Host 1: I’m now going to pass over to our first panellist to give a short introduction. Can I ask you, Susan, to start us off, please?
Susan Raikes: Sure, thank you, Chantel. Hello everyone. I’m Susan Raikes. I’m director of learning at the Science Museum Group, which is the world’s largest federation of science museums. We’ve got five different museums and two collection sites. We’re spread across London, Manchester, Bradford, York, Country Durham and Wiltshire. In normal times – if anyone can remember what those are – we have about five million visitors a year to our different museums. My job is to lead on all things to do with education and learning, so everything that we do for schools. That’s all ages from nursery up into university and postgrad, in fact. Families, also all of our holiday activities and everything that you see happening at weekends and during the summer; that’s all my team. Our community work, so we do a lot of work with our local communities of lots of different kinds across all of those different locations. We have a lot of programming for adults as well, so lots of talks, tours, panel discussions. We also run a number of festivals, including the Manchester and Bradford Science Festivals. We do a lot of online learning, training courses. Pretty much anything that the Museum does that’s public engagement of any kind other than exhibitions, sits within my team. We also have a learning research division, so that’s both academic research into how people learn in a museum environment, into what we do and how it’s received and what impact it has on people. Also lots of audience research in terms of testing, prototyping, evaluating our different experiences as well. Altogether I’ve got about one hundred and fifty people across those five sites delivering all of that for me. I could go on but I’ll stop because otherwise I’ll just talk!
Host 1: Thank you, Susan. Can I pass it on to Adam, please?
Adam Moss: Yes sure, thank you, so my name’s Adam Moss. I’m head of engineering at the Department for Work and Pensions. Pretty hard for anyone to exist in this country without coming into contact with DWP at some point in their life, from the point they’re born, pretty much, well, unfortunately until after they’re dead! In terms of what we do, we’re the largest government department. We do a lot of things that you’ve no doubt seen in the headlines in terms of Universal Credit, pensions, war pensions, international pensions, all that sort of stuff. But a lot of other things that you’re probably not aware of as well; the electrical roll, Queen’s birthday message when people hit a hundred and stuff like that. All of that kind of information and data is sourced for us. In terms of my role, I’m head of engineering so I look after all of the software engineers, DevOps engineers, all the technical staff. We have about eight hundred of those in the Department. Somewhere in the region of about twelve thousand code repositories and just shy of a billion lines of code at the moment is what runs us. On day-to-day basis we support twenty-two million people in this country to go about their daily lives, which is roughly one-third of the adult population.
Host 1: Perfect, thank you. Lauren?
Lauren Evans: Hello, thank you. My name is Lauren Evans and I’m head of radiotherapy innovations, also known as Rutherford Innovations, at Rutherford Cancer Centres. So Rutherford Cancer Centres operates a network of cancer centres both nationally and internationally, providing all-encompassing cancer care for our patients. Our real vision is to transform cancer services so it’s through delivery, personalised tailored medicine and holistic support. We do this through a number of means; through diagnostic testing, through chemotherapy, radiotherapy. But it mainly focusses on delivering high-dose radiation in the form of proton beam therapy; I could just discuss that a bit further later. My role within Rutherford Cancer Centres: I sit on both the senior management and the senior leadership team. I’m responsible for the implementation of research and innovation projects. I’m also the lead on education, training and development and also manage the strategic development regarding radiotherapy and oncology research within the Rutherford Health.
Host 1: Perfect, thanks Lauren. Last but by no means least, Rachel.
Rachel Quinn: Thank you. Lovely to see everybody! I’m Rachel Quinn. I’m director of policy at the Academy of Medical Sciences. The Academy of Medical Sciences is the independent body in the UK that represents the diversity of medical sciences. We have a fellowship that we elect every year of the UK’s best biomedical and health researchers. We really harness their expertise to advance biomedical and health research – some of the stuff that Lauren was talking about – and its translation into benefits for society. I oversee all of our policy work. What we’re trying to do is harness our fellows to influence decision-makers in areas such as global health, science, funding and infrastructure, innovation public health, regulation. So me and my team are working with researchers, decision-makers across academia, industry, medical research charities, NHS, regulators and government. We’re quite a small organisation so we’re only about fifty staff. I thought it might be helpful to talk about other roles in our organisation. The other two things in addition to influencing and informing policy are; we support the next generation of medical leaders through targeted funding schemes and support schemes. We also have a very diverse comms function which is involved in dialogue with patients and the public, which feeds into our work, and inspiring and informing people about medical research. In terms of other similar organisations, if we think about harnessing experts to influence policy, then the Learning Societies – which some of you may be members of – and the other academies; engineering, British Academy and the Royal Society are very similar. Then there’s policy and public affairs. In terms of informing and influencing policy, public affairs and policy roles in medical research charities, in the Research Councils, in government – so in Adam’s department – and also in industry. So influencing policy; quite a broad area. Thank you.
