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Career Resources

The Neuroscience Careers Network have compiled information on a variety of career issues from writing a successful grant to performing well in an interview and working with the media.

Alternative Careers Seminar

9 December 2014


Dr Sally Bannan, European Patent Attorney

Dr Laura Phipps, Science Communications Manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK

Dr Rebecca Ross, Associate at McKinsey & Company

The Alternative Careers seminar was aimed as PhD students and PostDocs who are considering careers outside of academia. Three speakers gave us a personal account of the diverse paths their career has taken after finishing their PhDs.

The speakers have kindly agreed to make their talk available on the intranet. Please see the link below for access to the video:

Alternative Careers Seminar video

Postdoc? Check!...What now?

Wednesday 11 December 2013

You have finished or are about to finish your postdoc, what should you do next to pursue an academic career?  In this latest talk organised by the ECN Forum, attendees heard about how new faculty positions are created and the strategic thinking that goes behind any new opening.

Advice on how you can place yourself in a position which maximizes your chances to get that position (internal or external candidate, teaching vs. research etc.) was also be discussed.

In addition, the talk covered which kind of positions exist and at what level each can be accessed and the selection criteria for the applicants.

Attendees got the chance hear about the personal journey of colleagues from the Neuroscience Domain who are on the academic career ladder after their postdoc experience.

Professor John O'Keefe

John O’Keefe talked about how to successfully apply for a Fellowship

  • A Fellowship would make you attractive to universities because you bring money
  • It is important where you are going to take the project – 75-80% of the funding goes to the “golden triangle” (London – Oxford – Cambridge)
  • It is also important where you are coming from, because it gives you a good “pedigree”. You should come from a well-known lab.
  • It is not necessary to move around, but if you have been successful in different labs it is a sign that the success was due to you rather than the hosting environment.
  • The application needs to be good: Clear and well written; Follow from your past experience; But also giving you an opportunity to develop; Reasonable and feasible (maybe supported by pilot data), but also include some element of risk and innovation (using latest techniques)
  • You can switch field, but you need to give a good vision statement
  • Finally you need to perform a really good interview
  • Do as many postdoctoral years as needed to get the track record and confidence needed, but try not to exceed 2 postdocs

Jennifer Bizley and Mala Shah

Jenny Bizley and Mala Shah talked about their personal academic careers after their postdocs:

  • Apply for as many fellowships as possible, including those offered by charities in your area. If unsuccessful, it is useful to get feedback, especially if you’re invited to re-apply!
  • Work together with your mentor to plan your next career move and seek his/her support
  • Gain experience in different research environment even if for a short period of time (apply for mobility grants)
  • Invest in building an international reputation, attend conferences, give talks and seminars
  • Take any opportunity you are given – even if on paper they do not look worthwhile as they may lead to something else

How to write a successful grant application

Thursday 12 September 2013

In this highly competitive field, the ability to write a successful grant application is vital if you aim to pursue a career in academia.

Through this seminar, Professor Trevor Smart (NPP) provided attendees with invaluable tips and insider knowledge as an expert who has been awarded numerous grants and sat on various grant-awarding panels.  Attendees also took advantage of an extended Q and A session asking Trevor specific  questions about the grant application process.

If you missed the seminar, Prof Trevor Smart has kindly provided the ECN Forum with slides from his talk. Please see the link below for access to his PowerPoint presentation.

2012-2013 Events

Advice on European grants

(Michael Browne, Head of European Research & Development, speaking at What can UCL do for you?

The European Research and Development Office (ERDO) provides a range of services related to European Union funded research & development:

  • Information on EU funding opportunities
  • Proposal preparation advice
  • EU contract negotiations
  • European project management
  • Advice on trans-national researcher mobility

For more information, please visit European Research and Development Office (ERDO)

Involving patients and the public (PPI) in your research

(Dr Rosamund Yu, PPI Manager, Joint Research Office, speaking at What can UCL do for you?

The Joint Research Office supports researchers to:

  • plan PPI from the start
  • be clear to patients/public about what is expected of them and lay down ground rules
  • plan ways of briefing and supporting patients/public
  • give people feedback
  • consider payments
  • review the kind of skills/training they need

For further information on PPI, please visit Joint Research Office

For further information on public engagement, please see the Public Engagement section of this website

UCL Business services

(Derek Reay, Senior Business Manager, UCL Business PLC speaking at What can UCL do for you?)

UCL Business can help you with:

  • Material Transfer and Confidential Disclosure Agreements (MTA/ CDA)
  • Project Management
  • Technology Transfer
  • Facilitate and help with UCL initiatives/bids
  • Research and Translational Funding
  • IP Issues – general advice
  • Commercial contracts
  • Raising profile 

To find out more, visit UCL Business PLC

UCL research infrastructure and facilities (Platform Technologies)

(Jacky Pallas, Director, UCL Research Platforms, speaking at What can UCL do for you?)

Research facilities at UCL include:

  • Biobank and clinical research support
  • Genomics and genotyping
  • Proteomics and Protein analysis
  • Molecular and cellular imaging
  • Pre-clinical and clinical imaging
  • Transgenics and Biological Services
  • Computational and systems biomedicine

To find out more about, please visit UCL Research Platforms

Working with the media

(Ruth Howells, UCL Media Relations, speaking at What can UCL do for you?)

