Rui Pires Martins is the Researcher Development Advisor for Postdocs and Early-Career Researchers at Queen Mary University of London, UK.
Say hello to Rui!
What is your scientific background?
My background is in the molecular biology and genetics of developing systems. My doctoral studies involved looking at the molecular changes that prime gene clusters for transcription during spermatogenesis. As an EMBO fellow, I investigated epigenetic and cell polarisation phenomena in pre-implantation mouse embryos. During my second postdoc, I focused on chromatin structure and nuclear architecture changes that accompany differentiation and nuclear reprogramming.
Why did you decide to leave academic research?
In some respects, I haven’t. I suppose after so many years of relying on an evidence base to guide my laboratory investigations, I seek to do the same as a researcher developer. I conduct institutionally-based research when I can to inform my practise as an adviser to postdocs.
That said, the harsh realities that early-career researchers face were immediately apparent to me in the second year of my fellowship. Struggling to find an optimal work-life balance factored heavily into my decision to look beyond academic research. In addition, as your number of postdoc years accumulate, the number of funding options open to you start to lessen and the competition becomes extremely fierce. The cumulative pressure of those factors began to weigh heavily on my long-term career plans and I began to explore options outside of the academic research track.
Why did you decide to start working in the field you are in now?
As a postdoc at the Gurdon Institute, I became a founding member of the Gurdon Postdoc Association, which organised a speaker series and an annual postdoc retreat for the institute’s 200-some-odd postdocs. As part of the retreats, we focused on aspects of career progression both in and out of academic research. Later on, as I began to look for options beyond my second postdoc contract, I saw a posting for a Researcher Development Adviser for Postdocs at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). At that point, I’d already been a postdoc at QMUL for four and a half years and had a few ideas on how they could improve the ‘postdoc experience’ here. Though I hadn’t necessarily considered a career in research staff development, when looking through the list of skills and requirements for the post, I realised that my collective experience in academia made me competitive for the post and I decided to apply.
How do you want to help scientists in their careers?
My role is to advise QMUL’s administration and early-career researchers (ECRs) on matters of academic and professional development. As part of this, I organise a programme of workshops, seminars and events on topics such as obtaining research funding, UK research governance, public and media engagement, and career progression. The Researcher Development team works in conjunction with QMUL’s Career and Enterprise team to make sure that our ECRs are prepared for their futures, irrespective of whether or not they follow an academic path. I try to help scientists keep aware of the expectations placed on them at each stage in their career. In doing so, I also try to instil the importance of keeping a viable Plan B (and Plan C, etc…) in mind in case things do not work out how they originally anticipated.
Tell us something interesting about yourself.
One of my first internships as an undergraduate was at a small research station on an island in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, where our group studied the local harbour porpoise population that would often get trapped in the fishing weirs. To get them out, someone in a wetsuit would have to wrestle with the porpoise inside the weir full of herring until they were tired enough for us haul them into our boat and out to safety. As you might imagine, in the match of porpoise versus man/woman (in a wetsuit), the porpoise could usually maintain the upper hand for some time. After that summer I decided that perhaps field marine mammal work wasn’t anywhere near as glamorous as I’d imagined it would be!
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