The new Thinking Careers section will explore non-academic career options pursued by PhD students. The first case study will be on Emily Robinson, who completed an undergraduate degree and a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Manchester. Emily now works as a Secondary and Post-16 Co-ordinator for the Sciences at the Manchester Museum.
When I was in sixth form, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I liked both biology and geography, but wasn't sure if I wanted to spend years of my life studying either. Then one day, in a very small section of books termed 'Careers Library' in the corner of our study room, I found a book about Neuroscience – the study of the brain and the nervous system. With every page I turned, I realised that I had found what I wanted to study. My mum was shocked that evening when I announced over my spaghetti bolognese, “I'm applying for Neuroscience”. Her first reaction was to ask, “What is Neuroscience?” But as she heard me enthuse about this intriguing subject and how interesting studying the brain would be, she realised that she was going to have to trust me.
Flash forward ten years and I am now working at Manchester Museum coordinating their secondary and post-16 science programme. Therefore, I get to share my passion for science by creating engaging science workshops using Manchester Museum's stunning collection. But how did I get from Neuroscience to museum? Well, I did end up studying Neuroscience for my degree at the University of Manchester and I liked it so much I stayed and did a four year research PhD in Neuroscience.
The focus of my PhD research was on trying to block the immune system's damaging reaction to brain injury. It might seem odd to try to stop our immune system – which normally protects us from dangerous injections. However, when a brain injury occurs, such as a stroke, our immune system can overreact and as the brain is such a sensitive organ, it can easily be inadvertently damaged, making the situation worse. The research group I was working with are currently trialling an anti-inflammatory treatment which will hopefully reduce the potential damage caused by a stroke if it is given within a few hours of it occurring. Alongside my lab work, I also enjoyed communicating the research to the public. Therefore, I was involved in creating a lot of family and school activities to try and get people interested in Neuroscience and to highlight the important research we were doing. So my current job is an extension of that in the wider context of science; as I get to simplify complex scientific concepts and get to show students the real life application and importance of the science you are taught in school.
Although my current job does not directly use my Neuroscience knowledge, my PhD has been invaluable and helped me to get my current job. Conducting research, no matter what subject, develops your analytical skills as well as your specific subject knowledge. So whether I mean to or not, I now think like a scientist! Along the way you also gain many useful transferable skills such as communication and project management skills. Don’t get me wrong, doing a PhD isn’t all rosy; there were tough times when things got me down and I had a few wobbles with my confidence – but the challenge was all definitely worth it. I loved being part of a large laboratory group, seeing how everyone’s separate research linked together in the hope of making a big difference to people’s lives in the future. On top of that, I have made some lifelong friends along the way. Looking back, I can't say that I had the last ten years mapped out since sixth form. I could never have guessed I would end up becoming a doctor and working in a museum. But I’m always glad I chose to study a subject that I found so interesting.
To find out about studying Neuroscience at the University of Manchester,
go to the Faculty of Life Science's webpage and
the Neuroscience Research Institute.
The book which inspired my interest in Neuroscience.
For up-to-date news about Neuroscience, go to Neuroscience News.
The Guardian has excellent articles about Neuroscience.
For more ideas about what you can do with a Neuroscience degree, visit the British Neuroscience Association’s website.
To find about more about non-academic career options for PhD students, visit the Prospects website.