On Wednesday January 14th, employers and UWE alumni spoke at the UWE Bristol Science Futures Fair, an event held by the university to inform students about the broad career paths possible to student graduates in Biological, Biomedical, and Analytical Sciences (BBAS).

Though most students would rather not think about the post-graduation world quite yet, the Futures Fair proved that considering the possibilities open to science graduates might not be as painful as it sounds, and is actually quite fun. Speakers with job titles from Clinical Trials Manager to European Technical Sales Manager, from PhD students to graduate medical students, and from Business Managers to Anatomical Pathology Technicians, some UWE alumni, spoke to students about their career paths.

Prominent employers of science graduates at the Futures Fair on January 14th // Credit: Jamie Jordon
Prominent employers of science graduates at the Futures Fair on January 14th // Credit: Jamie Jordon

Transferrable skills gets jobs

The theme that emerged from each speaker, unexpectedly, was that though a good degree is a necessity for graduate jobs in scientific fields, it is actually the ‘soft skills’ such as creativity, organisation, and flexibility that allow graduates to make successful applications for jobs or postgraduate courses. “We are confident in our degrees,” said Gerry Rice, the Associate Head of BBAS. “From National Student Survey data, the degree classifications our students achieve, and the recent Research Excellence Framework results, as well as UWE graduate employment after 6 months being 96.5%, we know that some of this reflects staff teaching, but it is mostly student work and ability.” This puts final year students in a good position in June. “Employers want, as a given, the hard knowledge from degrees – but what they struggle to find are the soft skills, such as an interested and enquiring mind. How will you stand out and identify skills you bring to a job?”

“Aber Instruments are market leaders because we are flexible and have a can-do attitude – everybody is prepared to turn their hand to any job,” said David Anderson, European Technical Sales Manager, who uses both his degree in Applied Biology and transferrable skills such as flexibility and salesmanship in order to extend the scope of biomass measurement, from brewing to medical testing. Yes, you could be paid to improve the science behind brewing beer. Dawod Kaaba, Business Manager for Reed Scientific, a UK recruitment agency, confirmed this: “Compared with the beginning of the recession in which there was a skills surplus, the current climate now has a skills deficit in science and technology, and graduates able to demonstrate soft skills such as creativity have a lot of choice, though there is high competition.”

UWE employability and further study success is high

There is a lot to be positive about. The baseline salary for graduates has increased from £14k to £17-18k per year, scientific industries from research and development to medical devices are growing, and UWE graduate employment is within the top 7 in the country. Andrew Wilson, a UWE Biomedical Science student currently reading Graduate Medicine at Imperial College London encouraged students to get involved with the university to maximise their employability. “If you work hard for them, they’ll work hard for you,” he emphasised, having run the Medical Science Society and had research published during his undergraduate degree.

11.6% of UWE science graduates go in to further study, from Medicine to PhDs. Matthew Harris, a final year PhD student at UWE recommends all students look at PhD titles online, even if you’re not planning on doing one, as “you never know what a university will pay you to research. That’s the best part of a PhD – you’re finding out something that no one else knows, that will influence other people’s work too.” As a UWE Forensic Biology graduate now investigating proteins involved in Alzheimer’s Disease, he insisted “you don’t have to go into your degree field.” He cited personal and academic development and satisfying your own curiosity as the main reasons for going into a PhD.

“If the lab isn’t for you, you can still be a scientist”

On the other hand, Lisa Mayne, Assistant Clinical Trials Manager at University Hospitals Bristol, and a UWE Genetics graduate, stated “if the lab isn’t for you, you can still be a scientist.” Lisa graduated from UWE in 2011, and currently manages an incredible number of 37 clinical drug trials at once, interacting with patients, practitioners, and research teams in order to investigate the safety and efficacy of drugs, using both her BSc and MSc knowledge, as well as the flexibility and interpersonal skills emphasised by other speakers at the fair. Similarly, Hannah Podd, a UWE Biomedical Science graduate, works at the University of Bristol Eye Bank preparing donated eye tissue for transplants and research activity, and uses the anatomy, chemistry, and microbiology she learned during her undergraduate degree, as well as organisation and interpersonal skills when interacting with doctors and other healthcare teams. Hannah enjoys seeing the results of her work straight away, a sentiment similar to that of Angela Chapman, an Anatomical Pathology Technician who conducts up to 2000 post-mortems a year. “Forensic cases are lengthy because all the evidence must be carefully considered, including the surrounding area, so it can take days before I am fully involved in a case, unlike more routine post-mortems at our centre. The most satisfying cases for me involve reconstructing people to allow their families to be able to see them as they were and say goodbye, as to be able to help people at their most vulnerable is very rewarding.”

It is clear that there is a huge range of possibilities available to UWE science graduates. Instead of being overwhelmed, as many students can be, the best thing to do is to attend the events hosted by BBAS and UWE Careers throughout the year, and get to know employers and alumni and find out what they enjoy about what they do. You might just find the position you want to tell UWE students about in the future.

For future UWE careers events, go to InfoHub.

Dawod Kaaba, Business Manager for Reed Scientific, had the following tips for preparing applications:

CV

  • CV presentation is crucial as it is the first impression an employer gets of you. Keep formatting and font size uniform, avoid unnecessary italics, and make sure all the content is relevant. The ‘two page rule’ is not real and you may have 3 or 4 pages depending on your education and employment history, but as long as the content is relevant and well-formatted, this is fine.
  • Be sure to emphasise your final year project as it can be relevant to a job – many graduates forget to include this, but this is a lot of your work to omit! Include a couple of paragraphs with details from what you did to what you learned from it, e.g. why you did high performance liquid chromatography and what you applied it to.
  • Include a ‘profile and achievements’ section in which you distinguish yourself from other applicants, describing what you are looking for and what your personality is.

Interview

  • At interview, be sure to have thought of examples to demonstrate your creativity, personality, ability to work in a team, and flexibility, as all are likely to be assessed.
  • Make sure you have researched the company and know why your skills and interests are suited to what they do and how they work. This will also be useful for ‘skills matching’, anticipating questions and being prepared with achievements and anecdotes to demonstrate your competency, using a ‘situation, task, approach, result’ format to answer a given question.
  • Have a think about what additional skills you can bring to a position and anecdotes to demonstrate this.

Reedglobal advertises vacancies for temporary and permanent positions and also helps applicants to seek and prepare for employment if you register, and advertisements increase between February and May so register now to use this opportunity.

By Sophie Evans