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#BeyondTheBench with Digital Science

24th September 2014
By Katy Alexander

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Last week, Digital Science attended the 2014 Naturejobs Career Expo. The Expo was held at the Business Design Centre in London, where oddly a stamp collecting conference was also being held at the same time. (Somewhere in that scenario is a joke referencing Ernest Rutherford’s famous quote: “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.”)

The one-day event was aimed at young researchers, although the Expo attracted a wide-range of people from different stages of their academic career, all the way from undergraduate students through to post-docs.

As well as exhibiting as part of the Macmillan Science & Education stand, Digital Science also ran a careers workshop with the title “Life beyond the bench: I love science but I don’t want to stay in research!”. The aim of the event was to explore alternative career paths for those unsure about remaining in research but who still have a strong passion for all things science. We had lots of people asking about the event in the morning, so it seemed like it was going to be a popular one.

The early indications were indeed accurate. The workshop took place in a packed out Room C, with several attendees unfortunately having to sit on the floor. Things got off to a rather noisy start as a torrential downpour was causing some intense rooftop reverberations. Despite the elements being against us, Laura Wheeler, Community Manager at Digital Science, kicked things off by introducing the assembled panel.

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First up was Sabih Ali, Head of Brand at Symplectic. Sabih talked us through his career story, which took him from electronic engineering, to nanotechnology research with Nokia, to working with clients such as Dyson and Pizza Hut, to doing all the marketing for one of Digital Science’s portfolio companies. Reflecting on his non-standard career path, Sabih shared the following top tip for those thinking about leaving academia:

The next panel member to speak was Dr John Hammersley, co-founder of WriteLaTeX. John discussed his background in theoretical physics and his realisation that academia was not the path for him. He then moved on to his fascinating involvement in the world’s first driver-less taxi network at Heathrow Airport. Continuing the format of the workshop John offered his key advice, echoing Sabih’s earlier sentiments, by reassuring researchers to be confident about trying new career experiences.

Jean Liu, aka The Portable Brain, was the next panel member to take to the stage. Jean talked about her experiences of studying neuroscience and blogging about science. She then discussed her decision to abandon a life of slicing brains in favour of a move from Canada to London to write for a small bibliometrics start-up (aka Altmetric!). Her story was a classic example of the way non-academic career paths are so often met with confusion from other colleagues within academia. Jean’s top tips reflected her experience of moving to a new country, she advised researchers to not be afraid to travel and to make an effort to meet new people, wherever you end up working.

Following Jean was Euan Adie, founder of Altmetric, who discussed his initial decision to combine his love of both computing and genetics by working in the field of bioinformatics. Euan’s career then took him out of research and into product management. Next came his transition from building what is now Altmetric as a side project, to the full-time job of being Altmetric CEO. Euan’s advice was to make sure you’re always challenging yourself but at the same time to recognise when to utilise the expertise and skills of other people.

The event was a great sucess and we got a lot of positive feedback on Twitter and in person. You can go back and look through the live-tweets via the #BeyondTheBench hashtag.

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