Meet our former PhD students


Dr Claire Humphreys

Programme Manager at Sensory Dimensions (previously 4 ½ years at Proctor & Gamble as a Scientist/Senior Scientist)

How has your PhD helped you in your career?

Dr Claire Humphreys

"My PhD has been a brilliant asset to my career so far. It helped me stand out from other candidates when applying for my first role after academia. I think it was a fantastic stepping-stone to a career in science, especially developing crucial skills such as project planning, report writing and scientific analysis. I think I learnt a lot of these skills during my undergraduate studies; however, becoming confident in my research ability occurred during my PhD. Most importantly I learnt independence, and I think that's something industry is really looking for, people who take ownership over their projects and have the determination and persistence to deliver."

Where did life take you after your PhD?

"I wanted to take a role in research and development (R&D) as I loved the idea of creating something. I naturally gravitated towards the health and beauty sector as I have loved these products since working at a pharmacy at the age of 15. Getting a job in this industry can be difficult as the sector is dominated by large multinational companies that lots of people apply for roles within. It took me seven months (and countless applications) until I was successful, during which time I worked in a relevant retail role. I would recommend focusing on a career in a sector that you are naturally interested in, I think this is not only important during the interview stage, so you can exude enthusiasm, but ultimately to keep you interested once you are in the role."

What is your current job like?

"I've only just started my current role in a consumer research company that independently assesses food, beverage, personal care and household products. This is a new challenge as I will be managing a small team of people. In my last role I really learnt the importance of good communication and people skills to work as an effective team, and I hope to utilise these when managing one! I think this is the biggest difference between academia and industry; learning to work with people with very different skill sets and motivations to your own. I would certainly recommend reading the literature in this area. There are some great books to help learn about skills to make you more successful in the workplace and life in general that I found invaluable (for example the 9 Habits of Highly Successful People and How to Make Friends and Influence People)."

Any advice for current PhD students thinking about their future career?

"I would highly recommend obtaining as much work experience as possible. This could be work placements, or perhaps organising charity events. It is important that you don't just 'turn up' at these experiences, but really gain important skills, such as organising them or undertaking financial responsibilities.

"Secondly, I would recommend enthusiasm. It may sound obvious, but you need to be able to communicate how much each opportunity means to you to make yourself unforgettable. Therefore, it is important to apply for roles that you can be enthusiastic about. I am continuously amazed by how far genuine enthusiasm will get you... everybody loves being surrounded by positive energy."

Is there anything else you would like to share with students?

"Don't forget about your personal life. A career and financial stability is important, but so is creating a holistic life outside of work. Your twenties are a really important age to understand who you are and what you enjoy and don't neglect these for your career!"


Dr Thomas Young

Research Manager and Business Developer, Sport Turf Research Institute

Dr Tom Young

How has your PhD helped you in your career?

"As my PhD was co-sponsored by an industrial company I gained a lot of experience of researching topics that were directly applicable as well as scientifically robust for my industrial partners. Direct knowledge of my PhD subject area proved as important as the biological fundamentals have been very transferrable. Becoming used to regularly presenting data to a range of audiences has been vital, because clear presentation of data to clients who may not have such a technical background is very important in my role. Important indirect skills from the PhD included learning how to project manage a research project with a budget for three years."

Where did life take you after your PhD?

"During Christmas of my third year I applied for a number of graduate schemes at large water and agricultural companies without success. I then applied for this job in the April and was offered the position. The company gave me until the end of September to finish my PhD and start work, which gave me a clear date to work to. After I handed my thesis in on the Friday, I moved house on the Sunday, and began work on the Monday!"

What is your current job like?

"I am part of a research team of 15 staff. My particular role is to manage research trials that we run for external companies as well as internal research for our own knowledge base. These trials vary from small pot growth trials, field pesticide efficacy trials, and large-scale stadium sports turf research. In addition, I am expected to develop new business for the company as we look to utilise our knowledge for markets outside of the sports turf industry."

Advice for current PhD students thinking about their future career?