Host 1: Fantastic, thank you for those introductions and thank you for joining us. We now have a few questions that we would like to ask ahead of opening up to the cohort. You’ve all touched on this a little bit and also provided bios for us to read ahead of this session. Could you tell us a little bit about your professional journey and how you got into your current role? I’m going to give that back to Susan to start us with, please.
Susan Raikes: Okay, thank you. Confession: I’m not a scientist! Even though I work for the world’s largest federation of science museums, I’m not a scientist; I’m a classicist. I studied ancient history and Latin as an undergrad. Then I’ve got a couple of MAs in museum studies and also in education. I never took the PhD route; I don’t have your dedication, I’m afraid! I’ve always worked in museums, so I started off as a volunteer in the school holidays. I decided I wanted to work in museums when I was about, I don’t know, twelve or something ridiculous. Once I decide on something, that’s it! My first proper job was with an archaeological society which ran a number of historic properties. My first job was literally dressing up as Anne of Cleves and running handling sessions for children – which was great fun, if a little uncomfortable. I don’t think I’d fit into the frock any more, that’s for sure! I ran the education programme there. Top tip I would say: start in a small place because you get to do loads and loads of different things. In a big organisation like the one I work in now are people who are on the ground delivering our education programmes; that’s all they get to do. But I was in a really small place; I got to do a little bit of everything. Gradually I moved on from there; I went to work again in a museum education in a large regional museum service in the North East, which ran eleven different museums, everything from a steam railway to a contemporary craft gallery – and a science museum as part of that as well. Then after a few years, I ended up running all of the education services for those eleven museums. After that, I moved back down to London and went to the British Museum, which was the closest fit to my academic studies. I stayed there for just over a decade in various roles. I ended up running all of the education programme, all of volunteering, the national programme and the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is the thing that you come across if you find any treasure, Roman coins or whatever you might do with your metal detector. Then about three-and-a-half years ago, I moved over to my current role in SMG, so it’s been fairly steady. I haven’t planned it; I’ve just found the next interesting opportunity and ended up picking up loads of other skills along the way. Now I guess my skills are in leading big teams and knowing what a good education programme in a museum looks like, but that’s something that I picked up along the way, really.
Host 1: Perfect, thank you, Susan. Now to you, Adam; a little bit about your professional journey.
Adam Moss: Yes, so mine was by accident, believe it or not! Since I was knee high to a grasshopper, I was always going to be a chef; as a child I was always in the kitchen cooking things. Then when I was about it must’ve been fourteen at the time, the maths teacher I had came along and said, ‘There’s this employer in the area starting up an apprenticeship scheme. They’ve asked us for nominations for people to apply and I’ve put your name forward.’ I got a whole load of paperwork, as you can imagine, filling all these questionnaires and do all these tests and all these crazy things that employers like to inflict upon people. Passed all those and was ultimately offered a job, so that was starting with Nissan in the North East as an IT apprentice under the so-called Modern Apprenticeship Scheme. That was relaunched twenty odd years ago now, so that was me. I left school at sixteen, effectively, or certainly left full-time education. I started with them as a trainee programmer working on mainframes, for those that can remember them. Then from there, I put myself through evening classes with the Open University, skipped the bachelor’s degree; went straight to a master’s degree, did that. Spent a bit of time working in Holland and France and Spain, all for Nissan, doing various different projects. I can tell you more about Intrastat reporting than I ever want to remember – which is the Customs import and export declarations you have to do when you’re moving things around countries. Then after about five years of basically living out of a suitcase, I got a little bit tired, I think it’s fair to say. My next assignment was actually going to be in Saint Petersburg in the middle of winter, so I started looking for a new role. The DWP were advertising a job about a mile-and-a-half away from where I lived, so it was like, yes! I can actually walk to work on a morning. I applied for that, was successful in that, and then basically have moved around various roles in the company since then. I was originally hired to look after all of the test scheme for the Child Maintenance Group – or Child Support Agency as it was called at the time. Then I did various other technical roles, improving a lot of the technology, challenging a lot of the outsourced arrangements we had at the time, building up development teams and gradually transitioning stuff to fully in-house development – which is what I look after now in terms of strategies for tools, technologies, training. All that sort of stuff to make the lives of the hands-on engineers as nice as we possibly can.
Host 1: Perfect, thank you. Lauren, how did you get into your role?
