Hi, everyone. Good afternoon and a warm welcome to this Prosper employer panel session. My name is Katie and I’m the stakeholder engagement manager for the Prosper project. I believe probably the majority of people here are aware of Prosper – maybe you are University of Liverpool staff and/or members of our second cohort – but just in case, because I know we do have some participants from further afield, I’m just going to speak for a couple of minutes about Prosper. So as many of you know, it’s a project. It’s led by the University of Liverpool and the aim of the project really is to equip postdocs with the tools, the competencies, mindsets, etc., to pursue fulfilling careers, in short. We don’t have any opinion on whether that be within academia or beyond academia, but the resources that we develop have a particular focus on careers and career paths beyond academia. So with that in mind, we’ve got a really brilliant panel today from a range of different roles and sectors who’ve kindly agreed to give up their time to talk to us all about some of those exciting opportunities that postdocs might consider beyond academia, and really to give us that insider knowledge into what it’s really like to work in different institutions, what employers are really looking for, the types of career paths that postdocs might pursue. I’ll invite them to introduce themselves in a moment, but, firstly, just a little bit of housekeeping. So we have 90 minutes together this afternoon and the first half of that we’ve dedicated to more general discussion or chaired discussion with the panel members. From the second half, we’ll open this out to a Q and A from participants. The way we plan to manage the Q and A, as Angela has mentioned, is via the chat function. So if I could ask you to please enter any questions as they occur into the chat and my colleague Natalie will help us manage these. She’s also here representing the Prosper team and she’ll ensure we get as many of them answered for you as possible. One final thing to mention is that, unfortunately, one of our panel members has had to pull out this morning due to ill health. So that’s Al Mathers, who is the Director of Research at the RSA, and formerly she worked at a smaller charity called Good Things Foundation. So that is disappointing for us because she had some really great insights into working within the third sector in different sizes of organisation, but I did have a preparatory chat with Al in advance of this session. So, if there are any insights that came out from that that I can share, I’ll attempt to do so. She’s also done a case study for us in the past, which Natalie will enter into the chat. So for those of you who have Liverpool, Manchester or Lancaster logins, you should be able to access that if you’re interested in that particular sector. Regardless, we have a brilliant panel today who can speak to a variety of different career paths. So without further ado, I would like to introduce the panel or to ask them to introduce themselves, I should say. Joe, would you like to go first, please?
Yes, thanks, Katie, and thanks for the invite to this session. So my name is Joe de Sousa. Most of my career has been spent in industry, in the pharma industry. I worked at AstraZeneca for over 25 years in pharma R and D originally as a scientist and then always in scientific departments. Over the years, I moved into leadership management roles and project management roles, as well. So, yes, 25-years-plus in AstraZeneca R and D. For the last two years, I’ve been working as an independent consultant and I work with a range of organisations, including organisations like the funding agencies. So I work with Innovate UK. I’m also a council member at EPSRC, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. So I work with the public sector. I work with universities, as well, a number of projects with different universities, particularly Manchester, where I’m located, and Manchester School of Pharmacy. I also now work with a couple of small businesses, small start-up companies as an advisor, all working on healthcare-related projects, and, yes, I’m involved in Prosper. So my background is I’m a chemist originally. I didn’t do a postdoc; I went straight into industry. So that’s me. Very pleased to be here and look forward to talking a bit more.
Thank you, Joe. Thanks for bringing us the real benefit of your massively broad experience. Martin, could I invite you next, please?
Yes, sure. Hi, my name is Martin Squires. I’m the Director of Advanced Analytics at Pets at Home. So we’re based near Stockport. I’ve been there around two-and-a-half years. I look after the data science and customer analytics team there. Prior to joining Pets at Home, I spent most of the last 20 years in a retail environment. So I headed up the analytics teams at Boots, particularly around their Advantage Card and customer analytics as part of Walgreens Boots Alliance, and before that at M and S Bank working across the financial services and retail side of M and S in terms of customer analytics. Going back into the 1990s, I did about ten years with a couple of building societies that are now both part of Santander, managing Bradford and Bingley’s customer analytics team and going back to actually being a hands-on analyst at the old National and Provincial, which probably very few people have now even ever heard of. By background, I’m an economist. So, again, I’ve not come through a PhD route myself, although I currently run a team of around 25 data scientists and analysts, most of which are either PhD or MSc backgrounds in Pets at Home working alongside a data engineering team of roughly the same size. So that’s me and why we’re involved in Prosper. If I drop off the camera occasionally, it’s because I’m eating my lunch, but I’m still listening.
Okay, Martin, That’s great. Thank you. Ann, would you to go next, please?
Yes. Hi, everybody. My name is Ann Gordon. I’m a senior medical director with CMC Affinity. This is a medical communications agency and part of the wider McCann Health Network. So a little bit about my background. My undergraduate degree was in genetics and then I went on to do a PhD looking at the protective effect of breastfeeding and sudden infant death syndrome. I then did a couple of postdocs and got fed up being on short-term contracts, if I’m honest, so I was looking for a more stable career. At that point, my company was looking to open an office in Glasgow, so it was the first major comms agency to open up an office in Scotland, and I was lucky enough to be offered one of the trainee medical writer positions. That was 19 years ago. I’ve worked my way through the career progression ladder as part of CMC. I currently head up a team that looks at prostate and breast cancer. As part of my role, I also have responsibilities for line reports and part of the CMC affinity management team and I’m actively involved in resourcing and recruitment for the business. Also, I’m involved in a sustainability workstream. So I hope that gives you a little bit of an insight just into the day-to-day activities. Outside of work, I’m also a mentor for the Social Mobility Foundation. For those of you that don’t know, that’s a charity that helps to support 16- and 17-year-olds who are looking for professional mentors. Perhaps no one in their family is going to university. So I’m actively involved in that and looking forward to bringing some of that back to our business, as well. Delighted to be here and I’m really looking forward to today’s discussion. Thanks, Katie.
Thanks very much, Ann, and I’m sure a lot of the postdocs here can relate to that frustration at the precariousness of contracts at times. So you’re in good company. Thanks very much. Last but not least, we’ve got Mike Tobin.
Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Mike Tobin. I’m a senior scientific director at Bristol Myers Squibb. Bristol Myers Squibb is a large pharmaceutical company and we have an R and D site over on The Wirral. Many years ago now, I trained as a pharmacist and did a PhD at the end of that and then went on to teach pharmacy at the University of Bath in the southwest, and then that university then spun out a company a few years later, which I was part of. But for the past 17 years, I’ve been at Bristol Myers Squibb and I have stayed pretty close to the science in what I do. I have people who are in the labs who report to me directly and we are doing… The great thing about working in a pharmaceutical company is we have fantastic instrumentation, modern instrumentation, which generates large amounts of data. So we have a mixture of physical analysts, people in the lab and then data analysts to make use of that story for the organisation. Yes, I still think of myself as a full-time scientist.
Thank you very much, Mike, and thanks to all of the panel. Okay, so we asked participants to submit questions or hopes for what they would hope to get out of the session today and some of the key themes that emerged, we thought we’d organise the discussion around those. So the first of those is around culture and values, so both comparing the culture of organisations both within and beyond academia and also trying to unpick some of the differences between different industries. So if I could ask Joe first to speak a little to that, perhaps you could speak about the culture of AstraZeneca in particular or pharma more broadly.
