The Postdoc Careers Service has launched Handshake today!

Postdocs, meet Handshake


Jenny Blakesley, Director of University of Cambridge Careers Service, shares an update about the launch of Handshake Cambridge.

What is Handshake?

A new digital careers platform called Handshake to provide you with an up-to-date, mobile-friendly way to engage with us. With this system, you can book appointments and careers events, access our tailored resources and find opportunities.

Handshake has replaced most of current web systems and offers you many great new features in a personalised and interactive experience

Handshake has replaced most of current web systems and offers you many great new features in a personalised and interactive experience, including:

• Book careers appointments, workshops and events, and sign up for our Postdoc Careers Service newsletter
• Create a personalised profile and receive tailored information relating to your areas of interest
• Discover the best opportunities that match your experience and ask fellow users and employers questions
• Find the answers you need – learn more about industries and job roles to see if they’re right for you; get an inside look at employers with reviews; message employers with your questions
• Access a rich range of our tailored in-house resources for careers in and out of academia from the Postdoc Careers Service
• And more…

We want to reassure you that the Careers Service still exists in every other way, and we are excited to bring this new platform in to enhance our services.

If you are registered with us, you will have received an invitation from Handshake inviting you to set up your profile. If you are not registered yet, you can go directly to Handshake and select the University of Cambridge to join, or click the link at the side of this blog.

We strongly encourage you to do so, and look forward to welcoming you to the platform.

As always, please contact us at with any questions.

How to utilise labour market information during Covid-19

Originally posted on the unicamcareers blog

In a series of three blogs, CS careers advisers Emily Packer, Krista Cooper and Lucy Romijn introduce the ways in which students and graduates can stay up-to-date with the changing labour market. This edition focuses on resources – what to watch, read, follow and listen to, to help you stay informed

Read more

Weighing up job offers – how to make the best choice for you

photo of balanced stones

Sally Todd, postdoc careers adviser, discusses the factors to take into account when considering job offers.

The other week I saw a postdoc who had the good fortune to have a number of job offers.  In case you ever find yourself in a similar position, I thought I’d share some of the criteria (not all of equal weight to her) she was using to help her decide which was the best next step for her.

Would she enjoy the job and be likely to succeed in it?

The postdoc I met was weighing up a lectureship, an in-house fellowship that would lead to a tenured position and a prestigious, fixed-term fellowship.  They were at different types of institution in different countries.  She was considering:

  • Would she be able to do the research she wanted?
  • Was there suitable infrastructure in place?
  • Could she access the data she wanted?
  • What sort of colleagues/collaborators would she have?
  • Would she be able to attract good staff/students?
  • How much teaching would suit her?

If you’re comparing jobs outside academia, consider which components of the job really attract you, and what circumstances and support you would need to do it well. For example, for a job in science communication, would you prefer more written or verbal communication?  How well you could communicate the science might depend on access to source material and deadlines.

When you are making a choice, it’s worth thinking about where you want to be further down the line.  What will you gain to help you secure the next job or promotion?

Would the job help her career in the longer term?

  • Would she be able to fill gaps on her CV/ acquire new skills/ make herself more employable?
  • What training would she be able to access?
  • Would she be able to raise her profile?

When you are making a choice, it’s worth thinking about where you want to be further down the line.  What will you gain to help you secure the next job or promotion?

Person standing on arrow on ground
Find out more about careers options for postdocs on our website

What were the terms and conditions of the job?

  • Would she (and partner/children accompanying her) like to live in that location?
  • How much job security was there at the end of the probationary period/fixed term contract?
  • What were the salary and other benefits?

T&Cs are not just fine print, they can have a profound impact on whether a job is right for you.

What else would be important to you?  Do add a comment!


R&D in industry over the horizon

SunriseR&D in industry isn’t a surprising postdoc career destination but it’s still surrounded by mystery. What are the reasons former postdocs in industry say that they like it? Or there any downsides they are hiding?

This year, we’ve had lots of feedback at the Postdoc Careers Service on what’s it like and what are the key differences to academia.

Shared risk and glory

In academia if your project doesn’t go well and you are struggling to get any results, the burden is on you to fix it, limp on with the project and try to recruit some volunteers to assist. In industry, inherent team work means that you are not holding the whole weight of the project. As one postdoc now in a local biotech put it “If you are struggling (with experiments) the team is struggling with you and everyone is helping you out”. Sounds great but be aware that getting all the kudos for a project is probably off the cards too as the successes rightly need to be shared. So, if a getting the glory on an individual level is your primary driver, academia might be a better fit.

