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An Interview with a Sports Therapist

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Jenny Jones is a lecturer in Sports Therapy at the University of Hertfordshire and a sports therapist for the England U18 Men’s basketball team. We spoke to her about her career.

What path did you take to become a sports therapist?

“I studied the 3-year degree at what was then University College Chichester which is now Chichester University. Whilst at Uni I made every effort to gain as much work experience as possible to maximise my chances of employment after graduating. Once I had graduated in 2004 I started working part-time with a semi-professional football club and in two sports injury clinics, one physiotherapy and one chiropractic clinic.

“After 6 months working I decided I wanted to gain more experience in sports so decided to spend a month at a University in America. There, I worked in the Athletic Training room which gave me access to athletes from a large variety of sports. I spent quite some time with the Men’s basketball team where my love for the game increased even more. This led to me making the decision that I wanted to work full time in basketball if possible.

“On return to the UK, I managed to secure a full-time job with a professional team in the British Basketball League. Unfortunately, the club folded in 2006 so I moved on to begin lecturing at the University of Hertfordshire. Whilst taking a slight detour from full-time practice I was very keen to maintain my hands-on sports therapy; since joining the University of Hertfordshire I have worked with Saracens Rugby, Arsenal Ladies Academies and UK athletics.

“Throughout my career so far I have maintained my passion for basketball and for the past 3 years have been the Sports Therapist for the England U18 Men’s team.”

What are the best and worst things about your job?

“There are many best parts about being a sports therapist, I truly love the job. It can be very rewarding when players return to full fitness and can play again. Being part of a very close team experiencing the highs and lows together makes the job really enjoyable.

“There are obviously negative aspects to the job as with everything. One of them is that it is extremely time-consuming and hours are not predictable. Working at the crack of dawn and into the night as well as every weekend can be very demanding on your time; not only on you but it also has a knock-on effect on your family at home. This is by far the biggest disadvantage of working in sport. I find the best way to get around this is to work in a sport your family like and can, therefore, come and watch. It keeps them happy too!”

What is the best advice you can give people wanting a career in sports therapy?

“The key to success in this profession is motivation, determination and love of sports. I would recommend getting as much experience in as many sports as possible. Get yourself a first-aid certificate and volunteer at Saturday league games or help out with local sports or physiotherapist. The Society of Sports Therapists website is a key source of information for anyone interested in the profession.”

What would a normal day be like for a sports therapist?

“My current career is slightly different to a full-time sports therapist. I lecture at the University of Hertfordshire but I have recently returned from a European Basketball Championships in Bosnia. I will give you an example of a day there:

Pregame

“On a game day, we would wake early and have breakfast as a team. Following this, we would have a short break before training. I would use this time to treat any injured players or get on with all the pre-training preparation. This involves taping and massaging the players that require it.

“Any new injuries that had occurred in the game the previous night would also be assessed in this time. A decision on whether they could train and/or play would be made. The team would then all go to training where I would be available for any players that got injured during this time. If there were any injured players, the training time would often be used to run rehabilitation sessions using the spare courts.

After training

“After training, I would take all the players to the swimming pool to run a cool-down session. Following lunch, the players had a team meeting which I would also attend. The management team would meet immediately before this. My role as a sports therapist was to provide details of any injured players and whether they could play or not. Depending on the time of the game there may be an hour or so break for some rest. If the game was early I would begin pre-match preparation after lunch and then travel to the game. At the game, I would sit on the bench and be prepared to treat any injuries that occurred, which in this tournament was many!

Postgame

“Following the game, my role would be to organise a cool down and then assess any injuries and treat any acute injuries immediately. I also had responsibility for the players’ nutrition and rehydration. After treating the players and having dinner I was then free to relax. Depending on game time could be very late in the day. This is an example of a tournament scenario, every day would be similar but less hectic, just a slightly scaled-down version.”

What are the different types of organizations and workplaces that hire sports therapists?

“When I first graduated in 2004 the employability of a sports therapist was limited and it took a lot of motivation and perseverance to get a job. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Sports Therapy is becoming widely recognised and there is currently employment in

  • Professional sports clubs
  • Various types of sports injury clinics
  • Working with disabled athletes
  • Organised events such as marathons
  • And much more.

“The degree also allows people to go on to further study, a number of students go on to become teachers or study Masters programmes.”

What made you want to become a sports therapist?

“I have always had a real love of all sports and have participated in athletics and basketball from a young age. It was whilst competing for the south of England in athletics that I damaged my knee which resulted in two years of various treatment to no avail and led to a doctor telling me I could no longer participate in athletics.

