Dr Sonja Tomaskovic

Dr Sonja Tomaskovic, research skills coordinator at Salford University

After graduating with a physics degree from the University of Zagreb (Croatia), I received a four-year scholarship to undertake a PhD at the University of Groningen (the Netherlands). My research was very interdisciplinary and I worked with researchers from different backgrounds. I used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to investigate how the human brain processes auditory signals. After completing my PhD in October 2005, I continued my research as a postdoctoral researcher (at Aston University and the University of Manchester) for around three years.

Over the last three years I have been working at HEIs and supporting researchers in their personal, professional and career development. While I was a researcher I became more interested in teaching and working with students than actually doing research. Hence, the change in the direction of my career! In my current role, I am coordinating a training programme that is in place to support the development of PhD students and researchers. I really enjoy my job, which involves delivering a number of training sessions, working with researchers from different backgrounds and supporting them in their academic and non-academic development. Although the role is not academic, I still have lots of freedom and flexibility.

For me, the transition from academic research to a professional role within the university was relatively straightforward. Although, I have to admit I was very lucky – it was an internal job advertisement – it was my first or second non-academic application and I got the job! At the time I was working as a researcher at the University of Manchester and I was unclear about my next step. I believed that the only thing I could do was research, since this was the only thing I’d ever done. I went to a career event organised by the University of Manchester where I became aware of other opportunities within the university (and beyond) open to researchers. Shortly afterwards, I secured my first non-academic job.

As a researcher I was not aware of other opportunities outside the typical academic route. I found it quite difficult to identify what else I could do and where to look for jobs. If I hadn’t gone to this particular career event I am not sure how my career path would look like now. My lack of awareness had been the biggest challenge – other difficulties never emerged.

My academic background has been extremely valuable. Having previously worked as a researcher at university, I have a clear understanding of the needs and issues affecting researchers in their research and academic development. Very often, I use my own experience to provide the support they need. The most useful transferable skills are being flexible/adaptable, a quick learner and able to present in front of different audiences. These are skills that one acquires as a researcher and are valued by any employer.

My advice to current researchers is to look for opportunities to present at conferences, network, collaborate with different departments/universities and engage in different training. You have gained many skills from your academic training – communicate them effectively. Explore all the options and career paths that are open to you and think “outside the box”. Start planning your (non-)academic career early so that you have enough time to develop what you need to secure your dream job. Don’t just sit and wait, take your career in your own hands and be pro-active about your own development!

last edited: October 01, 2012