High tech shiny labs

While academia is idea cutting edge territory, industry is doing it on the technology front. R&D firms invest in equipment and technology which postdocs tell us is a step above most academic institutions and a major perk of the job. Time is money, so companies don’t tend to scrimp on the resources you need to get your job done.

stopwatchFast turn around time

Having years to delve deeply into an academic research area is heaven for some and the reason that postdocs go on to be PIs. But if you get more of a kick from shorter time frames, industry will tick that box. Project managers will be giving you targets and deadlines. It might mean that you can’t go down every interesting experimental route but it will mean you know what you have to focus on when which many postdoc tell us they yearn. But that level of organisation comes at a price. Industry postdocs say the number of meetings is a “culture shock”, the work is intense and the expectations are high.

Real world applications in sight

Certainly anyone working in pharma cites helping patients as a key driver, but that applies to all R&D careers across the sectors. Knowing that people will be consuming and purchasing what you research can be a reason to get out of bed even when the projects are tough.

What, no hidden downsides?

Sure, there are downsides. We’re well aware that the people who volunteer to come back to tell us their industry story disproportionally selects those with a positive tale to tell. But we’re keen to hear the downsides too. The downsides are often the reverse of all the positives above, it’s just a matter of your perspective. But if the positives energise you, it’s worth having a look over the horizon.  Find out more about real life postdoc R&D careers industry.


Anne Forde, Postdoc Careers Adviser


The NHS Scientist Training Programme – Corsten’s story

Originally posted on the unicamcareers blog

A Q&A with Dr Corsten Douglas, who shares her experiences from the NHS Scientist Training Programme

Tell us a bit about yourself. What did you study and what have you been doing since you left Cambridge?

I studied for a PhD in biological sciences at the MRC mitochondrial biology unit. My thesis was ‘The assembly pathway of human ATP synthase’. Since I left the university, I started freelance private tutoring (without an agency), tutoring KS1-4 biology, chemistry and physics, A level biology and chemistry and 11+. After a year of tutoring, I started a full-time job at Cambridge Science Centre as a science communicator. I applied for the NHS Scientist Training Programme just before I got the CSC job.

How did you first hear of the NHS STP programme and what did you learn through Open Days?

I heard about the STP via a friend who was working in the NHS. I learned from going to the open day that my idea to study Ahmed’s Clinical Biochemistry – Frontiers of biomedical science textbook was the correct thing to do, and that getting some experience, even one day, in a clinical biochemistry laboratory would be advantageous.

Which specialism(s) did you apply to, and why?

I prepared for the psychometric tests by revisiting my KS3 maths revision guide that I use for tutoring. I did this because when trying the Talent-Q practice tests, it looked a lot like KS3 maths. In fact, the real test was full of even some simple KS3 maths, such as how to interpret bus timetables. For the logic tests, I printed out the Talent-Q practice tests by doing a screen print of each one, and just looking at them until I found a pattern, taking as long as I needed. I thought it would be best to make a check list of which patterns were found, and then wait a few weeks before taking the Talent-Q practice test again to make sure that I couldn’t just remember the answers and that it was just logic that I was using the answer them. This strategy was probably a good one, as I felt that I got all of the logic questions correct in the real thing.

A PhD is not an essential requirement for these roles. What did you see as the advantages/disadvantages of being a PhD graduate during the selection process?

The advantages of having a PhD were that during the general science station at the interview, I used a lot of knowledge gained during my PhD to answer the questions. I didn’t really see a disadvantage, as the introductory chapter of Nessar Ahmed’s Clinical Biochemistry mentions that clinical scientists may have a PhD in a relevant subject such as vitamin analysis. My PhD was not clinical, but is useful if I specialise in ‘in-born errors of metabolism’.

What does it mean to be ‘white-listed’?

I got a high enough interview score to be employed/accepted, but there weren’t enough spaces/my rank wasn’t high enough initially. If someone drops out, then they use your first choice hospital location to place you. I found out I was successful and got my first choice of locations on 2 August this year, nearly two months after being on the reserve list/white-listed.

Learn more about the NHS Scientist Training Programme at

Practice Talent-Q elements in Job Test Prep, via the Careers Service

Building resilience for your career

Whether you’re worried about having a temporary contract, applying for long-term academic jobs or making the leap out of academia, having a good supply of mental toughness to cope with the career uncertainties of postdoc life is essential.