Sure. Yes. So I certainly can. I guess an opening comment would be that if we compare, in my view, the pharma industry and academia, I see very many similarities. I think ultimately what I see are a huge number of people who are passionate about what they’re doing. You know, they’re investigating science, are investigating new ideas and are trying to turn that into something meaningful, something useful that furthers our knowledge and understanding. Certainly, within industry, within the pharma industry, that’s about ultimately developing new medicines. So what I see or what I saw in my experience at AstraZeneca was the heart of the reason why most people go there is to develop new medicines. The language is about patients, it’s about patient impact, it’s about giving patients their lives back, and it is about things like beating cancer, and I think cancer’s been mentioned already by Ann; AstraZeneca developed an awful number of oncology products. So there’s a huge drive and energy in the community at AstraZeneca to make a massive difference to people’s lives and do something worthwhile. What can’t be ignored is that, ultimately, a company like AstraZeneca, all companies are driven by the need to return some investment or make some profit in return, return something to the people that have invested in that company from the financial point of view. That can’t ever be forgotten and, ultimately, most companies are measured by that. Certainly, in my experience, working in a large pharma company, it’s not as simple as that. Most of the people that are there, most of the people that are certainly in the scientific parts of the business are driven by the impact that the science they’re doing can make on people’s lives. So there’s some tension. There’s always tension between money and healthcare, I would say. It’s an interesting topic to discuss in a much broader way, but ultimately the culture is about making a difference, I would say. That’s my experience.
Thank you, Joe. Just to pick up on that tension a little bit, I don’t know if either you or Mike, as scientists within the pharma industry, could you speak to how that tension might bear out on a day-to-day basis in comparison with academia, for example? How do those commercial forces impact on the nature of research?
Yes, I guess the reality is that a business like AZ has to make some difficult choices about the diseases it tries to treat and the potential profitability of working in that space. So that, for example, in some therapy areas, infection is a perfect example of how the current model for pharma doesn’t work particularly well, because we talk about antimicrobial resistance; the ambition, ultimately, is to use antibiotics less because of the impact they might have on resistance developing. So if a company is trying to sell things that people preferably don’t want to use, a different commercial model needs to be developed. That is a real challenge. That’s a tension, I would say, particularly in that disease area. So that’s just one example. I don’t know if, Mike, you can elaborate a bit more on your point of view.
I would make two points, which is that, yes, the pharmaceutical companies have to make money, but there’s different incentives now. If you, as an organisation, have a product for a disease for which there is little or no treatment, you’re on a more favourable approval path than if you are the third or fourth compound in a class. I think that would be fairest to say, that there was a lot of, in the ’90s and the 2000s, what they called me-too drugs which were different – the chemistry wasn’t very different, the clinical outcomes were not very different. There’s much less of that now. I can say that, as Bristol Myers Squibb, the mission is to come up with drugs to treat poorly-served diseases, whatever those are. Bristol Myers Squibb’s most recent approval – and this is in the United States, so it hasn’t been approved in the UK yet – was for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I’m not a clinical person so I don’t know all the details, but that’s a treatment for a disease in which there was no effective treatment and the prognosis was relatively poor, but because it was a new treatment for a class of patients who were poorly served, the approval pathway is made easier; you can get moved up the queue, if you like, for approval and things like that. So the aspects of eventually everybody has to make money, but these days the approval pathways for people who are untreated is much easier. Then in terms of the culture, if you like, I think the thing always to remember is that large organisations have a culture, and Bristol Myers Squibb has got tens of thousands of people throughout the world, but almost all culture is local. You think of the University of Liverpool, the culture in one group might be different from a culture in… So in Bristol Myers Squibb, we are 180 people out of tens of thousands, but we have a Martin culture and ethos, and the time that people spend in Martin – there was literally a statistic about this this morning – is much longer than in the median for the organisation because they like the specific culture here. So when you’re investigating a culture, yes, you know what the culture the larger organisation has, but it’s very important to know what the local culture is on the site where you operate. In the same way, perhaps, if you’re a postdoc, it’s easier to work for some professors and more rewarding than others. So always remember that you can have a wider organisational culture, but you can also have a local culture, which may or may not suit you.
Thank you, Mike. That’s a really important point. Thank you for bringing that up. So I guess we’ve discussed a little bit about how the commercial imperative can drive which drugs are researched or developed within pharma. I know that we probably have some members here who are interested, as well, in the differences between doing science, and not just on the strategic level, what’s decided is the priority, but what the kind of research quality or what it’s like doing the research is. Conscious of time, I’m going to move on, but if anyone is interested in that, perhaps we can pick it up in the Q and A. Okay, so, Ann, would you like to talk a little about the culture of med comms and perhaps bringing in the different roles in med comms that might go beyond the more scientific focus, please?
Yes, absolutely, and I just wanted to pick up, as well, on what Mike was saying about cultures, because we’re CMC Affinity, which is part of McCann Health, but each of our different agencies within that has their own culture, as we do on the different offices that we have, and I think, particularly with the pandemic and moving forward, hybrid working is so important. So regardless of which sector you’re interested of going into, it’s really important to find that out during any interview. Just a little bit about med comms, so I don’t go too far off topic, we work in a very fast-paced environment and you need to really enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes. That could be writing up pivotal research that needs to be communicated so quickly, and there were huge advancements with that in terms of the pandemic and getting information out. But really at the heart of what we do is teamwork, and that’s why we’re all organised into account teams. So we have a scientific component to that team. For those of you that are non-scientists on this call, we also have a big client service team and they help support with things like project management timelines, negotiating budgets with the clients. We have editors and we’ve got specialist support staff. So that could be a layout artist, for example, that would work on our posters or pamphlets or patient education materials. So teamwork is really, really important to any med comms agency. Then just looking specifically at McCann in terms of our values, so, again, across all the agencies, we’ve got three values, which is to be optimistic, be original and be authentic, because we know that being your authentic self at work is going to bring the best possible outcome for you, for our clients, as well, and for your team as a whole. Then just a couple of other things that you might be interested in that we’ve introduced, because people are looking for what can we give back to the community. We’ve also got a flexible time off policy and this isn’t, again, just specific to McCann – there are other agencies that do this – and that means that people can contribute to causes that are close to their hearts. So that could be, for example, helping with an interview day at your child’s school or helping a foodbank or a local charity. Then, as part of our FUEL recruitment programme, we also have a corporate social responsibility opportunity for folks coming into the business. That could be, again, working in a food bank, it could be planting trees, preparing welcome packs for refugees. So there’s lots of other things that definitely bring in and contribute to the culture of any organisation. Then I think just bringing this back to academia, so one of the questions that I probably get asked the most in interviews is, well, what is the biggest challenge coming in from an academic setting. Really, it’s around the fact that, as a med comms agency, we sell people’s time because people will help the pharma companies and the authors write about medical research, obviously, in line with good publication practice and full transparency. As Joe and Mike have alluded to, we’re a business, we need to make money, so the way that we do that is we capture people’s time on timesheets so that we can keep a track of that versus budget. So for some people coming in, that is very different from the academic setting. Then, finally, for the scientists among us, we’re not actually writing up our own research. So you are being guided by what the authors want to do there. You may or may not agree with that, your responsibility is to flag any questions, but at the end of the day, it’s not your own research you’re writing up. So I hope that just gives you a little bit of an insight into the culture and values from a med comms perspective.