"Never underestimate the 'non-academic' skills that your PhD has given you regarding the management of a project, working as part of a team and regularly presenting data to a high level audience. The knowledge gained during a PhD is not the most important skill you will have gained. Don't be afraid to research topics that are more industrial based. When applying for jobs, don't just concentrate on the big companies, plenty of interesting smaller companies that are looking for PhD students exist out there."

Is there anything else you would like to share with students?

"Enjoy your PhD whilst it lasts. You will never get so much time to research a topic that you are so interested and (hopefully) passionate about."


Dr Jen Vanderhoven

Scientific Project Manager, University of Sheffield

How has your PhD helped you in your career?

"The scientific techniques I mastered during my PhD definitely helped me secure my first job as a laboratory manager. As did the transferrable skills I gained such as project management and report writing. My PhD also helped me to decide that a career as an academic was not for me and helped steer me towards finding a job working in industry in the 'real world'!"

Dr Jen Vanderhoven

Where did life take you after your PhD?

"Since completing my PhD, I have undertaken a variety of roles within the scientific arena, working in a hands-on research environment as an Industrial Laboratory Manager for a global construction company; in Sales and Marketing as a Territory Manager for a global analytical equipment supplier; and most recently as the Research Development Manager and Scientific Project Manager at the University of Sheffield. I am responsible for identifying and supporting new partnering opportunities for academic-industrial collaboration."

What is your current job like?

"I manage a network in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy of 700 academics and industry. In this role I am responsible for developing and maintaining strategic partnerships between universities throughout the UK and industry to support innovation and sustainable economic growth in the UK through encouraging a collaborative approach to research to exploit opportunities for innovation. This involves Project implementation and management; Managing significant budgets; Networking with academics and industry to create new research collaboration; Industrial market sector analysis and report writing; Coordination with Local Enterprise Partnerships; Design and implementation of strategic marketing and communication plans and Event management - conferences, workshops and networking events. Each day is varied and I have the flexibility to manage my own time and direction of the network, which is a great opportunity."

Advice for current PhD students thinking about their future career?

"Don't get too focused on any one career choice, explore all the options that are available to you. Doing a PhD in science doesn't limit you to staying in this research field. The transferrable skills you learn during your PhD are just as valuable as the scientific content of your PhD. Try and get some work experience in the sector you want to work in if this is out of academia."

Is there anything else you would like to share with students?

"Doing a PhD can be really stressful and quite isolating at times. Try not to get too bogged down with it and make the most of any opportunities you get to get work experience outside the lab."


Dr Nicola Collins

Graduate Environmental Research Engineer

How has your PhD helped you in your career?

"The transferrable skills gained whilst completing my PhD have been invaluable in my current position. As the role is not directly related to my PhD, the ability to research new subject areas has been very important. The ability to present confidently, write good presentations to provide training and working on my own initiative to improve current methods of work practice have also been important."

Dr Nicola Collins

Where did life take you after your PhD?

"After completing my PhD I worked at Drax Power Station as a Biomass Sustainability Analyst. Drax is the largest power station in the UK and largest biomass co-firing power station in Europe, so this position was the ideal opportunity for me to work in an area related to my PhD. My main responsibility was to calculate the carbon emissions of the biomass streams entering the power station. Whilst working at Drax, I was contacted by Tata Steel (who sponsored my PhD) with the opportunity to take on my current position."

What is your current job like?

"My current job is desk based and very varied. My main responsibility is to keep up to date with UK and European waste policy, understand how any changes may affect the company and, if required, produce waste training material for site workers. I also deal with the classification of hazardous waste, which uses the chemistry and data analysis skills I gained during my PhD. Alongside this I also work with the sustainability team to test and evaluate new sustainability tools as part of an EC-funded project."

Advice for current PhD students thinking about their future career?

"I have found that the transferrable skills acquired during my PhD have been most valuable for gaining employment. General research, analytical, report writing and presentation skills are important in any role. It is important to think about all of the skills that you have other than the specific knowledge gained from your PhD. I believe I wouldn't have been offered my current position had I not presented and won 'best talk' at a Tata Stee postgraduate symposium. I also think it is important to take all of the opportunities that are offered to you and try to make contacts outside of the University."