We’re starting a new blog post series to celebrate our amazing alumni! Our life does not end on the day we get our PhDs, it’s quite the opposite really- we’re starting our careers! Sometimes it’s difficult to say what your next step will be – as PhD experience gives us so much that you can be almost anything! If you’re lost or a little unsure about what you want to do after PhD, the best way to find out is to ask around and that’s exactly what we’re doing! 

We’ve asked Jake what he’s up to – and he’s doing amazingly well! Jake did his PhD at Randall with Maddy Parsons and he’s now left the lab bench to be a network manager for the Integrated Biological Imaging Network. Check out his answers below!

What was your PhD project on? What was your favourite part of the PhD?

My project was investigating the role that α2β1-integrin plays in maintaining cell-cell adhesion in keratinocytes. I took this PhD because I love microscopy and the project contained lots of imaging. I had the opportunity to use a range of cool microscopes in the Nikon Imaging Centre to generate images and movies. My favourite parts of the PhD were the times when everything worked out and I got a great timelapse or super cool image. As anyone doing their PhD will tell you, these moments are few and far between.

What advice would you give to your past PhD-self? If you could do everything all over again, what would you do differently?

I think I would tell myself to be more aware of things not working out. It is important to recognise when things aren’t working, even after you’ve tried lots of different approaches to get it to work. Sometimes it’s better to drop it and move on to something else. Also, if you are struggling with something, check to make sure that someone else hasn’t already done it. I spent a while trying to write my own program for analysis before realising I could get a tool that someone else had already built. Doh!

When did you start thinking about your options after PhD? What helped you to decide what you want to next?

I started thinking about what I wanted to do after my PhD fairly soon after I started. Not that I knew what I wanted to do, but I kept it in the back of my mind. To help me decide I took part in as many different things as possible. I volunteered for Athena SWAN, I wrote for the blog, I was a PhD student rep, I went to science events and spoke to as many people as I could. Slowly I built up an idea in my mind of what I would enjoy. But, even when I finished my PhD I still wasn’t 100% certain. I applied for lots of different stuff and tried to work out what might work for me.

What are you up to now?

After my PhD I took a 1-year Post-Doc with Maddy Parsons (my PhD supervisor) to finish off some stuff and work out what I wanted to do. During the second half of that I started applying for jobs. I got a couple of offers, a few interviews and loads of rejections. I was surprised that a couple of places offered me interviews for roles that I considered very under qualified for. Don’t underestimate yourself! Apply for stuff that you think you’re under qualified for. Once I was at interview stages with a few places I spoke to Maddy about my options and she suggested I apply for a role with her in communications. I did, and now I’m the network manager for the Integrated Biological Imaging Network. I’m organising a number of conferences, running a website and blog, and coordinating the members of the network.

How does your typical day look like? What is your favourite part about your current role?

I enjoy having creative freedom and creating something from scratch. It almost feels like starting a new business and it’s cool that I am able to decide how the network develops. I’ve very much switched the lab bench for the office desk but I still feel involved in the world of microscopy, which is great.

Was having a PhD crucial to get the job that you were after?

It was crucial. For the other jobs I was applying for (e.g. communications in science organisations) having a PhD was essential. It also gives an advantage for a range of jobs. Lots of businesses, not necessarily in science, favour candidates with a PhD. Especially if they are involved in handling data or making evidence-based decisions. What you are doing is learning is how to be an expert in critical thinking and you should definitely play to that when applying for jobs.

Apart from doing my PhD research, what else should I do to be the best candidate out there?

I always tell people that networking is the best thing you can do. You should go out and attend as many events and take as many opportunities as you can. People always say that when you are applying for jobs it is who you know. And to an extent, that is true. You should be using you PhD as an opportunity to make as many contacts as you can, within the department and elsewhere. Not only will putting yourself out there get you more contacts, you will also be finding out about what you are interested in. Go to the Randall Careers day.

What do you miss most about your PhD life?

I will definitely not miss doing tissue culture 😫. But I will miss coming back to the end of a time-lapse and seeing that it has worked and the cells survived and there is a usable movie. I’ll also miss hanging out with everyone in the lab – stupid stuff like chatting whilst doing western blots or waiting for stuff to spin. Trying to work out what the tea-time theme-time is on Radio 6 (usually around 3:30pm, I’ve only ever guessed it twice in the whole of my PhD).

Can you share your funniest or most memorable experience from your PhD life?

It’s hard to choose the funniest or most memorable experience. Pretty much every day has been funny – the result of being a lab filled with crazy people. If I had to choose a funny moment it would be getting shut down by security at the Randall Retreat for singing Wrecking Ball at 4 am with Brooke, Fuad and Willow.

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Got more questions for Jake? JAKE

Drop him an email at jake.howden@kcl.ac.uk !