Rowann Bowcutt, Senior Research Fellow at King’s College London, London, UK
Rowann did her PhD in Immunology at the University of Manchester. After she finished, she moved to New York University School of Medicine to do a postdoc which involved working in a clinical trial. She also thought it had the potential to create opportunities for her in the future. [It has already, recently her work on parasitic worms from her postdoc was published in Science!]
Rowann is currently working as a Senior Research Fellow at King’s College London. I asked her why she’s staying in academia and she tells me that she actually did consider the move to industry while she was doing her first postdoc in New York but unfortunately she was not offered the job. “My contract at NYU was up so I was looking for something else. I had decided to move back to the UK but wasn’t successful at finding a job in industry.” She did however find her current role and she took the job because it was a more senior role and would allow her to continue to do more clinical work. “I work directly with patient samples and feel my work is having a direct impact on patient health.”
How does it differ? “I guess this is really a glorified postdoc – I’m just on a higher pay band!” She stresses that they pay is not the main reason why she does it. “I love science and I love the flexibility of the job. I can do my experiments when I want.” But as many have mentioned before she doesn’t like the insecurity of being a postdoc. “I want a permanent contract. I am now deciding how to move forward. I am keeping my options open by looking for other career avenues. I will apply for a fellowship but if unsuccessful I will leave academia. I have given myself a deadline to secure my own funding. If it doesn’t happen by then I will be looking for a route out of academia.”
Rowann is now preparing to apply for a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship that is aimed at European citizens to reintegrate into labs based in their home country after time spent abroad. “If successful this will act as a stepping stone for me to apply for larger grants, say from the MRC or Wellcome Trust, to make that step towards becoming independent.” She will initially focus on research into personalised therapeutic strategies for patients with inflammatory bowel disease but she hopes that she will be given the opportunity to branch out into more autoimmune diseases as she becomes more experienced and fosters new collaborations.
What does it take to become a postdoc? “You need a PhD, a strong passion for science and be self motivated.” So should you do a PhD? Not sure? Rowann suggests that you should do a bit of work as a technician or a research assistant to experience life in a research lab environment. “I don’t think you get a real taste for lab life during your undergraduate project. However, even if you don’t want to be a scientist there are a lot of jobs out there that require you having a PhD so I would do some research about the possible jobs that you may enjoy and see whether you need a PhD for them.” She also advises, “Set a career timeline and try to stick to it. If something doesn’t turn out how you expected make sure you have a plan B to go to.” I asked her what her plan B is, “If unsuccessful in my route as an academic I will look towards a job where I can still do science. So a job in industry would probably be my next option.”
Photo credit: Carlos Mario