Tag: Career

PhDs are Terminal, but learning will be lifelong

Image credit: Lubo Minar

As Lauren Headley-Morris nears the end of her PhD, she reflects on the experience gained and why learning won’t stop after she’s completed her terminal degree.


Terminal is a weird word. Usually heard on TV associated with cancer, you wouldn’t necessarily want a degree that is terminal. Some days I think my PhD is the best thing since the sequencing of the human genome; other days I think it might be the death of my love of science. But terminal is used in some less, erm, disastrous, melodramatic? scary? ways.

One of these less-morbid settings is travel. A PhD is, by nature, the end of the line of academic qualifications. It doesn’t mean you’ve now mastered your subject, sadly. There are post-doc positions and even professorships in the future perhaps.

I’m a third-year, Asthma UK funded, Clinical Medical Research PhD student based at the Guy Scadding Building, Royal Brompton campus. My work is focused on transcriptional regulation in asthma. While my day to day is obsessing about microRNA and things that are too tiny to see, I think it’s important to take a second now and then to sit back and reflect on the bigger picture of where my PhD fits in with my life as a whole. Maybe it’s the effect of spending so much time in isolation or maybe, coming to the end of my formal academic training, I’m getting a little philosophical. (more…)

My experience of lockdown and maternity as a female academic

Dr Teresa Thurston shares her experience as a relatively new PI of looking after a new-born, homeschooling and keeping in touch with her lab during lockdown.


The pressure of the pandemic has been felt particularly hard by parents juggling work and childcare, often with fewer hours available for work. In some households, the burden of care work continues to fall disproportionately on women and this may be true for academia as well; journal editors have noted that early evidence suggests fewer paper submissions from women than men whilst under quarantine.

Every one of us has been hit by lockdown and many people are struggling to juggle work with kids at home. It has been more than 50 days since my family of five begun isolation. My husband came down with a fever and cough and went to bed and I picked up the kids for the last time. After telling our afterschool nanny not to come over, panic hit. I had no idea how I was going to cope. I was still recovering from delivering a 5Kg baby who was just four weeks old and now I was solely responsible for three kids and a sick husband. This was not going to be any ordinary maternity leave. (more…)

Being a caregiver while caring about a PhD

Republished by permission from Springer Nature: Nature Career Column, Being a caregiver while caring about a PhD, Luke Yates, © 2020

Luke Yates discusses how he coped with his wife’s long illness during his PhD programme.


In summer 2008, a year after I started my PhD programme, my wife Samantha was admitted to hospital with a severe chest infection. Sam had cystic fibrosis, and the infection wreaked havoc on her lungs. After a protracted hospitalization, she could not breathe unaided. Furnished with a canister of oxygen and breathing apparatus (a mainstay from then on), along with a substantial amount of antibiotics and other medications, she left hospital, and we carried on with our lives as best as we could. Sam went back to her job teaching a school class of 9–10-year-olds, and I continued pursuing my PhD in clinical medicine at the University of Oxford, UK. But she experienced another infection, which ended with her doctors wait-listing her for a double lung transplant. In January 2010, Sam gave up work, and we began to hope for a life-saving telephone call.

Caring for a loved one who had cystic fibrosis and was waiting for a transplant, while I was trying to complete my PhD programme, seemed impossible. In the laboratory, I was always on tenterhooks, thinking “Today could be the day we get the call.” This uncertainty and anxiety, together with the pressures of research, made my graduate studies tougher than most. As for planning my experiments and conducting research, I needed limited working hours so that I could provide physiotherapy, drug treatments and help to my wife. And I had to get home at a specific time because I shared caregiving responsibilities with Sam’s mum, who tended to her during the day. On top of all this, I had a daily commute of more than two hours. We couldn’t move closer, because we needed to live near our family. (more…)

One small grant can kick-start a big career

DPUK grant

Originally published on the Dementia Researcher Blog, Luke Whiley, an analytical chemist by training, reminds researchers to look out for opportunities in the small stuff. He tells the story of how a relatively small grant has taken him far in his career in dementia research – to the other side of the world in fact!


If you’d told me this time last year that I would be setting up my own research lab the other side of the world, there’s absolutely no way I would have believed you. But it’s true! I’m sitting here writing this looking out on to the Indian Ocean, having just had my first Christmas down under in Perth – even trying to keep up a stereotypical Aussie Christmas with a beer and BBQ on the beach on Christmas day!  It is an example of just how far a research career in science can take you.

I have always been interested in science, but back in my school days I had no idea just how many twists and turns my career would take and how many opportunities would present themselves. Sometimes these were big, involved decisions – a move out of or into academia, for example, but sometimes these start pretty small. That’s all my DPUK-funded course was at first – a small opportunity I noticed one day. (more…)

20 Years at Imperial: what have I learnt?

Marking 20 years since Dr John Tregoning arrived at Imperial College London as a PhD student, he reflects on what he’s learnt over his career to date.