Lauren Evans: I must admit, I always knew I wanted this career; I knew I always wanted to be involved in healthcare. I knew I then wanted to be involved in the field of oncology, and because of oncology I knew I always wanted to specialise in the research side of it. I knew the long-term goal. Going about it, didn’t quite know that at the time! I am a radiographer by profession, and during my undergrad research proposal, stumbled across a research idea. We were on clinical placement and there were patients who were coming for radiotherapy treatment and had cardiac pacemakers. There wasn’t much knowledge about that at the time, so basically I started being really nosy and asking, ‘Well, why do you turn off the pacemakers? Why are you doing this?’ Basically it really started off as me being nosy as a second-year undergrad student and then actually carried that through to the third-year research project. Then I ended up presenting at a Society of Radiographers conference. I remember it was in a hotel in Bristol and I was standing at the front delivering the presentation. I just remembered lots of people’s heads looking down, giving each other looks. I just thought, oh gosh, what have I gone and said now?! Then I came off the stage and spoke to the chief exec of the Society and he said, ‘Lauren, you’ve really hit on a concern that a lot of departments have.’ I was like, okay, maybe that explains the funny looks! He basically said, ‘What are you going to go and do about it? You’ve highlighted the problem. You’re obviously passionate about it. You need to go and find a way to look into this.’ So I applied for funding for a pilot study, so the pilot study showed actually there were issues in this field, it did need further investigation. I was working clinically at the time, so for eighteen months I juggled working clinically as a newly-qualified radiographer while setting up the pilot research. The results of the pilot study again really, really took off. I then went back to work clinically, knowing that I really, really wanted to be involved in research. I then applied for my PhD in funding and then I embarked on a PhD journey. I actually did a dual enterprise PhD so it’s half in healthcare sciences, half in engineering. If you asked any of my friends, me doing half a PhD in engineering, they probably would’ve laughed at you at the time! But it really, really fitted in neatly to my topic, so I looked at the effect of ionising radiation and electromagnetic interference on cardiac implanted electronic devices implanted in cancer patients receiving radiotherapy. Throughout the PhD I published numerous papers in this field. I chaired the working party, and the results of the PhD actually formed national guidance. We’re actually taking that out internationally as well so it’s going to form the basis of a lot of radiotherapy policies for this cohort of patients. I then, after the PhD, went back to work in the NHS as a research radiographer, but I knew I always wanted to do a little bit more. Then this is where the Rutherford Innovations job came. I thought I was going for a chat with the chief exec of a company; it turned out to be a job interview! The next thing, I started at Rutherford Cancer Centres as a postdoctoral researcher. Then about 18 months ago, I got made head of radiotherapy innovations. I think what’s really gratifying about this job role is, not only can I carry on my research but also looking at wider oncology clinical trials, chemotherapy trials, proton beam therapy trials. Also really dictating the way the company wants to be involved in clinical research, bring on education, have lecturing skills, get our staff involved in it. So it’s really carrying on my undergrad research all the way now through head of the department and still carrying on published national guidance in this field. Also really passionate about research. I think that’s one thing; wherever you are in your career journey, your research journey, it’s having that underlying passion and being driven for your outcomes of your research.
Host 1: Fantastic, thanks Lauren. A job through an informal chat with a CEO! Then lastly, Rachel, if you wouldn’t mind giving us your professional journey, please.
Rachel Quinn: Of course, and I think just to build on something that Lauren said; it’s about finding what motivates you and what you’re committed to. I think I started off, I did a very broad degree. I went and did a PhD. It’s worth saying: for the PhD and then the follow-on postdoc, it was part of a big European programme. So I picked up quite a lot of transferable skills in terms of coordinating the research group and the events, bringing people together. There were those transferable skills. I completely confess that I didn’t want to do a postdoc. I applied for a couple of other jobs like lecturing jobs and didn’t get them. The postdoc was just a carry on from the PhD, so I did that. I think I looked around and had a lot of friends who were so motivated by their research – as some of you will be on this call – and that was what they got their buzz from. I just didn’t get that, and I never had a plan. I always laugh when I ask people in interview, ‘What’s your career plan’, because I never had one and I still don’t. A bit like Susan; just taken jobs that I enjoyed, things that you want to get out of bed in the morning and go and do it. For me it’s evidence, it’s policy but I started off, a friend that I’d done a PhD with was working for the Natural Environment Research Council, and a what we used to call at the time peer review committee secretary role came up. It was an expert role, as in you needed to understand the research system, you needed to be comfortable with academics, you needed to be comfortable pulling together review group comments. I went there for a couple of years and really picked up some good what I would call broad admin skills and interpersonal skills that were really valuable. I really got quite bored quite quickly of finding peer reviewers, phoning people up and begging them to provide peer reviews on grant applications that some of you in the room would be putting in. Again a friend who I was working with at NERC had previously worked at the Royal Society and they were recruiting a science policy role; energy, environment and climate change. Science policy was so new. People always ask me how to get into science policy. It was so new there particularly in the academies; I think there were only probably eight of us in the team after my recruitment. There are now thirty. It’s really difficult to get into science policy now compared to when I did it, where if you had a few admin skills, you’d done a little bit of postdoc experience, you could get in. I worked my way up through the Royal Society. What’s been quite nice, I’ve been in science policy – it’s scary to say – twenty-one years and have really seen the way we seek to influence policy in an independent way, evolve the way we bring in patient and public engagement as part of that. So that creativity, I suppose, and initiative comes in and how we develop the process. I stayed at the Royal Society. I guess I want to flag work-life balance because I worked at the Royal Society in that time of my life where you work really late and work is a really big part of your life. Then I went on maternity leave from the Royal Society, came back and actually I didn’t quite want that lifestyle any more. The Academy of Medical Sciences is the new kid on the block. We’re only twenty-one years old now, whereas the Royal Society, three hundred and fifty years plus. They had very little money. I knew their new chief executive, who was amazing and had actually interned with me; she could afford me for three days a week. So I went and took a director role at three days a week, which gave me all those experiences and those skills on a senior leadership team, without actually still having two days a week with my daughter. That was amazing and I think that work-life balance was so important for me. I loved the Academy and helping the Academy grow, so I think the sixteen people when I started and then we’re about fifty now. Helping us to get more funding and develop the way we operate, develop our profile. That’s kept me motivated in that role for now twelve years, and I still find it an exciting organisation. We might talk about values later. For me, it’s the values from other organisations. I’ve taken opportunities to do secondments, to do trustee roles, to build up my experience that way as well. I’m going to stop there because, a bit like Susan, I could talk about my job for days!
