Early Career Microbiologists’ Forum Update

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07 / 11 / 2017

Insider tips on the academia career path

The ECM Forum Executive Committee are thinking a lot about careers and professional development at the moment. We are keen to use the Forum to develop skills and networks to help members as they progress through the different stages of their career.

The need for mentors and the support of people who understand what you are going through was something that came up repeatedly at the roadshows in summer. With this in mind, we have picked the brains of Dr Roland Remenyi from the University of Leeds to gain some insight in how to do just that. 

Rebecca Hall: Thank you for giving a great talk at the ECM Forum Leeds Roadshow! When did you decide that you wanted to become a scientist?

Roland Remenyi: At age 17 I realised that the opportunity to make discoveries that impact human health was a powerful motivator. I was also attracted to Biology after my parents gave a copy of the Campbell Biology textbook, which, in addition to the wonderful illustrations, had short interview sections where scientists described their work.

RH: My Biology teacher told me to buy that book! There are always different opinions about whether doing a PhD or postdoc in a different country is an advantage. What challenges did you find with this?

RR: During the first year of my PhD, I lacked a support network and felt like I had to re-build my social connections from scratch. I had to be patient and realise that it takes time to establish a new circle of friends and find a community you feel comfortable in. Another challenge was not to become hung up on the things that you missed from home, like German food or drink, but instead appreciate new things you might now be able to experience.

RH: When did you decide to continue in academia and how easy was it for you to find the right position?

RR: After I had completed my PhD I dedicated my time to exploring postdoc job adverts in different sectors. I started to look fairly late, but needed that gap to re-focus and make sure I looked for the right position rather than settling. I interviewed for a few positions that didn’t end up being the right fit. In a way you are interviewing the lab as well, and if it doesn’t feel right then there’s nothing wrong with moving on and look for the next opportunity. In the end, my fourth interview got me a position that was right for me. 

RH: What do you wish you could tell your 20-year-old self?

RR: Learn to code. I feel I could save a lot of time in my research if I was able to write programs that would help me analyse data instead of having to fish for programs others have written.

RH: And finally, what is your career back-up plan?

RR: I like to think if the route towards being a professor doesn’t turn out to be right for me, I will still be grateful that I had the opportunity to work in such an exciting field for as long as I have, but would have no qualms about moving forward on another parallel path.   

We’d love to hear what your career back-up plan is! Chair Helen Brown quite fancies teaching crochet. Let us know: tweet using #altcareer and we will feature some of the best in the next edition of Microbiology Today.

Rebecca Hall

Communications Representative, ECM Forum Executive Committee

Image: Roland Remenyi.