September 21, 2015

Lessons from Naturejobs Career Expo conference

Follow-up to Naturejobs Career Expo 2015 from CES PHD Support Group

Last week, I went to Naturejobs the Career Expo. Here are three lessons I took from the accompanying conference:

An excellent panel discussion

I attended an excellent panel discussion on “Careers in academia: the variety” with Chairperson : Anna Price, Queen Mary University of London; Speakers : Frances Ashcroft, University of Oxford; James Hadfield, CRI; Frederique Guesdon, University of London; Lisa Fox, Institute of Cancer Research.

Among the speakers was Dame Professor Frances Ashcroft from Oxford University who gave us an intimate peek at her life as a student then researcher and world-renowned public speaker.

After the discussion I asked Professor Ashcroft about publishing in prestigious journals. According to her, she managed to publish in Nature and in Science at the start of her academic career! I was naturally impressed. Especially when she was honest enough to say that she didn’t have much to publish about when she finished her PhD. In fact, she claimed that all her experiments were “a disaster” and that her results were contradicting her assumptions! So I asked her to explain how in the world was she able to publish in such highly esteemed journals when apparently her experiments were such failures? Here’s what she had to say.

How to get published

Prof. AshcroftThe secret to publishing is threefold, persistence, collaboration and timing. The most important amongst the three is persistence. Professor Ashcroft found herself lost after submitting her PhD. She knew she had to get published in the most prestigious journal she could gain access to but she didn’t have the proper results to do so. So she applied tor a postdoc position and focused her entire time to getting that first publication. During her postdoc she replicated her experiments and again the results weren’t ideal but that didn’t stop her, she collaborated with another postdoc in her field and managed to get a paper published out of this it. Once the first paper was published her second was significantly easier. Three decades later and she has some 400 publications in her name.

The secret to publishing is threefold; persistence, collaboration and timing

Professor Ashcroft is a Royal Society GlaxoSmithKline Research Professor at the University Laboratory of Physiology at the University of Oxford. She is a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford and is a director of the Oxford Centre for Gene Function. She is also a Fellow of the Royal Society and has numerous honours and awards to her name, the chief among which having been appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) 'for services to Medical Science and the Public Understanding of Science' in the 2015 Queen's Birthday Honours.

When answering me about the secret of her gaining access to world-renowned journals she admitted that a bit of luck and lot of hard work can go along way. She said that back in 1978 (when she had her PhD) it was relatively easier to get published in journals such as Nature, but that doesn't mean that everyone who submitted their paper were accepted. She still had to work hard and present her results in he best way she knew how.

Read more about Professor Ashcroft at University of Oxford, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics

Photo is Professor Ashcroft courtesy of www.voicesfromoxford.org

From Academia to Industry

Jones during presentationI also attended the keynote speech which was about leaving academia into the industry. The speech was titles: “Escaping the Ivory Tower - how I left academia and got a proper job”. The speaker was Phill Jones, PhD.

According to nature.com:

Phill Jones is Head of Publisher Outreach at Digital Science. He has spent much of his current career working on projects intended to accelerate science through improved scholarly communication. He moved to his current position from ReadCube in 2014, where he worked as VP of Business Development. Prior to that he built the editorial department at Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) as their first Editorial Director. Phill is a member of a number of publishing industry committees including the STM association early career publishing committee and tech trends executive board.

What Mr Jones was focusing on convening is that we as researchers get lost in our own research world and forget to think the next step after fishing our current project. Be it a PhD thesis, an MSc project, a research paper … etc, we need to learn to keep an eye on the job market or the “industry” as well as doing our research. His recommendations included advising graduate students to look for a job before starting the writing up of their theses.

Don’t get consumed by your research and keep an eye on the industry

Read more about Mr Jones at digital-science.com

keynote speech


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