Thanks very much, Ann. Yes, that’s great. Finally, we’ve got Martin. I don’t know if you’d like to say a few words, Martin, about the culture within the data analysis function and within Pets at Home in particular.
Yes. So I’d agree with all the comments there, particularly the ones Mike started about there’s a global culture and then different areas have slightly different cultures within them. So, certainly, for example, the data team at Pets at Home, along with the digital team, had probably took to hybrid actually before lockdown started to come in, which wasn’t all that common across the rest of the organisation. There are some aspects of the global culture you can’t shake. So within Pets at Home, you are absolutely allowed pets in the office. If you try rebelling against that with the department, that will absolutely get shot down. So there’s certain aspects you’ve got to take. I think the big thing about culture in retail is a lot of people will come at it with retail is the commercial evil empire, if you like, and that this is absolutely about making money above all else. I’ve either been fortunate enough for that not to be the case with who I’ve chosen to work for or I’ve not quite found that. So partly within Pets at Home, our chief exec will describe us as a pet care business rather than a retailer, and certainly my time at Boots, there was a very much a focus on healthcare, so pets and pet care and pet health and Boots, as a pharmacy-led organisation in many respects. I do find there’s a couple of things. The reason, I think, you don’t, in practice, get the sort of evil empire culture is retail has to have such a customer focus, so you will find the culture is absolutely focussed on customer. That sounds like a wonderfully glorious, noble thing to do; in reality it’s absolutely hard-edged. We’re not a subscription business, so it’s not that you’ve got a Netflix subscription and you’ve got it for a while and it’s hard to cancel or you… More people get divorced than change their mortgage or bank account each year; I think the current account one’s certainly true. For us, if we get the customer offer wrong, a customer can either choose to go shop somewhere else the next time they shop or literally walk out of the store. So it’s always about balancing that for the budgets we have available and for the money we have available to play with, how do we maximise the customer offer. It can be quite cutthroat about how we address competition with that as to who we get customers from, but, ultimately, it is customer-focussed. I think the other big difference I’ve found for where we’ve recruited people from academia is the speed we work at, because retail is really fast turnaround stuff, but also what that means in terms of what might be called finishing projects. So a good answer fast is better than a brilliant answer slow in many occasions and you don’t always get to finish the project. So if I took an example of we did some work looking at where’s the best places in the country we could open new veterinary practices, and if there’s a budget to open ten and we come back with a model quickly that says, ‘I’ve got a model that says here’s the best 12,’ and we say, ‘Actually, we’re really sure of the first seven, but we’re not too sure on the right order of eight, nine, ten, eleven and twelve,’ the answer will be, ‘Great, I’ve got seven bankers and five where there’s not much in it. I’ll tell you what, give us it now, we’ll go open the seven and we’ll go send somebody to have a look around the five and we’ll choose two. But thanks for the project, you’re finished.’ So if you ever really want to know who came ninth and tenth, you might end up having to do that in your own shower or never getting to know because you’re on to the next project. I think that’s the difference, that you don’t get to always put the edge around things to finish off things in a way that some people who’ve come from an academic background can feel a little bit uncomfortable with. Others are really excited about it. It just depends what you find interesting.
Yes. Thank you for that, Martin, and thanks to all of the panel for bringing out some really interesting points of comparison between research in an academic setting and the variety of other roles that you can do in your respective industries. I think just to add a little something that Al mentioned to me, who, as I said earlier, wasn’t able to make it today… Ann, you mentioned that an agency setting can be very fast-paced, and that is something that Al said in reference to working for a small organisation, especially a small charity. She likened it to a start-up, in a way. So she previously worked for an organisation called the Good Things Foundation and has recently moved to the RSA, and I think size can obviously have an impact on culture, as well. As you’ve said, Mike, it’s not just the size of the organisation, it’s the size of the individual team or the individual office which can determine the culture. So thank you, everybody. We do have a few questions that have come through, but maybe they’re more about career paths and career opportunities, which I know we’ll be covering in a moment. So we’ll come back to those. Please do continue to submit questions into the chat, everybody. So the second topic that we had to talk about is the key skills, competencies, behaviours, or however you might want to put it, for your respective sectors. Would anybody like to speak about that first? Any volunteers? How about you, Ann? You’re on my screen.
Yes, I can go first. It’s great because we’ve got some non-scientists on the line, as well, and to that point, Katie, yes, we’ll cover a bit about med comms and career pathways in the next section. Yes, obviously, for scientists coming into med comms, you need a critical eye, you need to be able to analyse large datasets and you need to be able to understand the science so that you can flag when something seems incorrect because we can’t just take the information as it’s given to us; we do need to critically evaluate it, as well. We want people, and particularly now with all the enhanced publication contents – your infographics, any video abstracts, things like that – we want people to be able to think creatively in terms of how information can be presented. I think regardless of whether you come into scientific or a non-scientific role within med comms, there are a number of skills that we look for individuals to have. So accuracy, attention to detail, you need to be organised, you need good time management skills, you’ve got to want to work as part of a team, but also to be able to work independently, as well, because there’s lots of different situations that you may find yourself in. Even for our writers, they probably spend 50 per cent of their time actually writing, but the other 50 per cent is actually around negotiating timelines, highlighting why projects have gone over budget and working with our support staff. So you’ve definitely got to be flexible. You’ve got to enjoy problem-solving. So, for example, if, say, you’re going on-site, you don’t know quite what situation is going to befall you – it could be that you’ve got to try and chase a speaker around a congress centre to try and get them to come up to give their presentation – and you’ve got to have good communication skills. At the end of the day, we’re a communications agency and we want people able to communicate with clients, with team members, which all feeds into the negotiation and flexibility that we need. So, like I say, these skills are really applicable across any role that you’re doing because, for example, if you’re on the client service side and you’re working at a timeline, you need to be accurate because that’s what’s going to help keep your scientific team on track. So I’m sure, Mike, Joe and Martin, some of these skills will be exactly the same for you guys, as well.
Thank you, and yes, Mike, Joe, Martin, any of what Ann is saying chiming with you in particular?
