When I Grow Up I Want to be a… | Research Associate

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QNameHolly LithgowQ1When I was at primary school, I wanted to be a singer or an actor. I went to drama club, spent lunchtimes choreographing dance routines to B*Witched and Britney Spears and dreamed of being famous.

At secondary school I joined the debate team to flirt with a boy and briefly toyed with the idea of being a lawyer. I quickly realised that neither debating nor the boy was for me.

My family is very medical. This, coupled with the fact that Biology and Chemistry were my strongest subjects, led to a fair amount of expectation that I’d do Medicine at university. My not-quite-excellent Higher results thwarted this plan, so I applied to do Biology with the vague notion that I might apply to Medicine as a postgrad. I realised pretty quickly that I didn’t actually have any interest in Medicine and would be terrible doctor, so although it seemed like the end of the world at the time, I’m forever grateful for that C in Higher Maths! Q2I’m a Research Associate for an Executive Search firm that specialises in academia. Q3I work for a little company that partners with universities to help them fill high-level and niche vacancies. Basically, I head-hunt extremely intelligent, interesting and accomplished people. This involves visiting the university and meeting with all the key people to find out what their ‘ideal candidate looks like’, searching globally for people whose research, qualifications, experience etc match what our client is looking for, and then managing the interview and appointment process.

A lot of my work is online but I also spend time talking to and visiting potential candidates and our client universities.

Since the company I work for is very small (in the UK at least, there are larger offices in the US and Australia), it has quite a start-up feel about it and I have lots of additional little responsibilities such as pulling together marketing materials to really ‘sell’ each position to potential candidates, and managing our website and LinkedIn page. Q4Almost two years, I joined the company in October 2015. Q5To be perfectly honest, I kind of fell into my current job. I was lucky enough that a friend from university was leaving the company at the same time as I was moving back to Edinburgh and looking for a new job. She put me in touch with my now boss and the rest, as they say, is history!

After leaving university I worked in NHS Internal Audit. It was not a dream job, by any stretch of the imagination, and is not at all related to my current job. However, it did help to build my confidence when talking to senior and important people, as well as giving me experience of managing my time on multiple projects and meeting deadlines, all of which is useful in my current job. Q6When working for a small company, it’s important to be confident in your own abilities, you are capable of anything you put your mind to! I get asked fairly frequently to do things that I’ve never done before and that I have no idea how to do, and I found that pretty terrifying when I first started! Now, rather than worrying about not knowing what to do, I try to think of them as opportunities to learn something new. I’ve gained lots of new skills and knowledge because I’ve said ‘I’ll have a go, I’m sure I can figure it out’, rather than ‘I don’t know what to do’.

My job is fairly niche, but I think a knowledge and interest in academia and the university sector is vital. I’ve also found that the scientific and medical lingo I picked up during my Biology degree has been really useful, as a lot of the vacancies we work on are for scientific and medical academics. Q7That is an excellent question! I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up!

I often think that having a more creative job and being my own boss would be amazing – being a photographer, or a wedding planner, or owning a lovely little shop which sells lovely little things. However, I think I probably romanticise such jobs, and in reality I’m sure it would be incredibly hard work and I don’t think I would like the potential financial insecurity of being completely responsible for generating my income very month.

For now, I am very content with my job and plan to keep doing it as long as I enjoy it. I see lots of opportunities to progress and grow within my company, so I’d like to see where that could take me. Q8I work from home the vast majority of the time, so attached is a selfie in my ‘home office’.


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