But how can you build repalm trees in windsilience?

We were really taken by some recent examples of former postdocs who demonstrated the much- prized ability to ‘bounce back’ in real-life situations and even surprised themselves how resilient they were.

When exploring the subject of building resilience, it’s good to draw inspiration from Stoic philosophy  – a central principle of which is that we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our reactions.  Or as Seneca succinctly put it: “It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.”

Resilience in action

Take former postdoc Stacey Jamieson, a speaker at our recent ‘Careers in R&D in biotech and pharma’ event . Stacey didn’t have the ideal circumstances to land her first choice job.  In her video she describes how, due to her immigration status, she had to think around the issue of getting a job where a company would sponsor her.  Unfortunately, the companies that offered this sponsorship were in technical/scientific roles and not in Stacey’s preferred area of Medical Scientific Liaison, (MSL).

By being resilient – researching her options and being open to opportunities where she could use her skillset – Stacey was able to ‘bridge the gap’ between academia and industry for a year in a technical role until she got permanent residency status in the UK.

Things have worked out well for Stacey who is now in MSL, a role ‘where her heart lies.’

At the same event, Winnie Yeung urges you to be brave and apply for industry positions even if you have the challenge of not having all the skills listed on the job description.

You’ll have to be resilient to handle the inevitable rejections, but by highlighting your transferrable skills you may also get the job.  As Winnie says: ‘usually the company will see how your skills will fit with the role.’

Sometimes the resilience-building technique of ‘reframing,’ (a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives – Wikipedia), is needed to check if a perceived challenge or difficulty can be turned to an advantage.

José Teles, a speaker at the event, worried that his diverse background in academia would hamper his chances of moving into industry – a concern that wasn’t borne out in reality.  As José explains in this video, his wide-ranging experience ‘…. turned out to be an advantage in my current role.’

José’s story highlights the importance of ‘reframing’ – seeing your situation from all angles, to build your resilience.  What you might think of as a disadvantage in your career history, may actually be seen by employer as a benefit.

Moving forward

Seneca said that ‘we suffer more often in imagination that in reality.’ By deploying resilience to interrogate challenges -moving problems from the imagination and into the cold light of reality -positive, creative ways of moving-on can be devised.

Have a good supply of resilience is essential to overcoming life’s inevitable hurdles as a postdoc.

Getting help

If you are looking to increase your resilience, the Researcher Development Programme at Cambridge University run workshops which focus on building mental toughness by developing coping strategies to overcome challenges.

Come for an appointment at the Postdoc Careers Service if you feel that the rollercoaster of job hunting and career decision making is depleting your resilience.

Heather Smith

Postdoc team

What salary should I ask for?

The salary expectation question is something we are increasingly coming across at the Postdoc Careers Service. Employers are asking for this information in online applications, cover letters, phone interviews, way before it feels appropriate to talk about money.


You are asking us how you should handle it. Here are our tops tips to help you navigate this tricky question:

tower of coinsUnderstand why they are asking it

Why on earth do they need to ask such an awkward question before they’ve got to know you?

Well, organisations have salary budgets and the recruiters who first come across you probably have a budget they need to stick to. So, it’s one way of ruling out people who have unrealistic salary expectations. On the other hand, they don’t want to put you off with an offer so low that you’d reject the job out of hand.

Appreciate that they are not setting you a trap, just doing some broad reality checks.

The best tack is to do some salary research before you apply

How much do I ask for?

Yep, it’s the million dollar question but in truth they are not really asking you how much you’d like to earn but what are you worth to them.

The best tack is to do some salary research before you apply.

Our Careers Service alumni platform, Alumni Careers Connect, gives you access to Cambridge graduates who could give you an idea what someone with your experience might expect in this role and sector (as opposed to what they earn).

If you are stuck for time, ask around colleagues or friends for what they reckon people starting in the role should expect. The website Glassdoor is useful to get some insights – people post salary info anonymously. If that doesn’t yield results, the online careers education website Prospects gives average salaries for the entry and longer term progression in a wide range of job types.

How do you present this information to the employer?

If possible, it’s best to give the employer a range, let’s say £5K range rather than one figure.

This gives them a bit of wiggle-room so they don’t feel in a corner. If it’s a conversation rather than a digit to fill in on a form, give them reasons why you think you justify this salary.

Your reasons should be about your value to them and not about your increased costs or inconvenience taking the position.

What’s wrong with asking for more or less than they expect?

