As part of our “How to build a career in the chemical industry” webinar we have had some follow up questions from the audience and also pre submitted questions that we did not have enough time to answer on the day. In order to answer these questions, we will publish written answers to these questions from the different panel members over the next couple of weeks. Liam O’Connell, Director of the CK Group and Chairman at REC life sciences has provided some very helpful answers to your questions:
I have a PhD in physics (with some organic chemistry) and I’m trying to get a scientific job at a local pharma hub. I’m being told that I don’t have the right experience for a “skilled” lab position like analytical chemist, and they won’t hire me for an entry level lab position because they think I’ll “get bored”. What advice can you offer me?
The problem you are having is that when you are trying to get into the pharma or chemical sectors most organisations require candidates who are qualified with life sciences degrees or PhD. Therefore you are at a disadvantage in that you are going for roles against candidates who have the ‘relevant’ skills. Companies will always choose the candidate they feel most suited to the role
A physics Phd is still very useful, however I would suggest that you change tack a bit, and aim to source a role in the medical devices sector. This is still very related to the life sciences field but there is a much greater demand for scientists with physics background in this area. Also the medical devices field is one of the fastest growing sectors within the science field in the UK and is highly innovative with a great deal of research being undertaken.
Another alternative is for you to approach companies and ask to undertake some intern based work. This will give you a chance to prove yourself to companies, get relevant experience while at the same time you will be able to decide whether you want to pursue your career in the life sciences field.
I would like to work in an industrial field but I do not have any hands on experience, do you have any suggestion of how I could get a job?
One of the biggest conundrums in looking for a scientific job is ‘how do I get a job without experience and how do I get experience without a job’. Undoubtedly it is much easier to get a job if you have relevant experience in the lab, and companies will look for either potential relevant experience in industry or in a laboratory environment. As such when choosing your degree it is wiser to apply to courses which offer industrial experience as part of the degree. This will put you at a distinct advantage. If you do not have this type of experience through your degree it is important that you get as good a qualification as possible, and this could possibly mean going on to do a Masters.
Otherwise in your CV you need to highlight all the laboratory work you have undertaken throughout your degree on your CV, demonstrating what techniques you have used and what projects you have undertaken in the lab. You must ensure that your CV is as relevant as possible to industry. If you are still having trouble getting into industry I would suggest that you approach scientific companies located in your area directly and ask for voluntary internships or work shadowing. This demonstrates a willingness to gain experience and can also act as a trail with companies who, if you demonstrate the right attitude, may offer a more permanent role.
Will there be any opportunities existing for Ph.D. (Physical Chemistry) candidates in U.K.?
The scientific market in the UK is fairly buoyant at the moment and is forecast to continue to improve over the next 5 years. The government has designated the STEM sector as a National Priority Sector and as such is investing a good deal of time and resources in this field. Via such incentives as the Patent Box Tax and R & D Tax Credits there has never been a better time for the science industries to undertake research in the UK. Also we are seeing much greater training being undertaken to meet demands for future staff.
Physical chemistry is still a very strong sector. What is important when looking for a role is that you are very proactive in searching for a job.
You need to undertake research into which sectors of the science industry employ people with your skills, and then you need to approach companies directly, to find out who is the person responsible for recruiting candidates with you skills in that company, speaking to them about your background, and telling them about yourself. They may not have vacancies at that particular point and time but they will remember you for future vacancies. On occasion they will meet up to offer advice and assistance, and remember the science industry is all about contacts so they may know about other roles which are relevant to you.
Two other bits of advice, you need to be flexible when you are looking for a role. Be prepared to relocate, be flexible in terms of salary and benefits, and if the role is less demanding that you want, do not discount it as the role could be a good stepping stone.
The other bit of advice is, to look at contract /temporary roles. These can get you valuable experience while in a great deal of cases they can lead to permanent positions. Overall I would suggest that you are much more proactive than just looking at job boards or waiting for recruitment agencies to call. Approach companies directly, particularly by phone and speak to people.
I’m an international student and after I have finished my PhD next year, I’m entitled to get 1 year work visa to find a job or sponsor who can provide me with a work visa. I have in total 3.8 years work experience from the UK and overseas. What are the chances of me finding a sponsor in the chemistry industry?
It has become difficult to get a work visa in the UK, with the changing political climate. This is causing problems as the candidate pool is not expanding fast enough. Companies are still expanding and trying to recruit the highest calibre candidates, but it is becoming more difficult to get visas for the candidates and the requirements for the visas are getting tougher all the time.
It is getting much more difficult to find a sponsor for employment in the chemical industry, but it is taken on a case by case basis, and if your skills are in high demand and are scarce you have a much greater change of getting sponsorship.