“It was heartbreaking. Being very persistent, I did not like being told I couldn’t do something so I decided I would get educated so that I could fix myself and not let others go through the same experience I had. It was then that I found out about the Sports Therapy degree and it sounded perfect. Two years later I started at Chichester.”

What action can university students take to establish themselves as an attractive candidate to future employers?

“Since taking on the lecturing job at the University of Hertfordshire I have made it a priority to help make our students highly employable. We run events on CV writing and cover letters as well as implementing clinical experience into the degree and providing the option of a sandwich year placement. In my opinion, there are many things students can do whilst studying, but the key is gaining as much experience as possible. This will often mean volunteering at local sports clubs or events, generally getting out and experiencing the working world. It is also important for students to have the academic skills to communicate effectively.”

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How To Perfect your Curriculum Vitae for Employers

What’s the point of a CV? What even is it? The Curriculum Vitae aka resume, bio or generic application. All of these have one purpose: to sell yourself to a potential employer. So what makes you stand out from the monochromatic spiels passing into companies’ hiring departments on a daily basis? A good CV.

General rules (UK specific)

  • Keep it to 2 pages of A4
  • Use a reasonable font size e.g. 12, and a generic typography e.g. Arial or Calibri as well as standard formatting
  • Include key contact details
  • Ensure it covers key skills, education and employment history, and the details of two referees.

making-lists

So those are the basic – then comes the more challenging task. You want to ensure that you have fulfilled the criteria that the job advert displays and you also want to avoid clichés. Follow the advice below for future success.

 

Be creative

Recently on social media, Jamie Laing (founder of Candy Kittens) posted his admiration for a budding intern who had designed her CV to look exactly like a packet of his company’s product. By tailoring her format to the employer she hoped to succeed with she ensured she got noticed – and a boost to her social media following to boot no doubt.

If you are applying to multiple different opportunities, then ensure that you adapt the visuals of your CV to match. A publishing company may be drawn to a design that reads like a story. A restaurateur  may appreciate a menu of your employment history. An online outlet may approve of your web-style design. Whoever your target audience is, in the current market it is likely there will be an overwhelming response for the best positions. So go the extra mile and see where it takes you.

Keep it real

We’ve all heard the urban legends of people who’ve lied on their CV and never been caught. The reality? Rigorous checks take place at most companies and therefore you’re likely to end up with a red face. Instead of claiming to be the UK’s answer to Jeff Bezos, be realistic about your experiences and skills.

Having said that, vocabulary is everything. If you’ve worked in retail, you can write about your ‘customer satisfaction experience’ or ‘product placement expertise’. If you volunteered to support younger undergraduates at your university you can divulge your ‘nurturing management style’. Be honest, but ensure you present your skills in the best light. If in doubt, ask a critical friend to read over it and ensure it makes sense.

Additionally, keep the explanations of your competencies linked to factors that make you employable. Avoid generic comments such as: I’m hardworking, I’m a team player, or I’m a quick learner.

Replace them with a more evidence based approach:

  • During my undergraduate studies, I maintained full time hours in my role in retail as well as volunteering time for younger students.
  • As a team leader at XYZ, I found that a supportive environment ensured better results.
  • Whilst studying for my Masters, I took up playing the clarinet and have already achieved Grade XX.

This way, you’re already proving your worth to the employer, and making them want to meet you in person.

Be specific

Peppering the market with CVs may seem like a winning approach to job seeking. But with the job market being an employers’ playground, generic applications are actually a risky choice. Yes, most of the basic information for roles in the same field may be the same. But job applications that have been amended to include key performance indicators extracted from the advert are more likely to be shortlisted. Even more so if a job description is directly catered to in the layout or content of a CV. Taking the time to let the hirer know you want their job rather than any job is a great way to identify yourself as a candidate worth a second look.

 

Overall, remember:

Be creative

Keep it real

Be specific.

 

Good luck!

What’s required to be a leader of the future?

Leadership: a great power as well as a great responsibility. And in 2019, leadership is what many students aspire to. Following intense workloads as university undergraduates – with many juggling internships, jobs and relationships – students achieve bachelors or foundation degrees and embark into the world of work. The goal? To find a career that is fulfilling obviously. But hopefully, to make steps up the ladder to management and leadership.climb-the-career-ladder

Here are a few examples of attributes required to get to the top, and some tips of how to get there yourself. Remember – all of these elements are great to improve your skills but also you will need to write about them in your CV. See our upcoming article on how to improve your CV later this week.

Make and take opportunities

Students understand that often the market is flooded with qualified applicants for a role. How on earth can you stand out? Make opportunities.