Asking for too much means that you sound unrealistic or even arrogant, especially if it is a lot more than your current salary.Happy person

If you are asked about your current salary, though, do mention the benefits of working for your current employer (e.g. pension, annual leave, subsidised childcare).

Asking for too little could give the impression you are not ambitious, and invites them to make a low offer. Keep in mind it takes time to climb up the salary scale.

Your reasons should be about your value to them and not about your increased costs or inconvenience taking the position.

Cultural expectations

Whereas in the UK and a lot of Europe, salary negotiations are uncomfortable for many people, in other countries it’s a must.

For example, in the US you will be expected to negotiate. Do your research on the salary range and also the cost of living in the area.

A former postdoc now working in biotech in the US Bay area said UK based postdocs will be shocked at how much you need to ask for!

It’s a package and not just a salary

Sure, a salary figure is a headline, but what else are they offering?

Many organisations offer other benefits: training, share options, flexible working, health insurance, gym membership. The greatest benefit of all, though, is how the role will help your confidence, career and employability in the longer term. Some people take a lower offer with the prospects of longer term salary benefits and employability.

Later stage salary negotiations

The ideal stage to give you salary expectations is when they have offered you the role.

If you are aiming at the highest figure, give the employer clear reasons why you are worth it. Ask how often and what is the process for salary review.

By Anne Forde, postdoc careers adviser

Getting the most out of conferences

In the weeks leading up to a conference, you are probably focused on preparing what you will present to the attendees, but don’t forget that attending a conference can be a great opportunity to develop your network and facilitate your next career move.

Some research in advance into the delegates attending, the organisations exhibiting and the location of the conference can pay dividends.

If you are trying to develop a career in academia

Are any of the delegates people you would like to employ you (as a postdoc or PI) or host you (as a fellow)?  Reach out to them in advance and try to set up a meeting at the conference.  If you are presenting a talk or poster, let them know.  A quick chat can be easier and more fruitful than a carefully crafted email, particularly if you are looking to change subfields.

If you will be geographically close to any groups or departments you would like to join, try to arrange a visit before or after the conference.  They might like you to give a talk about your work.

Trying to come up with independent research ideas?  At our Fellowship event, Prof George Malliaras suggested attending talks outside your immediate field.

If you are trying to move into R&D in industry

Do any of the delegates work at companies of interest?  Contact them in advance and try to arrange a meeting at the conference.  You could ask a GradLink at the same company to forward an email, or you could reach out through LinkedIn – just make sure your own profile promotes you well.

If you are trying to move into a non-research role

Are any of the exhibitors doing roles that interest you?  You are likely to find journal editors, people working for professional bodies such as the Royal Society of Chemistry, and application specialists for lab equipment and reagents.  Don’t hesitate to ask the presenters about their own careers paths. You will often find former researchers at conferences who can share their own experiences and tips for moving into a non-research role.

Further tips? Last year Claudia Bonfio, a postdoc at the LMB, wrote a great post for The Biochemist Blog on ‘How to be better at networking at conferences’

Sally Todd, postdoc career adviser

From scientist to interactive journalist

Anna Lombardi tells us how she made the transition from postdoc to interactive journalist

Anna Lombardi

Please give us a brief career history

Despite my purely scientific background, I’ve ended up working as an interactive journalist at the Times and Sunday Times. The path I’ve followed to get here has been anything but linear.

After completing my PhD in Physics at the University of Lyon (France) in 2013, I moved to Cambridge, where I joined the NanoPhotonics Centre in the Physics department as a postdoc.

I had the chance to work in an extremely dynamic and stimulating environment, deepening my knowledge of light-matter interaction at the nanoscale and plasmonic sensing.

Despite enjoying the work in the lab, after three years I decided to rethink my career path to pursue my passion for science communication.

Aware that I needed more technical tools to move into this field, I enrolled in a two-year Master in Science Communication at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste (Italy) where I first learned about data journalism and visual storytelling.

While studying, I tried to gather experience in as many fields as possible: from science festivals to science publishing,press office activities and event organization. But I soon realised data journalism was something that intrigued me the most, something always in the back of my mind. This is when I started looking for jobs and, in August 2018, I applied for the one advertised by The Times.

Why were you attracted to this role, how did you find it?

The one tdatahing that has never changed throughout my career is a deep passion for numbers.

As a researcher I was used to reading through big sets of data and visualising them in the clearest possible way for publication; no surprise that, while studying science communication, I got particularly interested in the field of data journalism and visual storytelling.