Well, I’d say, yes, there’s two messages I wanted to get over at this time. The first is obviously, for me, and primarily a scientific role, I need people to have – well, it sounds very simple – basic scientific skills. So the thing that we’re very aware of is if you come from another background or somewhere like that, we have fantastic instrumentation and things like that on site. So we’re not expecting people to have specific skills on specific instruments, but we do want people to come in with the skills to design experiments in the most efficient manner and in a manner that can be presented to regulators, and things like that. But that’s basic scientific principles. We don’t need specific skills; we need general skills. The other thing that is absolutely key for the pharmaceutical industry – and I’ve compiled some statistics for this, for the site, and things like that – is developing a drug is a collaborative exercise. From the day the first time a compound is synthesised in a test tube by either a person or a machine and it reaching the market, that is hundreds of thousands of hours of time. It’s a complex regulated business. What I’m saying is you have to be able to collaborate. There is no good literature and there’s no good culture around how pharmaceutical companies work made by people from pharmaceutical companies. You can find a lot of TV about how people think pharmaceutical companies work, and it’s never once been captured in any way well, because almost always it’s literally somebody with a test tube who synthesises a drug and brings it to market often on their own. That is not how it works. You have to be able to collaborate. Scientific techniques, we can treat you, scientific basis, we assume, but nobody is so good at their job that if they can’t explain it and collaborate with others, we can’t find a way of doing without it. So the two skills you need are just basic scientific capability and an ability to get on with other people.
Brilliant. Thank you, Mike. I think that’s a really important message for those on the more STEM side of the postdoc population because, of course, a lot of researchers have these really specialist skills and we can pair specialist technical skills with general soft transferable skills, but then, of course, you’ve got the general scientific skills, as well, which are obviously very valuable. So thank you. Joe, any further comment from you on this?
Yes, I can build a little bit on that. Certainly, teamworking is absolutely right, and no medicine is invented by and developed by one individual; it is a team effort and it’s a cross-disciplinary effort, as well. I think sometimes that’s quite a challenge for scientists with in-depth expertise in one field. They need to be able to work with scientists with in-depth expertise in other fields, and sometimes that can be a challenge to find a way to communicate, to share the pertinent points. So that ability to succinctly describe key aspects of a project from your scientific perspective is really important if the project is going to ultimately have the best chance of success. So that’s really important, as well. Teamworking is important. I think another key point is that, broadly speaking, coming into pharma R and D as a PhD or postdoc, you will be expected to have some in-depth expertise in a particular area, but you will also be required and expected to have the ability to work independently, to create ideas, to drive work forward. Sometimes that means overcoming barriers that might be there. There might be practical barriers around laboratory setup or access to instrumentation, but, ultimately, part of your role is to find ways to fix things, not to present problems, but actually to practically resolve those issues. People doing PhDs and postdocs will have had those experiences. I’m sure that is part of what a PhD and postdoc is about; it’s about resolving issues and moving things forward, building momentum and being tenacious. So I think they’re some of the broader skills. Also, when you come into industry, you’re not expected to know everything there is to know. It is a learning environment and it’s a really powerful learning environment because you’re surrounded by people with expertise in other areas and you can broaden your knowledge very quickly if you’re willing to put yourself out there and ask the questions and learn from others. So it is a continued learning journey, I would say. It’s not about you arrive, you just do the stuff that you’ve been doing and everything stays the same as it was. It is about moving forward and developing too.
Thanks, Joe, and that’s definitely a message that we’re trying to get across with Prosper, the importance of ongoing development and being open to growth and change. We’ve had a question through in the chat, which I think is probably quite relevant to bring up now from Ansie, Ansie Miller. What does collaboration look like on a day-to-day basis in pharma, biotech R and D? Could you just put a bit of detail on it? How many people are in the same team, for example? How many people are working together on a project? I’m sure there’s a lot of variety, but…
Well, the easy answer to that is it depends. I guess I’m working with a couple of SMEs, start-up companies, university startup companies where the whole company is three or four people. They have got a very different setup in terms of those points about collaboration to large pharma company. When you’re in a large pharma company, a project in late-stage development, it can have 50 or 100 people working on it across different sites, across different countries. That group will be split into different functions, whether it’s chemistry or it’s pharmacy, whether it’s manufacturing, whether it’s quality. So I’m not sure I can give a simple answer to that. The day-to-day basis, you’ll be with other people working in the similar part of the project to you on the day-to-day basis as a PhD or a postdoc, but you will be working alongside or talking frequently with those people that are involved in the project, as well. You might be a synthetic chemist who needs expert analytical chemistry input and that will be a continuous dialogue. It ought to be. It ought to be a continuous dialogue between the chemists, the pharmacists and the manufacturing people. So it’s not an easy answer, I’m afraid.
It’s different for everybody. The role I know best of all is my own, so if I talk a little bit about that. So I work, obviously, in the United Kingdom for an American company. What does that mean in practice? Well, that often means that in the morning, I’m dealing with my local colleagues, the people that report to me or some other local thing. I’m also dealing with the overnight emails. Then in the afternoon, I’m often collaborating with my US colleagues about development. As Joe said, a late-stage development project will have many hundreds of people involved in touching it, so what we do in Martin is largely what’s called CMC – chemistry, manufacturing and control – which is how to operationalise the chemistry and the dosage manufacture. That has hundreds of people involved in it, and the person who’s doing an enzyme synthetic method for a new API is not the person that’s the subject matter expert on making the tablet or even how the drug comes out of the tablet. So hundreds of people. It’s collaboration. So, generally, that’s how my rhythm is. As you move through the industry, sometimes you have to deal with regulators. This morning, we had a question from Japan on one of our products that, fortunately, we didn’t have to answer it in Japanese, but we get questions that. Then sometimes when you get to a certain level, you’re on cross-industry bodies of mutual interest. People tend to think that the pharmaceutical industry is quite cut-throat, but we also collaborate on things of mutual importance. So, for instance, the regulators in Europe a few months ago or a few years ago now decided they didn’t like titanium dioxide, which is a material that is in almost all tablets and capsules, and they said, ‘Well, we want you to take it out.’ We then have to come up with an industry mechanism for pushing back on that. So you can do local work, but, clearly, when you start, you’ll be spending most of your time physically in the laboratory.
It’s slightly different in retail, just as a comparison. So I think most retailers have bought into agile delivery around projects. So if you’re a data scientist within my team, you’re likely working on somewhere between one or three projects at the same time, and that means you’ll be part of one to three agile scrums that somebody’s set up and you’ll be part of that scrum team. The project managers do have tens of hundreds of people to deal with in terms of trying to make sure the project is on track, but you’ll be working as one of anywhere, I would say, between half a dozen and ten people. If you put more than ten people in a scrum, it doesn’t become agile anymore. It becomes a mess.
Martin, sorry to interrupt, could you just briefly explain what ‘agile’ and ‘scrum’ are? I’m just not sure everybody would be aware of that terminology.
Oh, bugger. I was hoping to get away with that. So it’s very much IT project delivery. So it comes out of a lot of stuff that… I think Spotify were responsible for quite a bit of this in the first instances, but it’s around setting up a project and having people working in… So rather than waterfall delivery of you get a project, you go away and you deliver that project, it might take 18 months, you come back and go, ‘Ta-da!’ it’s around setting up an agile team that will have a product owner who’s the person you’re delivering the project for. It will have a project manager or scrum master involved who’s making sure the whole thing runs, and it then has people as part of that scrum that have got all the skillsets needed to deliver it. So whether that’s a data scientist, a data engineer. For a lot of our projects, it will be somebody from the legal department around GDPR, for example. You pull that team together and then they work in two weekly sprints generally to say if this project’s going to need 12 weeks to deliver, what do we need to do in each of the two weeks to make sure we’re on track and deliver the project. So it’s [signal break] a lot of retail data science teams, as well, and we’re no exception to that. So [signal break].
