#CareerFocus – Neurosurgery

1. NeurosurgeryIn today’s #MyCareerStory, the APH had the opportunity to interview Dr Douglas Okor.  Douglas is a brain surgeon in the UK and Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (the oldest Surgical College in the World).. In this insightful interview Douglas offers his perspective about life as a neurosurgeon and demystifies this pathway for aspiring surgeons. Enjoy!

APH: Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

I am Douglas Emeka Okor, Nigerian born, in Benin City in Nigeria. I am a brain surgeon and a passionate Nigerian health sector advocate and an entrepreneur. I grew up in Nigeria and had my education in Nigeria. I saw there was a significant gap in the healthcare space in Nigeria hence my decision to become a brain surgeon.

APH: Can you tell us about the different stages of your educational career to date?

Douglas: I had my nursery, primary and secondary education in Nigeria. I went to a grammar school in Benin City and the University of Benin where I graduated in 2002. I worked for a couple of years in Nigeria then left for the UK where I spent 8-9 years training to become a brain surgeon. In the last year I started my sub-specialist training in two areas – skull based and vascular neurosurgery.

APH: When did you decide you wanted to become a medical doctor?

#CareerFocus – Production Scientist

2. My Career StoryIn 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.

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! 

Why you need a mentor!

We recently attended a conference themed around inclusion in Higher Education. As students and staff shared their academic and career success stories, a common theme rang through their talks – they all attributed their ‘big break’ to having a mentor. We realised that mentorship was not just an important but an essential ingredient for career success. In this article, Amara discusses how mentoring can make a difference in your journey as an aspiring professional.

Mentorship can be defined as a personal development relationship where a more experienced and knowledgeable person (mentor) teaches or guides a less knowledgeable or experienced person (mentee). A mentor shares their knowledge, experience and contacts with their mentee; empowering the mentee to achieve their career goals. Mentors lead, motivate, inspire, teach and sometimes coach their mentees. If you read autobiographies of people who have made noteworthy achievements, a mentor’s contribution is usually gratefully acknowledged. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group noted that mentorship could be ‘the missing link between a promising businessperson and a successful one.’ Do you have a mentor? Do you think you need one?

What the view like where you are? – The most important thing my mentors share with me is the benefit of their experience. A mentor has been where you are. This is where I separate the terms ‘coach’ and ‘mentor’. A coach does not necessarily need to have your personal experience but a mentor does. A mentor has been ‘in your shoes.’ A career mentor has been in your role, dealt with that issue you’re struggling with, overcome that problem that is currently brewing or failed at a task that is coming up ahead. A mentorship relationship is important because you are given a unique leveraging opportunity to learn from someone else’s knowledge. You can learn from their success as well as their mistakes. By their position of being above you on the career ladder, they have a different view.

A mentor can have a panoramic view where we are tunnel visioned.

The view does matter – mentors can see what is coming ahead of you but crucially, they can also see your blind spots. The decision to undertake a PhD has turned out to be an important turning point in my life/career because it set me on a path which has led to places I never thought possible. My mentor encouraged me to go for a PhD. He saw potential in a bright, shy, confused final year undergraduate student – something I had not even seen in myself. I had many ‘teachers’ but he was a mentor. So I ask again, what can you see?

Highway Signpost

Working hard is essential but is it enough to get you where you want to go? – A few years ago, I applied (unsuccessfully) for a consultancy. I thought I had sent in an awesome CV, personal statement and cover letter but I (apparently) hadn’t done enough to get my foot in. Within 12 months, I was contacted by the same institution to do the same work with them. How? They had been disappointed with the individual they went with and I had a mentor who had a good relationship with the institution put in a good word. Someone who knew my abilities, skills and expertise connected me with an organisation that could benefit from what I had to offer. In today’s interconnected world, everything (well almost) rises and falls on relationships.

I am a hard worker. I believe in putting in the work and being enthusiastic about achieving my career goals but I have learnt that it is not just cliché that who you know – and who knows you – is as important as what you know’ in getting where I want to be professionally. A mentor can open doors that you cannot get through on your own simply because you have not had the time or opportunity to develop key relationships.

Who is your mentor? – Anyone who has something to teach you and is interested in doing so. You can have a mentor for a season or for a lifetime. It is important you recognise potential mentors so you don’t miss out on personal or professional development opportunities. I talk to a lot of frustrated PhD candidates who are angry because their PhD supervisor is unwilling or unable to mentor them. Ever thought about a postdoc in your Department instead? Or a former PhD student who is now in industry. It can be difficult for academics to mentor PhD candidates for non-academic careers when they have been in academia for all of their professional life. Maybe your line manager isn’t interested, so look for someone else! A mentor does not always need to be in a senior position; they could simply have been in the organisation longer. A mentor might not be the person you get on the most with at work but they should be someone who you aspire to be like in whatever area you need mentoring in. If anything, you can learn from their areas of weakness as ‘how not to do’ something. Mentoring is a relationship with another person. Your mentor is human and will have strengths and weaknesses so bear that in mind as you make your choice.

How do I get mentored?Be clear what you want from your mentor and then start developing productive relationships. I previously discussed the importance of using social media as a networking tool. You cannot ask a stranger to be your mentor. Connect first and then nurture the relationship. Find out if there are mentorship schemes you can subscribe to or in your organisation and join them. Universities are now developing their student mentor schemes to help first years with their transition into Higher Education. Read autobiographies of successful people and keep track of what they do. Want to start or grow your business? Read about what people who have accomplished your dream have to say about how they did. Continue to be a part of The Hub and check out our ‘The Professionals’ section. Don’t be put off by negative responses. Keep at it.

Symbiosis and synergy not parasitism – Before approaching someone to ask if they will mentor you, ask yourself what you are bringing to the table. Mentoring requires a lot of effort from the mentor. They will be investing their time in you, they will be introducing you to their contacts – their reputation being on the line if you mess up! If your only interest is getting all you can from them to climb that career ladder as fast as you can, that is a parasitic relationship – where only the parasite you benefits. So bring something to the table. What can you do for your mentor? Do they have a problem you can help them solve? What are their interests? Can you offer your time or skills to help them accomplish their own goals? A wise man told me recently that every leader, manager and mentor loves someone who removes not adds to their burden.

What about you? Who are you mentoring?

Be humble and willing to learn. A mentoring relationship can just be that extra you need in your journey as an aspiring professional. If you enjoyed this article, look out for Part II and share, comment and connect.