Non-canonical Careers: Thinking Outside the Box of Academia and Industry


Dr Charles Brabin – Barrister working in Intellectual Property Law

Dr Lorraine Cowley – Genomic Counsellor in the NHS

Dr Craig Glastonbury – Senior Machine Learning Researcher at BenevolentAI

Dr Abby Guillermo – Admissions Office at the Schmidt Science Fellows

Dr Hayley Lees – Clinical Genetics Scientist in the NHS

Dr Hong Sheng Lim – Consultant at Boston Consulting Group

Dr Helen Pennington – Statistician and Data Analyst for UK Government

Dr Hannah Roberts – Private Coach for Women in Science


Foreword by Emily Anna Baker, former Genetics Society UK Postgraduate Representative and DPhil student at the University of Oxford

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are few questions postgraduate students dread being asked more than the always ill-timed, “What do you want to do after you finish your PhD?”.  A point in life that should be filled with all the hope, excitement and opportunity associated with being on the verge of most new beginnings, instead, coming to the end of a PhD is often fraught with the trepidation you are leaving something behind and walking into a great unknown.  This is largely because, until this point, academia is all most of us have ever known.  It is a security blanket which the idea of shedding has all the appeal of getting out of bed on a cold January morning – uninviting and loaded with premature regret.  Of course, this feeling is not helped by the notion that leaving academia is somehow considered an admission of defeat, a misconception that is perpetuated by those who insist all other career choices are inferior.  Nevertheless, it would seem that if you must shun academia for the doldrums of ordinary life, you have only three remaining career paths you could potentially follow: industry, publishing, and science communication.  But while these are all perfectly viable career options to pursue, they are by no means the only professions accessible to PhD graduates.  After all, what would be the sense in working tirelessly for four years towards a PhD, only to find that at the end you had fewer career options available to you compared to when you started? Dispelling these myths was the motivation for embarking on this project.  In ‘Non-canonical Careers: Thinking Outside the Box of Academia and Industry’, I wanted to interview people who sought careers beyond the narrow confines of what we are often told is acceptable to do following a PhD.  In my conversations with all of them – people from professions as diverse as genomic counselling to law to artificial intelligence – some common themes emerged.  Notably, they all have an overwhelming sense of purpose in what they do and feel that whatever their job is, it plays to their innate strengths and aligns with the passions they cultivated during their PhDs.  And crucially, the skills they obtained from graduate study are not just useful in their current roles but are essential for their success in them; in this way, they all considered their PhDs to have opened doors, not closed them.  In short, doing a PhD hones your skills of analysis and communication as well as qualities such as resilience and independence which will act as the cornerstones for a job in any setting, academic or otherwise.

I hope you enjoy reading about the careers of some truly inspiring people, and that they demonstrate to you how a PhD in genetics can be a platform for a career in just about anything.  Pursuing a career in academia, industry, publishing or science communication could be for you, but so could many others.  Why not take a career path less travelled by, it might make all the difference?


Emily Anna Baker