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Graduate profiles

Graduate profiles

From academia to communications, our School of Biological Sciences alumni have diverse careers.

 

Name: Harvinder Bhandal

Subject: Biomedical Sciences

Graduated: 2016

Place of work: Bioventus

Position: Territory Sales Manager

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

They provided an in-depth understanding of science and the mechanism of action which is crucial especially in the role I am currently in. They provided me with extensive training on my presentation skills, which have been extremely helpful during the interview process, and also within the role. It is important to note also, that the extensive use of research papers has enabled me to have a high skill of accuracy to look for specific information for a specific purpose. 

What's happened in your career?

I am responsible for selling Bioventus' products to new and existing customers. I utilise strategic sales skills and I am involved in high-level discussions with both surgeons and other key stakeholders. I travel internationally and there is potential for this in other companies too.

Name: Lauren Edwards

Subjects: BSc Biology and PhD Biological Sciences

Graduated: 2013 and 2018

Position: School Teacher

What first attracted you to Royal Holloway?

I studied at Royal Holloway for seven years, I picked the course based on the diversity and freedom of choice of modules and I was really pleased with being able to study a mix of zoology, ecology and molecular biology courses. I really enjoyed the independence of my final year research project. I graduated with a first and I was offered the opportunity to continue my research with a PhD and I jumped at the chance to stay within such a supportive learning environment.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

During my time as a postgraduate I made the most of all the opportunities to get involved in the department. Representing the Plant Molecular Science centre and chairing the Postgraduate Committee allowed me to make sure my voice, and the voices of others were heard and improvements made. The importance of this and the ability to make a difference to people's lives through improving their learning experience has become a real focus for me and this responsibility taught me many skills that I can take into my future career as an educator.

I realised my passion and flair for teaching by having the opportunity to work as a demonstrator in undergraduate laboratory sessions and supervising third year research projects. All the students I have taught and researched with make me feel proud that I used my time as a PhD student to enhance their university experience in some way, as well as taking the opportunity to learn so much from them. I managed to take teaching courses alongside my research to make sure I used the experience fully and to make sure my teaching improved. I received the Excellence in Teaching Engagement Award which was part of the Staff Recognition awards at Royal Holloway. It was really fulfilling to win an award that came about from student and staff recognition of my efforts in teaching within the school.

What's happened in your career?

Studying at Royal Holloway has given me valuable experience that has helped me to gain a place as a salaried trainee teacher through the Researchers in Schools programme where I hope to continue my research, promote university education, teach and study for a full teaching qualification.

Name: Samia Ahmed
Subject: BSc Biology & Geology, MSc Petroleum Geoscience
Graduated: 2008 and 2009
Place of work: IHS, UK
Position: Middle East Field Researcher

IHS provides data and expertise for customers ranging from governments and multi-nationals to technical professionals in over 180 countries.

Samia’s role at IHS is to create new discovery field records and to research and reconcile all aspects of hydrocarbon field data, ensuring data accuracy and consistency.

What first attracted you to Royal Holloway?

Royal Holloway came highly recommended from my brothers who studied there and had a great experience, both academically and socially. Coupled with the reputation of the geology course at Royal Holloway, I decided to move from Denmark to study there.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

My degree was very career specific, extensive and challenging. It constantly focused on learning and improving your skills. There was extensive laboratory and field work which helped to develop an analytical and critical approach.

There were also field trips, presentations, written projects and group work; all of this has helped me tremendously in my career.

My professor was very pro-active, supportive and kept us up to date with alumni careers. He was my inspiration and he has definitely contributed to my success today.

What’s happened in your career?

IHS offers a wide range of career opportunities. I am currently working on a CO2 storage project, which is a hot spot in the oil industry.

Additionally, I contribute to IHS editorial products as well as presenting technical papers and posters at regional conferences.

My team is also learning Arabic, which is part of our ongoing self-development and will help us correspond better with our Middle East clients.

Name: Rebecca Nohl

Subject: PhD Biological Sciences

Year graduated: 2018

Company name: Government Office for Science

Position: Project Management Lead

What first attracted you to Royal Holloway?

I was looking for a PhD project to embark on after finishing an undergraduate degree specialising in plant molecular biology. I applied to join the Fraser lab at Royal Holloway because I was attracted to its excellent publication record and good links to industrial plant science.

