In the first of a series, members of IChemE’s National Early Careers Committee talk to Claire Nnaedozie about her post-PhD career
ARE YOU interested in a PhD but are unsure where it will take you? Laura Grindey and Paul Jenkinson from IChemE’s National Early Careers Committee sat down with Claire Nnaedozie, a Process Technology Leader at consumer goods firm Reckitt, to find out about her career post-PhD.
“Part of doing a PhD is becoming a subject matter expert in your field. My PhD involved studying the reconstitution behaviours of beverage powder mixtures. I decided to pursue my PhD because I wanted to do research in the fast-moving consumer goods sector. My PhD helped me widen my knowledge of powder technology in that field, and across other relevant fields like fine chemicals and fertilisers.
“The specialist knowledge I gained has been very beneficial as my work involves using my subject matter expertise to solve problems in industry. Additionally, to get a PhD, by definition, you must add new knowledge to your field. To do this, you have to be a self-starter who is highly driven. These traits have been very beneficial to my role at Reckitt. They help make me a more efficient project manager, able to deliver results across projects simultaneously. I work within the Technical Department in supply on the Hull site. My responsibilities include working on technology transfer, process specifications for capital projects, validation and continuous improvement of process technology, and providing technical support on manufacturing processing issues.”
“If your end goal is to go into industry, look for PhDs with industrial sponsors. You will then have the network from that company to lean on. You will also start to see how the output of your work influences the industry you are interested in.
“For current PhD students, I would say maximise any opportunities you have to spend time in industry. There are 3-6 month internships available for PhD students. If your sponsorship condition allows for it, I would recommend it as it will help you develop transferable skills and build your network.
“It might take you a while to find the niche area that fits your set of skills and experience. Research the companies that interest you and schedule informal chats with people working in the company or attend events where you can learn more about the roles on offer.
“Transitioning to industry is a lot about how you sell your experience in your CV. Displaying the necessary transferrable skills for the role you are applying for goes a long way. Translating my research experience, projects, and teaching into a list of industry-relevant skills helped land me my first role.
“There are three things that could help you to achieve this. One, get a mentor, formal or informal, who has transitioned from academia to industry. Two, speak to people in your desired role to understand their career journey. And three, review the CV of someone with the job you want or someone who works at the company you are targeting. Note the formatting and length. Then use these insights to develop or showcase the necessary skills in your CV.”
“Managing a PhD is a big lesson in project management. A successful research project involves planning your time, managing goals, and setting a realistic timeline. Different stages of a PhD’s journey demand effective planning and organising to ensure that deadlines are met, and projects are completed efficiently and effectively. In my current role, I can have up to five projects running simultaneously and being able to effectively create timelines, track project goals and reprioritise where necessary has proved very useful. As part of the research process, there are also times where you are simply not able to meet project deliverables, due to failed experiments, lack of time or lack of resource. This requires adaptability and flexibility, and both are skills I learned during my PhD. Also, a PhD can help teach you how to communicate setbacks with stakeholders including your university supervisors and industrial sponsors.
“Whilst completing a PhD, you will attend conferences and read papers to stay on top of the latest trends in your field. A curious mind and quick comprehension of technical subjects is linked to the accelerated learning ability developed during this process. This skill and experience assures my employer of my ability to understand technical procedures, protocols, and methodologies.
“You also learn to analyse data, examine it critically, and make logical reasoning; and define problems, plan experiments, test potential resolutions, and troubleshoot, all of which will be helpful in industry.
“On the softer side, supervising Master’s students and mentoring other doctoral researchers allowed me to develop leaderships skills. I employ these in my current role where I am the technical lead on cross-functional projects responsible for developing technical strategy and coordinating different departments to achieve project goals. I also mentor new starters, and help junior staff members develop the technical knowledge needed to succeed in their roles as process technologists.”
“When it came to my interview, I highlighted my specialist knowledge in powder processing; my resilience in the face of challenges; my adaptability and ability to pick up new skills and concepts; and my communication skills developed presenting to students, academics, and technical staff. These experiences have given me the ability to find different ways to convey a single concept as well as improvise in front of an audience.”
“Chemical engineering is all about turning raw materials into useful, everyday products. It involves the development of new products and technologies. Working both at lab scale within my PhD with an understanding of scaleup processes and process design obtained in my undergraduate chemical engineering degree gives me a unique understanding of product and process qualities especially when introducing new processes and products into the factory. Additionally, it offers a unique perspective when troubleshooting processes as I am able to apply my specialist knowledge in powder processing with an understanding of the dynamics at scale.”
“I view myself first and foremost as a problem solver. So, the most rewarding aspect of my role is resolving processing issues when they arise. My role involves scaling new processes and making sure that current processes run smoothly. When issues arise with processing any of the brands we manufacture at our Hull site, our team is often called to support. I especially enjoy getting to use both my undergraduate degree and my PhD knowledge in the problem-solving process. Some key challenges I have enjoyed working on have involved troubleshooting powder processing issues and applying understanding of pneumatic transport and fluid dynamics.
“Working with a cross-functional team of experts, we come up with resolutions that guarantee that we continue to manufacture products that ensure consumers have access to the highest quality hygiene and wellness.”
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