How did you obtain your current position?
Since I had a great time in my DPhil I decided to pursue a career in academia. I first focussed on laboratories that were doing interesting research and where I could expand my horizons and learn novel techniques. I then approached each lab head individually and pitched them research proposals of what kind of research questions I was interested in pursuing in their labs. Ultimately I chose the lab where my interests aligned most closely with that of my supervisor's and interviewed there before being offered a position, which I accepted.
In what way does your qualification relate to your work, whether directly or indirectly?
My DPhil work was broadly in immunology and it gave me practical skills that I continue to apply in my current role in research.
The 'soft' skills like problem solving and experimental design were also transferable.
What are the key skills that have contributed to your success thus far?
I solely believe that intrinsic ability contributes far less to success than what hard work and perseverance can achieve. To succeed, I feel, one must simply work harder and be willing to sacrifice to attain one's goals. Having said that, I'm still striving for 'success' so this is a working hypothesis.
What are your day-to-day activities?
As a scientist, my day is quite flexible and I am generally responsible for myself. In general my work involves thinking about ideas and hypotheses I’m interested in addressing, designing experiments to test these hypotheses, executing the experiments and finally analysing the data to see whether my reasoning holds any water. My day may involve any of these steps or sometimes all of them! Additionally I spend some time discussing data and ideas with colleagues and professors.
What are the best and most challenging parts of your job?
The best part of being a scientist in academia is the freedom to ask questions that interest you and to be given an opportunity to answer them yourself.
If you are lucky, sometimes you might be the sole person in the world in possession of a novel piece of knowledge. To have such power can be exhilarating.
Challenging aspects revolve around troubleshooting technical aspects of experiments, data that is tough to interpret, and also a less than ideal career ladder and progression in academia.
How did your extra-curricular involvement while at UCT add value (transferable skills) to what you offer the world of work/your degree?
I used to do a little bit of tutoring in UCT and that helped me when I delivered a few lectures on introductory immunology to medical students at Oxford.
What are your key lessons on being successful when living and/or working abroad?
- Be prepared to work hard but also don't waste the opportunity to travel while abroad as this too can open new horizons.
- Consider what you can bring back home in terms of business ideas, etc.
How did you find/research the opportunity to work abroad?
How best should students use their time at university to give themselves a competitive edge in your field?
It's important to figure out if you enjoy scientific research - the basics of designing and actually doing an experiment. If this is something that excites you, then it is important to show that you can carry out research. The best demonstration of that is to publish a peer-reviewed article in a journal. It doesn't have to be a big paper as it's simply to signal that you can do what is expected of you. Additionally, read widely around the field and try to foster relationships with scientists or researchers that you look up to. You'll need strong letters of recommendation from them. Try getting internships in laboratories abroad either in industry or academic settings as this is fast becoming the 'experience' one needs to have on their CV before getting into a famous lab.
In retrospect, what advice can you give to students about how to approach their own career development journeys?
Think hard about what the final job at the end of the tunnel is.
Do you have any advice for a new graduate entering the world of work?
Be prepared for some setbacks but don't give up the good fight. Persistence is key.