Doctoral School

Dr Chris Jones

Dr Chris Jones, Research Fellow at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, tells us what happened after his PhD

Image of Chris JonesPlease tell us a bit about your current role (e.g. job title, what you do, what you enjoy, what the challenges are)

I am a Research Fellow (post-doc) at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, working in the Medical Research Building on the University of Sussex campus. I work on post-transcriptional control of gene expression at the level of RNA degradation, using Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies) and cultured cells (human and Drosophila) as a model organisms. I spend my time in the lab or writing up my work for papers etc., but also supervise PhD, masters, undergraduate and medical student projects and have building maintenance responsibilities. I enjoy the technical and experimental aspects of the work. It can be a challenge to keep going if experiments don’t work, but doing science that no-one has done before is not supposed to be easy.

How was your experience of applying for jobs after completing your doctorate, and settling into your first post?

I was fortunate that work from my PhD was used to successfully apply for a BBSRC grant on which I was a named post-doc, so settling in to my new post was simply a continuation of what I was already doing. However, staying in the same lab as you did your PhD in not viewed as a positive career move. (Though you may view not having a job, or uprooting your life for one elsewhere, as more significantly negative).

What experience and skills are important for your current role?

Being able to budget for, plan, conduct and analyse experiments is the most important as this is the core of the job. It is important to be able to do this on your own if necessary, but also to be able to work collaboratively with others if possible. Lab skills are important, but the harder skills to develop are effectively and efficiently managing your own work and having the ability to analyse the results. One of the essential skills often lacking in biological scientists (from undergraduates to post-docs and above) is adequate understanding of the statistical methods used to analyse the experiments being conducted.

How has the research experience and skills training gained during your doctorate been beneficial to your current role?

The technical experience I have gained during my doctorate was a prerequisite for working as a post-doc. The quality of the work performed by a post-doc is greater than that of PhD students due to experience. The more technical skills gained as a PhD student (or as a post-doc), the more employable you are. Being a post-doc is also considered a training position, however, you need to seek out opportunities for training and learning new techniques yourself. The most beneficial things you can do for your career while you're a PhD student (or post-doc) are generating publishable data and learning new skills.

What are your tips for those approaching the end of their doctorate (e.g. for successfully completing, thinking about career development etc.)

If you want to remain in academia, you have to come to terms with various realities. Overall, there are too many people with PhDs and not enough post-doc positions to support them all. There are also too many post-docs and not enough post-doc or higher positions to support them.  Staying in the same lab for too long is not viewed positively, and you may need to look for jobs around the country which are likely to be short-term contracts (typically 3 years or less). Staying in academia and moving on from being a post-doc to a member of faculty is certainly not guaranteed. This is not conducive to family life, as it is means you can’t easily settle down in one place, and is disruptive to the careers and lives of partners. As a post-doc, balancing your short-term contract based career with other life aspirations such as getting married, buying a house and having children, is hard.

However, performing research into areas no-one has previously investigated can be extremely rewarding. Skills learnt while doing a PhD (and working as a post-doc) are valuable to any career path, so even if you don't pursue a career in academia, you will be well equipped for many alternative roles.

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