Dr John Young

Neuroscience: Effects of temperature on the nerve-muscle interface and behavioural coordination
University of Cambridge, 2004
Tell us a bit about yourself – what was your PhD about and where did you study?

I studied a PhD in Neuroscience. I was lucky enough to study at the University of Cambridge, UK. The PhD was about the effects of temperature on the nerve-muscle interface and behavioural coordination.

What do you do now? What did you decide to do next after gaining your PhD?

I now have a number of roles and responsibilities. My research is in urology which sounds like a huge jump from my PhD but isn’t. We still use many of the same approaches but apply them to the clinical problem of why so many people suffer impactful urinary symptoms.

After my PhD I project managed the 2004 Royal institution Christmas Lectures. I co-wrote scripts, designed models that demonstrated scientific principles and got to work with some amazing people – including the guy that made Jabba the Hutt for the Star Wars films. Seeing what we’d created being broadcast on television was a surreal experience! I then began a series of post-docs in the UK and USA. I got independent research funding in 2010 and have been managing a research group since then. I lecture students across a number of disciplines (biomedical science, pharmacology, pharmacy and nursing) and train junior researchers. I’m an Associate (deputy) Head of School and acting Director for a large research institute – which basically translates to trying to help others progress their research and be given the opportunities that I’ve been lucky enough to have had.

Has having a PhD helped in developing your career? If yes, what has been the biggest impact? If no, why do you think that is?

I learned a huge amount by doing a PhD. In addition to specific scientific skills, I also learned important skills in project management (such as time and resource management) and science communication. Doing a PhD is very hard, so you learn a huge amount about yourself, too.

How all this has helped my career is difficult to say but most PhD students learn quickly that they need to be independent, use their initiative and have a positive, problem-solving mindset. This all lends itself well to leading a research group, as I do now.

What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer prospective students considering a PhD?

Networks! They provide support and opportunities for collaboration. Twitter is just fantastic for engaging with appropriate networks – whether that’s virtual journal clubs, other PhD students, discipline-related groups, etc. For me it’s also about maintaining constant engagement with patients and carers – who drive our research.

And what one thing would you suggest that new PhD graduates should do next?
It’s important to know what you can do with a PhD so my advice would be to connect up with those that have taken non-academic routes to hear their story. There are so many transferrable skills that are valued and sought by employers from a wide range of industries. An academic career is not the only route and it’s not the right route for everyone. If people take the academic path, it’s important that they do so for the right reasons – not because they feel like it’s the only option.

Lastly, what’s your favourite memory from your time as a PhD student?
There’s no single memory but I loved the time I had to devote to research and the incredibly supportive and positive atmosphere that surrounded me.

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