Jennifer – PhD Student

If you would like to work towards a PhD but are unsure of the area to go into, have a read through Jennifer’s career profile about her work studying meteorites – she might just convince you it could be the PhD for you!

What attracted you to this job?

I’ve always been intrigued by how our planet Earth and the other planets in our solar system formed. I was working as a traffic analyst but decided to give it up to start a PhD at the University of Manchester studying meteorites. Studying the chemistry of meteorites can help provide answers to many questions about formation and evolution of our solar system. I find this fascinating.

What does your typical day involve?

I split my time between researching future projects by reading lots of literature, running my experiments in the labs, working though data I have collected and writing up and presenting my results. I meet up with people who work in my lab most days and on others the whole of my research group gets together to see what everyone is up to. If it’s a Monday someone brings in a cake! I also attend conferences to present my results and meet other people who work in my area of study. I would say a large percentage of time is taken up by solving all the problems that crop up. Everything always takes three times as long as you think it will!

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

I get the most satisfaction when I’ve solved a problem that has been niggling at me for a long time. The “Eureka” moment when it all clicks is very satisfying.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

My family are very proud of what I’ve achieved so far. I think some of my friends wouldn’t want to stay so long in education but most find what I do pretty cool.

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

I have a good work-life balance. I treat my PhD from a professional point of view rather than a student one, so there are no long lie-ins or time spent watching daytime TV. I tend to stick to office hours to do my work at the University and then have the evenings and weekends for myself. However if there is a deadline coming up, such as a paper to finish writing or a presentation to present, I work all the hours I need to. That doesn’t happen too often though.

How did you get to where you are today?

I took an undergraduate degree in Geology and Planetary Science. This led to my current PhD. It wasn’t what I thought I would be doing as I’d originally applied for a History degree (my A levels are in History, Maths and Physics). I quickly realised that what I was interested in was problem solving, trying to answer the big questions about the world around us and conducting my own scientific research and so I switched degree programmes. After my undergraduate degree I felt I needed to take a break from education and enter a more grown-up environment so I worked in the public sector for a year. I really missed working on what interested me most (science) so I applied for a PhD.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?

Never think you aren’t good enough or clever enough. No one, not even the top professors, knows everything. Motivation, team work and perseverance are the best skills you can have for a life in scientific research.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

I am lucky to be funded by a government council. They pay my tuition fees to the University and give me a tax free wage to live on. It’s not enough to get you a luxury penthouse or a yacht but it’s more than you need to live on. There is a lot of funding out there for bright, keen and determined people. Other benefits involve getting to travel the world to attend conferences, use different laboratories and collect samples. I’ve been to the USA twice. Other people I know have visited Norway, Iceland, Hawaii and Antarctica!

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

Outside of my work I like music and comedy. Manchester is a great place to live as you can see loads of live performances. I also go to aerobics classes, love cooking and I’ve taken up knitting which is great to do in front of the TV (I’ve only managed a scarf so far though!).

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

When I started I was afraid that if I didn’t know something or got something wrong it was the end of the world. Now I know that no-one does everything right the first time and no-one knows everything. We’re all here to learn and we all make mistakes, but we all laugh about it afterwards.

Find out more about the work of Jennifer’s research group here.