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Monday, 17 August 2015

Career Guest Post; Working in Science / Research

Name: Louise

Industry: Science/research 

Job Title: PhD candidate 

Brief description of job role and industry:

 I work in a university research lab as part of my PhD studies. A PhD or Doctor of Philosophy is a postgraduate academic degree. I received a scholarship for four years to research Biocontrol and at the end of my research I will present my findings in a thesis that is reviewed by a doctoral committee and also publications in peer reviewed journals. So in essence I am still a student, but in reality it is like a full time job, one that I am very lucky to get paid to do. 

An average day consists of:

There honestly is no average day; in terms of working hours and type of work, the nature of research makes it very variable. In the winter most days are spent indoors in the lab working on anything from the insect immune system to large scale production of fungus. There is also modules and training courses on learning new techniques and new machinery. During term time I demonstrate undergraduate labs, so some days I will be helping students learn useful lab techniques or correcting stacks of their assignments. In the summer because the goal of my research is improving biocontrol in forestry I spent a lot of time outdoors. I'll drive all around Ireland visiting different forests to carry out research. This is one of my favourite parts of my work, getting to visit beautiful mountains, forests and bogs, enjoy lunch in the sunshine or if it's raining a drive through Mc Donald's does the trick. 

Career progression:

In science there is so many different areas you can specialise in so there is huge range in how your career might progress from undergraduate level onwards. After getting your degree there are many avenues available to you: a masters to specialise your knowledge, a PhD to begin you on the path of academic research, a higher diploma in teaching to become a secondary school teacher to name a few options. If future study doesn't interest you, many people go directly into working in research, in settings like pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies, and hospital laboratories.  Where you can go after your undergraduate degree is varied but your level of experience and area of specialisation will influence that. If like me you decide to do a PhD, next up might be post doctoral research positions with the goal of becoming a lecturer or running your own lab. Equally you might decide to go into industry instead of staying in academia. 

Qualifications/experience required:

In my case I completed a degree in Biology and went straight into my PhD but this really varies from country to country and university. In some instances you need to first get a masters before pursuing a PhD but that isn't the case in Ireland. To do a PhD here you need to gain a first class honours or high second class honours degree in a relevant field, you may also need experience as securing PhD funding is very competitive. PhDs positions are sometimes advertised fully funded or funding can be applied for by the student and supervisor together. 

Best tip to crack the industry:

Study REALLY hard, it's a competitive field and having good exam results will definitely help you if your looking for postgraduate funding or jobs following graduation. Experience is also very important, there will be huge numbers of people with the same qualification so experience will help you stand out. Funded undergraduate summer experience is rare but sometimes it's available so approach lecturers who's research you admire to ask about it. Volunteering for free is also very common and a great way of getting your foot in the door.

Best thing about my job:

Getting to do a PhD is an amazing opportunity, I get to gain an education and also pay my rent at the same time! The work is incredibly varied so I've gotten  to gather a huge skill set of both science specific and also transferable skills. There is the opportunity to travel to conferences and labs in different countries, I got to visit America for the first time which was so much fun. Of course I've got to work with brilliant hilarious people and make great friends while bonding over the nightmare of failed experiments.

Worst thing about my job:

The hardest part of my job is that what I'm doing everyday is an experiment, I don't know going in each day if I'll make a breakthrough or fall flat on my face. Sometimes that uncertainty makes the job exciting and sometimes it can be disheartening. If it gets disheartening I just have to shake it off, try again and remember it's not a failure if you can learn something from it. That and chocolate always helps!



  1. Great post about the ups and downs of a PhD! I'm doing my PhD in Biochemistry so I can relate to all of this, except I often work underground with no natural light at all, let alone fresh air ;) best of luck with the rest of your PhD!
    Sophie x

  2. I am seriously considering doing a PhD right now. I'm just about to start my Masters in Chemistry and this is a really good insight into what it will be like. I can imagine that it could get frustrating but if you did make a discovery it would all be worth it. Good luck!

    Rachael at


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