doing a PhD, keeping a part-time job and doing a teaching qualification alongside it. Painful as it might have been, it was one of the best decisions I took as it paid dividend during my PhD and instrumental in me getting my first full-time lecturing role after the PhD.
So, having an idea where your career should or could go is important before and when you start your PhD. One thing that can help you with the support to build the network and find mentors to help your PhD would be joining a professional society. The importance of this cannot be overstated. For whatever field you choose to embark on your PhD studies, even if your PhD is on trying to understand the alignment of stars, or why pandas in captivity refuse to mate or best, the phenomena of witchcraft, there is a professional society that you can benefit from immensely.