Scientist at MKS-Atotech
PhD Chemistry, 2021
Please tell us a bit about your current role
I work as a scientist at MKS-Atotech, a multinational dedicated to developing speciality chemicals and the metallic coating of surfaces for applications such as automotive, consumer electronics or household appliances. Research is at the core of the company and I am member of the electrochemistry group, one of several research groups in the plant of Berlin. I work hand in hand with my electrochemistry colleagues in:
- doing research for the development and improvement of the company's products
- investigating and developing new products
- supporting clients, collaborating firms and other groups of the company in their projects
I got my job after moving to Berlin for personal reasons. To find it I joined an online job platform (Indeed) that allowed me to select the features of the job I was interested in. I received daily emails with offers and, after applying to a few of them (CV and cover letter), I got an interview with MKS-Atotech and I was hired.
What motivated you to do your postgraduate research course?
I am a curious person who loves to learn new things and science. Because I enjoyed my BSc and MSc in Chemistry research projects in Spain, I felt that doing a PhD was the natural thing to do next.
What do you enjoy most and what do you find challenging about your role?
The best of my job is the good working environment within the electrochemistry group and the working culture of the company as a whole. I also enjoy having to do different things: experiments, analysis of data, presentations, reading scientific literature, attending meetings to discuss projects.
I also fancy having new challenges on almost a weekly basis. This has been a little bit tricky for me because this is my first job after my PhD and I was used to having all my attention on a single issue, my thesis project. Instead, now I get involved in new projects quite often and I work on several at the same time.
Have you faced any barriers during your career journey, if so, how did you overcome them?
I would not call them a barrier, but I was concerned about starting a PhD in my mid-thirties and also because there is a long employment gap in my CV. At the beginning of my PhD, I was wary about how I would fit with my early-twenties PhD student colleagues.
Yet at the School of Chemistry in Birmingham, and during my visits to other universities, I discovered that the PhD and postdoc community is very diverse, open and full of very kind and wonderful people. In fact, meeting and intermingling with them was, without doubt, the best experience of my PhD. Afterwards, it was difficult to deal with job interviews given my long employment gap. But being honest about it worked well for me.
How did your time at Birmingham help you prepare for this role?
The University of Birmingham gave me the opportunity to acquire high quality scientific and non-scientific skills through my supervisors, fellow students and other personnel. Furthermore, it allowed me to work and live in a very diverse and international environment, something highly regarded by multinational companies.
Furthermore, I could attend various workshops for PGRs dedicated to career development and job hunting organised by Careers Network and the School of Chemistry; and a one-day seminar of my PhD program on the same topic. They were really interesting and useful as I realised the enormous variety of jobs and roles a PhD can do outside academia; and helped me identify which of them would fit best my interests, skills and personality. Besides, I learned good tips on writing a CV and a cover letter and how to approach interviews, for example regarding questions about employment gaps.
What advice would you give to students interested in further study?
Based on my experience, some pieces of advice would be:
- You should be highly motivated about research and be ready to deal with hard work.
- During your search for a PhD position, be positive, flexible, patient and constant. It is normal to get unanswered emails and rejections before you find a place.
- Try to learn a bit about the group you want to join: as in any professional field, there are a few toxic places that it is better to avoid. Normally you will be able to reach other students and former students by email.
- At the start and throughout your PhD be very active in talking and interacting with other students, some in a more advanced stage of their PhD, to learn about others' experiences and get good hints on how to deal with any difficulty you may encounter.
What advice would you give to students interested in getting into your industry or role?
For anyone thinking about job hunting in this industry outside of the UK, I would say that by speaking English you have overcome the biggest barrier when the local language is not English. If you do not know the native language, as was my case when I moved to Germany (I started learning German a few months ago), your access to the job market is somewhat restricted.
Nevertheless, for roles where the skills of a PhD are required, many companies need English-speaking people and work is even conducted in English (as in my job). So, language should not discourage you from exploring working abroad if this is something you want to do.