Think Mark Zuckerberg. He wanted to capture his classmates’ attention with a networking site. He is now a billionaire entrepreneur and social media magnate. He’s famously said that

“When we are connected, we can do great things.”

…so get connected! Find student groups, organisations and unions that represent your interests and those of your future career. Want to become an artist? Join local gallery tours and volunteer groups such as this. Apply for specific opportunities offered by world class galleries – like this one at London’s Tate Museum. Want to work in charitable organisations? Find your local goodwill or charity shop and lend your time.

Whatever your goal, seek out and forge those opportunities to make yourself standout from the crowd. In itself, this is a skill of great leaders – innovation.

Travel

It may seem counterproductive – or require some creativity on a students’ budget – but travel can make you particularly interesting to hiring managers (not to mention helping you to make friends at the pub too). In order to develop your leadership skills, and demonstrate them to a future employer, make your travel purposeful. You could complete a ‘voluntour’ in which you work with vulnerable people in earthquake ravaged Nepal. You could support animal conservation on the beaches of Guatemala. Whatever you choose to do, you will gain inevitable skills that allow you to work with others in a more constructive way. A journal, in which you note key experiences, may be useful to allow you to embellish your CV with the finer details later to demonstrate your independence.

Sport

Becoming involved in sport is a given for many people attending universities. But had you ever thought of how this could improve your employability in the boardroom? On the pitch (court or field) you will undoubtedly be required to show great discipline – a key attribute of great leaders. Harness that, and apply it in your academic studies and employment too. Additionally, it’s a great way to network and find like-minded people who may one day prove useful in a potential working environment.

sport-treadmill-tor-route-163444

Decision making – to be or not to be… a leader?

Some universities now explicitly teach decision making. Most have a student body, run by a union that makes decisions for the majority by an elected few. In order to nurture your ability to make decisions, you could consider becoming involved in such an elective course or by seeking an elected position. If that’s not possible, there are plenty of other ways to identify yourself as a good decision maker. In interviews ensure to exude confidence in your dress, manner and approach.

How can you do this? Mimic those who exude these characteristics. The likelihood is that your academic studies are conducted by experts. Listen to them. Ask questions. Demand the highest achievable results from yourself and utilize the expertise that you are privileged to be exposed to in order to do so. University is a unique opportunity to share airtime with such thinkers – learn their ways and make the most of it.

Shoot for the stars

There are probably a million ways to become a great leader, and yet they are few and far between. Rather than asking why, look around. The answer is fairly straightforward. To become a leader requires more than just a desire for success. It requires hard work. Dedication. Sacrifice. And a little innovation, independence, discipline, confidence – paired with good luck.

 

How to… Ace Your University Interview

It used to be that University interviews were reserved for only the most sought-after schools or classes. Before that they were a formality in which students would be inducted into the College of their ancestors with a handshake and a toast. Now, thankfully, the process is a lot more commonplace and a lot more rigorous. From Medicine to Teaching, Dentistry to Business, many universities now require students to present themselves at interview to earn a spot on their course. So, grab a cup of coffee and a note pad and settle in. Here’s some advice on how to wow the panellists and secure your dream place at university.

Understand the process – and prepare

There are many different protocols in place for interviews at Universities. It’s 2019! You could be interviewed by a panel or an individual, in a group or on your own, to measure your mental aptitude for a certain course or your measurable skill in an area of study…the list is almost endless. This can cause understandable stress. The solution? Ensure you understand the process by reading your letter/email carefully, and requesting further detail if required.

Then, leave early to arrive in plenty of time, and grab a bottle of water to calm those nerves and whet your whistle. Understanding the order of the day should allow you to relax and – dare I suggest? – even enjoy the process.

Know your stuff

This may seem incredibly obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people forget the basics. Revision is second nature to modern students and you should utilise this skill for interview. Why do you want to attend this particular college or school? What about the course is particularly attractive to you? Is there a renowned library or theatre you can’t wait to visit on campus? What is impressive to interviewers is passion – something you can’t fake. So, look into the finer details of the programme of study and show off that knowledge in your allocated time with your interviewers. People listen to people who are interested; show off your engagement with their product. It will go a long way.

Be smart

Even if the dress code says ‘smart casual’, err on the side of ‘smart’. As a famous person once said, ‘You can never be overdressed or overeducated.’ And you won’t have the opportunity to become ‘overeducated’ if you don’t dress to impress. Be comfortable, and wear something that gives you confidence. If you’re not a suit-wearer by nature then perhaps opt for smart trousers and a shirt and jumper. If you’re someone who avoids wearing dresses on a regular basis, don’t squeeze yourself into a pencil skirt. Be you…just the smartest version of you. Imagine this is a job interview: you don’t want to add to your nerves by glancing around the waiting room in your scruffs and seeing a sea of shiny shoes.

