Lucy Freem

Short summary of your work in developmental biology:
I did my PhD in the Neural Development Unit, UCL Institute of Child Health, on the development of neural-crest derived intrinsic lung innervation in mouse, chicken and human, which ended in 2011. Following this, I completed 2 postdoc positions at the Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, over the next 6 years. The first was in the lab of Prof. Helen Sang, producing novel fluorescent transgenic chickens for use by the wider developmental biology community. The second in Prof. David Hume’s laboratory was a change in field from developmental biology, looking at genetic differences between chicken lines which can affect their innate immune system.
New role and company:
Currently I am in my probation period as an Assistant Statistician in the Scottish Government, working in the Directorate for Children and Families. Government statisticians work to collect and present data about public services, finances and life in the UK in an accessible, impartial and accurate way. This information is used to inform policy makers, elected officials, academics and the public.
Why did you choose leave academia?
I made the decision to leave academia around a year before the end of my second postdoc.
I had researched the statistics on career progression in academia and decided that if I was going to stay in science I wanted to move onto a fellowship as an independent researcher, and not do more than 2 postdocs, as I valued career progression and wanted to achieve a degree of career stability not served by repeated short term postdoc contracts. I was not in a position to apply to fellowships in January 2017, so I started planning to leave at that point, with the strong support of my partner. Later in 2017 the downsizing of the Roslin Institute and an acquired allergy to chickens, the species I’d been working on for 6 years, made my decision even more justified in hindsight.
Did the experience and skills gained in academia prepare you for the new role? Was there any training, etc. you wish you had done?
The experience that benefited me most for my new statistician job was, unsurprisingly, the training in statistics and statistical presentation necessary for most scientific publications. Statistical analysis and presentation was a big part of my last postdoc and essential for my new role, as was using R and Excel for data processing.
What is your favourite thing about your new job?
My favourite thing about my new job is that I feel a lot more comfortable with the methods and purpose of my work – producing the evidence used to guide the government has a clear ethos, end point and purpose that I did not find in the more open-ended field of academic research. Everyone is very friendly and there is a strong and vocal commitment to diversity and fairness in the workplace that I feel has been sometimes deprioritised in academia.
What do you miss the most about research?
I miss most the lively community of researchers and technicians I got to know in 6 years at Roslin, some of whom remain very good friends, but I miss least the uncertainty about my future, and future location, that came with sequential short term contracts.The civil service uses permanent contracts, but promotes movement within the organisation, which I find to be a nice balance of security and progression.
Do you have any other advice for young researchers?
My best career advice is, when you are looking for a job whether in science or out, tell as many people as possible that you want a job! Contacts at Roslin put me in touch with a civil service mentor who talked me through the civil service application process and helped me understand all the acronyms. The main preparation I had to do for interviews involved describing my work from a project management perspective (delivery outcomes on time, etc) rather than a scientific one, and the more practice you get at this the easier and more natural it becomes.
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