Someone once told me that your PhD is a funnel. In the early stages you investigate the wider area of your subject and over the years that narrows to your particular pathway/protein/gene etc. Development of this niche is often where you’ll establish your career and become the “go to” expert. My career to date does not look like this. A staff candidate PhD in Nephrology with a move to clinical oncology during it’s write up when my contract ran out. Throw a couple of maternity leaves into the mix and the anxiety over what a “successful academic career” should look like led me to jump ship and try industry, this time infectious organisms. With a couple of dependents and a mortgage to pay it seemed the sensible option to stay in industry but whilst I learnt a lot and enjoyed my time, it had run its course. Returning to academia where I have more autonomy and creativity has been the best decision, of course it probably helps that I joined a great group (@Nanobug_Shef) led by an amazing, supportive PI. Reflecting on my pathway I can see where all my multi-disciplinary experiences compliment each other (and often overlaps). My cross-sectoral experience has improved my process flow and the adaptability required for all these moves has enhanced my resilience to cope with the imposter syndrome that led me to leave in the first place.
Myself with Nanobug Group Leader Dr Munitta Muthana and PhD student Natalie Winder.
The last couple of years has really been about focussing on the next step of my career, becoming an independent researcher. Hitting those goals of high impact publications, grant writing, supervision, teaching and, oh yes, completing the research for my current contract. Seems like an insurmountable to-do list with no guarantee of success. This is where your research community steps in and reminds you how lucky you are to do what you do. When the chips are down there is nothing more motivating than a research seminar and now, thankfully, the return of conferences. As winner of the Roger Griffin Prize for Cancer Discovery I was given the opportunity to present at this year’s BACR conference in Nottingham. A daunting prospect after 8 years since I last presented. Being an invited speaker comes with lots of perks including an intimate speaker’s dinner with all the “big wigs” from cancer (oh hello imposter syndrome, my old friend). I took this opportunity to talk about career pathways and how to get that elusive fellowship. The secret aside from the body of work and some luck? Confidence, belief in your idea and leadership and, for want of a better phrase, showing off about it! Not a very British concept, but get out there and tell everyone how fabulous you are, how else will they know? The exposure from the Roger Griffin Prize has certainly done this for me. The timing of the prize was omnipotent as I was also able to include it in an interview about my research published in The Guardian. The power of these two events has raised my profile both locally (I felt like a minor celebrity with colleagues congratulating me) and externally. I have had opportunities to create collaborations, invited publications and opportunities for outreach talks to inspire the next generation of scientists. Additionally, people know my name, funding bodies and faculty director for example. Having a direct line to the people who influence and make decisions, this is the impact that the increased visibility has created. It is a very exciting time with a momentum that I am aiming to ride all the way to my independent contract. And for those wobbles when I’m having a rough day, I remind myself that I can do this with an empowering song, my go to - “Unstoppable” by Sia. It never fails.
Nanobugs! The best lab group led by Dr Munitta Muthana.
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