Skills for a scientific career

Several studies have shown that the skills developed during early career research training are relevant for careers in academia, industry R&D and many other areas. These studies generally focus on a range of skills and, for each skill, compare the level of skill needed in the current role to the level to which this skill was acquired during the PhD (see e.g. here or here).

To add to this existing data, and aid evidence-based career guidance for life scientists, the EMBL Fellows’ Career Service previously ran a survey focused on what competencies [knowledge and behaviours] are used most by (former) life scientists working in a wide range of academic and non-academic careers. There were two major aims of the survey. Firstly,  to validate a competency framework focused on ‘classical’ research careers; and secondly to map this framework to other career areas and help life scientists to identify career areas that match their skills.

We originally received 350 responses including researchers in a range of academic (120 responses) and industry (38 responses) roles; as well as over 220 scientists working in a diverse array of non-research roles from clinical trial management to technology transfer.

As outlined below, in these responses we did see differences in the competencies selected from respondents working in different career areas, with some statistically significant differences evident between the most well-represented careers (e.g. group leader roles in academia and industry). However, we didn’t have enough responses in many non-research career areas for a robust fine-grained analysis comparing specific roles.

As we publish a major study on career destinations of EMBL researchers (here), which highlights the wide range of professions early career researchers enter, we are reopening our careers and skills survey. We would be grateful for further responses, particularly from people who have worked in life science research in academia previously (e.g. as a PhD or postdoc), and who are now working either in industry research or non-research roles in any sector. This will enable us to provide a fuller analysis on this blog in future.

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Career Profile: Michael Kachala, Global Head of Data Science at Bayer Consumer Health

DPhoto of Michaelata science is a career area that has exploded in the last years and offers many opportunities for scientists whose projects involved analysis of large datasets. We recently spoke to Michael Kachala, an EMBL alumnus who is now Global Head of Data Science at Bayer Consumer Health, about his career path and suggestions for aspiring data scientists. He advises that data science is a great career for people who love to learn new things, and recommends taking up pet projects and Kaggle competitions to demonstrate your acquired skills. In addition to technical skills, Michael reports that communications skills are key to success in this field.

Please find the full interview below Continue reading “Career Profile: Michael Kachala, Global Head of Data Science at Bayer Consumer Health”

Career Profile: Jordi Xiol, Senior Associate at Ysios Capital

Venture capital companies employ life scientists to help them make investment decisions concerning life science start-ups.  We recently spoke to EMBL Alumnus Jordi Xiol about how he moved from fundamental research to a venture capital role. He advises that – in addition to solid scientific knowledge, some knowledge of biotech / drug discovery, and ability to make quick decisions – interpersonal skills are really important for venture capital: your network will be very important to your work. Jordi developed his knowledge of biotech & drug discovery using Twitter and the stock market, and built his network by reaching out to people for a coffee.

Please find the full interview below.

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How do group leaders recruit postdocs?

To inform a new workshop on applying to postdoc positions, we recently ran a survey on how group leaders recruit. So far we have 35 responses, which nicely complement our previous larger international survey on what to include in your CV.

Below you can read our preliminary results. Further survey responses from academic group leaders who hire postdocs are welcome!

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Want to spend time on your career planning, and don’t know where to start?

Right now, many PhD students and postdocs are having to step back from lab-work, and work remotely. A number of EMBL sites are closed, and all of EMBL is encouraged to work from home if possible.

“This is a special time; limbo time. Better to come out of this having done and learned something” Cornelius Gross, Deputy Head of EMBL Rome in his EMBL blog post, lab life under lockdown

We encourage you to use some of this time to reflect on your professional future. In case you are not sure where to start, we would suggest one of the following actions:

  1. If you are not sure what career direction you want to take: spend time really thinking about your skills, interests and what you want from your life/career in the long-term (your values); this can be very helpful to find some clarity on your options.
  2. If you have some ideas about what might come next, but don’t have an in-depth knowledge of the career areas: line up at least one Skype call with someone working in a lab or career path that interests you to better assess your fit, requirements and what skills/experience you might still need.
  3. If you know what comes next, and have a good understanding of the career area: brainstorm action items that will help you get your next role.
  4. If you will be applying soon: learn how to write a good application – including how to tailor this for your chosen type of role – and spend time identifying your unique skill selling points and achievements. Then start collecting evidence / information that you might want to use when preparing application materials and later on in the job interview.

Please see our detailed recommendations for these suggestions – and other potential actions – with links to relevant resources, below.

For EMBL predocs and postdocs, the EMBL Fellows’ Career Service continues to offer a wide range of support, with our in-person activities now offered online. If you are an EMBL fellow and would like input on how to implement these recommendations or to discuss any other aspect of your career planning, you can book a career guidance session via Skype, or contact us with specific questions (e.g. if you are looking for specific resources).

Do you have a resource that you’ve found helpful? Share in the comments below……

Stay safe and healthy,

Rachel and Patricia
EMBL Fellows’ Career Service

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Career profile: Laura Cortesi, Senior Operational Study Manager

We recently met with Laura Cortesi, who is a Senior Operational Study Manager working in the area of clinical trials management. In addition to talking about her career path, passion and motivation for this career area, Laura explains how parenthood prepared her to work in a role that requires coordination of tight timelines, different needs and unexpected events. She also shares advice for those applying to such roles. Continue reading “Career profile: Laura Cortesi, Senior Operational Study Manager”

Career profile: Vicente Tur, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Asphalion, Spain

Our latest career profile is Vicente Tur, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Asphalion, a scientific and regulatory consultancy with offices in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom

Regulatory affairs is one of many non-research professions tightly linked with pharma and biotech industries. Roles in this area may be in-house, in the pharma industry or at consulting firms; their focus is on keeping up-to-date with industry regulations (at the national and international level), working with scientists to ensure that R&D is completed and documented in a way that will enable a product to be authorised at the end of the development process – including that the active substance and finished product are manufactured with the controls required by the Regulatory Authorities. It also involves preparing and submitting administrative documentation for the regulatory authorities.

In the interview, which can be found below, Vicente tells us more about this profession, how he moved into this area, and what he is looking for when hiring for his team.

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Career profile: Aidan Budd, Node Coordinator, ELIXIR-UK

Photocredit: Tom Grace & Chloë Cross

Aidan Budd is a former researcher whose love of community-focused work led him from an EMBL PhD to project management work in bioinformatics teaching, service, and research with a focus on community building. He’s previously described to the EMBL alumni team how this initial transition occurred.  He’s since continued in this area, initially joining The Earlham Institute as Senior Community and Business Development Manager (explained here), and now as Node Coordinator for ELIXIR-UK. Here we talk to him in more depth about his current role at ELIXIR-UK and what advice he’d give to young scientists interested in working with scientific communities.

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Career profile: Ioannis Legouras – Vice Head, Department Strategic Cooperations and Research Funding; Head of International Programs, Max Delbrück Centre

Science administration is a broad career area encompassing many roles. Ioannis Legouras, an EMBL alumnus working in the area of strategic cooperation and research funding, shared his experience of moving into this career area along with his tips to those interested in following a similar path.

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What to include in your CV – an international perspective

Scientists are internationally mobile & they do not always find guidance on tailoring their CVs for specific sectors and countries. Following a recent twitter debate on whether photos should be included in CVs, the EMBL Fellows’ Career Service started a survey to provide evidence-based guidance for life scientists.

A PDF summary of the main conclusions, with a graphical visualisation of the results by sector and country can be downloaded here. This article aims to provide a more detailed discussion.

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