Case study

Research associate — Eleanor

Following on from her Masters and PhD, Eleanor is now a research associate at the London Centre for Nanotechnology and enjoys a very varied, creative and collaborative role as a research associate

What did you study and where?

I studied for Masters in biochemistry at the University of Oxford and then completed my PhD at the University College London.

What's a typical day like?

There is no such thing as a typical working day. A week will involve some periods of time in the lab at the London Centre for Nanotechnology carrying out experiments, time at my desk planning or analysing experiments, time discussing data with colleagues, planning future projects, reading papers, some time in meetings discussing other people’s data and supervising students and helping them work through their projects.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the variety of the work and that each day is different. My day is very active when I’m in the lab, and can be highly creative. I’m often trying to achieve things that nobody has ever done before and where there is a ‘right’ answer, but nobody knows what it is yet.

What are the challenges?

Like any job, there’s bureaucracy and budget cuts. Some days where I’ve spent the entire day at my desk trying to make a figure, or to write a paragraph for a paper, it can feel like I’ve achieved very little.

How has your role developed? What are your career ambitions?

I now do a fair amount of supervising of other postdocs and PhD students which is rewarding but can be time consuming. As you become more senior there is a greater emphasis on taking research in the direction of your choice, but equally an emphasis on finding your own funding.

What advice would you give others looking to become a Research associate?

Do a Masters in research to see if a PhD is for you. It might be a good time to change field, to try out a different area to your undergraduate degree.

Get used to being outside your comfort zone - and learn to enjoy it. In research, you’re constantly pushing at the boundaries of what is known, and you’ll need to be able to take advice from a lot of people.

Don’t believe the myth that there is no creativity in science. Good experiments that push the boundaries require careful thinking and planning, but also lots of creative insight.

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