I’m not sure if it’s just me, but it seems… Is anybody else having trouble hearing Martin? Could you just indicate with your hand? Yes. Okay. It looks he has a bit of an insecure… It says his bandwidth is low at the moment. I don’t know if you can hear me, Martin, but, basically, I think Martin was just explaining…
I can – fine, and can you hear me?
You’re back. Okay, it looks Martin’s dropped out. Sorry about that, everyone. I’m sure he’ll be back in a minute. I think he was just explaining…
Yes, sorry, is that any better?
I think so. That’s better for me. Is that better for everyone else? It looks like you’ve got a low bandwidth, Martin, so if I just bring somebody else in and then if it comes back, I’ll come back to you. Okay? We were just talking about different project management methodologies, basically, which is something that’s come up in Prosper. We have had another question through specifically aimed at pharma, but I think we could answer it both from the pharma point of view, but also more broadly. We’ve got a question about long-term collaboration. So in academic groups, in research groups, research groups will often have long term collaborators. Is that also the case in your respective roles/industries; how does it compare?
I could comment on that. I think the simple answer is if it makes sense for both organisations, then there will be a long-term collaboration but, broadly speaking, a large pharma company is working with a huge number of organisations. It will be looking for projects to bring in. It’ll be looking for businesses to work with all the time. Then in the same way, we look at, for example, collaborations with manufacturing partners. A lot of the pharma industry doesn’t do its own manufacturing; it outsources its manufacturing to CMOs – commercial manufacturing organisations – who are huge organisations in themselves. So there will be quite a lot of strategic agreements with manufacturing partners, as well. Some of those will be longer-term, I would say, but, yes, that’s what I wanted to say. What I would say is that pharma might have some longer-term relationships with academic groups, for example, or with academic departments, and that’s based on the science that’s being done, it’s based on potential recruitment opportunities and just building those relationships so that there’s broader awareness of what some businesses are doing. So, yes, all sorts of collaboration goes on.
Brilliant. Thank you, Joe. And we’ve just had a question from Amanda, actually, which brings us nicely to our third theme. So I think we’ve had really good discussion about some of the differences in culture between academia and beyond academia, and then a great discussion on skills with quite a lot of things in common across the board around communication, teamwork as well as those technical skills. What we’d love to do next is put a bit of detail on to that as regards what the reality of career progression is like in these sectors, how postdocs can make that leap if they want to, not just what they could move into, but then how they could develop beyond that. So Amanda’s question, which is… Let me just bring it up a moment. Sorry. She’d like to know: what kind of career development opportunities are there within pharma? But we can also apply it to the other sectors, I think. Is there specific time allocated to career development, if we could start with that part. Would you to speak to that, Ann? I know it’s not pharma specifically, but I know you were talking a little about the non-scientist pathways, as well, so maybe we could have a global view.
Yes, I absolutely can. So if I start off just with the scientific side. So many of the associate medical writers that we bring in are people just like yourselves on the call and me – that’s how I got started. They will come in with a PhD, maybe a couple of years’ postdoc experience and then, within the scientific pathway, we bring people in as associate writers so they have the chance to learn the business, because it is very different writing up someone else’s research, all the other skills that you need to show and develop. From the associate medical writer position, you’d then work through to medical writer to senior medical writer and then at that point you have a choice. Do you love the writing? Is the science at the heart of what you want to do? Do you want to go down the director of medical writing route, where that is going to be at the heart of what you do, you’ll work across different therapy areas, different teams? Or do you love the project management side and the negotiation with the clients and helping them to try and resolve situations? In which case you’ll probably go down more of the medical director route, which is the route that I chose to do, not expecting to, but I think when you come into a job, you have to be very open to opportunities and to maybe going down a path that you weren’t thinking of. To the point about employee development, and this is true for any of our employees, we have a 70:20:10 training model. So there is absolutely time for employees to learn and develop. Seventy per cent of that is on-the-job training because that’s actually where we find people gain most of their experience on that live project work and they then look to transfer that across other projects that they’re then working on. In fact, what we’ve done a couple of years ago is we introduced the FUEL programme. So that’s where now our associate medical writers and our associate account execs – I’ll talk a little bit about the non-scientific side in a minute – they come together. There’s a great big training programme as part of that where people will spend the first three months really doing different training courses so that they understand the essential skills required for their job. That could be writing a poster, an abstract, it could be how to write client status minutes, for example. That’s been hugely beneficial to everybody. So, certainly, at McCann, there’s a huge investment in training. For the scientists, if you don’t fancy being an associate medical writer, then we also have medical editors who are critical in reviewing the work that we do. Then for non-scientific staff, so many people will come in as associate account execs, they will learn how to project manage, develop timelines, how to submit congress abstracts, manuscripts, things like that. Then they get more and more client interaction and they build on that, becoming account managers right the way through to client service directors who will work with the medical director to really head up the team. In addition, as I mentioned, we also have a big studio digital team presentation support. So we have people who come from very creative backgrounds, because we couldn’t lay out posters or brochures, or anything like that, without these people. On top of that, we’ve also got an IT support team and a finance team. So there are many, many different opportunities regardless of your background. I think, certainly from my experience, if you, say, decide to go down one pathway but you decide that’s not where you want to be, then there is the opportunity to move not just roles within an agency, but because we’re part of a bigger network, if, say, there’s an opportunity you’re looking for that, say, Affinity couldn’t offer you, then one of our sister agencies may be able to. So it’s all about making sure you keep the lines of communication open with your line manager. I think that’s very true regardless of what sector you go into, is put yourself out there, I think, as Mike was alluding to earlier. Ask those questions if there’s something you really want to do, because if you don’t tell people about it, how are they going to know? But, yes, certainly from our side, huge investment in training and development because we want these people to be our leaders of the future.
That’s brilliant, Ann. Thank you for that. I wasn’t aware of that 70:20:10 model, so thanks for sharing that, and definitely good advice regarding putting yourself out there. I think, Martin, we’ve spoken of similar things about transferability across different career paths in retail and finance. How is your connection?
So, yes, I’m hoping you can hear me now. I think dropping the camera might have helped. Yes, we operate a competency matrix or skills matrix which goes from entry level through to entry level data scientist, data scientist, senior data scientist and then it splits into two routes. There’s also a corporate skills matrix. So in reality you would go down one of three paths at some stage, which would either be technical principal data scientist, you are a technical expert, a team leader or team manager route, which is managing teams of data scientists or analysts, or a more commercial management route and move into some other area of the business. So, for example, one of my team or a person who was in my team now heads up our dog grooming business, so literally has responsibility for the commercial P and L for dog grooming – he’s moved across to that. So the sort of skills that would be on the skills matrix where you need different levels depending on which route you go down would be things like business understanding, so how do vets work, how does a loyalty scheme work, business partnering, project management skills, generating exceptional insights, synthesis and communication or data storytelling, leadership skills and then technical mastery. Again, technical mastery is very much – it starts at the entry level of what do you need to get your foot in the door and then would develop. So, for example, if you want to be in more of a team leadership role, you’d further develop your leadership skills to a higher level than the technical skills, which would be the route you’d go down if you want to be a principal data scientist.