When I came across this job opportunity advertised by The Times online, I immediately applied. As soon as I read the job description, I thought that it would be the perfect match between my scientific and communication skills.

What aspects of your postdoc experience were most useful in securing the job?

My scientific background has been considered a plus throughout the recruiting process.

Analytical thinking and problem solving were highly valued, as well as coding and writing proficiency. These are all skills I have developed and improved as a postdoc.

What do you do in your current role – what is an ‘average’ day ?

On a day to day basis, our interactive team helps reporters analysing and visualising data to
go with their articles.

We realise maps, charts and interactive tools to contextualise a story,to provide extra bits of information, to engage with readers and guide them through complex data, to incorporate live or location data, to create reader-focused datasets.

All these tools are added to the online edition of the paper. We often collaborate with journalists to find stories within big datasets by scraping and coding, and we sometimes write data-based stories ourselves.

What do you enjoy?

We cover several stories every day. I love learning about different topics through data, something that journalism and science have in common.

I also enjoy designing (often through coding) interactive charts and bespoke digital tools that aim at challenging and moving an often too static view of the world.

Any aspects that you don’t enjoy?

The fast pace of a newsroom is certainly thrilling but it can also be overwhelming sometimes for an ex-researcher, used to a much slower paced environment.

What are the main skills you use on a day-to-day basis?

Data analysis, few bits of statistics, as well as coding, communication and visualization skills.

What is your one tip for postdocs who might be considering a move to this sector?

Science and journalism have more in common than you might think: good journalism, as good science, relies on precision, method and clarity. There isn’t much difference between a good chart/graph going into a top peer-reviewed journal or printed in a daily newspaper: they both need to be self-explaining, complete and visually compelling.

Addressing the general public instead of your scientific peers is even more challenging for me, as you can never assume “they should already know” part of the story.

If you are passionate about data but also enjoy telling stories and deepening your knowledge of the world, journalism could be your next destination.

Too late to change direction?

Can you postdoc for too long? It’s a question I’ve been asked many times by clients trying to negotiate their career path. You can break their concerns down in to two further questions: How many years should you postdoc before securing an academic job becomes unlikely? And: How many years can you postdoc before employers outside of academia are no longer interested in you?

I love a nice graph, so I’ve attempted to use one to represent the assumptions I think a lot of postdocs make about these questions:



We can probably agree that during the early part of your postdoc career, you need to take time to build your research track record and reputation in order to make yourself attractive for permanent academic positions, but after an unspecified period of time you might find it harder to get more independent positions as you become ineligible for early career fellowships or selection panels question why you haven’t yet obtained a permanent position. We’re also assuming that during this time you’re becoming increasingly unattractive to employers outside academia as you become so highly specialised. These are sweeping generalisations, of course, but the strategic question is valid: at what point do you know when to stop trying one path so you can maintain your ability to switch to a different one?

If you’re in the first few years of your postdoc career, then my message for you is ‘get planning’. If you’re a little way further along that t-axis, my message for you is ‘don’t panic’. In either case, we’re here to help you.

If you’ve got time on your hands and you can still see an upward trajectory for your academic career, keep up the good work, but don’t neglect your other options. At this stage, you don’t need to commit to any other career path, but if you have a bit of a sense of what you could do outside of academia, it will help mitigate the panic if things don’t work out quite the way you had planned, and it can help you make the most of your time by signposting you to useful activities and networks that could help you to access these roles in the future. Our previous blog posts about deciding your direction will help you with this.

If you’re a little further along the postdoc path, don’t worry, we have lots of examples of postdocs who have made a career change after several research contracts. They key to success here is creating a positive narrative about the change – what’s motivating you? It may well be that you’ve realised that academia isn’t going to work out, and you feel like this change is being forced on you, but an employer isn’t going to see that as a valid reason to recruit you. You need to demonstrate genuine enthusiasm for the role, and this means doing your research beforehand, finding out about the employer and the sector, and what the hot topics are. If you’ve taken the time to do this, through wider reading and speaking to people in the sector, you’ll convince employers that you really want to make this change.

Career change can be challenging at any stage; accepting you need to make a move and working out what you might do next takes some thought. The Postdoc Careers Service is here to help you with any aspect of that process – come and see us if you’d like to talk it over. We can absolutely reassure you that it’s never too late to change direction.


Liz Simmonds, Postdoc Careers Adviser


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