After graduating in 2014 with an MPhys from The University of Manchester, Shaun took a job in IT in Manchester, but soon realised that his passion sat elsewhere.

In 2019, Shaun graduated again, this time with a PhD in Quantum Physics from Royal Holloway, University of London.

In this interview, Shaun explores why he made the decision to leave graduate work to pursue PhD study and how he found the transition from study, to work, to a combination of study and research.

At what point in your career did you decide to pursue a PhD, and why?

I started a job in web development straight out of my Masters, but quickly came to the realisation that I wasn’t happy at all and recalled that I was happy when I was studying Physics. So a few months into that job I decided to do a PhD. Four years later, I am officially a doctor!

What skills did you learn during your graduate job that helped you during your PhD?

My job prior to the PhD taught me a lot about the best practises in programming which I applied to my simulation code and the scripts that I used for running my experiments. I also shared this knowledge with other PhD students who said to me that they found it extremely useful.

How did you effectively translate these skills onto your applications and interviews for PhDs?

I don’t know if the skills in my previous job sold me in the PhD interview, but what every PhD student needs is research skills. So I researched as much as I could about the PhD before the interview which I think helped me the most.

When you started your PhD, did you find making the transition from work to study/research difficult?

I found it quite difficult at first. You’re surrounded by people who are far more knowledgeable than you in your chosen field and it is very intimidating. Though I wish I knew how to use this to my advantage. Researchers and scientists love to answer questions about their field so ask as many as questions (no matter how stupid you think it may be) to boost your knowledge and understanding of the field. Your supervisor is your most valuable source of knowledge!

Looking back, are you glad that you chose the path that you did?

I don’t regret it at all. I have my doctorate (with no corrections!) and now have a great job working in the field that my research was on, so I wouldn’t do anything differently! It all worked out, thankfully.

However I won’t lie, doing a PhD was not easy at all. So the advice I would give is be absolutely sure in yourself that a PhD is what you want to do.

Is there any other advice you would give to a recent graduate who is thinking of leaving their job to embark on a PhD?

Research, research, research! Know what field you want to go into, know what the project will be like, know who your supervisor will be and know what they are like to work with. I’d say there a two important choices to make when choosing to do a PhD: pick a project you’re passionate about, and pick a good supervisor! I’ve heard horror stories from some PhD students who had interesting projects but their supervisor was unsupportive or barely present.

Now that you’ve finished your PhD, what are your plans?

My plan was to finally earn some reasonable money! Luckily, I found a job at a start-up that is related to my field and pays well. I do hope to someday move to Singapore and work there. It just has better weather than Britain.