Transferable Skills

Quick summary of some great hints on how to frame your PhD skills for non-academic job applications thanks to a Twitter thread from @preranasabris

1. Communication - You are extensively trained in oral presentation & writing. Data visualisation and condensing information with all the details is a valued skill set! And also at listening & improving based on feedback. Also writing in different styles - from very technical to understandable to public/lay.

2. Teamwork & individuality - You have experience with collaborations, work delegation, conflict management. But as a single player, you can also handle large projects, with minimal supervision.

3. Critical thinking - You have great problem solving, reasoning, and analytical skills. You have experience coming up with creative solutions to problems on a daily basis.

4. Ethics - You have a good grasp of how to maintain confidentiality.

5. Computer - You are well versed with the basic Microsoft Office software (or equivalent). But also with languages like R, Python, etc. Data visualisation. You know how to interrogate search engines and efficiently store and manage results.

6. Other - You are organized, flexible, self-motivated, social media savvy, quick to learn new skills, growth mindset.

7. A big one if you're considering consulting is being able to find, read, and synthesize information quickly. We read so many papers and go to talks outside that we need to pull out the important parts quickly.

8. Project management - you know how to plan a project with milestones and timelines, and deliver it from start to finish. Maybe even consider doing a short training course and getting a certificate.

and you can also check out: “An evidence-based evaluation of transferrable skills and job satisfaction for science PhDs.” Sinche M, et al. PLoS One. 2017. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185023 PMID 28931079

The Elevator Pitch


As part of my Twitter takeover for the @IAmSciComm account recently I talked about the “Elevator Pitch” and how to communicate the importance of your science quickly and to a(n often) lay audience. If you’re not sure why you should spend time on your elevator pitch remember that networking is a huge part of science, getting your audience excited about your work can lead to collaborations, new opportunities and funding!

So here is a summary of what we discussed:

You may already know that much of my research is focused on genetics and disease - whether its rare diseases such as muscular dystrophy and cardiomyopathy, or heart function measures such as the ECG. They can be fairly easily related to problems that society can understand are important, but it can be harder when you’re trying to convince someone of the importance of your “basic” research question.

Sometimes the easiest place to start is to focus on why you became interested in the problem/question - if it got your attention maybe it will work for others too.

But what if there is no obvious “real world” application for your work just yet ... well then your first task might be to highlight how fundamental discoveries have led to important applications that can impact society - one example might be the identification of CRISPR sequences in bacteria. Most people have now heard of “gene editing” and “molecular scissors” or CRISPR-Cas9.

Although you may start with these examples of how fundamental research has led to great things, be careful not to claim too much of your own work just yet because of course often we don’t know what will come of our work at such an early stage.

What you can be sure of is that through your research you will collect information about how the world works and this will increase our knowledge allowing future work to build upon this, and this could in turn lead to important discoveries that impact society. A great example is the editorial written in Science Magazine in 1989 when the Cystic Fibrosis Gene was first identified:

The Cystic Fibrosis Gene Story  BY DANIEL E. KOSHLAND JR.  SCIENCE 08 SEP 1989 : 1029

The Cystic Fibrosis Gene Story


SCIENCE 08 SEP 1989 : 1029

So lets say now that you’re ready to put together your elevator pitch - well it’s a good idea to make note of who your target audience is. Whilst the approach is similar you may for example use more technical language if talking to a scientific audience.

If you’re thinking of how to break it down start with the ‘problem or question’ - again this is where your audience matters because you want them to see this problem/question as being relevant to them too.

1. Know your audience & what motivates them,

2. Link this to the big picture of what you’re working on,

3. Tell them what’s innovative about your work/how it’s trying to address the big problem,

4. Talk about the impact of your work & who will be the first to benefit.

And remember you’re not aiming to tell them everything, you just want to spark their interest enough that they will ask questions to find out more! ...and why not use your Elevator Pitch as an intro when presenting a poster at your next conference, or if you use Twitter use it to summarise your latest paper.

Most importantly keep in mind that you won’t be great straight away - it takes time and effort to find the best way to get your message across, so don’t give up, and remember to keep practicing!

(NB it’s also worth mentioning that not everyone will be interested in your research question however great your elevator pitch is - so don’t worry if you leave some people unenthused!)

Summer Studentships/Internships

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

An internship is a fab way to get experience in a professional setting and can help you decide whether or not to go down a particular career path. They can last anywhere between 1-12 weeks and usually take place in the summer before your final undergraduate year. There are lots of opportunities in academia and industry for STEM placements, you just need to know where to look. There are several schemes which offer a stipend which is great, but don’t let lack of funding put you off as the experience may well pay off in the long run. Also, many universities will have studentships available so always start your search there!