How can UCL Media Relations help you:

  • Researching and writing press releases for distribution to national and international media
  • Responding to queries and requests from journalists
  • Arranging expert comment/interviews relating to key news stories 
  • Reactive issues/crisis management
  • Monitoring UCL’s profile in the media

When should you get in touch with UCL Media Relation:

  • Papers coming up
  • Conference presentations
  • Working with other press offices/organisations
  • To register as an expert
  • Potential negative stories
  • Any media-related concerns

For further information on working with the media, please visit UCL Media Relations

Preparing for an interview

(David Attwell, NPP, speaking at How to prepare for grant, fellowship and job interviews?)

  • Do at least 4 mock interviews with as many different people you can (individuals or groups, not just your friends), particularly people not in your field (because you will need to explain things clearly and simply and from first principles)
  • Fellowship interviews often require a 5 min presentation of your work; Permanent job interviews will require a full seminar (30-60 mins). Prepare well, practice often. Include a brief career summary, a logical outline of your plans, preliminary data, and where it may go in future. Slides need careful thought, no redundant material, and very clear
  • You may be told who will be on the panel – if so, do background research on them to predict their questions – the panel will have met before your interview to decide who will ask questions in which area. The panel may include lay members (for disease-related charities) and a specialist in your area

At the interview:

  • Dress to reassure, not to provoke, avoid over– and under-dressing
  • Arrive in good time, and let the administrator know that you have arrived
  • Be aware of your body posture, use eye contact and smile
  • You need to know everything in exhaustive detail about everything on your CV, especially science stuff – they may ask you about it. If you don’t want to be asked about it, don’t put it on your CV. Be prepared to explain gaps in your CV
  • The committee will want to probe the limits of your knowledge There will be questions that you can’t answer
  • Try to be concise and make sure your answer is relevant and to the point
  • If in doubt whether you have answered the question fully - you can always ask: would you like me to expand on this? If you can’t understand the question, ask for it to be repeated or rephrased, or for more info to be given. If you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest and say so, don’t bluff
  • If you do not get job, ask for feedback about your application and interview performance

Applying for fellowships

(David Attwell, NPP, speaking at How to prepare for grant, fellowship and job interviews?)

  • Make sure you are eligible, and don’t assume you can bend any of the rules laid down in the instructions
  • Allow lots of time…..and then some more – for a 3-5 year fellowship, aim to finish it one month before the deadline – if you finish writing it the week you submit it then you definitely will not get it!
  • Having finished it, circulate it to 6-10 people who are not intimately connected with the work
  • Get their comments – some will be irrelevant because of a lack of knowledge of the subject, but you must act on any that imply that what you have written is not clear
  • Rewrite it. Check the spelling and formatting carefully
  • Allow a few days to go by without reading it
  • Re-read it – you’ll spot many places you can improve it
  • Allow time for it to go through the finance dept.
  • Submit it – and make sure they acknowledge receiving it
  • If they ask you to answer reviewers’ comments put a lot of time into that

Writing an impact statement

(David Attwell, NPP speaking at How to prepare for grant, fellowship and job interviews?)

How to write an impact statement:

  • You need to explain the importance for society or the economy of the application you have written
  • Must sound realistic (no cancer cures please)
  • Consider how your work can be related to a disease
  • Consider the economics of that disease and how you will decrease health care costs on it
  • Can your work feed inventions into the economy?
  • Will it at least provide important training for post-docs?

Preparing for grant, fellowship and job interviews

(David Attwell, NPP, speaking at How to prepare for grant, fellowship and job interviews?)

How to write a fellowship application: Specifics

  • Pick a topic that’s interesting and attacks a significant problem, yet is (plausibly) feasible. Success rates are 20-30% - losers are applications that are impossible, boring, or it is impossible to understand exactly what will be done (too vague)
  • Consider framing it in terms of (1) what is known, (2) what is not known (choose the things you will address!), and (3) what you will do to cure (2)
  • Show that your previous track record demonstrates expertise in most of the work you want to do (cite your relevant previous papers) or show preliminary data, and make reasonable financial requests
  • Make sure you include a mix of sub-projects: some that are high risk but high pay-off, and some that will definitely give results. Maybe combine some basic science with something of medical relevance
  • Include a time-line for the experiments – person months on each project?
  • Discuss briefly what you’ll do if things don’t work out as you hope – don’t make all the later sections of the application depend on the successful outcome of the first part: referees will point out that if the 1st part fails the whole grant is dead.
  • Add a brief summary at the end to round it off

Writing a successful grant/fellowship

(Jacob Sweiry, Principal Research Facilitator, UCL SLMS, speaking at Applying for Fellowships)

What makes a successful grant/fellowship:

  • The proposal is both timely and innovative
  • The proposal is a natural evolution but also innovative
  • The strengths of research in X, Y Z are well described in the application. There is outstanding research in this area already going on in the PI's lab and this proposal complements and adds to this research
  • The PI / Co-applicants of the proposal are all internationally renowned investigators with outstanding track-records in research
  • The PI is held in high regard in their field of investigation by their peers
  • The proposed research in this fellowship application has the necessary ingredients & fit to the candidate’s research background; it’s a worthwhile investment in future leadership potential, taking place in an excellent training environment

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