On 1 October 1999, I walked out of South Kensington tube station, fresh-faced and ready to start my PhD. 20 years later as I walk out of the same tube station to the same campus of the same university (still fresh-faced I like to think), the question is, have I learnt anything?

Spoiler alert – the answer is yes, but a guarded yes, from a staggeringly low starting point, like Marianas Trench low. Some of what I have learned is fairly niche and only useful if you work in a biomedical lab – like how to open a tightly screwed plastic tube with one hand whilst avoiding infecting yourself with influenza, some are a bit more generally applicable to having a career in science, especially if you are or want to run your own research group, and some grandiosely I think might be applicable to everyone.

School’s out

Working in a university, this may be a bit unnecessary to point out, but education never ends: we are continually learning and evolving. Even if you were able to recall all the facts from school into adulthood it is likely that they are now either outdated or completely irrelevant to the work you do. We need to retrain: to become parents, to become managers, to change roles, to retire gracefully. And for these new roles, there is no pass/fail test to say how well you have done, it is all a bit woolly. So we need effective strategies to learn for life: both for ourselves and for the others – students, children, co-workers – that we might need to train. (more…)

Leading from the front: what can academia learn from the Army

Army leadership

Former British Army officer and current PhD student, Nadia Soliman, discusses the importance of leadership in academia and the lessons we can learn from the Army’s renowned leadership programmes. 


In my opinion the Army and academic institutions are very similar: both are organisations that work globally, across cultures and are dependent upon their people doing remarkable things to tackle some of the greatest challenges. However, one of the stark differences between the Army and academia is how the two train and equip people for the challenges they face in their job. (more…)

Life as a postdoc: why I personally couldn’t imagine doing anything else

Dr Elaine Fuertes provides an insight into the perks of being a postdoc, from international travel to independently developing research with potentially important public health impacts.


“Only a tiny proportion of you will become university professors” – a statistic every postdoctoral researcher has heard, and the vast majority of us choose to ignore. Indeed, despite the increasing awareness and acknowledgement that the large majority of postdocs will end up pursuing one of the many other available career paths open to this highly trained and ambitious workforce, as recently discussed during the 2019 National Heart and Lung Institute Postdoc Day, many of us cling on to what we know to be a highly implausible outcome – landing a tenured position.

I’ve often been asked – why do I do it? Why continue down this career path, one that many of my friends and family see as living in a perpetual state of “student life”. It is indeed a question I have often reflected upon, especially as I am not presently, nor have I ever been, a “die-hard must become a Professor” type of person. So why persevere? What drives me? Why do I continue to be fully inspired and motivated by a career path that entails so much uncertainty? (more…)

Back down to earth: From astrophysicist to desk-bound medical scientist

In this post, Dr Sujata Sridharan shares her career path, from graduating with an astrophysics degree to being a postdoc in brain imaging.


I’m not a scientist, not really. At least, that’s what I’ve heard countless times from my non-academic friends, and sometimes even colleagues. I’ve deduced that this belief dates back to my decision to take an MPhys in Physics with Astrophysics as my undergraduate degree.

Physics first

As a (comparatively) fresh-faced 18-year-old, I undertook my first degree at the University of Manchester, (somewhat naively) under the impression that astrophysics involved a lot of actual stargazing. My first year was a pleasant 60:40 split of lectures and laboratory-based work. Albeit the latter was rather generalised; at one point I remember making a hologram of a bronze Buddha statue for no apparent scientific reason. My main concern at that point was that I hadn’t yet bumped into Brian Cox, who had recently taken up teaching duties at the university in between – what we physicists considered – glamorous filming of the ‘Wonders of the Universe’ documentary series. (more…)

Grandfather of allergy: Dr William Frankland, the 106-year-old doctor

Dr William (Bill) Frankland, aged 106, has helped transform our understanding of allergies during his long career in medicine. A pioneer in the field, Dr Frankland popularised the pollen count to help clinicians and patients understand what triggers their seasonal allergies. Originally published on the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust blog and reproduced here with permission, he reflects on his career and working for the NHS for 70 years. 


People often ask me, how is it that I’ve lived until 106. All I can say is I’ve come close to death so many times but somehow I’ve always managed to miss it and that’s why I’m still here.

I was born in 1912, six weeks early. My identical twin brother and I weighed three pounds one ounce each but we both survived – he died in 1995, at age 83. As an early baby, that’s the first time I survived against the odds.

I first encountered hay fever when I was a child. I grew up in the Lake District where my brother and I spent our summers helping a local farmer with his hay. One day, I told my brother my eyes were itchy and I couldn’t go on. “You’re feeble,” he said. It took me 30 years before I realised I had a real problem with summer hay fever and about 90 years to grow out of that allergy.

(more…)