Host 1: Thank you. Yes, a real diverse range of professional experience and how you all got into your roles now. Really important to note that your motivations, as you know, are a large driving force to know where you’ve come and where you are. I guess you talking about work-life balance, Rachel, it brings me on to the next question about what it’s like to actually work at your organisation. What’s the culture like and what are the values of the organisation? I’ll bring that back round to Susan, if you wouldn’t mind touching on that, please.
Susan Raikes: No, of course not, it’s really important. The Science Museum Group is a great place to work. It’s really ambitious, it’s really far-reaching and it really cares about engaging people with science – not just people who are already predisposed to it – but people who have never studied it at school, aren’t interested, really don’t see its value. That feels like something even more important in the last eighteen months or so; that we’re not about taking our visitors and wanting to turn them all into physicists or whatever, but it is about public understanding and acceptance of scientists and science, and that it’s important. That feels at the moment, as I say, particularly worthwhile. Just picking up on something that Rachel just said; I think it’s important to remember that it’s something someone told me years ago, your job will never love you back but your colleagues might. So work somewhere where people are good to each other. Particularly at the moment where there’s so much change and anxiety in the world and people are changing jobs, and we’ve got loads of vacancies because everyone is changing their whole lifestyle. Actually the values of the organisation, I think, are more important than ever. Museums aren’t particularly great at stating upfront what their values are, but SMG is different. It does have five values that we have published. They’re part of our strategy. I will probably struggle because you get to four and you can’t remember the one that you’ve missed, but I’ll give it a go! So it’s: share authentic stories; think big; reveal wonder; inspire curiosity; and be open for all. The work I do relates to all of those, but we really live them. For example, I am the strategic lead for Open for All which is, along with our director of people and culture, an umbrella term for everything we do on equity, inclusion and diversity. So everything from gender pay gap analysis to providing Changing Places facilities, gender-neutral toilets for our visitors, to how we represent the broadest range of people and ideas in what we do in our exhibitions, in our programming, in our language – everything that we do. It was a hard choice for me to leave my previous job, but one of the reasons I did it was because SMG really lives those values. It sounds ever so cheesy, doesn’t it, but it really does. I’ve worked in lots of places that are a bit, they sound good but when you get there it’s not quite the same under the bonnet as you were expecting. But I think that the work of the organisation and its publicly-stated values are in alignment and I think that’s really, really important.
Host 1: Perfect, thanks Susan, absolutely. Adam?
Adam Moss: Yes, thank you. Obviously DWP, it’s all about helping people, whether they’re towards the end of their life and they’re of a pension age, or they’re starting part of their work life and they need some assistance with work, being able to move into employment because they might’ve been unemployed – forever in some cases – or been made redundant or various things. The core ethos of DWP is around helping. As I say, on a daily basis we help roughly a third of the adult population in the UK. In terms of the organisation itself, culture-wise within the digital space where I work, we’re probably five or six years on a transformation journey which was very much reorientating from basically outsourcing everything to insourcing everything and making a lot of organisational change as part of that. So going away from waterfall-driven contract-type processes to much more agile-based processes; delivering value quickly, delivering value regularly and providing constant iterations so that services can be improved incrementally but significantly over a much quicker period of time. In terms of an example of that, I don’t think you can really get anything better than the furlough scheme that has been in use in this country over the last twelve-to-eighteen months. That was never part of actually policy, that was never on anyone’s radar until it was announced as being required. It just had to be built and delivered to protect the livelihoods of so many people that were impacted by the pandemic. In terms of values, it’s all about that openness, the honesty, the transparency and really working together in a collaborative fashion, not information holding and things like that. If you have a piece of knowledge, sharing it and making sure other people can benefit from it in the most effective way possible. Also not being protective of, you start something off and someone else picks up and runs with it and takes it in a direction you maybe weren’t expecting, or delivers more from it than you’d initially had the idea in your head. So that’s a lot of what we’re about and how we like to do things. I’m not sure there’s a lot more I can say there!
