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Innovate UK graduate scheme - 6 Months in Advanced Materials

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Twelve months ago I was franticly trying to gather enough data and finish enough experiments so that my PhD thesis was a sensible story rather than an incoherent mess of all the data I’d gathered over the previous 3.5 years.

I also had that looming knowledge that in 6 months’ time my funding would have run out and I would need to have a job if I wanted to continue being able to pay my mortgage.

Person writing on a perspex wall. Images for process, cloud data, target, email, charts and search. Wording 'Job Search'

So, in amongst experiment finishing and thesis writing, I looked for jobs. I didn’t want to stay in academia and knew I needed something that challenged me but was also varied and exciting.

I wanted to be at the forefront of new and exciting science but didn’t necessarily want to be the one in the lab everyday.

Innovate UK graduate programme

That criteria lead me to the graduate programme here at Innovate UK. I was interested in a position within the sector teams which would use my technical background and let me see some incredible new science and technology as it gets closer to market.

So I applied, and with each stage of the process I learnt more about Innovate UK, the graduate program and the role and I knew it was the role for me.

Calculations on a chalk board with a smiling young woman standing in front, looking up with her finger pointing up to a light bulb in 'an idea' gesture.

Innovate UK are an incredibly supportive organisation to work for, they care about their staff and their career development. The graduate program is advanced and thorough. All the training you need is provided as well as secondments into other areas of the organisation.

You are actively encouraged to network with people across the entire organisation as well as be part of a graduate cohort that spans Innovate UK. Having that initial point of contact in so many teams across the organisation made gaining information easier and quicker in the first few months.

Working in the Advanced Materials team

Aside from the structure of the graduate program, I also sit within the advanced materials team. As a team, we monitor the materials landscape, bring the community together and fund the best materials innovation to aid the UK economy.

Chalk board drawing of steps and stick people working together to get up the steps.

We’re a small team but everyone in it has the technical background and expertise to work effectively within this space with the aim of achieving the best possible outcomes for the materials sector.

From day 1, the team have supported me and treated me as an equal, I was given real responsibility early on with projects that had tangible outcomes.  One such project was the cohort event at the Materials Research Exchange (MRE) in March 2018.

MRE Advanced Materials Innovation Showcase 2018

MRE was the biggest advanced materials innovation showcase in the UK and combined a conference with exhibition which was attended by over 1300 delegates across the 2 days. As part of this 2 day event, there was a cohort event.

This was a chance for companies who have had Innovate UK funding to discuss their projects and talk about what they are looking for in terms of future collaboration. The result of this was over 70 experts from across the materials sector in one room realising they have the knowledge to help solve each other’s challenges.

Young woman wearing sunglasses looking upwards and thinking against a background of a world map and planes flying from country to country.

Israel and South Korea missions

As a team we have also run two expert missions over the time I have been with Innovate UK. These were to Israel and South Korea and I was lucky enough to be involved with both trips.

The objective was to start to build relationships and determine how we can set up bilateral relationships with these countries in a way that would benefit both sides.

For each trip we took a group of experts to meet with companies, universities, RTOs and strategy makers to try and determine the best approach for working with each respective country.

Cultural and business differences across the world means that bilateral relationships are bespoke by necessity so it is essential for these missions to occur so the best next steps can be taken.

UK and European funding

Through shadowing my team members, I have got to experience how we are involved with EU funding competitions like H2020 and Eurostars as well as how we run our own funding competitions to get the best from the UK materials sector.

Piggy bank wearing oversized glasses standing on a giant calculator.

In summary

As an organisation we are constantly trying to improve ourselves for the benefit of our customers, our applicants. As we have moved into UK Research and Innovation, we can do this even more efficiently as we start to work more closely with the Research Councils to fund the very best research and innovation.

I’m not sure there are many graduate programmes where you can say you’ve been involved with major events and gone to Israel and South Korea within the first 6 months of working there.

It’s busy and always challenging but with benefits like that, it’s a pretty incredible job and I wouldn’t change it for anything.


You can follow Ellen on Twitter:@Dr_EGP 

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