Be engaging

Manners don’t cost a lot – or anything – but they can be underutilised by many students. Hold open the door for people as you enter the building, smile at the receptionist: these people may be involved in the process, but even if they’re not using your manners will leave a lasting impression. Etiquette (in the UK, at least) dictates that eye contact and a handshake are a symbol of confidence and politeness. But if you are interviewing elsewhere, it wouldn’t harm to look up local culture and find out the appropriate greeting. Use non-verbal feedback to indicate you are listening to the questions and responses of your interviewers – nodding, agreement and eye contact are all sure fire ways to engage your panel.

Ask questions

Many people assume that interviews are all about your answers to questions. In actual fact, thoughtful and considered questions posed by you are equally important. How else will you know if the course, university or country are the right ‘fit’ for you? As much as you want to secure a place, and the university wants the right sort of person on their course, you also want to make an informed decision. So air any concerns and raise any questions you need the answers to. In addition, you will look even more confident and committed if the panellists know that you are a discerning customer choosing their institution.

It may seem a lot to keep in mind, but ensure you follow the steps above to smash the interview. Good luck!

5 Dos and Don’ts for a Successful Personal Statement

Writing a personal statement is a rite of passage. In order to apply for most universities – or a whole tranche of them at a time through UCAS – you need to outline the person behind the application in the form of a personal statement or letter of intent. But how can you tell if yours is going to grab the attention of your intended institution for the right or wrong reasons?

 

Here are 5 handy tips to help you make sure you are a surefire acceptance at the University of your dreams…

 

1) DON’T simply Google ‘University Personal Statement’ and then follow the proforma word for word.

Yes, the advent of the internet has meant a huge resource is available to students all around the world. And absolutely, you should draw on lots of examples to gain inspiration for your own foray into the world of writing about yourself. But simply following the top result on the world’s most used search engine is not going to gain you kudos with University admissions advisors.

Instead, do some subject or even institution specific research. Then, use that as a framework for your first draft. Do your first choice university have a key phrase used in advertising? Try to paraphrase it. Does your intended course require ingenuity, creativity or a drive for data? Incorporate that into your writing. DON’T simply Google it – if you put more time and effort into the crafting of your work it will show. Who knows? Maybe one day you could be the result when another budding student searches for ‘template personal statement’.

2) DO ask family and friends what they would say are your top qualities.

Many people – students or otherwise – find it incredibly difficult to honestly appraise their strengths and weaknesses. Either modesty or self-esteem prevent us from being able to confidently declare ‘I’m really good at x, y or z!’ So ask someone who knows you really well, and then reflect on their observations. Maybe you do have an eye for finer details that could be described as an ‘interest in the minutiae’, rather than just being ‘fussy’. Perhaps your passion for a particular sport or team could be construed as ‘vigour for life’ rather than fanaticism. Sell yourself, but be honest – and throw modesty to the side in order to ensure you present your best self to your chosen university.

3) DON’T use a thesaurus for every single word in your application.

Learn from the infamous Joey Tribbiani (a f.r.i.e.n.d.s reference that should translate to a modern generation due to the Netflix resurgence of the classic series in recent months). You do not need to replace ‘heart’ with ‘large aortic valve’. Neither do you need to list seven different adjectives to communicate that you are a hard worker.

What you should try to do instead is think of examples of scenarios that prove you have the qualities you are trying to exemplify. A great example would be avoiding the phrase ‘I love reading and going to the theatre’ for an application to study Literature. What would be better is to express that passion through an example of your particular interest in a performance you recently attended as part of your A-Level study. E.g. “The creative license employed by x in the recent adaptation of the ‘Woman In Black’ prompted me to re-read the original; I found the new perspective enlightening.” This not only shows you have a broader interest in story-telling as well as Literature more specifically, it also shows that you have critical reflection skills key to a good candidate for degree level study.

4) DO get someone with good literacy and grammar skills to proof read your personal statement.

If having to choose between there/their/they’re gives you cold shivers, or your/you’re not sure which form of a homophone to use – CHECK! A critical friend is a good friend, and when submitting as crucial a document as your personal statement you will want someone to cast an eye over it first.

You’re going to need to write several drafts before you ‘get it right’, so don’t be afraid to ask people to check it over. Any student going through the application process will be able to empathise, and your teachers know how stressful this can be for you. Asking for the help is the only way to be sure you get it.

5) DO plan ahead.

