Ask the professionals: kick-starting your career

Are you a scientist just taking your first steps into your clinical career?  Wondering if there’s anything you need to know before starting? We got you covered.

A couple of weeks ago, we attended the Festival of Genomics in London, a two-day event, filled with insightful talks about current issues and breakthroughs in the field. Instead of giving you a rundown of all the talks we attended, Jes and I decided to seize the opportunity of so many accomplished scientists being in the same place and get some pieces of science wisdom from them, to share with you.

We started this blog to create a platform for trainees to share their experiences and give guidance to anyone interested in a career in clinical science. After spending a lot of time writing about different specialisms and application tips we thought it would be a good idea to write something that might be useful for people coming to the end of their training or just starting out in a clinical scientist post.

We decided to ask everyone the same two questions:

  • What advice would you give scientists just starting their career?
  • What’s the one thing you wish you knew/did when you first started your career?

In a way, we overcame our fears of public speaking and managed to talk to six scientists from different aspects of healthcare and science. Read below to find out what advice they gave us.


Angela Douglas

What advice would you give scientists just starting their career?

The advice I would give new scientists is, get into genomics!! Honestly, now is the time- it is the most exciting thing that is happening in science. And not only is it an exciting science to be in, but also so altruistic because the work that you will be doing in genomics really does benefit patients. So if you want to work in a caring environment, either become a bioinformatician or a genomic scientist. That’s the way to go.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew/did when you first started your career?

Don’t listen to your teachers! My chemistry teacher told my mother, that I would never aspire to anything in science and I should think about being a scientist.


Philippa May

What advice would you give scientists just starting their career?

Whilst you’re training, say yes to as many opportunities as you can because you don’t get them nearly as often once you specialise; try things, visit places, talk to people from new disciplines.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew/did when you first started your career?

That you should keep an open mind about what you want to achieve; there are many different paths to success in science and some of them might be unexpected. 


Sue Hill

What advice would you give scientists just starting their career?

What I always say is look out and look up, don’t look down. And by that I mean, don’t confine yourself to the STP programme you’ve been on. Look much more broadly and how you are going to interface with other disciplines, other specialties and perhaps other sectors including industry that might be important to make sure that you do the very best in your job going forward. But also that you understand how you can contribute better to patient outcomes.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew/did when you first started your career?

What I did, and if you go back over my career, I just took every opportunity that was offered to me whether it was in my field or not, to do it. That’s part of what I am saying, look up and look out, and seize every opportunity. Some of that might be leading on improvement programmes, it might be working outside your normal sphere but that’s what gives you the skills and knowledge to be able to move up and into different jobs.


Fiona Caldicott

What advice would you give scientists just starting their career?

I encourage clinical scientists to just think about the fact that the work that they are doing is, in the end, going to be applied to the benefit of people, so don’t get so absorbed in the science that you forget what your aim is, which is to improve the care of individual people.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew/did when you first started your career?

Learn who you want to be like, back into that thing about role models. I learned very early on the kind of doctor I didn’t want to be from people I saw working and the kind of doctor I did want to be. And that has really stayed with me all through my career. Who are the people you admire?


jonathan-roberts.png

What advice would you give scientists just starting their career?

If you are looking to go into research, pick your supervisor carefully. If you are thinking of doing research, as it is a very important, finding a supervisor who is going to be engaged and supportive of your work is really important. It also seems that you have to work incredibly hard now, harder than you ever had to work before so having that motivation is key and picking what you want to do, cause at some point if it gets harder, if you are committed to your job it will be a lot easier to maintain that level of work.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew/did when you first started your career?

I would encourage myself to ask more questions. Normally when you are starting out, there’s so much to learn and so easy to feel overwhelmed. I ended up talking to other trainees, and it turned out that a lot of us were confused by the same things. It is a lot easier when doing it with company and you can share your mutual expertise. Talk to your colleagues and don’t be embarrassed if something is tough and hard.


julian-rayner.png

What advice would you give scientists just starting their career?

One thing I would emphasise is networking. Science is an incredibly collaborative exercise and the more people you know, the more people you talk to and the more contacts you have, the bigger difference it can make. Going to talks at university, going to seminars, going to conferences and reaching out to people is really important. Also, try to read, read, read, read – especially in fields like bioinformatics and genomics that are changing so rapidly. Trying to stay up is a constant battle and it is just something you have to do. My last piece of advice is to seek inspiring mentors. The path into science isn’t always smooth and easy but there are lots of really inspirational people out there who want to help you and can help you. So reach out for those kinds of people and talk to them wherever you find them.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew/did when you first started your career? 

I can’t think of any really obvious ones. Perhaps it’s how much failure is part of the scientific career. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone screws up along the way. I can’t think of any sort of classic mistake that everyone makes because there isn’t just one. I think it is part of the process that you have your ambitions and goals, you try some stuff, it doesn’t work, but you keep on trying. That’s what science is, sometimes stuff works sometimes stuff doesn’t work, put the process goes on. Don’t be put off by mistakes and errors, just keep going..


Hope you enjoyed this read as much as we enjoyed speaking to all those wonderful people. We would like to thank our interviewees for agreeing to share their wisdom with us and we are hoping that all this insightful advice will come in handy to all of you.

Is there any other advice you want to share with other fellow scientists? Please comment below.

Author: Adriana

I am a trainee Clinical Bioinformatician based at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. I am all for increasing genomics awareness in and out of healthcare and interested in bioinformatics and cancer genomics.

One thought on “Ask the professionals: kick-starting your career”

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading the answers from so many prominent scientists. Keep up the good work Adriana and Jes! 😉

    Like

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