Isabel M. Ornelas
Scientist at Cambridge Research Company
Isabel M. Ornelas
“UoB’s Careers Network was an invaluable resource as well. I was especially glad for workshops and one-on-one advice that I received about how to go about searching and applying to jobs and feedback on my CV and cover letters.”
Tell us a bit about your current role.
I am working as a senior scientist in a tech start up. I got hired as a scientist as a part of the initial team when the company got enough funding to open labs, still during the pandemic (early 2021). This is my first industry job after my PhD, so I didn’t have any industry experience. The work I do now is not in the same field as my PhD, but I do use a lot of transferrable skills that I developed during my PhD. The recruitment process for this role was relatively simple: I found the job ad on LinkedIn, applied through a recruitment agency site, got selected for an interview, then for a second one - both via video call because we were still in lockdown at the time. I got a job offer after that.
What motivated you to do your postgraduate research course?
My motivation for my PhD was to continue doing science / research. I've added some tips for people considering doing a PhD in one of the answers below.
What do you enjoy most and what do you find challenging about your role?
Both the most rewarding and most challenging parts about my job are related to it being in a small company: flexibility and variety in the work that I do, but less structure and infrastructure.
Have you faced any barriers during your career journey, if so, how did you overcome them?
I am very lucky to not need a visa to work in the UK. However, I started looking for a post-PhD job just as the country started to shut down because of the pandemic (first lockdown), and it took me almost a year to find a job. During that time, the hardest thing was not to fall into despair. Things that helped me were to make plans (e.g. I did online courses during that time to learn new skills), keep an open mind about what types of jobs I should/could apply to, prioritise my mental health (take breaks, try to go out on walks, listen to helpful podcasts, etc.), and to keep applying for jobs even if I didn’t believe that I would get them.
How did your time at Birmingham help you prepare for this role?
My PhD wasn’t easy, but it did teach me how to keep pushing to make progress during hard times, even if in small steps at a time. Most of my colleagues moved out of academia after their PhDs, and I could reach out to some of them to ask them about their jobs and get a better idea of what life would be like in their industries. UoB’s Careers Network was an invaluable resource as well. I was especially glad for workshops and one-on-one advice that I received about how to go about searching and applying to jobs and feedback on my CV and cover letters.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in further study?
Advice I wish I had received (and listened to!) before I started would fall into 2 categories:
1) Consider what types of jobs this PhD will help you get if you leave academia afterwards. Will the skills you learn be applicable in different scientific areas or are they very niche? Would you enjoy those jobs?
2) What’s the group culture like in the group where you are considering doing your PhD? How is the relationship between PhD students and their supervisor(s) in this group? (This can be very hard to answer though, especially if you are applying from a different country and don’t know anyone in the area.)
What advice would you give to students who are interested in getting into your industry or role?
Don’t give up! There are a lot of good-quality, free resources out there. The UoB Postgraduate Researcher (PGR) careers service is very good, and if you have a membership of a professional society/association (usually cheap for students), they usually also have such services. LinkedIn can also be incredibly helpful. Try to take pressure off yourself during the recruitment process e.g. try to look at interviews as opportunities to practice interviewing. And, if you face a particular challenge, try to connect with others who are going or have gone through the same.