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I want to be a... scientist

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Jane Fitz-Gerald Jane Fitz-Gerald | 12:50 UK time, Tuesday, 25 October 2011

From working on farms to technical assistant through to postdoctoral researcher. Find out how Jon Travers got to where he is now.

Name: Jon Travers

From: Cambridge

Jon Travers

Childhood dream job: To be an environmental campaigner.

First job: Technical assistant at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Other jobs I've done: Working on farms, in a food hall, on a market stall, as a DJ, as a Research Assistant in industry and for Cancer Research UK.

Current job: Postdoctoral researcher.

Number of years in the industry: 10 years.

Typical work hours: 40+

Qualifications/courses I took for this job: BSc, MSc, PhD. Sometimes it takes time to get started in a career in science after your degree since employers are unwilling to take people on who have no workplace experience. It can be a pretty depressing experience but not a hopeless one. The best way to avoid this is to try to do a sandwich degree course with a year in industry or be prepared to work lower grade technical position for a few months. It is not essential but it enhances your CV and additionally gives you networking opportunities, which are another important component of progressing your career.

Most useful skill I've learnt: Critical reading of other scientists' research.

Other experience I've learned along the way: Collaborative work in multidisciplinary teams; getting people to understand what I do when they are not expert in the field.

My first job helped me get where I am today because..: It demystified scientific research for me, giving me confidence that I, as anyone else with sufficient application, could enjoy working in science.

Toughest career moment so far: Getting to the end of the PhD; it is the hardest, loneliest moment of your career as a scientist.

The biggest myth about my job is..: That you need a PhD to be a scientist - there are many career paths in science whatever your aptitude, and not everyone is suited to do a PhD. The only path of these that requires a PhD is academic tenure.

If you want to work in this industry you need to..: Realistically, get a BSc. You need be flexible about the field in which you want to work at first and be prepared to move around geographically to find the best jobs for you at the time. Jobs are not easy to come by in the current economic climate and you may have to work below your skill level at times. But it's surprising how this can open doors for you in areas that you wouldn't have imagined otherwise.

The tip I'd pass on to anyone starting this job is..: Never stop reading about and learning the developments in your field - knowledge and technical expertise are the currencies of science.

If I hadn't had done this job, I would have..: Probably worked in music.

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