Remember many of these programmes are competitive so you will most likely have to apply to more than one.

There are also longer term “work placements” offered usually in an industry setting. Companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Wellcome Trust, Unilever and Johnson and Johnson all provide opportunities.

So to help you find the perfect opportunity I’ve put together a list of placements that you can apply for (and keep a look out for the Genetics Studentship that I have advertised on my Vacancies page).

Wellcome Trust : You’ll get to work on real projects and earn a salary of £2,856 (£18,564 FTE), and the internships last for 8 weeks.

Francis Crick : This is a 9 week programme and includes a salary that meets the London living wage to cover living and travel costs during the placement. Deadline for 2019: 12noon (GMT), Thursday 07 February 2019.

The Sanger : These are offered for three months between June and September and pay you a salary of £1258 per month. They also have a Sandwich Placement Scheme for longer internships.

MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (MRC LMS) : provides intensive laboratory research experience and science communication experience to undergraduate students in the biological and clinical sciences.

MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology : you’ll find a helpful list of supervisors looking to host a student on the summer studentship page.

The John Innes Centre : have an Undergraduate Summer School where you will spend 8 weeks at the Norwich Research Park institutes; The Sainsbury Laboratory and The Earlham Institute.

Physiological Society : current deadline 17 February 2019. Students can complete any kind of research project, providing it is hypothesis-driven and requires data collection and analytical skills. In addition to traditional ‘wet’ lab-based research, the scope for these projects could also include data analysis projects or education/science communication research. There is funding of up to £200/week for up to 8 weeks. Students must be an Undergraduate Member of The Society (or have submitted an application for Undergraduate membership) at the time of application and their supervisor either a Full Member or Affiliate, with support from a Full Member. Each supervisor is permitted to apply with one student only.

Genetics Society : The studentship comprises: up to £750 to cover justifiable expenses incurred by the host laboratory & £200/week for up to 8 weeks to cover student subsistence during the studentship. Applications are made by the Project Supervisor, and both supervisor and named student must be members of the Genetics Society.

Biochemical Society : Grants are available for stipends of £200 per week for 6 – 8 weeks, and up to £1,600 in total, to support an undergraduate student to carry out a summer lab placement. The deadline for applications is 22 February 2019.

Lister Institute Summer Studentships : The scheme provides a total of £2,000 (notionally at £200 per week for the students’ accommodation and similar expenses) that is paid prior to the commencement of the studentship. To obtain the full amount of £2,000 the studentship must be held for a minimum of 6 weeks and a maximum of 10 weeks.

BSDB - British Society for Developmental Biology - deadline March.

BBSRC Research experience placements : For up to 10 weeks with a value of £2500 to cover a minimum stipend of £200 per week for the student and a contribution to research expenses during the placement.

Animal Free Research UK : Duration: 8 weeks; Stipend: £180/week; Consumables: up to £500. Projects must show the potential to replace any regulated animal experiments in the UK and be completed by 31st August. Summer Student Programme includes a 3-day Summer School in August, where students will receive careers guidance and training in science communication. Opens for applications 1st Feb 2019.

Jackson Laboratory : This one is further afield but perfect for students who want to immerse themselves in genetics and genomics research. The Summer Student Program is available at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine and The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Connecticut.

Industrial Placements:

Glaxo Smithkline

Astra Zeneca

Merck, Sharp and Dohme




Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals

What else can I do with a PhD?

Photo by  MD Duran  on  Unsplash

Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash

Whilst there seems to be lots of information out there on possible science paths post A-level, or early career info for PhD students wanting to go down the academic route, I wanted to put together a series of job profiles highlighting what you can do with a PhD outside academia whatever your level. Important questions I had included how much you get paid ;-) , what they actually involved on a day to day basis, and how people found out where to apply for these jobs.

I hope you will find them useful! You can check out the list of profiles which I will update with others as I receive them here…..Career Profiles

Research Scientist/R&D

Medical Science Liaison

Medical/Technical Writing

Data Scientist/Programming


Regulatory Affairs

Project Management

Also check out the Transferable Skills post (September 2019) for some advice on what skills you can highlight in your non-academic CV!

Conferences and funding opportunities

I came across this nice article in Science by Elizabeth Pain which is full of suggestions on how to make the most of a conference/meeting. Click here to go to the site direct.



and here are some links to Travel Grants that might help you get to some of these conferences! Some of them require that you are a member of the society but generally they aren’t too expensive to join. Just be aware you may have needed to be a member for a prescribed period of time before becoming eligible to apply - so think about joining a relevant society sooner rather than later ;-)

General Travel Grant from the Biochemical Society

Genetics Society Junior Scientist Conference Grants

The Company of Biologists Conference Travel Grants (N.B. They also offer Travelling Fellowships for collaborative visits to another lab).