If you rush your personal statement, it will be obvious. The development of ideas will be patchy and the vocabulary is bound to be repetitive and – dare I say it? – boring. Give yourself plenty of time to plan, canvass for ideas, procrastinate, panic. Once you’ve done all that, write at least two or three drafts before you’re satisfied. For many students, the personal statement is their only opportunity to engage directly with the departments and universities they are applying to. The same level of commitment and attention to detail should be applied to the application itself as to choosing the institutions. Make sure you have planned ahead, and that way you can be sure you have your best foot forward.

So remember…

These hints and tips are a springboard to a successful personal statement. In summary:

    • Make sure you sell yourself well – take this opportunity to shine.
    • Make it personal – universities appreciate applications with a bit of personality rather than generic formulas and cliches.
    • Make it count – you have one shot.

 

An Interview with a Food Scientist

Food scientist, Rebeca Lopez-Garcia answers our questions about studying food science and what sort of a career it can lead to.

Why did you decide to study food science concentration toxicology at university?  And why did you choose the USA as your study destination?

I was originally an exchange student at the University of Arizona where I did some research in Fumonisin contamination of corn. I had some fascinating results and one professor invited me to come back as soon as I finished up my BS in Mexico to continue my research. Thus, I went back to the states and pursued graduate studies in Food Toxicology. My professor moved to Louisiana State University so I followed him. LSU had a PhD interdepartmental programme in Toxicology. I always liked science and food. I liked cooking since I was very young so food science made a lot of sense.

What exactly is food science? And why do you think students should study this subject at college or university?

Food science is the study of everything related to food and food processing. Students should choose to study food science because it is a great applied field of study. If you study food science, you have a lot of career options in the future that range from very basic science to applied engineering.

Do you think your experience of living in a foreign country and absorbing other cultures has had a positive impact on your career successes?  Why?

Of course, I think travel and experiencing other cultures has made a lot of difference in my life and my career. It has helped me put things in perspective and understand different ways of thinking. Also, living in the US and being very active in professional organisations such as IFT has given me all the contacts that have helped me shape my career. Living in the US made me really become bicultural and that has made a great difference in my business. Companies hire me for projects that involve working in both countries and I can do that seamlessly.

Can you tell us a bit about your work with food companies in developing countries? For example, how did you start working in this area and how you have managed to help these countries?

I have worked in many areas and different projects. With FAO I have had the opportunity to develop an Integrated Mycotoxin Management Plan for coffee producers in Ecuador so they can export their coffee without contamination problems. I helped manage a wheat contamination crisis in Uruguay and helped the country develop a National Action Plan to control mycotoxin contamination and avoid future crisis. I have worked with the governments of Egypt and Panama to help their food industry become more competitive. Currently, I am working with the Dominican Republic to develop a National Food Inspection System.

Nutrition degreeI also work with many multinational companies helping them develop suppliers and improve food safety. I still use my toxicology background to put together dossiers for regulatory approval of food additives and ingredients. Every day is different and very interesting.

What do you think is special about the food science industry compared with other scientific industries?

I agree it is very technical and creative but I think it is a great area because people always have to eat so it is a very stable industry and it gives you a great sense of purpose since nutrition is essential for good health. In addition, food and eating are very social so your work is present in everybody’s family events. You can really make a difference in this area.

What are the different job prospects food science students have upon graduation?

I think there are many options because you can work at different stages of production. From the field to food service there are many opportunities. You can work in a laboratory or in an office or a production facility. It really depends on what you like and even in these tough times, I still get messages from companies looking for qualified individuals so I think the field is far from saturated.

Finally, what aspects of this job do you love the most? Are there any examples of your work where you have felt you have made a difference?

I love that I have to keep on studying and learning every day. I never ever get bored because every day I have a different challenge. As I mentioned before, working with producers and companies that really need help and watching them achieve a contract or produce safer products or start exporting is very rewarding. I have always stayed close to academia and have taught several classes in the last few years. I think teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs.

An Interview with a Pharmacist

Read through an interesting interview with Robin McGuire, a pharmacy graduate from the University of Toronto, Ontario.

Tell us a little bit about yourself…

I have wanted to be a pharmacist since grade 11 and even on the busy days I know I still made the right choice. It’s a profession that I fit well in and I love what I do.

I am currently a staff pharmacist at a Shoppers Drug Mart in Owen Sound. It is a small town of 22,000 people, 50% seniors. I have been a pharmacist in this store for four years this September, and time sure has flown. I have learned the names of most of the regular customers, and I am often the pharmacist they ask for. It is a proud feeling to be asked for by name or description for that matter. I am ‘the little girl pharmacist’ if you are ever in Owen Sound and want to say hello.

