Experiences of PhD students after training at the Sanger Insititute

The Institute continually assesses the value its students gain from its training programme. We invited everyone who had been a member of our PhD programme from its beginnings in 1993 to 2012 and all our Postdoctoral Fellows who had left since November 2012 to tell us their subsequent work experiences and for any advice they wanted to pass on to future trainees.

We received an overwhelming response, out of the 78 former PhD students and 25 Postdoctoral Fellows, 82 (80%) gave us their views.

Employment prospects

Almost every former PhD and Postdoctoral Fellow (96 per cent) are employed in full-time, part-time, self-employed or freelance work. The majority of whom (70 per cent) were continuing to pursue their scientific interests in academic research and/or academic teaching.

Respondents still in academia. Base: All respondents, Former PhD students n=59, Former Postdoctoral Fellows n=23

Respondents still in academia. Base: All respondents, Former PhD students n=59, Former Postdoctoral Fellows n=23

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Destinations post-PhD

Academia

Academia was the first employment destination for two thirds of former PhD students, the majority working in Postdoctoral Researcher posts.

The majority of those in academia had fixed-term contracts (71 per cent), and roughly a third were for three years. In terms of the research they were conducting, three quarters were working in the same or a similar area to the research they were carrying out at the Institute.

Almost half of all the former PhD students still in academia had remained in the UK (47 per cent). Twenty former PhD students had left the country to pursue academic careers in Australia (3), Canada (3), Europe (3), Singapore (1), Taiwan (2) and the USA (8).

In terms of gender, a greater proportion of women remained in academia after they finished their PhD than men: 71 per cent (24) of female PhDs and 59 per cent (34) of male PhDs.

Former students and fellows now working outside academia. Base: All former Sanger Institute PhD (20) and Postdoctoral Fellows (5) who are working outside academia

Former students and fellows now working outside academia. Base: All former Sanger Institute PhD (20) and Postdoctoral Fellows (5) who are working outside academia

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Outside academia

In total, 25 former Sanger Institute PhD students (34 per cent, 20) or Postdoctoral Fellows (22 per cent, 5) are working outside academia. Most are working in science-related areas such as in the Biotechnology/pharmaceutical industry, medicine and healthcare, science administration and policy and science communication.

The reasons the former students and fellows give for moving away from academia include: 'career prospects in science being very difficult', 'availability of suitable jobs', 'job stability', 'no permanent contracts' and 'better pay'.

Of those who left academia, men are more likely to leave academia than women, with only 7 out of the 25 being women (6 PhDs and 1 PDF). Also, almost half of those who move away from academia say that they are not considering a return to academic research at a later stage or that it would not be very likely.

Advice on starting an academic career

The Institute's former PhDs had a range of advice for fellow researchers just starting their careers in academic research. The key messages were:

  • focus on your interests
  • have a passion for the research you are doing
  • develop transferable skills
  • try to publish at an earlier stage in your PhD
  • collaborate as much as possible.

They also highlighted the importance of being open-minded, flexible, enthusiastic, and proactive, and considering alternative careers at an early stage.

Contact Us

Graduate Programme Office
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
Wellcome Trust Genome Campus
Hinxton
Cambridge
CB10 1SA

email: gradoffice@sanger.ac.uk

Tel: +44 (0)1223 834244
Fax: +44 (0)1223 494919

* quick link - http://q.sanger.ac.uk/z0oq59tk