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Dr Hannah Roberts

Details of PhD

Chemistry, The University of Manchester, 2011. 

Years spent as a postdoc

2 years at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, UK. 

Current position

Career Coach, Breakthrough Talent & Skills Ltd. 

Job highlight

The absolute highlight of my job is being able to see visibly the difference I’m making on a daily basis and using my natural talents to do that. 

Case study conducted

June 2020. 

What’s your background? 

I have a 1st class MChem (hons), PhD in Organometallic Chemistry and spent 2 years as a postdoc in Biotechnology at the University of Manchester. During my first postdoc I fell pregnant and wanted to return part-time, so I moved into project and grants management to provide me with that flexibility. 

During the subsequent 5 years, I managed large multimillion-pound projects between academics and industry and commercialised that research. As part of the commercialisation, I started a spin-out company, Bio-Shape Ltd. with 3 other academics from the University of Manchester and the University of Liverpool. I was Managing Director of that company for 2 years. During this time, I also had 2 more children. 

Why did you move beyond academia? 

In total, I spent 8 years in academic project management (minus 3 maternity leaves). This post provided me with the stability I needed during that time to enable me to complete our family. When I was on maternity leave with my 3rd (and final) baby, I knew that I had pushed the boundaries of my role as far as they could go: this was the moment to make a career change, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. 

Then, 12 weeks into my maternity leave, my Dad had a huge heart attack. He is only alive thanks to the amazing work of the NHS. This experience really left me questioning what impact I was making in the world and the legacy I was leaving. 

Whilst in scientific project management I knew that by commercialising the research I was helping millions of people. The problem was that I couldn’t see or feel the difference I was making. I felt very detached from that. I knew that in the next phase of my career, I needed to see the impact of my work visibly in order to feel fulfilled. 

I had already received business coaching as part of my professional development in Bio-Shape Ltd. and it had massively boosted my confidence, enabling me to move beyond imposter syndrome. I then invested in a couple of personal development courses from One of ManyTM. The archetype of “Superwoman” really resonated with me. That need to do more, be more and achieve. 

I found the tools I learnt so transformational and profound that I spent 18 months training to be a certified One of ManyTM life coach with a particular speciality in career coaching. 

Often, we take the next obvious step in our careers based on our qualifications and expertise. Sometimes, we make snap decisions to move away from a situation without taking the time to map out what we are moving towards. 

Through my coaching techniques, leadership and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)-based tools, I help women with a background in science to get to the core of the challenges they are facing. We release the thoughts, beliefs and emotions keeping you stuck. 

By really understanding your own value, natural talents and connecting with what you care about the most; you can use that as the impetus to change your corner of the world. 

How did being a postdoc prepare you for your current job? 

My analytical skills have been invaluable in coaching. I use questioning and profiling tools to gain evidence towards a theory (how I can best help my client). During the sessions, I assimilate that information to help drive the direction for my client in order to get them the outcome they need to move forwards. 

I also use these skills to find patterns in the data, a process which is crucial to help clients move beyond their anxieties and self-doubts. 

One of the things about starting your own business is that everything needs a system and a process to make it run smoothly. Often, you need to adopt new technology. I am able to do this quickly without worrying about the complexities. During my PhD and postdoc, I used a lot of different spectroscopic instruments and had to learn quickly how to get them up and running. It feels much the same here. Because of my experiences, I’m not daunted by that at all. 

Planning is another skill which is often overlooked but without which, my business would have little momentum. As a scientist, you take a scientific question, map it out into a research project and then break that down into key milestones you need to be hitting to get you there. From that point, you focus in on a fine level quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily plan. 

I use a similar process in my business. Just like in science, not everything works. I’m able to take those set-backs, re-set and adjust the plan and learn from those challenges. 

What were the first few weeks of being in your new role like?

Starting a new business is very much like starting a new postdoc. At the beginning, literally everything is new. There’s no system or process, you have to figure it all out. Now that all of these business and coaching processes are in place, everything runs smoothly. I can now concentrate on the delivery to my clients, enjoying what I have built and the impact it is having. 

Can you describe a typical week in your job? 

A typical week (pre-Covid-19) was working in and on my business Monday-Wednesday plus 4 evenings a week coaching, and spending Thursday and Friday with my daughter, who is 2. Due to Covid-19 my schedule has changed somewhat with 3 children at home. Most days have a very similar structure: 

6:00-7:00 Project work. 

7:00-8:00 Marketing. 

12:00-13:00 Consultation calls for new clients. 

14:00-16:00 Business development/delivering skills training. 

19:30-21:00 Coaching. 

21:00-21:30 Marketing. 

Is there anything you miss about academia? 

The people. I miss having other people to bounce ideas off and working as a team. Often, I would be the person to create something from scratch and I valued getting feedback from my colleagues. I have joined specific business networks and programmes to help me get a similar type of support. 

How would you describe yourself now?

As a postdoc, I would have described myself as Superwoman, seen as competent and the go-to person to get things done, running at 200 mph, pushing to prove myself, very concerned about other people’s opinion of me and lacking in confidence. 

I ruminated upon thoughts and conversations constantly, hated confrontation and lacked vision and direction. I also had developed a specific fear around public speaking and would avoid those opportunities at all costs. 

I am really proud of who I’ve become. I show up very differently in the world today. Through personal development and being coached, I’ve shed those patterns of behaviour and the armour I used to get through the day. 

I feel comfortable and confident in who I am and certain of my place in the world. I have done the work to discover my natural talents and capabilities and aligned them with where I feel I can make the biggest impact. I have freedom and I’m happy. 

What advice would you give to a fellow postdoc if they are considering a career beyond academia? 

Often, we take the next obvious step in our careers based on our qualifications and expertise. Sometimes, we make snap decisions to move away from a situation without taking the time to map out what we are moving towards and how that will give us fulfilment. 

By getting clear on your vision, purpose, mission, values and natural talents and capabilities, the next breadcrumb steps will become obvious. You will know deeply where you can add value in a way that lights you up. 

However, we want to make decisions free from fear, so if you recognise imposter syndrome in yourself, or know that you have developed habits that are not serving you, do the personal development work to get to the core of it so that you can make powerful decisions about your future. 

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