An insight into Scientific, Innovation & Technical Consulting

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This week the careers service held a panel and networking event to shine a light on Scientific, Innovation & Technical Consulting and the panellists didn’t disappoint, Sara Jones recounts what she learned

We were fortunate to hear from a variety of Cambridge alumnus including Dr Guen Bradbury, Innovation Consultant at Innovia Technology, Dr George Wylde, Technical Consultant at TTP, Lizzie Hawkings, Electronic Engineer at Cambridge Design Partnership, Jabulani Junior Nyathi, Consultant: Renewable Fuels & Energy Systems at Ricardo PLC, Lucy Dickinson, Manager at Synetic Life Sciences and Dr Dan Spencer, Mathematical Physicist at Sagentia Innovation.

… the best things are talking to interesting people (clients). Client exposure comes early on which is a great experience to have. You also get to see the tangible impact of your work in real life which is hugely rewarding.

What is Scientific, Innovation & Technical Consulting?
  • Using scientific principles to solve complex problems and provide a new perspective.
  • Finding problems that people didn’t know they had, using technical insight, and helping clients build better businesses.
  • Providing a different / creative perspective (innovation consulting).
What does a typical day look like?
  • There’s lots of technical work but that doesn’t mean you spend all your time in front of a computer. Your day might involve collaborative meetings to generate ideas, or hands on technical work depending on the organisation you work for.
  • Day to day often involves making a heavily technical answer digestible to a client that is not technically minded, you’ll often be feeding back to the client in a way they can understand.
Do you need a PhD to work in this area?

The short answer is no. Two of our six panellists had a PhD. Those with a PhD said that it helped them in relation to learning new things quickly and problem solving which are key for this area of work.

What can I do during my time at university to enhance my applications to these roles?
  • Join societies, sports club, networking events that really interest you and think about how you frame that when talking to an employer. Can you extrapolate what you have learnt and apply it to a real-world setting?
  • It’s key that you are interested in the problems you are tackling – you can’t fake it! You need to show a passion for problem solving, it’s a huge part of the role.
  • Align your thesis project with where you want to work.
What does the recruitment process look like?

An example is a video interview with technical questions followed by another technical interview (2-hour task) and short presentation. Final interview on values drawing on soft skills. While there are several steps, the process should be interesting and enjoyable and give you a real flavour for what the organisation does.

If you show a passion that goes a long way. Technical rounds can be daunting but it’s worth bearing in mind that the interviewer has been in your shoes. They want to see a common interest in science – let your interest shine through.

Your supervisions at Cambridge will prepare you well. Try not to see it as a threatening process. Consulting is a very people-based career, the process will be testing your ability to relate, problem solve and ask questions.

The case study is usually a very similar process to what you will be working on in the job so use this to decide whether this is a good option for you.

Did you know you can message alumni via Alumni Career Connect to help you understand what a company is like to work for?

How can I find out about a company culture?

The company website is the best starting point for this – organisations will want you to know their values. Don’t be shy about asking questions about the company culture during a networking event or recruitment process.

Connect with people on LinkedIn and ask what the culture is like, most of the time you will find that people want to help and give advice.

Did you know you can message alumni via Alumni Career Connect to help you understand what a company is like to work for?

Are there any negatives?

Working on a variety of projects, you may feel that you don’t become an expert.

In your early career you don’t always get a say on the projects you work on. It’s important to be vocal about where you want to direct your career. Colleagues will come back to you when you deliver on certain projects, you need to build your professional profile in the organisation. It’s a steep learning curve but talk to colleagues and you will find that support is available.

The panellists were keen to highlight that many of the challenges of the work e.g., the variety and steep learning curve are often reasons why people enjoy the role.

Is there a work-life balance?

Yes. You typically work 37.5 hours a week, 9-5.30, occasionally 40 hours depending on projects. As a sector, the work-life balance is very good.

One panellist summed this up as ‘fun, fulfilment and finance’ – salaries are lower than a large strategy consultancy but the working hours and ethical principles are so much more sustainable and rewarding. One panellist mentioned that there is a choice to do overtime, but it’s not mandatory. This comes at a salary-cost but “I value my happiness!”

Importantly, the work is very creative and organisations recognise that long hours don’t foster the creativity needed to do the job well.

Are there professional development opportunities?

Yes, there are lots of courses that you can sign up to depending on interest and funding is available to do training that will benefit you. You also get a mentor.

Can you easily move out of consulting? Yes, there are lots of opportunity to move in-house, consultancy sets you up to easily move into business related roles.

Final words … the best things are talking to interesting people (clients). Client exposure comes early on which is a great experience to have. You also get to see the tangible impact of your work in real life which is hugely rewarding.

If you missed this year’s panel,  catch up with previous Scientific, Innovation and Technical Consulting panels on our Catch Up on Past Talks webpage, learn more on our Hands Off Science sector page or reach out to alumni working in sci-tech consulting via Alumni Careers Connect

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