What educational path did you take to become a pharmacist?

I did an undergraduate degree at Western University, in London Ontario. But I feel that a great deal of my ‘educational path’ occurred in a pharmacy. I started working in a pharmacy when I was about 15 and in the dispensary when I was 16. My mentor showed me what a pharmacist could be, what they should be. It was a multidisciplinary team before that was a buzz word.

Did you always want to become a pharmacist?

By grade 11 I had decided that a pharmacist would be my career path. I decided what I wanted to do before I even knew the work involved in getting to that designation.

Describe a typical day for a pharmacist?

One thing that retail pharmacy is not, is typical. There are very few days that run the same. If anything there are seasonal patterns. For example, summer is poison ivy, bug bites, lice, wound and sunburn time. The diversity of each day, though sometimes exhausting, is one of the best parts of being a community pharmacist. It keeps you on your toes and alert at all times.

Pharmacy degreeWhat factors should students consider when choosing a pharmacy degree and institution?

I feel very strongly about being exposed to the profession before entering it. Trying to work in community, hospital, industry or other areas you can find a pharmacist is important. I was lucky enough to get the chance to work in many areas which gave me a better outlook on all the directions a pharmacy degree can take you in.

Why do you think international students looking to study pharmacy should go to Canada to study?

I think that Canada is a beautiful country to start with, filled with interesting and diverse people. While in school I was U of T’s representative on the Canadian Association of Pharmacy Students and Interns (CAPSI) Board and this gave me the opportunity to meet with students from all over Canada. I think all the different faculties have different features to offer, just as each part of Canada has different benefits.

How do you keep up to date on developments within your industry?

I have tried to stay involved in the world of pharmacy locally by collaborating with local groups and community organizations. For example, I have done talks on diabetes for both patients and other health care providers. I have been involved with the local health unit on safe medication disposal and reduction of drug use in teens. Provincially I sit on the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA) Board of Directors. Then I am also the New Practitioner Representative on the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) Board. I find talking directly with the people making changes is the best way to stay up to date. Conferences for these organisations are also a great way to meet people and learn how they have implemented new programs into their work environment. Sometimes all you need is a bit of direction to help you get your own programs off the ground and you can find this in many of the great pharmacists in Canada.

What is the best and worst thing about your job?

The best thing about retail pharmacy is the people, and the worst thing is the people. Being able to help someone better manage their disease state for example is a great feeling but being yelled at for not having refills of someone’s prescription is not so great a feeling. But I look for two things in my day to make me feel successful: one belly laugh and one feeling of truly helping someone, making their day better.

What advice do you wish you had received from a professional while you were still a student?

I received a lot of good advice as a student. This is where the work experience aspect of student life falls into play. It is very helpful to have a pharmacist in your life when you are a student, to talk with, bounce ideas off, and discuss current topics with. I would recommend that students get involved in their pharmacy program wholeheartedly, you will learn a lot outside of the classroom as well and make great friends along the way.

An Interview with a Genetic Scientist

Aoife McLysaght is a Senior Lecturer in Genetics who studied at Trinity College Dublin and now works in the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at the University of Dublin. She has produced a number of publications, is involved in research into molecular evolution and promotes science to the general public.

Girl leaning against statue

What did you study at the higher education level?

I studied Natural Science at Trinity College Dublin, eventually specialising in Genetics.

Why did you choose this course and institution?

I chose Trinity College because of its academic reputation, but also because I thought I’d have lots of fun there (I was 17 when I made the decision – parties were an important consideration!).

Did you always want to be involved in genetics?

From my mid-teens, I realised that I’d like to study science at university. I wasn’t sure that I’d like Genetics specifically, but I did really enjoy the Genetics we learned in school. I particularly liked how logical Mendel’s pea experiments were. It still amazes me that he revealed the core principles of inheritance and genes even before we knew what genes were or what they were made of, and without the use of a microscope – he deduced it logically.

During your study, what skills did you learn that have helped you in your career?

Principally, I learned how to analyse and interpret data and to examine the robustness of claims made by others. I also got practice in oral presentation. Both of these have proved to be essential (and sometimes fun!).

What does your job involve and how did you get into this area of work?

My main work is lecturing and supervising students and also conducting research into molecular evolution. I got into this by progressing through the different research positions within the university system; first doing a PhD, then postdoctoral research and eventually being appointed to a lectureship position, where I also had the responsibility of establishing and running a research group.

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

Every day is different (that’s what keeps it interesting). Some days are all meetings, others lectures and lecture preparation, other days are reading and writing, others are preparing for or giving talks or public demonstrations of science.