What did Royal Holloway teach you?

I learnt so much during the four years of my PhD; not only analytical biochemistry and molecular biology techniques, but also presentation and project management skills. The lab gave me the opportunity to travel to present my work at international meetings and conferences, and to complete part of the work in an Italian genomics institute. My project was partially funded by the plant biotechnology company Syngenta, which gave me a great insight into industrial science.

The community of the lab I worked in and high level of support I received from my supervisor made the whole degree a really enjoyable experience.

What’s happened in your career?

I now work in the Government Office for Science, which provides scientific advice for policies across government. I work on a wide range of interesting issues cutting across environmental science and rural affairs; it’s an enjoyable job where no two days are the same.

 

 

Tell us about your current job. What career path led you to it? What does your typical day look like? What are the best and worst parts of your job?

My current job is as a Senior Teaching Fellow at the School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway. I’m responsible for inspiring our students to learn about and understand ecology and conservation. I want our students to enjoy their degrees and use what they have learnt to allow them to get into their chosen career.

The career path that led me to this job was one that I didn’t plan! I completed a BSc Zoology at Royal Holloway, then went onto an MSc in Wildlife Conservation and Management at the University of Reading. I then saw a really interesting PhD position, applied for it and got it! Once I finished my PhD the perfect job came up at Reading. I worked there for 5 years, before joining Royal Holloway as a Teaching Fellow in 2016. I was ready for a new challenge when I joined RHUL, and I’ve spent the last few years shaping my role so that I am now teaching what I love and hopefully making positive differences to our students.

A typical day doesn’t really exist as my job can be so varied. During term time, my favourite days are when I am out of my office teaching. Otherwise I am normally spending time supervising my research students, in meetings or answering emails. The best part of my job is being out in the field, either doing research, or teaching students important field research skills. The worst part of my job are the days when I feel like I am drowning in emails. It can be hard to keep up sometimes.

How has the degree you did at RHUL helped your career?

My Zoology degree gave me the knowledge and experience needed for a career in science. It exposed me to so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. For example my tutor had contacts with people working in conservation in Africa. He helped me arrange some research experience in one of my summers, and following this I arranged my own final year research project studying bats in the Wye Valley. These were amazing experiences that helped me to pursue further education following my first degree. 

What are your best memories of the degree you did at Royal Holloway? 

The field courses! I went to Millport to study Marine Biology and did a Practical Field Ecology course on campus. I loved these courses the most; they were a great way to bond with my fellow students and I learnt so much more because they were so applied.

What one piece of advice would you give to people starting out – something you wish you’d known when you were in your very early career?

Try everything you can; join a student society, arrange work experience, volunteer in one of the research labs. Lots of people get degrees now, so you need to have something else to talk about in future job interviews, and these are also the best ways to find out what interests you the most. Also, be nice to your Personal Tutor. They have so many contacts and so much experience and they will be the ones writing your references after you graduate, so make sure that they know you!

What do you think the future holds in your particular area of work or expertise? How could researchers “future-proof” themselves if they are thinking about getting into your area of expertise/industry/research?

The best ecologists I know have a great mix of field skills (species identification and sampling skills) and have a good understanding of statistics (specifically using R). If you can combine these skills then you’ll be very employable.

Do you have any recommendations for online forums, websites or organisations that would be good sources of information, advice or reference for anybody wishing to get into your area of work or research?

The British Ecological Society is a fantastic organisation to get involved with if you’re interested in ecology. They run a brilliant conference each year, and are very supportive of early career researchers. They also have grants, and many other opportunities for people to get involved.

Beyond your academic work what do you think has been the most worthwhile thing you did that has benefited you in your career or got you into your current job?

Being proactive and trying new things. As a student I tried out bird ringing with a local ringing group for a year; there were lots of early starts, but it helped my identification skills and looked great on my CV. When I was doing my PhD I set up a local wildlife conservation group, this really helped me network and gain other opportunities.

What would you do differently if you were starting your career again?

I would probably have pushed myself more to network at conferences and other events, it can be uncomfortable (especially if you are in introvert like me), but it’s really important to build collaborations and to build a network of people at different stages of their career.

What do you wish someone had told you about the sector/job hunting etc?

Do not be put off when applying for jobs if you don’t meet all of the criteria, it’s always worth giving it a go, as you don’t know who else will be applying.

