5 Reasons Why Every PhD Student Should Obtain Consulting Experience

brindiBrinda, PhD student, Barts Cancer Institute

For a long time, I associated the term ‘consultancy’ with a 21st century buzzword, the financial sector, Canary Wharf, and smartly dressed professionals who had ‘500+’ connections on their LinkedIn profiles. (Un)surprisingly, I was not the only one who thought that the ocean of opportunities beyond the breadth of academia was a blur. Twelve weeks of invaluable training workshops and a mini-consultancy project later, I gained a clear perspective regarding the world of consulting, and how it has many more overlaps with the academic sector than you would think.

Participating in QConsult Researchers has been one of the best professional experiences I have done until date. As most of my research placements have predominantly been in academia, partaking in QConsult provided me with a fantastic insight into real-life business challenges, and has enhanced my commercial awareness, including a better understanding of the marketplace and product development. Although my project was not directly linked to the nature of research I am doing, the transferable skills gained from this consultancy programme will be an invaluable asset which will benefit my career, regardless of whether I stay in academia, enter pharmaceutical industry, or become a healthcare consultant.

Working as a QConsultant was absolutely phenomenal for many reasons. Here are a few:

  1. Teamwork made the dream work. Above all, I enjoyed the ‘close-knit’ team culture offered in consultancy. Although we work as a group in academia and have regular lab meetings, each person is responsible for their own project. However, in QConsult researchers, we were five PhD students working tightly together on 1 project. Furthermore, being an integral part of a highly inter-disciplinary team has helped me recognise the importance of effective cross-collaboration between different specialities, and also adapt a multi-faceted approach to troubleshoot a problem.
  2. We experienced instant gratification. I am an advocate of patience and delayed gratification, but that could partly attribute to the fact that I have always worked in long-term academic projects which can never truly be finished. An incredibly refreshing aspect about our QConsult project was that we saw it to full completion. Because the turnaround time for our placement was much shorter, I felt more valued and appreciated, as I know my contribution was pivotal to solve our client’s concerns.
  3. It was deeply rewarding. Many firms have surplus funds to investigate a non-urgent matter of interest. This was not the case for our client. We were placed with a small educational charity that wanted to provide their students (GCSE and A-level) with the optimal interactive ‘e-learning’ package in order to maximise their knowledge and grades in school. The charity catered to bright students from poor performing schools who demonstrated a strong willingness to learn and thrive in an academic environment. Our job was to critically analyse all the software with a fine toothcomb and report our findings to our client.  It was deeply rewarding to know that our input has been instrumental for them to gain funding to expand the charity, and also improve students’ performance.
  4. We have many more transferrable skills than we think. As someone who has been trained in the ‘wet-lab’, I have spent a lot of free time pondering whether I would ever be an eligible candidate to branch out into a career outside the pipetting world. QConsult researchers has been an eye-opening experience that has enabled me to appreciate the vast array of resourceful skills that a researcher possesses, ranging from problem-solving to project management.
  5. We learn how to sell ourselves. Similar to many academics, I loathe marketing my professional skills and find it extremely awkward to do so. Impostor syndrome kicks in the second I have to attend a networking event, and usually find it a lot easier to talk about the weather than myself as a scientist in training. We attended several careers workshops as part of this programme, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. As an example, I found it very useful on how to build non-academic (skill-based) CVs, as this is not something I have been previously exposed to in my background.

Overall, participating in QConsult Researchers was one of my highlights of 2019. Not only has it provided me with much more knowledge than I can ever write about in this post, but I was also incredibly lucky to meet and work with an amazing group of people. If you are in Barts/Queen Mary and would like to apply to the QConsult Researchers programme, I would strongly urge you to do so. Click here for more information!


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