Zoher Kapacee, Research Business Manager at the University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
Zoher did is PhD in Cell-Matrix Biology at the University of Manchester where he was trying to understand collagen synthesis and deposition during tendon development. His PhD work set up a 3D fibrous tissue culture system. Due to the financial recession at the time, Zoher felt that there were few employment opportunities outside of academia and so moved to a different lab in Manchester as a postdoc for a project that had more translational and commercial potential. As his work involved induced pluripotent stem cells, which meant he had a lot of cell culture every day of the week, he felt that the reward for his hard work was not proportional. “I published a couple of papers that not many people have read.” He was also fed up of the short 4-month contracts (totalling 2 years) that was offered by the funding model. He applied for a fellowship and received positive reviews but they penalised him for staying at Manchester commenting that it showed ‘limited independence’.
Zoher now works as a Business Research Manager as part of the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences Business Development team. His primary roles are to translate academic enterprise into business opportunities and facilitate between business partners and academics. He says it feels like a more fulfilling role because there’s higher return for the effort he puts in. “The outcome of my work directly leads to opportunities that will increase the revenue that the university gets.” The pros of his current job are that his contract is permanent, that he’s still working in science and that because he works with the whole faculty his job is varied and he has developed broader expertise. He has also been given the opportunity to do an MBA for which he’s currently writing up his dissertation. What he doesn’t like is that there’s too much bureaucracy and decision making is slow but this is due to the size of the organisation. There isn’t much he misses about his PhD/postdoc as he’s still in an academic environment. After thinking about it for a while, “I miss the kudos associated with the publication of a paper; there’s academic gain and contribution to knowledge.”
Zoher recently became a father and I asked him how his job impacts on his role as a father and how this might have changed if he was still a postdoc. He says, “Programs like defined paternity leave help alleviate the concerns for a new father in my current role. I think research or postdoc would have offered a better work-life balance but this is of course dependent on the type of research.”
If you are considering a business role you should definitely take a leaf out of Zoher’s book. During his PhD he developed his business knowledge and skills and took advantage of the opportunities and professional development courses that the University of Manchester had to offer and still offers. He participated in the Researchers into Management course, Enterprise Summer School, Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme and initiated several entrepreneurial activities with friends to help fellow colleagues develop their business ideas. He also recommends that you understand research trends and look for opportunities to make improvements, to gain business knowledge (he did several free online courses including ones offered by edX) and built contacts by networking. And what advice does he have for someone thinking of doing a PhD? “Assess your career options. Understand why you want to do one. If it’s a professor trajectory you’re aiming for then publish, publish, publish. Even if you are not considering leaving academia you should take advantage of the training opportunities on offer.”
This post is part of a mini series on post-PhD careers.