Read how this community expert is engaging a global network of research scientists (plus his top job and travel tips!)
1. What's your current role at the Francis Crick Institute and what big projects are you working on?
I’m the Alumni Network Engagement Manager. I manage CrickConnect, the Crick’s new alumni, staff and student network. It runs on the ToucanTech platform and launched in the middle of May. The launch was a huge project with a multi-platform communications campaign that went on for over a month, covering all sorts of channels, from staff emails and posters to promotional videos and a launch event. We’re really happy with the initial response, with strong support from our alumni and staff community in the first few months. The dust has started to settle now, and my two big focusses at the moment are making sure that we continue to grow the network by signing up new members, and getting our mentoring programme off the ground.
2. How many Crick alumni are there and what types of jobs/ locations do they go to after their time at the Crick?
I’m really lucky that as Crick is still relatively young at 4 years old, we haven’t got a huge number of alumni and we have contact email addresses for around half of them, which has made my job much easier. At current count we have around 1,200, but that varies quite a bit depending on who you count as alumni. We have a real range of people here working in a huge variety of different jobs, from PhD students and research group leaders to glasswash technicians, comms officers and finance managers. The range of jobs that people go on to really varies, but I work most closely with our junior scientists. Whilst many of our PhD graduates and postdoctoral researchers will progress on to more senior research roles, many of them move out of academia to work in other science related and non-science roles. Some go on to do research for pharmaceutical companies, others become consultants, teachers, data scientists and lab managers. We’ve even had someone go on to become a fashion journalist!
3. What do you think are the best methods to engage a community of highly qualified research professionals?
I think it’s really important to look at your constituency and try to be aware of the variety of interests from across the group. The vast majority of our alumni have at the very least a passing interest in science, even if they didn’t work in research themselves, and that common interest helps. But some might be at the very start of their careers, whilst others can have 30 or 40 years’ experience. Making sure that that there is something for everyone is essential. So, for our early career members we’re heavily promoting our mentoring programme, our jobs board and the opportunity to grow their professional network by connecting with Crick alumni working across the scientific world. For our more experienced members, we’re putting more emphasis on reconnecting with former colleagues, promoting their successes and achievements across the network and keeping up to date with the latest research coming out of the Crick.
4. Tell us something interesting about the Crick that we might not know!
The thing that blew me away when I first joined was the size of the place. We have a magnificent building right next to St Pancras station in central London and it really feels like a cathedral to science (so much so that it’s nicknamed Sir Paul’s Cathedral after our director, Sir Paul Nurse). So, when I found out that the building is bigger underground than above, I was gobsmacked. We have 5 floors of basements where the majority of our most sensitive equipment and scientific material is stored. It’s really impressive.
5. You've worked at a range of education and commercial organisations during your career - what key skills have you learnt that you use in your job today?
My entry in to the alumni engagement and network building world came from a careers and volunteering background – I started out building alumni networks for state schools and recruiting volunteers to come back and talk to school children about their careers and skillsets. The big lessons I learnt from that job that I still remember today are how transferable most skills are, and that strong people skills are essential in every work place. Unless you’re doing something particularly technical like programming or particle physics (or biomedical research) then most jobs demand a reasonably similar skillset, so you should never be scared to try something new because you’re worried about whether you have the skills to do it. That said, very few people are successful in isolation and success in any role will often depend upon your ability to build relationships, get others on side and sell your vision. Part of that is being good with people, but just as important is being good to people as well. No one is going to go out of their way to help the person who shouts down the phone at them or isn’t willing to help them out when they need it.
6. You've travelled a lot - where' your favourite destination and why?
I know it’s a cop out but I could never choose just one. San Francisco was quite simply the most stunningly beautiful city I’ve visited. I have a real soft spot for the French alps, where I learnt to ski and snowboard and where I still try and get out to every winter. But for sheer impact and ‘this is special’ factor, Bagan in Myanmar/Burma is probably top of the list. It’s the remains of an ancient city that was capital of a Buddhist empire in the 9th – 13th centuries. It was built around the same time as Angkor Wat, but whilst Angkor Wat has a few dozen (amazing, don’t get me wrong) temples, Bagan has more than 2,000 still intact, some more than a millennium old. I was lucky enough to go not long after Myanmar had opened its borders and before tourism had really taken off, which made it a really special experience that still lives with me.
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