Thank you, Martin. So I think what’s emerging is this distinction between the more people communication-based skills and the technical skills, and am I right in thinking that the different career pathways in pharma utilise these to different degrees, Joe/Mike, whichever of you would to speak to that?
I think, broadly speaking, yes, and I can just say a bit more of that if that works around pharma career pathways. It broadly falls into three camps. You’ll come in as a scientist. You can choose to continue to focus solely on science and develop your expertise going forward, and it’s not dissimilar to an academic career, in a way; you’re expected to continue to develop and learn and build knowledge in that field. You’re also, of course, expected to deliver against the drug projects or portfolio projects that’s in the business. At the same time, you would be expected to train and develop other staff, more junior staff in that area of expertise that you have. What you would also do with this technical career path is you would probably work with external partners, you would probably do academic collaborations, you would be expected to publish, you would be out there attending external conferences. So that’s the technical path. Another path is line management. So, again, you would come in as a scientist, but then you would move into managing other scientists. You would motivate them, you would set their targets, you would look after their pay and rations, you would look after their career development and support their career development. You would talk about what training they would go to, for example. And you’d be involved in recruitment. Typically, it’s line managers and technical people involved in recruitment. The third strand is around project leadership, and this is more around linking coordinating activities across departments, bringing disciplines together so the activities in one department are aligned effectively and efficiently with the activities in another department. So project leadership is about coordinating activities, about delivering on time, about delivering against the budget. It’s about moving things forward as effectively and efficiently as possible. It’s about managing risk, for example, in a project. So, again, my experience is these three career paths are very real things. Everybody comes in as a scientist typically at the PhD or postdoc level, won’t immediately move into a different role. They would establish themselves as an effective and valuable scientist and then they might have different choices to make between these three different pathways. These aren’t irreversible choices; you can move between these different pathways once you get in. Broadly speaking, that’s the way it works. Yes. So lots of different choices? Most people who come in, they don’t actually know which path they will take. I think that becomes apparent after they’ve been there a number of years. So I would encourage people to have an open mind about what they might imagine is right for them, because as you learn, you get different experiences and you realise there are things that you prefer to do with your time, whether you really enjoy motivating and supporting and developing people, coordinating activities across departments or continuing to develop your own expertise in your own particular field. So lots of different choices. No hard and fast rules, I would say, in a large organisation.
Really useful overview. Sorry, Mike, did you want to come in there?
Well, first of all, I’d echo two things that Joe said. First of all, you’re not committed for life. My knowledge now is of a very large, tens-of-thousands-of-person enterprise, so the opportunities are pretty much unlimited in some ways. So if I think of my role, my boss’s role and people who have been my boss in the past, so I have a role and I only have line management for five people and I’m a senior scientific director because I know an absurd amount about how to make a tablet. My boss, and she is my boss, but also is a senior director. She’s on exactly the same level in terms of the organisation, but she’s got about 50 people working for her, and so she’s not spending as much time on the technical day-to-day. Then Nancy, that used to be my boss until about ten years ago, she became a senior vice president; she was in charge of 1500 people. BMS is a technical organisation. Once you get up to even senior vice president, it’s assumed that you have some technical chops. You don’t have to be able to do everybody’s job, but you understand it. So there’s a technical milieu there, but there’s also all sorts of other roles that you can get into. Some of them are geographically located. Everybody has a different capacity or desire for moving. So some people want to move to the United States – I’ve had people in my team move to the United States to do similar roles – or other people that have gone to do something different. I was chatting with somebody the other week. I think Ann had mentioned about the time management and the billing, and things like that. The person that does that for our organisation has a PhD in inorganic chemistry and she joined to do a certain thing, but she got very passionate about looking at the data. Pharmaceutical companies have immense amounts of data and that was one of the richest sources of data, so she’s doing something different. Sometimes when you’ve been in a technical function for a long time, you could start writing it up. So Vicky, who has a desk over there, she used to make tablets and now she writes the regulatory submissions about tablets. Once you’re in a large organisation, there are lots of opportunities. The key thing is – and I’ll say this at Bristol Myers Squibb – you have to develop, and one of your boss’s metrics is how are their people developing, and it’s a key thing that you’re measured on and your boss. So it’s an expectation that you develop. You can develop in your specific technical area – that’s what I’ve done – or you can go broader or you can just jump sideways and do something, as long as you’re using those skills. Doing a PhD and a postdoc is a skillset, not in the specific instrumentation you use, but on how to do the science in the most appropriate, efficient way.
Thanks for that.
Can I just add a bit more, Katie, because what I would say, if people want to develop in the industry, certainly, the best thing that can possibly do is do their current job very well, because that will mean they get noticed as being effective and having an impact and opportunities will come their way, opportunities that they didn’t possibly know existed. They will be seen as a person who gets things done and makes a difference. So doing your current job well is a great way of helping your career develop, but also being curious, being curious about what’s going on in that other department and how does that relate to what I am doing. So it’s about being open to ideas and it’s about doing your current job well. That’s what I would say. Geography is a really fascinating one, as well. So at the same time, I’ve managed people in the UK, in Sweden, in the US and in China. So we talked about culture before, and we shouldn’t generalise too much, but there are different expectations about what managers do when they work with different people in different countries. So, yet again, it’s difficult to generalise.
Really, really interesting discussion. Thank you, everybody, and thank you for those great insights. I think there’s obviously such a broad range of opportunity within your respective organisations/industries. One thing that I would to bring out, actually, in part for our humanities and social sciences postdocs who are here, is that Al who unfortunately couldn’t be with us today, so she’s worked in a research role for a small charity and for the RSA. We had a little discussion about how, unfortunately, unlike pharma where there quite clearly established career pathways, and I guess once you’re in and, as you say, Joe, doing your job well, a range of opportunities will come up possibly at a global level, those opportunities do exist within humanities-related roles, but there aren’t those as clearly defined career pathways necessarily. So I think we’ll be speaking to her in greater detail about that and be creating more resources about that for the humanities and social sciences background researchers who we’ve got amongst us here. I just wanted to ask, we do have a few more questions…
If I could just chip in on that one.
Go ahead, Martin, yes.
Sorry to interrupt, but I think it’s a really important point. If I look at my data scientist team at the minute, my head of data science, one of the senior data scientists, another data scientist in the team are actually all from the geography courses within the geospatial data science courses at Liverpool. So we’ve absolutely taken people from wider than just the traditional STEM background. Geography, in particular, I think, makes some exceptional data scientists.
Thanks, Martin. That’s great. Actually, thinking about developing your own career, I wonder if you’d like to share that that story that we chatted about.