 

My current job is …

My current job is Development Scientist for Thermo Fisher Scientific, a large biotechnology company.

I’m responsible for…

I’m responsible for carrying out DNA extraction and analysis for thousands of bacterial strains, being part of a large team of scientists, bioinformaticians and engineers all working on the development of a new diagnostic technology.

The career path that led me to this job…

Following my course at Royal Holloway, I realised that I became interested in infectious diseases, therefore I further continued my studies in this area and obtained an MSc degree in Medical Microbiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where as part of my Research Project I was working on the development of an assay to detect enteroviruses. When I heard of this job at Thermo Fisher Scientific, I thought this was exactly in line with my experience and interests, applying my knowledge of molecular biology and infectious diseases to help make the world a safer and healthier place.

My typical day…

My typical day consists of a mix of practical work (carrying out DNA extractions) as well as computer work for the DNA analysis, but also general research and reading of relevant literature to improve our assays and methods.

The best part of my job…

The best part of my job is being able to work and interact with a large team where everyone has different backgrounds and areas of expertise, therefore the opportunities to learn and continuously develop as a Scientist are endless. It is also really gratifying to know that I am helping to develop a product which can end up saving thousands or even millions of lives (who knows!).

The worst part of my job…

The worst part of my job is perhaps having time constraints; my academic background meant that I am constantly wanting to investigate and find out more about certain things which however I have no time for.

How has the degree you did at Royal Holloway helped your career?

The degree I did at Royal Holloway helped me develop into the person I am, and allowed me to truly realise the area of Science which I was mostly interested in and excited about. Before my course in Biology at Royal Holloway, I knew very little about what to achieve and what kind of things I wanted to be doing in the future. I’d say my degree was essential; it was the foundation of my career path.

What are your best memories of the degree you did at Royal Holloway?  

The atmosphere and people are definitely what I miss the most; life on campus is extremely exciting and the opportunities to interact with peers and also lecturers are numerous. It is truly an immersive experience which I’ll truly treasure for my entire life. The three years I spent in Egham studying at Royal Holloway were probably some of the best years of my life.

What one piece of advice would you give to people starting out – something you wish you’d known when you were in your very early career?

My one piece of advice is to always believe in yourself and never give up; there were definitely times where I thought I couldn’t make it, where the pressure what so high that I doubted myself and thought that perhaps I wasn’t made for university. Well it is in those occasions that I wish someone would have told me that I am probably the only limitations to what I can do – therefore always believe in yourself and you’ll achieve what you want (provided you genuinely work for it of course!).

What do you think the future holds in your particular area of work or expertise? How could researchers “future-proof” themselves if they are thinking about getting into your area of expertise/industry/research?

I definitely thing bioinformatics is going to be a key element if the future of infectious diseases and diagnostics; we are in an exciting era for science and with the growing amount of next-generation-sequencing data that is being generated, computing and bioinformatics tools will be essential.

Do you have any recommendations for online forums, websites or organisations that would be good sources of information, advice or reference for anybody wishing to get into your area of work or research?

In terms of websites, NCBI has a tremendous amount of free data which could help someone to get some experience with DNA analysis, however in terms of information I would say Google Scholar has lots of papers and journals regarding infectious diseases, I used to read papers on the train, any, to familiarise with what researchers are working on at the moment, but also to become used to reading and writing scientific literature. The CDC website has also some good information of the epidemiology of certain bugs of interest, and if interested in diagnostic techniques then I would recommend the Standards for Microbiology Investigations (UK SMI) which provide useful information specific to certain groups of microbes and detailed protocols.

Beyond your academic work what do you think has been the most worthwhile thing you did that has benefited you in your career or got you into your current job?

I think beyond my academic work, working throughout my studies in retail truly allowed me to realise how it is to work with people as part of a team, interact with colleagues and customers and really build up a set of skills that are not taught in academic life but are truly immensely useful for any person.

What would you do differently if you were starting your career again? 

I am extremely happy with what I have achieved so far, and very happy to be working in this sector; however, if I could start again, I would say I would make the most of interacting and truly finding out what people in the field are doing, talking to as many people as I can and building meaningful relationships and connections which can be tremendously important in this field. What I am trying to say is that if I could go back, I wouldn’t hold back on anything, I would take on as many opportunities that I was given and always make the most of them; some opportunities may only come up once!