The Royal Society of Biology offers two types of travel grant of £500 every year to members worldwide one for student Affiliates and the other for Early Career members.

British Society for Cell Biology - these are sponsored by the Company of Biologists and they provide financial support for BSCB members at the beginning of their research careers to attend meetings and courses. Awards will be up to £400 for travel within the UK (except for BSCB Spring Meeting for which the full registration and accommodation costs will be made), up to £500 for travel within European and up to £750 for meetings and courses in the rest of the world.

The British Pharmacological Society allows members to apply for a bursary to attend or present at pharmacology related events. It can also help cover caring costs associated with attending their meetings and events.

Nature Research offers travel grants to three promising researchers per year travel to an international scientific meeting of their choice that they would otherwise have not been able to attend due to a lack of funds. Three grants, each of €2,500, are available to to early career scientists whose research is focused upon one of the three subject areas covered by the journals (Biology, Chemistry, Physics).

Bio-Techne offer a monthly travel grant to the meeting of your choice - you apply by filling out a survey and at the end of each month they select 1 recipient for a $1000 travel grant.

The Royal Society - this ones for ECRs (i.e. must have a PhD) - available for travel to/from all countries outside the UK. The funding available is dependent upon the length of the visit. Applicants may request:

  • up to of £3,000 for one-off travel lasting up to 3 months

  • up to £6000 for multiple visits to be completed within 1 year (including a maximum of £1000 for research expenses)

  • up to £12,000 for multiple visits to be completed within 2 years and cost share projects fixed at 2 years (including a maximum of £2000 for research expenses)

BSDB - British Society for Developmental Biology - BSDB Conference Grants are available to cover registration and accommodation costs to attend BSDB-sponsored meetings. They are open to all BSDB members.

Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds awards Travel Grants to junior researchers who are currently conducting an experimental project in basic biomedical research and wish to pursue a short-term research stay or attend a practical course of up to 3 months.

Society for Reproduction and Fertility - SRF members are eligible to apply to the Society for financial support to attend conferences and meetings relevant to the fields of reproductive biology and fertility.

EMBO has a number of funding opportunities for young scientists that include lab visits and travel grants.

eLIFE - if you’ve authored/co-authored a paper here and a postdoc with up to five years of active research experience, you can apply for funding of up to $1,000 to support your costs of travelling to and participating in a conference.

The Galton Institute provides funding (up to £6,000) for post docs in the field of genetics to travel for up to 6 months to learn a new technique not available in their current lab.

The Leverhulme Trust has a grant for students to study or undertake research at a centre of learning in any country except the UK or USA (students receive a basic annual maintenance allowance of £21,000) and studentships are tenable for between 12 and 24 months.

British Society for Immunology supports the travel costs for members who wish to attend meetings and congresses, both domestic and international; or, for example, those who wish to visit laboratories for specific short-term activities, such as collaborative research, or in order to learn new techniques.

Society for Endocrinology have a fund for members attending endocrine meetings or conferences in which they have acceptance of an abstract. Members may apply for two Travel Grants per year: UK-based members may apply for a grant up to £600 to attend SfE BES and in addition, up to £750 for an overseas conference in Europe, or up to £850 for an overseas conference in the rest of the world.

Writing your (first) Paper

Ten simple rules for structuring your paper

If you’re wondering how to go about writing a paper then this overview by Brett Mensh and Konrad Kording might be just the thing for you! Originally published in PLoS Computational Biology but applicable to all papers. You can read the full text of the article here and you’ll find a few snippets below :-)


General rules

Rule 1: Focus your paper on a central contribution, which you communicate in the title

Rule 2: Write for flesh-and-blood human beings who do not know your work

Rule 3: Stick to the context-content-conclusion (C-C-C) scheme

Rule 4: Optimize your logical flow by avoiding zig-zag and using parallelism

The components of a paper

Rule 5: Tell a complete story in the abstract

Rule 6: Communicate why the paper matters in the introduction

Rule 7: Deliver the results as a sequence of statements, supported by figures,that connect logically to support the central contribution

Rule 8: Discuss how the gap was filled, the limitations of the interpretation, and the relevance to the field


Rule 9: Allocate time where it matters:Title, abstract, figures, and outlining

Rule 10: Get feedback to reduce, reuse, and recycle the story