Oh, yes, sure. I’m a sci-fi and fantasy geek, so a lot of what I read tends to be in that domain, but I was reading an interview that Neil Gaiman, the guy that wrote ‘Good Omens’ and ‘American Gods’ and various other things had done and he was asked how he’d managed his career and how he’d made decisions on what to do from his early career as a journalist. He said he’d never had any… I really liked it because I’ve adopted a similar path, I guess. He said he’d never had a route-by-route career path to go from step A to step B to step C. What he did was imagine a forest with a mountain in the middle of it and he knew he wanted to head – the mountain was his goal. So at one point, any job he was offered or any opportunity, he just evaluated does it take him closer to the mountain or further away, and if it took him closer to the mountain, he’d take it on. If he didn’t, he’d refuse it. I think it’s a really good way of looking at things. I like it because I never could answer the ‘where do you want to be in ten years’ time?’ question. I could answer the what I’m more interested and what I want to move towards, so as long as I was moving towards that, I was going to take my chances from there.
Yes, I think that’s a really motivating image and very reassuring, I’m sure, for many of us here that you didn’t know what you wanted to do in ten years’ time ten years ago. Okay. So we’ve got about 20 minutes left or just shy of that. We’re starting to get questions, which I think is a good place to turn the conversation more geared towards the recruitment process, and things like that. So I’ll just read some of the questions out and then invite the panel to address some or all of them. So we’ve got a question from Paul Thompson about what do you look for in a CV of someone applying from academia. Is it publications, collaborations, public engagement? We’ve had a more general question submitted in advance of today about where should we look for jobs within your industry, how do we actually begin those practical steps of making that move. I’ll just leave that open to the panel for whoever would like to come in on that. Silence. How about you then, Ann? I can see you’re unmuted.
I think from our side, for anyone that’s looking for a position, yes, absolutely, the company website is a really good place to start, but the job/the post will also go up in LinkedIn. We don’t tend to use recruiters in the UK, to be honest. We tend to do that more for positions in the US. But that’s not to say you couldn’t go through a recruiter. The other thing I would say is that for anyone that is looking to get into med comms, then Peter Llewellyn through Network Pharma runs a great site called Med Comms Networking, which, if you put into your search function, it will pull up. There’s some great advice there for people that are looking to come into med comms. There’s also some great webinars that Peter gets involved in in terms of writing research up for patients. So even if you’re part of a med comms group already, there’s some great things, and we’ve done a webinar with him around our FUEL programme. So for anyone looking to maybe tailor their CV, I think there’s another webinar at the end of June, which is actually for people looking to come into the industry as associate writers. In terms of your CV itself, yes, absolutely, if you’ve got some publications, please put those in. Bear in mind we will double-check that the information is accurate because that is one of the key skills that we are looking for. But even if you haven’t got any publications, because we know, obviously, depending on where you are with your PhD or with your postdoc, you may be in the process of writing those up, you can list those, as well. Maybe if you’ve presented a poster or given an oral presentation at a congress, those are really valuable skills that we want to know about. You may have worked on a university newsletter or through one of your hobbies. So anything like that, we’re interested in. We quite often hear about the Pint for Science thing. I’m not sure if Liverpool does that, but certainly Glasgow does where you’ve just sat in the pub and maybe talked for five minutes to an audience about the research that you’re doing, because all those things help to show that you can communicate. So I hope that gives you some, certainly from our side, what we’d be looking for in a CV.
Thanks, Ann. We’ve just a message from [over speaking] Pint of Science yesterday [over speaking]. Yes, I think one of the things that’s come through from a lot of our employer engagement is that, while publications are very important, they’re not the only thing that matters beyond academia, and so it’s more about the skills that you’ve employed in order to achieve those publications rather than that list of publications in itself. Mike, Joe, Martin, any further comments on that?
Sorry, Mike first and then Martin.
Well, I’ll take two things. First of all, in terms of the CV is the one scale is nobody can teach, or anything else, is enthusiasm. You get this in interviews and you get this in the CV. If you’re not enthusiastic about what you’ve done and the opportunities it’s presented, it’s really, really difficult to get anybody else enthusiastic about it. So find a way of being enthusiastic about what you do in your CV, because that’s… I’ll say this, in interviews and elsewhere the one thing you’re trying to pick up is enthusiasm. If you’re enthusiastic about a hobby, that’s fine as long as you can be enthusiastic about something. So that would be the first thing. The key thing about publications, and I realise that this will be painful for the postdocs, I still publish and I still get people in my team to publish because it’s a demonstration that you can pull a disparate effort together. So if you’re looking at the differences – this is easy to say and difficult for postdocs – the number of first author publications that you have is much more vital than where you’re a minor or where you’re certainly a contributing author, but you’ve been a technical specialist. So having a long list of those versus two or three key ones where you have been the first author and collaborator, they’re the things that add value. Because going back to this aspect of collaboration, collaboration is what you’ll be doing and being able to collaborate to get a piece out, we all know how difficult it is to write publications, particularly collaborative ones. If you can demonstrate that you’ve done that successfully, you have herded the cats, that you have not thrown your toys out the pram at review questions, all of these things, that’s really a key skill. That’s something that I mentor people in the company, because it’s not the paper necessarily that’s the important thing; it’s your ability to have held the team together to get to the end point and then that you’re able to read through proofs, that you don’t have to do a change because you’ve made a howler at the proof stage. All of that is key to what we want people to be doing, is bringing teams together, holding them teams together despite a whole load of adversity from editors, co-authors, reviewers, and bringing that to the finish line is a key task. If you’re ever given the choice between first authoring one paper and being the seventh author on ten of them, the thing that will add value is the first authoring, but I appreciate that postdocs, that’s difficult.
Yes, I’m sure it is. We’ve actually developed particular resources around Prosper specifically about that, thinking about your publications in a different way, I suppose, so that’s really useful. Thank you. Thank you, Mike. Martin, would you want to say something for a couple of minutes, and then Joe and then…
Yes, I’ll try to rip through it as quick as I can. I guess three bits of advice. The CV, the technical bits are a barrier to, again, the minimum entry. If I’m looking for who I want to recruit, I talk to our HR team about five Cs. I talk about wanting people who’ve got curiosity, common sense, communication skills, creativity and collaboration, and I’ve drummed that into HR that that’s what I look for. The other two bits of advice are only about half of all jobs in organisations even get advertised. Network like crazy. One of my team who runs Our Women in Manchester, for example, if Ellen comes back to me and said, ‘I’ve met this great person. We’ve got a job. Do you want to actually chat to her?’ Great, she probably gets an interview. So network like mad. If Alex Singleton at Liverpool rings me up and says, ‘Martin, I’ve got a great candidate who’s looking for a job in retail. Could you have a chat with him?’ Again, I’m going to pick the phone up. So that networking is really important. The other thing is you’re all researchers. The amount of people who don’t research the person who’s doing the bloody interview is shockingly crap because, again, it gives you that idea on hobbies. If anybody looks me up, you’ll find I’ve got an overly large obsession with fantasy football. If you run a fantasy football team, you use analytics for it, you’ve a way into a half-hour conversation with me without having to write a single publication down. That’s that bit of understand the people who… That will always pay off.
Brilliant advice. Thanks, Martin. Those five Cs, I hope I’ve noted them all down. They’re a really good structure to think about, so thank you. Joe, anything you’d like to add?
