Case study

Postdoctoral research fellow — Dr Rachel Hale

Rachel enjoys collaborating with outstanding researchers in her field throughout the world and constantly learning new things

How did you get your job?

A year into my PhD in environmental science I attended the World Conference on Marine Biology with a view to meeting certain scientists and collaborating with them during my PhD.

I was introduced to my current supervisor and we worked together on a project that formed a chapter of my PhD thesis. Through him I heard about a postdoctoral position that was available on the NERC Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry Research Project doing similar work to that of my thesis and I applied and got the job.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

Very relevant. I learned the skills necessary to carry out my current job through the research I carried out during my PhD.

My undergraduate biology degree and Masters in applied marine science give me a broad base of knowledge from which to work, whereas my PhD has given me the specific training and skills I need to be a researcher on a day-to-day basis.

What are your main work activities?

Each day is different depending on what there is to do that week or what projects we're working on.

At the moment I'm involved in supervising a couple of Masters students, so we are planning fieldwork and lab work together.

I'm currently running some long-term experiments that are held in our constant temperature lab so I monitor those once a week, taking pH, temperature, salinity and nutrient samples.

I am also writing up a paper from my PhD thesis so I try to grab a few hours on that each week. As well as all this I get involved in teaching lectures and marking coursework.

I recently returned from a research cruise in the Irish Sea so every day there was very physical and varied.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

Since finishing my PhD, where my role was primarily to carry out my own research and focus on one project, my role has evolved into carrying out multiple projects, managing others' (students') projects, writing papers, writing grants and starting teaching.

I really feel like I'm on the track towards becoming an independent researcher.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the variety and the sense of accomplishment when you publish a good paper or achieve a project.

As each project takes up a lot of time, when a paper is published or the lab work is finished it feels like a milestone has been achieved.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

The most challenging part is how busy it is. I am constantly juggling different projects and trying to progress each one piece by piece. It can be frustrating when you have to split your time between so many projects and it feels like progress is very slow.

I also end up working lots of long days and weekends. You see colleagues doing this and you are competing for a limited number of jobs.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

Forward planning. I got my current job by networking with the aim of getting a postdoc two years before I finished my PhD.

Aim to publish high-quality papers as early as possible as they will always help when applying for PhDs and postdoctoral positions.

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