Host 1: No, thank you, that’s great. Lauren, what’s it like to work for Rutherford?
Lauren Evans: The Rutherford is a fairly new company; it’s five years old actually this year. The main ethos of our company is: whatever we do, it’s for the patient benefit. So no matter whether it’s starting off, you want to bring in a new clinical trial – which is turning me grey at the moment to try and get all these new clinical trials into the hospital – or whether it’s actually walking past a patient who’s waiting for their radiotherapy and just having a chat in the waiting room. So it’s instilled in every single member of staff that we are there to help the patient. I think that’s really, really passionate because I’m there mainly driving the research strategy in the group and that’s where I’m focussed. But you see staff coming to you, ‘Well, actually I’ve seen this; can I carry out a small pilot study? Or can I look into investigating this?’ So it’s how research is now being developed in all different sectors within the company. I think what we’ve noticed particularly, obviously we work in the health sector, and when COVID hit unfortunately it did have a really big effect on us. A lot of us had to work from home if we were forward-facing clinical. Obviously we’re oncology so the majority of our patients are immunosuppressed. We had contracts with the NHS as well to help deal with the cancer backlog. So we had to really find new ways of working during the pandemic. What’s extremely gratifying is the feedback that we’ve received from our patients and staff members and NHS engagement groups as well; that actually even with all this chaos going around, people actually liked coming for treatment because there was that normality. They would see all stuff in the media about, we can’t get oncology treatments and can’t get into clinical trials. They’d walk into the Rutherford and actually nothing had changed. So the main values of our company are to have that patient impact and what we can do to help a patient. That drives the majority of our departments, whether it’s coming from me in the research, whether it was the clinical leads. We all have the main focus and that’s really, really what our chief executive is passionate about as well. You’ll hear him talk in numerous social media outlets about the main drivers of the Rutherford.
Host 1: Perfect, yes, of course Lauren, that’s hugely important. The last two years have shown us that I think patient experience is everything to a lot of people when they’re going through these difficult times. Lastly, Rachel, if you wouldn’t mind giving us a sense of what it’s like working for the Academy.
Rachel Quinn: Definitely. I think in our organisation culture has always been top of the list of what we want to maintain. In fact when we recruited a new chief executive a couple of years ago, the senior leadership team was involved in the recruitment and culture was our top question; how will you maintain the culture of the organisation? We’d never actually written it down, so during COVID – about I think actually probably six months into the start of COVID – we got all the staff together to define some values. Then also we added some behaviours as well to that, so I’ve written mine down because, like Susan, I can never get past the three of the five if I’m asked! They very much influence how we work internally but also how we work externally. Striving for excellence; you would expect that given the type of, us being an Academy. Interesting is us having lots of conversations internally and with our fellows about: what does excellence mean and how do we recognise it? How do we recognise it in a different way to get more diverse voices into our fellowship, or more diversity? Evidence based; you’d expect me to say that as a policy person, both evidence based in terms of deciding what schemes we do to support people like you, but also evidence based in our policy. Collaborative; I think that’s probably one of the most important things and that’s what I would say we’re really looking for in new recruits. Many of our events are organised in collaboration partnerships where they increase impact. Also we work across our teams very collaboratively, whether it’s developing our new strategy, our well-being group or just around particular strands of activity. Inclusive: I talked a couple of times about bringing wider voices in. For example a big study we did, we’ve done two studies on COVID winter for the chief scientist and the chief medical officer. We’ve had a patient public panel running alongside that and producing their own reports. Also we’re looking to improve our recruitment so we’re more inclusive from a staff point of view. Like I say, there are so many chances even if you’re a new member of staff. In fact if you’re a new member of staff, you’re particularly put on lots of different cross-Academy groups to bring new voices and new thoughts into how we operate. Then of course integrity, which is linked to our independence. We’ve done some work developing our approach to conflicts of interest and things like that. Then the behaviours, which I think are really important. That’s really what makes a culture as well, I think. The ones that we’ve come up with as staff from the pandemic particularly are: kindness, agility and resilience. I think it is the kindness and the way other staff have your back that builds that resilience; it’s very much a team approach, it’s not silo. Thank you.
Host 1: Thanks Rachel. Thank you all for giving us a sense of your roles and what it’s like to work for your organisation. I’m going to take this opportunity now to pause and open up the floor for questions from any of you. Again just a reminder: you can virtually ask a question, raise your hand or put it into the chat and Eamon will read them out for us. I see we’ve got a few in the chat there.
Host 2: Yes, so I guess we can begin with Marcos, who has a question to all of you. I know people who say that the way to get promotions is to change from one company to another, but I also know people who have been able to grow within a company. I would appreciate any comments on your experience on growing within a company without keeping moving and changing posts. Maybe some comments on how this might change in large versus small organisations.
Host 1: Did you want to take that one, Susan, first?
