Bill Hinchen, Senior Editor at Abcam

Bill Hinchen:

A short summary of your previous work in developmental biology:

Back in 2006-2010, I was doing my PhD at Cambridge, looking at early cell migration patterns in embryos from a marine crustacean (Parhyale hawaiensis). I was using a combination of classic IHC approaches with 4D time-lapse and cell tracking techniques to understand the extent to which cells in the early embryo ‘need’ their neighbours to execute a wildtype program of development.

After somewhat of a major disaster at the end of my final year, I was left without any real data from the previous three years, forcing me to submit for an MPhil rather than PhD. However, despite this, I did go on to spend a few more months working at KCL in a biophysics lab, assisting with a project using super-resolution microscopy and C. elegans embryos.

Current role and company: 

I currently work at Abcam as a Senior Editor.

Why did you choose to leave academia? 

Rather than choosing to leave, my planned career was cut short when my PhD became an MPhil – no doc for the post-doc! This forced me to look for something else to do. That’s how I came to find myself in medical and science writing. However, based on the way academic jobs typically work out right now (the nomadic lifestyle, little or no job security, etc), I don’t think it’s a career I would have chosen to remain in.

Did the experience and skills gained in academia prepare you for the new role? Was there any training, etc. you wish you had done? 

If my brief spell in academia taught me anything, it was self-reliance and adaptability. Academia – well, lab work at least – is forever throwing novel problems at you and so you have to respond with novel approaches to solve these. This forces you think about things differently and take new approaches. Along the same lines, this is something you usually have to do on your own. While there is a support-base to an extent, research was often a solitary practice and so I became quite good at relying on myself to plan work, run experiments, rerun failed experiments, write up results, and all of that.

What is your favourite thing about your job? 

I get to work on a range of disciplines. In the past year alone I’ve written about neurodegeneration, stem cell differentiation, inflammation responses, epigenetics, immunoassay optimization, apoptosis, and immuno-oncology. This is a breadth of science I would never have investigated if I was still in the lab.

What do you miss the most about research? 

Autonomy. My work now, while varied, is ultimately directed by business or client needs. In the lab, I had much more control about where to take my research. I miss that freedom sometimes. Plus I miss doing ‘proper science’!

What do you miss the least about research? 

All the pie pipetting! 😉 but seriously, I’d say the inability to ‘switch off’ is something I certainly don’t miss. When you’re in the lab you’re always thinking about work, the next experiments, the next paper to read, the latest problem to troubleshoot…. Whereas in my current job, when I leave the office, I’m done.

Do you have any CV tips? 

Keep it short. Keep it relevant. Keep it honest.

You are going to have to tailor your CV for different jobs. Don’t bother with personal statements on there; they use up valuable space and that’s what cover letters are for! Open with education and then your most recent jobs and your main responsibilities/achievements at each of these. That should be about a page. Then highlight the skills you have that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for (eg lab, computer, or microscopy skills), and then expand on some of these: communication, teamwork, planning, etc. Finally, a couple of references (you can add “more details upon request”) and publications you think are relevant. That’s two pages. You’re done.

Do you have any other advice for young researchers? 

There are a lot of failures in life at the bench. It’s how you progress. Don’t take it personally. Fail, learn, succeed, repeat.

Always ask questions. Don’t try to pretend you know something when you don’t – there’s no shame in asking right at the start what something means. You’re there to learn so ask away!

Get out of the lab! You need to unwind and recharge – to switch off! Take time away from the bench when you need to. Socialise.

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