Case study

Postdoctoral research fellow — Thomas Phillips

After completing an integrated, four-year Masters in Earth Science and a PhD in Structural Geology, Thomas enjoys the stimulating and varied nature of his role

How did you get your job?

Following graduation from my PhD, I realised that I wanted to continue my career in academia. I got in touch with professors in my field and designed a project that we proposed as a fellowship. I found out that my proposal had been successful in the summer, before starting the fellowship in October.

What are your main work activities?

My working day typically starts at around 8:30am-9:00am. I usually have a number of projects on the go at once, with various long and short deadlines. These projects include undertaking new interesting research, testing out different ideas or writing up ongoing projects for publication in scientific journals. Following a coffee break at around 10:30am, I'll usually try and focus on a different project for a short while, unless there is an upcoming deadline.

Throughout the day I usually have discussions and meetings with colleagues, often via email, skype or in person, both within the department and at different universities both nationally and internationally.

Switching between different projects allows me to stay fresh and excited about different ideas and lines of research - ensuring that I don't get writer's block.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

My degree is directly relevant to and has greatly informed my current career in academia. I use aspects of my degree knowledge daily, both in my own research and in conversations and collaborations with colleagues in the department.

What do you enjoy about your job?

One of the major benefits of my work is the ability to seek out and to test new and interesting research hypotheses and ideas. A further benefit is the ability to be flexible with my working location and hours through remote working. My work gives me the opportunity to travel to many far-flung and interesting places, either as fieldwork or for conferences.

What are the most challenging parts?

Working as a postdoctoral researcher often requires a lot of self-motivation and determination, particularly when certain research ideas or experiments may not work for the first, second or third attempts. I find that a particular challenge within academia is the short-term nature of the contracts available, as this makes it difficult to plan far ahead for the future.

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

Although my role is primarily focussed on research, it's also given me the opportunity to supervise students undertaking Masters projects and to be involved in designing and helping to teach undergraduate courses.

Any words of advice for those wanting to get into academic research?

  • Ensure that you're genuinely interested in your Masters course and that the skills you gain will be either directly or indirectly advantageous to you in your future career.
  • Be proactive - get in touch with people that you'd be interested in working with.
  • Research various avenues and funding bodies that would be suitable for your field of work.
  • Explore the wider implications of your research and how it may be of interest to the wider public. Try and get involved in science communication if possible.

Find out more

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page