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From researcher to writer...

by YPU Admin on April 4, 2014, Comments. Tags: Neuroscience, PhD, and Research

As part of our Thinking Careers section, we explore the non-academic career options taken by those who have completed their PhDs. This week, Natasha Thomas talks about moving from a job in the laboratory to a career in medical communications.


My name is Natasha Thomas and I’m a Senior Medical Writer. I’ve always enjoyed learning, and was interested in pursuing a career in science when I completed my A-levels (although I had no idea what job I wanted to do at the time!). I studied Neuroscience at The University of Sheffield, and went on to complete a PhD in cardiovascular science at The University of Manchester. I was lucky enough to be offered a post-doctoral research job in the urology lab at Bond University in Australia, and stayed there for 18 months. Towards the end of my post doc I realised that I didn’t want to stay in research for the long term, and I started to look at careers in medical communications. When I moved back to the UK I started as an Associate (or trainee) Medical Writer, and progressed to a Medical Writer, and then to my current position as Senior Medical Writer.

Current job

I currently work for Fishawack Indicia Ltd, which is a medical communications agency ( The people that we work for are usually pharmaceutical companies. Medical writers get involved wherever there is new information available about a particular drug that doctors and researchers need to know about. The communication of new information about drugs is important, as it can help doctors to decide on the best way to treat a patient, and can lead to new ideas or developments for future medical research. No two days are the same, and there is a lot of variety on a day-to-day basis. I write up trials of drugs for publication in scientific journals, work on materials for presentation at conferences, and have meetings with doctors and researchers to talk about future publications. One of the reasons I enjoy my job is that I have the opportunity to learn about lots of different diseases and treatments; I’ve worked on drugs for asthma, HIV and Alzheimer’s disease, to name just a few. Some of the drugs I write about are still in development and are being tested as treatments. It’s exciting to think that one day these drugs might be available to treat and help people.

There is often the opportunity to travel as a medical writer, as speakers at conferences may need help checking their slides before their presentation, and writers often report back on what presentations were most interesting for people. I enjoy going to conferences and meeting new people, though the hours can often be long when you’re away on site.


Any kind of communication experience is good experience for being a medical writer. While I was a PhD student I wrote an article for the university newsletter, and a course I attended asked for people to write up a short review so I jumped at the chance. Creating presentations and posters for conferences, and finding different ways of explaining your work so that other people can understand are all good skills that can be used by a medical writer. This sort of practice is also useful for applying for jobs in medical communications. Most agencies ask you to complete a short writing test as part of the application process but this isn’t designed to be scary or to catch you out, it’s there so that you can show off your potential!

Going Further

When I was looking for jobs in medical communications one of the most useful websites I found was MedCommsNetworking. The website advertises jobs, but also provides details on careers days, workshops and courses, and has links to lots of other useful websites.  There is also a link to ‘A Day in the Life of MedComms’, which is where on a particular day, people in the medical communications industry send in articles or photos about what they’re up to. This provides a good insight in to what people in the industry really do on a day-to-day basis, and makes for interesting reading!


Engineering: the practical application of science to real world problems

by YPU Admin on March 21, 2014, Comments. Tags: aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, PhD, and Research


My name is Craig Morrison and I am a 2nd year PhD student in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester. My research is linked to the nuclear industry, using computers to try and simulate what happens to materials in the extreme environment in a nuclear reactor.

In Depth

I enjoyed STEM subjects throughout school and studied for A levels in Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Geography. I considered applying to study Physics at university but was unsure of the jobs on offer after graduation. I was advised that for those who are curious about science and maths but still have an eye for practical problems, maybe stemming from a childhood love of Lego or Meccano, studying engineering can be a good alternative to a pure science at university. So I decided engineering was for me and went to the University of Sheffield to study for a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

For those who don’t know, engineering is the practical application of science to real world problems. Albert Einstein was once quoted as saying; ‘Scientists investigate that which already is; Engineers create that which has never been’. Essentially the science taught at school and university explores the world around us, developing equations and theories to explain why things behave the way they do. Engineering takes the principles developed by scientists and uses them to design and create the man-made world we live in.

Engineers are tasked with solving a wide range of problems, often with significant time, resource and financial constraints. New challenges evolve with the world around us ensuring that the learning and self-improvement never stops. How do we supply food, water and clean energy to a global population that is expected to hit 9 billion by 2040? Where will these people live? How do we combat the effects of global warming? These issues make for scary reading, but provide the fuel from which engineers thrive.

Different branches of engineering exist to cope with the different problems encountered in everyday life. The house you live in and the bridges you drive over were designed by civil engineers. The car or train you travel in were designed by a mechanical engineer to get you there quickly and safely whilst using as little fuel as possible. Aerospace engineers create the planes which fly over huge distances to take you go on holiday. And that’s not mentioning electrical/electronic, materials, manufacturing, bio-engineering or the multiple other engineering disciplines fields that have emerged.

