Carmen Denman (right) and fellow PhD student Emma Stevenson, standing in front of the buildings where their research was undertaken (2013).
Exeter and Beyond: Alumna gives her Top Tips for Graduating Students
Often described by my parents as a homebody, I never dreamed I would live internationally. However, towards the end of my Bachelor’s degree, I sensed the need to spread my wings. I applied to and was accepted to a research internship in Bermuda – not that I knew where Bermuda even was when I applied - that wasn’t the point. Accepting that internship launched an unintentional expat adventure.
Interning in Bermuda set the wheels in motion for graduate school and I found funded PhD studentships at Exeter through findaphd.com. A good sized beautiful university city with an accessible location, which was rising through the collegiate rankings, seemed ideal. After visiting, the energy and enthusiasm the campus exuded convinced me it would be an excellent place to spend three years. Following a competitive selection process, I was awarded a studentship in the lab of Prof. Alan Brown in Biosciences. The project, in molecular microbiology, aligned well with my research interests.
Moving to another country is quite an undertaking on its’ own, as is Doctoral research. Thankfully, the stimulating research group I was a part of at Exeter gave me a network of support to develop as a student and scientist.
I got involved with activities beyond the laboratory, chamber orchestra, hiking club, and undergraduate tutoring. All this while working extremely hard, crafting a career as a scientist. I was able to attend several conferences to present my research, and networked with people involved in academic research from all over the world.
Before I finished my PhD at Exeter, I secured a post-doc in vaccine development and moved to London to work and continued to enjoy science storytelling through speaking about vaccines at community events like the Bloomsbury Festival, and winning the Wellcome Trusts’ ‘I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here’, then it gradually dawned on me that I enjoyed the storytelling of science more than the experimental side of research – and that not all of my fellow scientists enjoyed, excelled or cared in the same way I did about communicating science. Through my husbands' work in marine science (he graduated with a MSc from Exeter in Aquatic Resource Management), we relocated to a University in Saudi Arabia. Another big international move, even further from home. Instead of applying for academic research jobs, I landed in science communication for the University.
My mum may never forgive me for moving so far away for so long, but the three years spent at Exeter in research development positively influenced my career and personal journey. Mainly, by teaching me to work hard on scientific and transferable skills. It goes without saying friends and colleagues I had while at Exeter are still friends today - my time at Exeter has had a lasting impact on my life and happiness as well as my career.
My advice to soon-to-be Exeter alumni:
- Say yes to opportunities that present themselves – even if it is unpaid work at first.
- Don’t be afraid to create opportunities by asking people in leadership positions for assistance.
- Consider an international move. It doesn’t have to be permanent! Living abroad will change your opportunities and perspective.
- Take advantage of on-campus Researcher Development training to cement your transferable skill sets.
- Maintain a scientific and non-scientific CV ready to go for when an interesting opportunity or contact presents itself.
By Carmen Denman (PhD Biological Sciences, 2013)
Date: 5 July 2018