Susan Raikes: Yes, I can do. I’ve done both, so I’ve been within an organisation and been promoted and I’ve also moved organisation, which has been a promotion. I’m not someone who’s ever chased a promotion; it’s just been a natural step. I have acquired things along the way. I think certainly in my sector, which in some ways is a lot less specialised than some of the other areas, if you are capable and competent and do a good job of one thing, you tend to get other things given to you along the way. But that doesn’t equate to a promotion or a pay rise; it’s usually just something else to do. I’ve always been happy to do that because it’s interesting, it’s a new challenge, so I’ve never really sought promotion. As I said before, I just looked for things that sounded interesting – but I’ve done both. I’ve also been promoted while on maternity leave and all sorts of other things. I think it’s just if it’s the right job and the right organisation for you, to stay or to go, then it doesn’t really make a difference. It’s just about finding the job that you want to do and you feel comfortable with. Obviously if you get paid more or you get a swankier job title then that’s lovely! But that’s certainly not what has motivated me. In some ways it’s more difficult, I have found, to be promoted within an organisation. Some of the ones I’ve worked for, there was one job – I won’t name any names – but an organisation I worked for where they put me through five rounds of interview, I think, to do a job I’d been doing in an acting capacity for about a year, which just made me feel like they thought I was a bit rubbish! They were trying to be fair to everybody and trying to be seen to be fair, but yes, when you’re on the other side of the table and you’re recruiting people, that’s not something I would recommend!
Host 1: No, certainly not! Does anyone else have any experience of this that they want to… Rachel and then Adam?
Rachel Quinn: Yes, I think I just want to say: in small organisations it is difficult sometimes to move up. But the other thing you can get in small organisations quite often is a lot more diversity in experience, especially if you’re prepared to ask for it, or be good enough to be offered it. I have only rarely – because most of my staff are brilliant – but occasionally had staff where they’re just not quite right for the organisation. You can do as much as you can to support them. Or actually they are right for the organisation but not at the level that they think they should be at. I think, a bit like Susan’s example – I’m sure that wasn’t the case in her place – but if you’re in an organisation and you think you’re being taken for granted and you’re not enjoying it, go somewhere else. Don’t sit around annoyed that you’re not being recognised! Actually I completely agree with Susan; it’s really difficult to be promoted internally. There’s always a risk that you get typecast in a particular role. Sometimes actually it’s a case of going and trying something else, being offered a job and coming back to your boss and going, ‘Well, actually I’ve been offered this job; can you match it?’ People will look at you in a new light. So I think there’s no real rule but I think Susan is right; if you don’t feel appreciated and you’re not enjoying it, don’t stay. Life is too short. Again I suppose it’s easy for me to say; I’ve had the luxury of – not that I’m independently wealthy – but I’ve always earned enough to do what I want. I’ve probably got my sights set quite low on salaries, so for me it’s about personal enjoyment. My general rule of thumb is: if you’re fed up, just monitor the situation for about a month. Certainly if you’ve been there and you’ve had enough after six months, definitely time to go.
Host 1: Thanks Rachel. We’ll move on to another question now. Eamon?
Host 2: Yes, we’ve got two similar questions; I’ll ask them together. This one’s specifically for Rachel. I have a broad idea of what a scientist can do when working in science policy. Can I have more details of the day-to-day job, especially at an entry level? Related to that: can you tell us some more about what’s involved day to day in a science policy role? Are there various types of science policy roles? Also what skills, experience, attributes are employers looking for – especially as you said it’s not as easy to get into as it used to be?
Rachel Quinn: Shall I start? I think it’s really interesting because I did a survey of the heads in my organisation as to; have we ever recruited somebody straight from postdoc? The answer is once only. You do really need transferable skills. In policy you’re looking for somebody who’s got an understanding of the policy. What you’ve got in your favour is you’ve got attention to detail, you understand what an evidence base looks like, you understand the kind of community we work with, you know how to access scientific information. That’s great, but I guess what I need is somebody with the interpersonal skills that can influence, so influence somebody to work in partnership with us and keep that relationship going, even when the people you’re working with are quite irritating. Persuading really busy people like Chris Whitty or Patrick Vallance or somebody like that to give up their time to come and work with you, particularly you’ve got to be nice to their PAs. So it’s those interpersonal skills and influencing skills. Then I think we talked about creativity but it’s also about being able to demonstrate initiative and problem-solving. I’ll be completely honest: if you applied with just a postdoc into my team you’d probably want to go in at manager level unless you can show… Staff supervision is quite important as well because we work in very small teams, and nurturing our staff is a really important thing. If you’ve done some voluntary work with a learning society, if you’ve got involved in policy within your university – quite a lot of policy units in universities now – if you have organised events, even just student events, those are the kind of things that you would need to stand out. Essentially, it’s a degree or equivalent-level post to come into policy. You don’t need a PhD, to be honest, and you definitely don’t need a postdoc. I think it’s definitely about those transferable skills. Day to day, it’s really difficult. There’s a lot of events and networking with people and trying to understand what information people need to influence them. There’s a lot of, like I say, working with busy people, managing egos, all of those kind of things, taking good notes. There’s lots of different on-the-ground things. If anyone wants to follow up with email, I’m happy to share some more; otherwise I will talk forever about this!
