Tell us a bit about yourself - what was your PhD about and where did you study?
I did my PhD at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, starting in 2013 and graduating in 2018. I worked on a really interdisciplinary project so my research was carried out in both the School of Chemistry and the School of Biological Sciences. My project looked at using bacteria to capture solar energy and make useful chemicals such as hydrogen, so it involved a lot of microbiology, electrochemistry and photochemistry. Overall, I loved my PhD research but I’m also really passionate about science communication and engagement! In my spare time I do gymnastics, play the piano, and love reading fantasy and science fiction novels.
What do you do now? What did you decide to do next after gaining your PhD?
I’m currently a project coordinator for Norwich Science Festival, supporting events and marketing for the main Festival in October as well as community engagement projects throughout the year. I’m also one of the coordinators for Pint of Science in Norwich where I work with a team of volunteers to run public engagement events at pubs and cafes around the city. Since finishing my PhD I’ve been working in science communication and, before my current role, I was a science writer and presenter at Developing Experts, an ed-tech company creating digital education resources.
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 really enjoyed my PhD and definitely think it helped with my career development! I gained loads of transferable skills because a PhD covers so many different areas of work e.g. data analysis, technical writing, science communication, project management. It also allowed me to build my network as I got to collaborate with scientists from across the UK as well as organisations outside academia (such as the Norfolk Network) through the outreach work I did.
What's one piece of advice that you'd offer prospective students considering a PhD?
Finding a supportive supervisor and research environment is really important as you’ll be working on your PhD for 3+ years! Speak to your prospective supervisor before submitting your application and take some time to ask questions about the group’s typical work schedule, what opportunities are available outside the lab/office, what their expectations are for first year PhD researchers, and how they support their group through difficult times. If you get the chance I’d also recommend talking to current PhD researchers and postdocs in the group to get a deeper insight into the working environment.
And what one thing would you suggest that new PhD graduates should do next?
If you’re in a position to do so then take some time to rest, reflect and celebrate your achievements. It’s a chance to re-claim hobbies and re-connect with friends/family if the end of your PhD was particularly busy. Thinking of work: you’ve gained a huge variety of skills during your PhD so there’s an opportunity to try out different things – whether that’s a new area of research, a creative project, or a job outside academia – without feeling like you need to rush into making permanent decisions about your career. It’s also really important to know that you aren’t a failure if you leave academia for whatever reason!
Lastly, what's your favourite memory from your time as a PhD student?
I’ll always remember the first time I did outreach in Norwich, about halfway through my PhD. It was for an event in the city centre and I’d produced a simple poster to help describe my research. I had an amazing time discussing my work with passersby because it made me think about the research in completely different ways and really sparked a passionate for making science accessible to everyone. On a more practical note, it initiated a cascade of new connections and opportunities that I built upon during my PhD and that ultimately led to the job I have now.