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Phd Behaviour Genetics to Public Engagement Manager

  • Name :Marie Nugent (she/her)

  • Job Title :Public Engagement Manager, Attenborough Arts Centre, University of Leicester

  • A levels/ equivalent : Biology, Chemistry, English Literature (French AS Level)

  • Graduate degrees

  1. BSc: KCL Biomedical Sciences with Genetics

  2. PhD: Leicester in Behavioural Genetics and Neuroscience with a dash of Electrophysiology

  • Briefly describe your role

It’s my job to broker collaborative partnerships between researchers and others who can contribute to research engagement

  • Favourite science fact

It would take over 90 years to read your entire genome letter by letter (yet your cells are doing it in minutes all the time!)

  • Journey in 3 Words

Come full circle

In many ways, going to university meant I had to distort myself a bit and I was confronted with what I now understand to be my class difference. I’ve reconnected with my younger self to understand myself now and I’m glad I no longer feel I need to be like the others in order to be taken seriously.

  • What motivated you to pursue a career in science

I’m naturally a very curious person, nosy if you will. I like to observe things, look for patterns and spot how things work and inter-relate.

  • Your biology teacher had a huge impact on you attending university, What would you tell Mrs Beevor and younger Marie?

I’ve thought about getting in touch with Mrs Beevor but I have no way of finding how to, sadly, if I could I would say THANK YOU FOR BELIEVING IN ME. She could have given up and let me slip behind in my grades but instead she *metaphorically* grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and told me to sort myself out at a time I really needed to hear that. To my younger self, I would say to never forget that what makes you different makes you special.

  • What resources helped you most during your direct transition from BSc to PhD. In hindsight would you still recommend this direct path?

I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into if I’m honest and hindsight is a funny thing! I had literally no resources that I used other than to find the opportunities I could apply for. PHD Comics were always a great source of laughter, I’m pretty sure I had some printed out at my desk! I don’t regret anything I’ve done to this point as it’s got me to where I am now, however, looking back I wish I’d known the power I really had as a student in terms of making sure I was getting the training and support I needed to get the skills and experience I required for the next step in my career. I instead felt I needed to keep that on the side and the first priority was delivering my research project, which is of course important but shouldn’t be the be all and end all.

  • How did you know a pHd was for you? And how did you realise it was no longer fulfilling its initial purpose?

I hadn’t even heard of a PhD before the end of my 2nd year of my BSc when I was looking for summer lab projects to get more experience in the lab alongside my degree. I realised that I would need to get straight into a fully-funded PhD to continue my studies as I couldn’t afford to do an MSc in between. I worked hard to get interviews and got accepted at Leicester which was such a relief! It was then just over the half-way point that I realised I loved the outreach and engagement work I was doing alongside my lab project and started looking specifically at developing my experience so I could work in Science Communications and Engagement after completing my PhD.

  • What transferable skills do you use from your degree now in your job ?

I’m a fast learner so picking up key words and terms in new areas of work is a great skill to have when you are working across such a range of specialisms. It reassures people that you understand their work and needs which makes new working relationships easier. Studying genetics I suppose enabled me to look for logical patterns and processes, understand relationships and have a general wonder at how complex life is which in a philosophical way is something I absolutely bring into my professional work now.

  • You work in Higher Education engagement What was the hardest thing about transitioning into this space from academia and research -> Academia vs Corporate culture

I went from Academia - Corporate - Academia and transitioning between these two worlds takes some adjustment! The working culture is rather different in many ways, for example you rarely get praise in Academia so when you get lashings of praise in a Corporate setting for something minor it can feel like it’s a bit overkill and left me feeling a bit awkward sometimes.

  • Mentorship isn’t something spoken about much in the science field. How did your mentor help shape your journey and what advice would you give someone seeking a mentor?

I’ve benefited from a range of mentors but someone who supported me to get the skills and experience needed to get my first full time professional role after my PhD was an academic in the Genetics Dept called Dr Cas Kramer. He saw I enjoyed the work and I was good at it so took the time to help me get enough experience in a range of settings to give me enough to talk about alongside my PhD project in job interviews. Best advice I could give others is to look for someone you respect and just put yourself out there and ask for their help, if you don’t ask you will never know.

  • What advice would you give anyone wanting to follow your career path and are there ways to work in this field without a Phd?

Yes, there are absolutely plenty of paths to the job I have and you do not need to have a PhD or have even been to university to work in my profession. Sadly, the culture is such that often people are drawn to those who have been to university or worked in HE before despite it not being a requirement. This is quite frustrating at times. However, demonstrating you can work to tight deadlines, you can build effective working partnerships and you can think strategically are important skills which you can draw in from a variety of places so if you think you have these skills then maybe a role in engagement is for you. Look at a range of sci comm and engagement professionals out there on LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media and follow the networks and accounts they are linked to in order to start building your own awareness of what opportunities there are in these spaces.

  • How have your experiences motivated your career path (current and future) and what impact has this had on your current role.

My experiences and career to date only motivate me further to develop opportunities for a broader range of people to have a say in how HE and research enriches our world. It’s easy to forget sometimes how much we still don’t know because we are so saturated with information, the next big challenge is working out how we best use what we know to create a more equitable, sustainable way of living.

Science is a verb, not a noun.
  • What is your biggest pet peeve about how the world perceives science ?

Science is a verb, not a noun. People find it really hard to accept that yes, science can simultaneously reveal truth and yet be limited in that truth. In other words, science is only stating with as much certainty as humanly possible what can be observed and measured within a set of conditions, so it is always subject to change and is not the only way of knowing.

  • When considering your career path, how much has your potential salary affected your decision?

Honestly, not at all. Maybe I should have thought about this more!

  • Outside of science, how do you describe yourself?

I’m not sure how I describe myself is any different in or out of science. I am open, honest and try to be kind. I’m observant and I look for the fun and joy in life. I have high expectations of myself and I’m driven by my values to make positive change. I am no better or no worse than any other person and I believe that every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

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