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Which Path to Choose in the World of Scientific Careers?

When looking from the outside, a career in science can appear a daunting prospect. A seemingly endless landscape of qualifications and diverse subject fields, the plethora of options available to the naïve scientist can be difficult to navigate. However, I am gradually realising that the tools needed to explore and discover what is available are out there, and the Naturejobs Career Expo 2015 in London provided the perfect place to start.

Delegates at the Naturejobs Career Expo 2015

A divide in the path: academia vs. industry

Upon arrival, it was clear that there was an abundance of choice among the exhibitors, from universities and institutions to pharmaceuticals and biotech – a large array of potential scientific careers was on display. It was from here that I decided to approach a selection of stands with the aim of understanding more about my potential career paths as a young scientist with an MSc to my name, and what would be the best approach to reach each possibility. The resulting feedback I received from these stands presented me with two apparent options that I could take in the research field: academia or industry.

An intrigue for industry

Whilst first impressions suggest that these would be two distinct routes, I soon discovered this was not necessarily the case. In particular my conversation with representatives of a global health-care company helped to highlight the symbiosis of the two. I explained to them my current desire to carry on my education and complete a PhD, but also the concerns I held that, by the end of the PhD, I would not have had enough exposure to the industry sector to make an informed choice of what future career route to pursue. From this I was advised to potentially seek an industry-funded PhD at an academic institution, which would allow me to gain experiences and skill-sets from both academic and industrial environments. For me, this concept seemed very attractive, and appealed even more when I was informed of the networking and contact opportunities in the industry sector such a PhD scheme could provide.

The allure of academia

Booklets at the Naturejobs Career Expo 2015

Following this informational interview, I decided I would find out what alternatives were available through attending a panel debate on careers in academia. The first panel boasted a diverse range of speakers, with each talk highlighting a different career option within academia including lab management, teaching and researcher development. In particular, a talk from Lisa Fox of the Institute of Cancer Research highlighted the hybridisation of roles that can occur, with her position as a Senior Trials Manager representing the balance of science research with project management. Throughout the talks there was a repeated message of researching the variety of roles on offer in academia, and sampling those of personal interest. This true scientific method of trial-and-error had seemed vital in each speaker’s career path, and had often given them the experiences and networks required to get where they were. By the end of the talk, I felt that my naïve preconceptions of jobs in academia had changed; no longer was I narrow-mindedly thinking of just teaching and professorships as my options, but now also roles within the clinical and corporate departments where I would still be able to stay engaged with the fundamental science.

Day’s end, journey’s beginning

As the day drew to an end, I reflected on what I had taken away from a day spent talking and listening to those who had not only followed the right career path for them, but also to those who had forged their own trail. It seemed the career options that had initially seemed so distinct to me were more intertwined, and could even provide the short-cut onto another route. The messages of networking and exposing yourself to new and different areas of science for learning new skills were particularly pertinent, and at the very least have allowed me to walk down my own career path with a little more confidence in my step.

Mark Roberts

Mark is currently working as an intern for the British Society of Immunology having recently received his MSc in Immunology of Infectious Diseases from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

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