BSc Biomedical Science to Graduate Research Associate
Name – Deborah Ojutalayo (She/Her)
Job title –/ Graduate Research Associate I
A levels– Psychology, Biology, Chemistry
BSc Biomedical Science,
Favourite science fact – It’s absolutely crazy to me that more than 80% of the ocean is unexplored!
What motivated you to pursue a career in science – The idea of knowing that my contribution would somewhere and somehow, make a difference.
Briefly describe your current role – I work for a Biotech company where our research is gene therapy focused. We are currently developing gene therapy vectors to treat patients with Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Journey in 3 Words – Am I allowed to sum it up as “whew chile”?
How did you decide on your MSc? and do you feel you made the right decision for your career?
During my application process for my MSc, it was always between Medical Microbiology and Immunology/Infection & Immunity. I would say this was largely influenced by my final year project of my undergraduate degree as well as the modules I took the most interest in. I started to research job roles where these MSc specialities would be useful, and I ended up choosing Immunology and selecting option modules that related to Medical Microbiology so that I could ideally have the best of both worlds! Although my area of research is focused on neurodegenerative diseases, there are still many aspects of my degree that are applicable.
What is a typical week/ month like in your role and which skills do you enjoy the most?
I literally said "Wow" when I read this question because I do many varied things which I absolutely love! More recently, I have been processing a lot of Pig and Sheep samples for RNA extractions and qPCR runs in preparation for the next stages of our animal studies. I'm also involved in alot of cloning and cell work as well as developing and selecting the best AAV candidate that will deliver a Mirco RNA to target and knockdown the genes that cause ALS and FTD. We have science meetings every Monday where each member of the team presents the work they have been working on, problems and issues they faced as well as potential steps required to move the project forward. We assess the progress made and see whether we are on track for our deadlines and adjust things accordingly. I would say my favourite skills/ things to do in the lab are cell culture, qPCR and cloning, but ultimately I love the intellectual stimulation I get from everything that I do, which requires me to work with intent rather than working out of automation.
What skills do you use most from your degree now in your job and are there other skills used that surprised you?
Being a student meant balancing multiple deadlines, so I definitely transferred my organisational skills from university and into the workplace. My research projects at university made me realise the importance of lab note taking as everything in research must be accounted for.
To get a job nowadays you need to have done the job? How did you navigate the post grad- “what next” job search and what did you do that you think was pivotal in achieving your current role?
The changing point for me was when I landed my first industry-based role as a Research Assistant at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine towards the end of my MSc degree after a long drought of hearing nothing from companies. It was also the period that I had become more active on LinkedIn and connected with people who had gone through a similar educational pathway to me. I made myself open to talking with like minded people to better understand the career options that were available to me and where best my degrees could be used.
What advice would you give on dealing with rejection and perseverance?
Rejection can be exhausting and mentally draining and can leave you questioning your capabilities. Graduating from my first degree when the pandemic had first struck, left me feeling incredibly anxious about how things would turn out for me. My advice would be to never stand still. Job rejections do not mean that your life also goes on hold but be someone who is investing their time into things (hobbies, networking, continuous professional development, jobs with transferable skills etc) that will make them better suited candidates when the role for you comes along. PS: You’ve got this!
Is there anything you noticed change in your interview approach before and after networking that landed you your role and what key tips would you have on building and nurturing online connections?
I wouldn't say there was anything in particular that changed. For the most part, connecting with others in fields I aspired to be in provided that sense of mentorship and gave me the confidence I needed to approach interviews and job applications that would subsequently make me a stand out candidate. Engaging with your connections in a meaningful way (Eg Through LinkedIn posts and personal messages) and keeping the door open for conversation is important. If you see something that someone does or has done and you are genuinely interested in knowing more, then express that! I have met many people through LinkedIn who share a common ground with me such as Faith, and this also makes our connections more personal and meaningful.
What other roles did you consider in your Job search and do you see yourself returning to academia for a PhD?
During my job search I applied to healthcare roles such as Healthcare assistant roles and in the process landed a role as a COVID-19 Vaccinator during the initial stages of the vaccination roll-out. I also searched within the NHS for Medical Laboratory Assistant and administrative roles, however, working in a research environment was always the goal for my career prospects. As a young professional, I want to build my experience and credentials before returning to academia. However I am not ruling out the possibility of pursuing a PhD, so watch this space haha!
Knowing what you know now, would you have done the same undergraduate degree and why?
I would like to have seen what a degree in Pharmacology would be like, particularly as my company is built around drug development. The only thing I would have changed during my degree is to opt for the four-year option which would have given me the opportunity of a placement year; I believe this would have made my job process easier to navigate.
How do you approach the “work-life” balance scale? - Do you have tools you use to maintain balance or is this something you are still learning?
One thing I have always been sure of is that I would never want to work in a role that involves bringing and dragging my working responsibilities back home with me. What is done at work should stay at work. It can be tempting for instance to respond to emails outside of working hours, however when you do this, you send signals to colleagues that you are available 24/7 and this is not the case.
When considering your career path, how much has your potential salary affect your decision?
I have Nigerian blood in me so I would say important haha! On a serious note, I think it was important for me to understand what my career progression looked like, and this has been very transparent within the company that I work for. Salary is certainly not everything, but it plays a big role and employees deserve to be paid for what they are worth.
Outside science how would you describe yourself?
An absolute nutter!
How have your passions and interests changed since you started thinking of careers? Was there a defining moment for you?
I always thought the roles available to me were hospital-based roles or working in a role where everything was super automated, and I didn’t want that. I must have stumbled across a LinkedIn profile of someone who had completed an MSc and was working in a Research Assistant role, and I was curious to find out more on what that entailed. After some digging, I liked what I saw and started to apply for similar positions and fell in love with research when I landed my Research Assistant role. I was not confident in my lab/ scientific skills at that time, however the Principal Investigator that I worked for was so encouraging in times where I did not believe in myself and he provided a working environment where I was able to grow as a young scientist.