What do you most enjoy about 
your job?

The two favourite aspects of my job are the thrill of making a discovery and realising that you are the first in the world to know this new finding, and communicating with the public. Communicating science has become one of my great passions.

What have been the highlights of your career so far?

The highlight of my career has possibly been being the first to discover completely novel human-specific genes. That was very exciting and made the news all over the world.

What other experience have you had?

I have had various academic jobs at different levels, from a summer job in a lab in Dublin, to a postdoctoral research position at the University of California.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to continue to make interesting and surprising discoveries in genetics, but I also want to get more involved in communicating science to the general public – I’ve always been a chatterbox, now I can put that to good use!

What skills do you think are most necessary for your job?

Apart from the obvious technical skills, I think creativity and original thinking are the most important skills; this surprises many people who don’t work in science because it is not generally perceived as a creative discipline, but the ability to see new and surprising explanations for your data and experiments requires imagination.

What advice can you give to students wanting to follow the same career?

Use your own initiative as much as possible. Investigate and explore ideas and then you are more likely to make interesting and unexpected discoveries.

Written by Aoife McLysaght (2011), Senior Lecturer in Genetics
www.gen.tcd.ie/molevol

An Interview with a Scientist

Aarathi Prasad works at University College London. She is the author of Like A Virgin: How Science is Redesigning the Rules of Sex, and In the Bonesetter’s Waiting Room: Travels through Indian Medicine. She’s worked for the British Council and been involved in TV and radio programmes. Here, she tells about 
her career in science.

What study path did you take to get into life science?

I studied a BSc in Molecular Genetics at King’s College in London, and then I did my PhD in Cancer Genetics at Imperial College. Then I did a postdoctoral, also in cancer, but I left the lab after that. I love research and I would’ve loved to stay, but I just saw lots of postdoc. students not getting permanent jobs, so I thought I’d try and get other experiences. Then if I wanted to go back I could, but at least I had something to fall back on. So I did some television research for a friend who was making a science documentary and needed someone with a science background to help him sift through information very quickly. Then I worked in pharmaceutical marketing, which I didn’t really enjoy so I left quite quickly.

What made you interested in genetics specifically?

Our biology A Level exam was heavily genetics and I just love it, and I thought that genetics would be kind of like medicine – it’s just such an exciting area and I wanted to work on cancer particularly. I just loved genetics as a subject for biology, so I just kind of stuck with it.

So how did you get into science communication?

I got an opportunity to do parliamentary research for an MP who was on the Science and Technology Select Committee. That was kind of an experience in science policy and also science communication because we worked with journalists a lot in parliament.

I then worked for the Council of Life Sciences. They mediate between anyone who has to talk about science – teachers, parliamentary journalists etc. – and put them in touch with a scientist to make sure they’re getting the science right. So that was more policy and communication. Then I decided 
to write a book, just because it was something I was interested in. From the book came a BBC Radio 4 documentary and then I did a Channel 4 documentary about genetics, so that’s my policy and communication background.

This job I’m doing now at the British Council is a mixture of both. I’m working on helping collaborations between different countries. At the moment, for example, I’m working on trying to get Korean scientists to try and collaborate with European Union scientists. Also, we’ll start looking at science communication as well, so all the different jobs I’ve done kind of come together.

That’s quite a varied career!

It is, and the thing is that’s the point really – that when you do a degree in science, there are actually loads of options that you have and which your careers advisor might not know. No one told me, I just kind of fell into these things by accident because I was interested in them and because I spoke to people. I think the point is that when you do a life sciences degree, there are lots and lots of career options that you can choose from.

Why did you choose the universities you went to?

I chose King’s because it had very good research in genetics, but also it was a multi-disciplinary university. I went on to Imperial afterwards, which was only science, because I chose a PhD and at the time they didn’t have any cancer research – they were expanding the department – so it was a good time to join.

Did you do work experience when you were studying?

No, I didn’t, but I wish I had. I can’t recommend it enough – if I had my time again I would. You don’t know what you like until you try it. After I left the pharmaceutical company, I did an internship for a short time at the Science Media Centre – they communicate directly with the major national newspapers and news broadcasters – just to see, just to get a feel of what else was out there that I would enjoy doing.

In some fields, it might be hard to find out how to get a job in it, but if you go and work there for free, for a week or two weeks, you get to know the people and make contacts, and it’s an opportunity to ask questions. But in terms of university, if I had my time again I would do research placements and try and figure out other fields that I might be interested in. I’d really recommend looking around while you’re doing your degree and seeing all the different options you have.

