Guest blogger Avika Ruparell describes her experience of working for industry following her PhD
I finished a PhD in molecular microbiology at The University of Nottingham at the end of last year and I’ve been working as a microbiologist for Unilever for just over 4 months now. In between the post-thesis submission and viva, I was hopeful of a post-doctoral opportunity abroad, but that fell through and I went through a period of unsuccessful job hunting.
Fortunately, at the beginning of the year I started working for my PhD supervisor, but this was only temporary. So the search for something more longer term continued.
I applied for a multitude of jobs, anything which took my fancy, and for which I had a relatively good number of skills on my CV. I had a few of interviews, but most went for someone with more experience. How was I supposed to get any when nobody would give me the chance?!
Eventually I got a temporary contract with Unilever and grabbed it with both hands; some might say I “sold my soul to the devil”, but I took the first opportunity. I didn’t want to be unemployed, especially in the current times and I saw it as a positive career move.
At first glance, working for a huge commercial company seemed glamorous! Compared to the academic setting of my PhD, the financial resource is incredible! During my PhD, ordering a chemical or enzyme was never an issue. In fact, the bulk of my data came from LC-MS experiments and I had lots of opportunities to go to conferences, even one in Australia, so it was never classed a “poor” experience.
However, from what I’ve seen at Unilever, the industrial setting really is a completely different world. Facilities, for example: I was used to filling 96-well plates with media with a multi-channel pipette, but now there was a machine to do it all for me in a matter of seconds! Then the use of robots takes things a giant step further! All the sophisticated equipment is of course down to greater demand and so the work is much higher throughput. There is also an additional concern of work-related injuries; anything serious could damage the company, financially and reputably.
Working within the bioscience department, my work is spread over several product areas, with oral care projects being the main focus, but small aspects of laundry and deodorant are also involved. So far I’ve been carrying out a multitude of microbiological assays to determine the effectiveness of new possible formulations. New to me, this has involved some processing of samples from clinical trials and even the chance to get involved, with contact to consumers – something I’ve really enjoyed, not to mention getting additional skills on my CV.
Being about halfway through my contract, I am starting to think about the job hunting process once again. Permanent positions here appear to be extremely rare, and temporary contract extensions, less so, but the notification period often being a month to the end. Saying that, I’m currently unsure; if I was proposed either option, would I want to stay? The prospect of a permanent post is attractive when compared to an academic post-doctoral contract. On the negative side, my discussions with others have revealed an employee’s project focus can be changed overtime, depending simply on the direction the business wants to take. The positives and negatives are something which I need to consider further and then decide, together with the opportunities that come along, where and what I’ll be doing in 2013.