Host 1: Thanks Rachel – and thank you for saying that we can reach out to you after this; that would be really useful. We’d quite like to open up to the other panellists about skills and experience you’re looking for from the highly-skilled recruits. Also whether you have any experience of recruiting postdocs. I’m going to give this one to Lauren, if you don’t mind.
Lauren Evans: Yes, of course, so our company is fairly small. We’ve got four centres across the UK and we are expanding. We’re always looking to take on highly-motivated people into our department. I think we’re very lucky; Rutherford Innovations is the research and R and D subsidiary of the Cancer Centres, and we’re heading that up. Now, we are looking to build an R and D team and that isn’t just focussing on research and national clinical trials, but also looking at student involvement, student placement. We’ve just got staff involved in mentoring and lecturing both undergrads and postgrad students. We’re in a very special position that we’re growing, we are expanding. With that, we can bring in different people into the company and also have a different way of working. For example as I said, my PhD junior, I went back to the NHS and then went into this role. It’s been very gratifying to be able to carve out this new role. I think our CEO often talks about, he likes disruptive change. So it’s making that purposeful change within your environment to bring out new aims, new objectives. Yes, within our company we really, really do like taking on a broad breadth of skills, researchers, health professionals and clinicians to be able to maintain the aims and objectives of our research culture. I think I saw a question – just quickly – where it mentioned about: within our role am I still able to have a hands-on experience with research? I most definitely am. This is where it answers the question already. Monday, I was in the Cancer Centre and follow-up questionnaires for our prostate radiotherapy patients that I’m writing a paper for. Then Tuesday – yesterday – I was actually in the Centre. One of my research projects is 3D printing tissue-equivalent phantoms to be used in clinical trials and our own in-house research. That was Tuesday, and then this morning, obviously chatting to you guys this afternoon, but this morning: meeting with Welsh Government to talk about the cancer backlog and what we can do to help. Again it’s that really varied job description that we have within the company. Being these smaller companies, we can make it niche, make it novel and scope out what we want to achieve. I think being within the postdoc world, it’s really exciting. Again if you have that passion, you have that drive, you’ll always find the job that you want. Your commitment and dedication will show through to employers.
Host 1: Perfect, thanks Lauren. I’m going to pass on to Adam, if you don’t mind. Technical skills for particular roles at DWP, I imagine they’re very important but what, as Rachel said, transferable skills would you be looking for from highly-skilled recruits?
Adam Moss: Yes, absolutely. For me, when I’m recruiting people – and don’t get me wrong, I started the day this morning doing an interview with someone – I’m actually less worried about the technical skills because I can teach people the technical skills. What is significantly harder to teach people is those interpersonal skills; the communication skills, teambuilding, teamworking. All those sort of things, and a lot of those research skills; stakeholder management, how to talk to people on their level in terms that they understand which, within engineering, we can always get difficulties with. I’m sure everyone here will have experienced it when you’ve gone for IT help somewhere and have a less than enthusiastic conversation as a result! I’m much more interested in that side of things. I think one of the other panellists said: if you’ve done voluntary work, like I myself and a number of colleagues are all voluntary Scout leaders. So you get a very mixed bag of people that you’re dealing with, depending on the age ranges you’re dealing with and that type of scenario. It really helps improve those communication skills not just with the children but with their parents, who obviously have very set expectations of what you’re delivering. Then you’re sat there as a volunteer delivering stuff and not necessarily getting rewarded for it in ways like that. In terms of transferable skills, it’s all around that communication. It’s that ability to work independently but also work as part of a team when it’s appropriate to do so. Have an evidence base, not just be jumping on something because it’s the latest and greatest shiny thing in the trade press, or whatever it happens to be. Really understand the value that it can add to the organisation – and more importantly, the value it would add to the outcomes the organisation is seeking to achieve.
Host 1: Perfect, thanks Adam. Susan, do you have anything to add to what’s been said so far?
Susan Raikes: Not very much. I think there are so many different kinds of roles in a museum, so for example we are advertising for some postdocs at the moment. We’ve got some vacancies on a new AHRC project which is looking at how AI can be used to link up different collections from different museums. So people can access that sort of information collectively rather than having to dive into knowing where to find it. We’ve got those kind of roles, but then also I have entry-level roles in my team for explainers who work on the ground with our visitors. For those, you don’t have to have any qualifications whatsoever. You can have left school with absolutely nothing; as long as you are willing to be trained up in what we do and how we do it and you feel comfortable talking to people, then we can give you everything else. I think really all of those kind of roles, we just ask for openness, good communication, a willingness to get stuck in and to do the best that you can do and sign up to our values and what we’re doing. That goes from the most junior staff right up into the executive team that I’m part of. It’s very much about getting stuck in and seeing where you can add value.
Host 1: Perfect, thanks Susan. Are there any more questions that have come through, Eamon?