Credit: Serpentine Galleries

What do you do on a typical day?

Well, the British council is about the exchange of ideas and knowledge from Britain. Generally, most people in other countries know them for teaching English and that’s a big area, and so is education and higher education, but science is something that naturally lends itself to being international because it is international collaborations – that’s how science works – and the language is English, so it’s a very good way. It’s something that a lot of students come to this country to study, so it’s something that we can contribute to other countries in the world. We have a high research standing and we punch way above our weight in terms of publications.

There really isn’t a typical day. I might connect people in Brazil with a food security specialist in Britain from one of the research councils say, or help arrange events – we just arranged one in Holland. Or I might be working with European colleagues on the European Commission, or European research area framework programmes. So it’s a real mixture. I also have my media work, which I still do. I still like writing articles for popular press and I’m thinking of writing another book, also in genetics but in another area. 
It’s all things I enjoy. Also, making some more radio programmes and maybe some TV – that’s my aim.

Why did you move into science communication?

When I started writing my book, no one had written a great deal about it and I thought it was interesting, so I thought it would be nice to write about that, but now I just enjoy it. I’m not in the lab anymore, but I think if you’re in the lab, it’s become more essential than ever to be able to communicate because that’s how you foster collaborations and networks. I think it’s really important to be able to get up and give a talk, even in your PhD, and those are skills that you shouldn’t neglect while you’re at university. In universities, there are media training courses – not all of them, but if you look you can find them, and they’re well worth doing I think.

Some people study science and they like to be in the lab and they don’t want to talk about it, but some research is publicly funded – it’s taxpayers’ money, so some people say if you’re doing research that’s funded publicly, you should be prepared to talk to the public about it. To do that you need to speak in a very simple way that’s not going to scare people and in the right sort of language.

Do you think the UK is the best place to study science?

Well, it depends what area you’re studying in, but I think we have very solid research councils and very excellent universities, a high publication record and great scientists, so in terms of having a good grounding – we’ve got some of the best scientists and lecturers here. Also, the language of science is English, so I think if people come to England it can help a lot with writing publications later, so I think that’s a really important point.

What are the best and worst things about your job?

Well, that’s a difficult question. I love my job! But everyone has bad days and good days, and times when you’re out of your comfort zone. I think you should do a job that stretches you, because if you don’t then you won’t grow. Sometimes when I’ve done a job and I’ve been there for a couple of years, I’ve felt I’ve gained what I can and it became easier. I like to be challenged.

I’m a people person and I love meeting people. I love organising and I love communicating to people, and when I was in the lab I spent a long time in a dark room looking down a microscope and I came out blinking in the light with rings around my eyes! It wasn’t very sociable. Sometimes you might be working in a lab for five years on a paper and it doesn’t get published, and then you could feel that you wasted time.

Everyone has different skills, and even 
people who have a short concentration span – there’s a job for you in science, maybe in journalism in the newspapers, because you jump from subject to subject. I like doing short projects that come to an end and there’s maybe a publication at the end or a difference that’s been made at the end, such as a collaboration that you’ve set up 
or a documentary.

Do you miss working in the lab at all?

I meet scientists who are still working in the lab, and I talk to them all the time, and I do feel a pang like ‘oh I wish I was in the lab again’. When I was in Poland I met a very excellent stem cell scientist, who’s Chinese and works in America and I said: “Oh talking to you makes me want to work in the lab”, and she said: “But you’re working in policy now, so if you didn’t do what you do, our research wouldn’t happen”. So I think you need to try and get a handle on what your skill set is, what you naturally love doing, because I think the kind of job you’re doing needs to be the one that uses your best skills, 
and then you can challenge yourself and improve them.

Do you have any advice for those wanting to get into your field of work?

As I said, I think you don’t know whether you like it until you do it. I think you should find out what you think you might like to do, then do an internship. Email someone, ask ‘Can I come in and shadow you, can I learn about what you do?’ and don’t be afraid to do that, even for one week or two weeks just to get a sense of what’s out there. If you think you want to do something, find out who does it and give them a call and they’ll probably have time for you. If they don’t, ask someone else and just talk to people, be friendly, be outgoing, ask and try it out, that’d be 
my advice.

Is it fairly easy to get work 
experience then?

Different places have different rules, but I think it’s always worth asking. I have a friend who’s interning at the World Health Organisation at the moment – I know a couple of people who have done that. There are some universities that set up programmes to do that, but I’m a great believer in just going out there and finding out yourself. I was at Imperial College for four/five years and I didn’t even know they had a science communications master’s, so sometimes you don’t really know what’s there!

www.aarathiprasad.com