What do you wish someone had told you about the sector/job hunting etc? 

I wish people would have told me that it is okay to fail, it is okay to not always make it the first time, but it is far worse to not try. Job hunting can be daunting, and unless you are extremely lucky rejections will be an important part of the process; learn from your failures and don’t allow them to take you down or think any less of yourself.

 

My current job is...

Biodiversity Consultant at Gatwick Airport.

I’m responsible for…

Implementing a Biodiversity Action Plan for the land-side areas

The career path that led me to this job…

I carried out various temping work and part time jobs after completing a BSc in Zoology and a masters in Biological Sciences Research, including temping as an office administrator, working in a cinema bar and a part time gardener. This helped to fund my driving lessons and get my own laptop computer. I had been a part-time gardener since beginning my degree, and this allowed me to develop some basic skills in species identification, such as plants, butterflies and British birds. I began volunteering for the wildlife trust when I could at the weekends or during my time off, and shadowed their ecologist in the field.

My typical day…

is quite difficult to summarise, as my days are highly variable! It might begin at 6.30am with a bird survey, walking a fixed route along the River Mole to record different species and breeding behaviour. Then a coffee before heading in to the office to catch up on emails, or I may have to meet a conservation volunteer group to advise on their habitat management, or a project engineer over on our biodiversity sites to complete a wildlife assessment for their works. In the afternoon I might be surveying for butterflies or carrying out a beekeeping inspection of our Honeybee Apiary. Sometimes I carry out an evening amphibian torching survey or moth trapping survey. In summer the days can be very long!

The best part of my job…  

is the sheer variety of work and constant learning means it never gets dull

The worst part of my job…

is the antisocial hours, which can be difficult for people to understand.

How has the degree you did at Royal Holloway helped your career?

I think that being a slightly older student (started my degree at 20) meant I was highly engaged and more certain of my interest in the subject matter. Zoology was a fascinating degree, gaining me an understanding the diversity of species of plants, animals, fungi etc, and their subsequent subgroups. This has helped with my species identification skills, my understanding of ecosystems and the importance of keystone species.

What are your best memories of the degree you did at Royal Holloway?

Field trips were often very challenging yet enlightening. Some lectures were incredibly interesting and certain lecturers excelled in their teaching and communication.

What one piece of advice would you give to people starting out- something you wish you’d known when you were in your very early career?

I didn’t really know I would become an ecologist, I thought I would end up in academia, but I have no regrets whatsoever! You do not need to know yet exactly where you are going in your work, just follow whatever path interests you most.

What do you think the future holds in your particular area of work or expertise? How could researchers “future-proof” themselves if they are thinking about getting into your area of expertise/industry/research?

The future of ecology needs to have more focus on the basics of our ecosystems – the numerous plants and invertebrates around which ecosystems function, not just the ‘charismatic megafauna’, or European protected species. Identification skills will still be needed for some time to come, and knowledge of several groups such as botany and invertebrates will be valuable.

Do you have any recommendations for online forums, websites or organisations that would be good sources of information, advice or reference for anybody wishing to get into your area of work or research?

It is good to keep up to date with the conservation organisations – The Wildlife Trusts, Buglife and RSPB. Also be aware of the different species recording groups – Botany, Bees Wasps and Ants, Moths, Bryophytes, Hoverflies, Butterflies, Spiders; all these groups are working to improve our knowledge of species around the UK and their conservation, some of them even advertise further training for free. The best wildlife conservation journal for the UK is British Wildlife, which is on the pulse with current conservation issues while looking to the future.

Beyond your academic work what do you think has been the most worthwhile thing you did that has benefited you in your career or got you into your current job?

Volunteering for my local wildlife trusts in several capacities (data entry, woodland coppicing, woodland surveying, invasive species management) helped further my knowledge beyond my degree, and made me much more employable.

What would you do differently if you were starting your career again? I would say to myself not to worry if you are not sure about a specific chosen career/field, just give yourself time and be open to exploring options.

What do you wish someone had told you about the sector/job hunting etc.?

It can be really disheartening, but it really is all about persistence and enthusiasm in the end. I had given up on finding a job and decided I might become a full time gardener as this was my other passion. In the end the right part-time role came up, which let me free to continue developing skills while volunteering. A bit of a slow burn, but I really enjoyed those years and that development time.

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