Host 2: The other question we had – which one of the panel members answered but not the other ones – was… Where is it? Sorry. It came from Alessandra: I have the impression you all have high-level leadership jobs. Do you miss doing research or doing a job that has direct application, for example producing material in the museum instead of managing a large group of people?
Host 1: Do you want to take that one, Susan?
Susan Raikes: Yes, I like to keep my hand in. I don’t dress as Anne of Cleves any more; I don’t think the Science Museum would like that too much! The weekends, over the summer for example I spent time in our interactive galleries; I worked as an explainer. I did a number of shifts in our early years gallery as well. It’s important to remember what’s happening on the ground, but also it’s part of being a leader that you understand what’s happening day to day for people on the ground. We all try to keep our hand in. In various other jobs that I’ve had, I’ve also curated exhibitions, I’ve written books, I’ve done all sorts of other things that opportunities have come along to be creative – which is really important for me. Yes, I’ve been very lucky that I can do that, but I do make a concerted effort to, when there’s an email about, ‘We need some extra pairs of hands to help with X event’, I’m always first to sign up. I’m not entirely sure that my teams always are very pleased about that, but I’m always there!
Host 1: Lovely! Do you agree with that, Rachel; is that your experience as well?
Rachel Quinn: Sorry, I was answering another question in the chat.
Host 1: No, that’s fine.
Rachel Quinn: In terms of keeping my hand in?
Host 1: Yes.
Rachel Quinn: Yes, because of course I left research quite a long time ago. I think for me, I’m really privileged in that I get to just find out about all the really exciting cutting-edge research that’s going on as well as seeing its direct application. That’s where I get my buzz, so actually every time I talk to researchers about their research challenges and journey, I’m thankful that I’m not doing research! So I’m probably the opposite.
Host 1: Of course, and I’ve seen just another question come into the chat that’s for you specifically, Lauren. I’ll just read this one out. It’s from Zora: would you say all the Rutherford sites offer opportunities for research as a non-clinically-trained researcher?
Lauren Evans: Yes, so actually as part of the Rutherford we’re sponsoring a number of PhDs. We’ve got NDAs and collaboration agreements with numerous universities that are linked across our network of cancer centres. For example we’re sponsoring one; I think it’s a PhD looking at the scaffolding of tumour cells. Then you go to another university and we’re sponsoring a health economics study review. As long as it falls into our remit – and I head up the group scientific forum, so that’s the panel at the level that decides what we fund, what research we actively engage in. As long as it meets the criteria of the GSF and we discuss it, yes, we very rarely say no to some research ideas if we can help out. As well, we’re really passionate about increasing the knowledge field about proton beam therapy, especially in the UK. The majority of our research projects, whether it’s small-scale pilot studies or full PhD studies, we’re really actively involved with. If you’d like to contact me, please feel free, Chantel, to give out my email address. I’m more than happy to discuss further.
Host 1: Perfect, thanks Lauren, that would be great. I think we have time for one more question and something has just popped up in the chat. Rachel mentioned that she always asks about career plans when she is interviewing. Assuming someone has the skills you need, what is it about having or not having a career plan that you think is important? I guess you did answer it in the chat, Rachel, but maybe you want to…
Rachel Quinn: Yes, I should’ve clarified as well: we say, ‘What are your career plans and how does this role fit in with it?’ It’s the latter bit really; it’s just about looking at people’s motivations for applying for the role, and whether we think we can fulfil that. I’m thinking we might phase that out and just be a bit more open about what we mean! Most of the interview questions, there’s actually no wrong answer and we don’t have any questions like, ‘What would you be if you were a biscuit?’ They’re all fairly basic questions. What we’re doing is just trying to understand; why do you want to come to us? What transferable skills do you have? I expect everybody would say honestly, ‘What’s your fit to the team? How will you fit in with the team?’
Host 1: Thank you. I thought I’d just turn it over to you, Adam, for our last question; whether you have any thoughts about what you’re looking for when you interview people. Do you like to see that they have a career plan, for example?
Adam Moss: I’m less bothered about them having an end-to-end career plan and more, as Rachel said, knowing why they’re applying for the role and what it is that motivates them about that particular role. I am interested in people that are not afraid to fail at it as well. They can learn from any failures that they do have, and that they’re open and transparent about things that maybe didn’t go as well as they necessarily expected. It’s really around, as I say, it is that motivation piece: what is it they want to get out of it? What is it that they think that they can offer? Then between the two of us, you come to a happy agreement of: actually that is going to be a really good fit. They’re the main things I would be looking for.
Host 1: Perfect, that’s great, thank you. Unfortunately that’s all we have time for, for this session. We could certainly talk a lot longer – and there are certainly more things that I would like to know. That leaves me to say a huge thank you to Susan, Adam, Lauren and Rachel for joining us, giving us your time and providing input. We really appreciate your support and your reflections, so take care everyone and have a good rest of your afternoon. Thank you.
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