In many engineering industries a skills shortage is imminent as large chunks of the workforce approach retirement age ensuring engineering graduates and apprentices are in high demand. Furthermore, the team working, communication and problem solving skills are sought by other industries as well – business, accounting and finance in particular – a reassuring thought for those interested in the subject but unsure as to whether engineering is their preferred long term career choice. 

Going Further

As a general rule, to study an engineering based course at University will require an A level in Maths alongside a science depending on the branch which you wish to study, e.g. Physics will be needed for Mechanical engineering, chemistry for Chemical engineering, biology for Bioengineering.

Make no mistake an engineering degree can be difficult and challenging but in terms of employability and job satisfaction it remains one of the best degrees you can study. There is also a fun side with societies where students can design and build a racing car (formula student), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV society) or experience piloting and aircraft design (Flight Simulator Society). Whether you want to design rollercoasters, become an astronaut or improve our future by solving some of the biggest issues faced by the world today, an engineering degree could be your first step to an exciting, varied and satisfying career.

Find out more about engineering at the University of Manchester here:

You can find out more about engineering in general and the careers on offer here:

You can find out more about student societies in MACE here:


The science of small things

by YPU Admin on March 7, 2014, Comments. Tags: chemical engineering, nanoscience, PhD, and Research


Hi, my name is Lauren and I am a second year PhD student at The University of Manchester. I was lucky enough to be selected for the NowNANO DTC programme. A DTC (Doctoral Training Centre) programme is essentially a PhD and the NowNANO DTC is a programme that specialises in Nanoscience. For those that don’t know what Nanoscience is, it is science on a very very small scale – 10-9 m to be exact, that’s 1 million times smaller than a millimetre!

My particular area of research looks at the molecular interactions in organic crystals. Organic crystals are crystals that are made up of carbon atoms. My focus is on hydrogen bonding behaviour in these crystals. One of the main uses of these types of crystals is in Pharmaceutical tablets. The molecular interactions in the crystals are what determine the properties of the crystal and therefore how well the drugs work.

In Depth

In order to get where I am now, I studied Maths, Chemistry and Physics at A level. At the time, my plan was to become an engineer and work on renewable energy. I studied for 4 years to get my master’s degree in “Chemical Engineering with Environmental Technology”. In between my 3rd and 4th year at university, I decided to see how much I enjoyed Chemical Engineering by doing a 3 month placement with the Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co. My job was to look at all of the water that was used on site and try to find ways to reduce their water consumption. The project was interesting and very challenging but for me it didn’t seem to fit my personality.

For the degree that I was doing I was required to complete a research project in my 4th year in order to get my masters. As soon as I started this project I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I spent a lot more time on my project than my friends did. I found myself reading about the research in my spare time. I was very fortunate to find a project that I enjoyed so much. My project was more chemistry and physics based rather than engineering and I felt that this suited me better. When it came to the end of the year and everyone else I knew was applying for jobs, I decided to apply for a PhD instead. And the rest, as they say, is history!

The research that I am working on now uses soft X-rays to look at molecular interaction in organic (carbon based) crystals. This has a particular relevance to the pharmaceutical industry as almost half of all pharmaceuticals are administered as tablets. The actual ‘drug’ part of the tablet is almost always an organic crystal. Learning more about these molecules helps the pharmaceutical companies to decide things such as; how much drug should be in the tablet, how quickly it will dissolve and how effectively it will spread through the body.

I like my research, firstly because I simply enjoy finding out new information. Though, I particularly enjoy my research because I feel like I am making a contribution to society and in a small way, helping other people. My research is fairly fundamental, this means that it is all about the pure science. I am a few steps removed from the practical applications of drug delivery. However, the scientists that are working on the drugs need to know about their science, which makes me feel like what I am doing is important, however small my contribution may be.

Going Further

Click here for more information about the course Chemical Engineering with Environmental Technology.

More information on Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science can be found here.

In my spare time I am also a STEM ambassador. STEM is an organisation that aims to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. If you wish to find out more about the various jobs and carers that are available through these subjects then have a look at this site.

If you have been interested in my work then all of the information about my research can be found on my research page.

Other pages you may find interesting that are related to my work include:

1.  I work with X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS). For those of you who want a challenge have a look at how it works, you can find more information here.

2.  What is a drug? Find out here.


Growth hormones and variations

by YPU Admin on February 28, 2014, Comments. Tags: biology, PhD, and Research


I’m Lee Dunham, and I’m currently in the third year of my PhD research in Biomedical Science. After completing my GCSEs (many moons ago!), I went to college to study Biology, Psychology, Sport Science (A-levels) and Maths and Chemistry (AS-levels). At the time I thought I wanted to do Medicine, but changed my mind to continue into research. I got a place studying a straight Biology degree at Cardiff University. Throughout the course, I went on field courses to Tobago, and worked for a leading pharmaceutical company (AstraZeneca) and contributed to a published study. Upon graduating from Cardiff University, I started on my PhD research at the University of Manchester. My work here focusses on understanding how growth hormone, present in all humans, is regulated and how changes may contribute to differences seen between individuals.