Yes, there’s a question in the chat about CVs. A key thing for me in a CV is clarity and conciseness. So you should really be able to get your message across quite powerfully without filling pages and pages of text. I think if you have got a long list of publications, I think it’s absolutely fine to include that as some sort of appendix, but I think the main body of your CV should be no more than a couple of pages in my mind. It should be concise and compelling. When it comes to looking for jobs, networking is so important. It’s quite cringe-worthy at times, but I think you just need to get out there and let people know what you’re looking for and what you’re interested in. And do your research, I think, as has been said. Look at organisations and read about organisations; find out as much as you can.
One small tech thing, as well. If you’re bothered about getting a list of technical things in that are important, so many CVs are now machine-learning-read in the first place, but are automated by HR. You can get away with using white text and very tiny font and at the bottom one of the pages writing a list of stuff, and the machine learning stuff picks it up anyway. So in terms of getting through initial screeners, that’s a very good way of not overfilling your CV while still getting the tech stuff in there.
I’m not sure I’ve understood that, Martin. Could you just explain that?
So if you’ve got a list of algorithms or a list of coding languages and you’re thinking, ‘God, it’s going to take four pages on my CV,’ if your CV is on white paper, put it in white font, put it at size one or size two font and just drop it on the bottom of a page. Humans can’t read it. The machine learning algorithms, when you scan the CV, do. So, basically, if any HR team are using automated scanning, they’ll see the skills and pick it up. It’s just something that a lot of agencies, recruitment agencies particularly, automate the process, so you can basically do a long list that’s unidentifiable by humans, but will help get you through some of the automated screening processes.
Gosh, you learn something new every day.
That is true. Martin’s entirely correct. The other thing about CVs, and it’s absolutely key, and it sounds remarkably simple, is I’ve talked about enthusiasm, so you should leave this. Don’t lie on your CV. If people put in their interests, ‘I’m an avid reader,’ and you ask them at interview, ‘What was the last book you read?’ or, ‘What’s your favourite book?’ and they haven’t got one, virtually the only thing you know about that person is that they lie, and it sounds… So Martin’s giving you the gold in terms of how to game machine learning on CVs, but, yes, put stuff that is true on your CV because it doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s trainspotting, dancing, you know, it’s a very diverse area of what people are interested in. As long as they can be enthusiastic about it, they’ll be able to be enthusiastic about that, but putting in things that are not true happens remarkably often and it’s an absolute killer.
I think if I can just say, as well, make sure that you read through your CV to make sure you’ve not got extra spaces or typos in it. It sounds such a simple thing, but read it with a fresh pair of eyes. To that point from Mike, if, say, you do a blog, again, we’re going to have a look at that blog. So, again, make sure your blog looks neat and tidy, format it nicely. All those kind of things are the attention to detail that, in particular, we look at. If you’re putting a cover letter in with your CV, please tailor it to the job that you’re actually applying for, because there’s nothing more frustrating than looking at a fantastic CV and then you’ve got this cover letter that’s generic; it’s clear that it’s just going with every CV that’s being submitted and you haven’t actually bothered to even take ten minutes to tailor it to the job that you’re applying for. And do look at the company websites, again, to give you a little bit more insight into what they do, because in an interview we want to know what you’ve learned about us. Yes, we know you won’t know all the specifics, but at least having a bit of an insight before you come for the interview, as well, do make sure you do. But, yes, that’s one of my pet hates is cover letters that are not tailored to the job that you’re applying for.
Thank you, Ann. I think there’s been so much good advice to come through today. So with the CVs, we’ve got be concise, be clear, be honest. You know, in your approach to job letters, do lots of research. There are lots of great pieces of advice that have come through. We’ve had a lot of thanks come through in the chat thanking all of the panel. I think we’ve got time for one more very brief question which we haven’t covered, so if I could invite everyone just to give just a maximum 30-second response to this from Louisa about networking. Where are the best places to network in your fields – LinkedIn, careers events, somewhere else? Shall we start with you, Ann, seeing as though you’ve just spoken?
Yes, I think for us, LinkedIn, absolutely. We do also have an online and a physical presence at careers events now that we’re able to get back to doing that. But LinkedIn is a really, really good place to start. So yes, that would be my 30 seconds.
Thank you. And what would you do? Would you approach somebody directly on LinkedIn, just asking them for more information or…?
Yes, absolutely, you could just approach them directly. What I would do is have a look on the company website, find out who… It could be the recruitment team, it could be somebody within the organisation, because what we also do – I’ve done it myself through internships, through, like, his bio. So people maybe even come to us, just do a three-month internship. I think we’re hoping to have some folks in for three-week placements over the summer. So if you’re interested, find a name that you can reach out to and send them a LinkedIn message. If they’re not the right person, they’ll pass it on. But, yes, absolutely have the confidence to reach out if you’re interested.
Thank you, Ann. Mike, top networking tip?
I think these days, I think it is LinkedIn. Going back to the papers, we have to know what the science is in the field, so if you’re publishing in that area, we’ll probably become aware of it. If you’re doing something active, it’s probably these days LinkedIn. We think of it as a social networking tool, because that’s what it is, but it’s amazing what tools are now behind it for people recruiting. That’s how they monetise it. So there’s all sorts of things going on in LinkedIn that you don’t know about, but they make money out of having these tools for recruiters. So that’s where you need to be.
Thank you, Mike. Okay. So if we work on the assumption that LinkedIn is the place to be, Joe/Martin, top LinkedIn tips?
I think one thing LinkedIn also does, it enables you to find out more about companies and about organisations. So you can think about a sector you might want to work in and the size of the organisation, a disease area or a technology, then you can use LinkedIn to search in that way, as well, and then, from that, you can then start to look at people who work in those businesses. The chances are if you’ve started to build your own profile through the people that you already know, there may well be people either close to that organisation or even in that organisation that, if you approach them in the right way, they may well be more than willing just to have an initial conversation and introduce you to the people who can get you to the point where your CV lands on the desk in an organisation that you’re interested in working in, irrespective of whether they appear to be recruiting or not. Organisations are always looking, I would say, for good people and enthusiastic and smart people who track them down and hunt. So LinkedIn has got all sorts of really powerful ways to make use of it.
Brilliant, Joe. That’s really inspiring, I hope, for a lot of postdocs, that you’ve got such amazing potential and companies are looking to meet you, so get in touch with them. Martin, any parting networking advice?
Yes. As well as just not looking at people cold on LinkedIn, lots of us – and I’ve definitely posted all sorts of stuff on LinkedIn – replying or commenting on people’s posts, so following people who work for companies you are interested in and replying. People will almost certainly reply to replies to their posts if you ask questions. I think, other than that, careers fairs, we don’t do an awful lot with, but we do send people to things like Our Women in Manchester. Women in Data is an excellent organisation. Any events that people like that are… Basically, if it’s a free event, particularly anything that involves pizza or beer, you’re likely to find people to talk to. I think that’s the other thing with networking. A lot of people say they network and go to the events and stand at the back and don’t talk to anybody. That’s not networking. Go and talk to somebody, buy them a coffee, buy them a beer and most people will chat to you.
Brilliant. Thank you, Martin, and thank you so much to all of our panel. It’s been such a great discussion.
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