In Depth

Why does it matter that we understand the differences? Whilst “variation is the spice of life”, we like these variations to be within a ‘normal limit’. Growth hormone (as the name suggests) controls growth and development in all mammals, and is the main cause for the variation in our heights and sizes. Some people make more of it, and others make less…

Sometimes however, the regulation fails from keeping growth hormone at a ‘normal’ level, and unfortunately this can result in disease. For example, misregulation may cause cancer, acromegaly and growth hormone deficiency. Whilst some of the characteristics of these are noticeable as being much taller or shorter, other more detrimental symptoms are also caused. These include joint pain, limited vision, headaches, increased fat mass, decreased bone density and even death.

I am aiming to identify the ‘normal’ patterns of the growth hormone gene. This gene in humans is unique to any other mammals as it has vital components allowing for stringent control. I look at single cells under a powerful microscope to observe these patterns. To make this possible, I have added a section into the growth hormone gene which makes it glow when it is present. That way, when growth hormone is being made in the cell it brightens up, and then goes dull when production stops. Each blob is a cell in a dish with my modified growth hormone gene in. Measuring the time, frequency and intensity of these events will allow me to identify ‘normal levels’ which can then be compared to different conditions.

Through both my Biology BSc and my PhD, I have learnt so many theoretical and practical skills within the laboratory. I regularly use high-tech microscopes, manipulate genes and apply a number of analytical tests. Working with some of the newest technology in a lab with people from different places and backgrounds to understand something nobody else yet knows is extremely rewarding, and I now have skills which can be transferred to many different research areas and jobs.

Going Further

Found out about studying Biology at the University of Manchester here.

For a link to the medical and human sciences page go here and you can find all the research done at University of Manchester.

And here you can find the research done specifically looking at human development.

For a great video which explains genetics and variation go here.


From vascular physiology to student recruitment

by YPU Admin on February 14, 2014, Comments. Tags: careers, PhD, Research, and science

As part of our Thinking Careers section, we explore the non-academic career options taken by those who have completed their PhDs. In this entry, Fiona Lynch discusses how she went from researching vascular physiology to working in student recruitment at the University of Manchester.



My name is Fiona Lynch and my current role is Student Recruitment and Widening Participation Coordinator in the University of Manchester.  I have always been interested in science and studied Biochemistry in University College Galway, Ireland.  Following this I moved to Dublin and did a PhD in vascular physiology in University College Dublin.  After this I moved to the UK to start my first academic job or post-doctoral job in the University of Manchester.  Originally I was supposed to stay for a three year contract but fast forward 14 years and I am still happily in Manchester, married with three young children.  


Current job

I work in the Directorate for Student Experience in the Student Recruitment and Widening Participation Team.  My job involves organising presentations and tours for schools who wish to visit the campus and get a taste for University life, organising the university open day and supporting the widening participation and other recruitment activities.  The job has a lot of variety and I am constantly learning new skills and drawing on transferrable skills I used when I was a researcher. 



My research

My first taste of serious research was during my PhD in Dublin where is studied how our pulmonary arteries behave to changes in carbon dioxide and pH levels as they would if challenged by various  pulmonary disease.  This interest in vascular physiology and a drive to broaden my horizons led me to the University of Manchester to start a three year post-doctoral research position to try and understand the behaviour of the body’s smallest arteries, the resistance arteries, to changes in blood pressure.  I studied human coronary arteries using pressure myography.  This allowed me to replicate very closely the environment these arteries would be exposed to in the human heart.  I was fortunate to be offered further contracts to continue my research and eventually settled into a project studying how the fat which surrounds our blood vessels affects their behaviour.  One of the highlights of this for me was being allowed to witness open heart surgery.  Others included trips to international conferences and the opportunity to convey my research and findings to peers, not to mention the chance to see parts of the world I wouldn’t normally go to.  Low points included experiments not working after endless hours in the lab (although this is par for the course for a researcher!) and grants being rejected (another normal occurrence in academic research). 



So how do you go from the lab to my present job?  The key message I would give is to develop your transferrable skills.  Crunching stats in Excel and creating presentations for conferences and writing papers are all excellent skills which can be used in many non-academic roles.  While I was a PhD student and Post doc I undertook lots of public engagement activities.  Some just involved going into schools talking about my work and career path, others involved working closely with teachers to develop academic enrichment activities and workshops.  I won funding from The Physiology Society and ran two big outreach events in the Museum of Science and Industry and I became a Widening Participation Fellow.  I also took advantage of all the staff/student development courses on offer and obtained a diploma in management.  When the time came for a career change I knew I wanted to work with schools in some way and continue with outreach work so all of the above helped me secure my current role, which I enjoy immensely.


Going Further

To find out more about research and heart disease, click here.

For more information about the world of Physiology, click here.

You can find more information about public engagement activities in the University of Manchester here.

The YPU's previous entry in the Thinking Careers section can be found here.