Annegret Schneider – PhD in Health Psychology

Current Employer: University College London

Current Job Title: Research Associate

Current Location: London

“Every morning on my way to university, I could see the sea in the distance. Even after three years of living in Plymouth, I still found this incredible.”

Tell us about your career path since graduation.

A few days before my viva, I was offered a position as research fellow at the University of Surrey. That was a great position to be in going into the viva, and I started this job straight after submitting my corrections in December 2014, coming back to the South West for my graduation ceremony in summer 2015. I recently started an exciting new job at University College London as Research Associate.

How has your degree helped/influenced your career path?

I would not have been able to apply for and get the jobs in academia that I have been doing without my PhD. It was also really helpful for my career that I have worked on an inter-disciplinary, mixed methods PhD project, as such experiences are more and more important in research. This also made me very versatile and flexible when it came to choosing projects.

Has your career path changed since graduation?

Somewhat! With a background in psychology, my PhD research was concerned with dental anxiety. In my first postdoctoral research, I was involved in a large-scale EU project testing an intervention for patients with cancer. My current job revolves around behavioural change interventions with regard to infection control. There is, however, a common theme behind all those projects which is my concern with improving patients’ experiences in health care settings.

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

In my opinion, the most difficult aspect about a career in research is the ongoing uncertainty. Will my paper be published? Will this project be funded? Will my contract be renewed? This can at times be rather daunting, especially in the early stages of your career, where short-term employment often involves frequent relocations. Even though this is exciting, it can also be quite strenuous on your private life and personal relationships.

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

All the trips to conferences, training, and other work related journeys. This is not good for my carbon footprint, but I try to take the train whenever possible and cycle to work. I also love the variety of my work, not only the activities and topics I am working on, but also all the interesting people I meet.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could?

I feel pretty fortunate with my career development to date and would not change much as I have even learnt from less successful projects and bad decisions.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

I see myself as a health psychology researcher and there seems to be quite some demand in the field, so I would suggest just go for it and give it a try. My advice would be to get involved in various projects and try different methodologies to find out what you are really interested in and also to gain some valuable transferable experiences. This might contradict the typical idea of the specialised academic, but at least in my field of research, where you often work closely with people from different disciplines, I found this approach invaluable.  

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

Studying at Plymouth provided me with opportunities to attend a variety of professional development training sessions and the chance to gain some teaching experience. I taught a number of seminars for the School of Psychology and even developed some courses for dentists based on my research findings. This was particularly exciting, as I could see the application and impact of my work to the real world.

What lessons/skills did you gain from your course?

I believe most PhD students would agree that the PhD journey is extremely emotional, as your research project becomes such an important part of your life for such a prolonged time. There will be setbacks and I have learnt what persistence means. I also learnt a lot about project and time management and to trust in my own decisions and abilities, this is your project and supervisors are simply there to guide you and not to manage your work.  

Did you undertake a placement during your degree and if so, how did this benefit you?

I did not undertake a placement in that sense, but I got involved in some other research projects (for instance, I was a Research Assistant in a project exploring the experience of international students at Plymouth) and teaching and public engagement activities while undertaking my PhD. This was not only fun at the time, but also turned out to be useful when applying for future jobs as I now fulfil a variety of possible job requirements.

What is your favourite memory of studying at Plymouth?

Every morning on my way to university, I could see the sea in the distance. Even after three years of living in Plymouth, I still found this incredible.

Do you stay in touch with other Plymouth University alumni or lecturers?

I am in touch with many people at Plymouth University and the friends I made during my time there. I managed to co-operate with some of them on projects and I have met up with my supervisors when visiting Plymouth. A lot of the academics I got to know in Plymouth have moved to other places by now, as it is typical for higher education jobs, but this just gives me even more excuses for travelling.

Would you recommend undertaking a course with Plymouth University, and why?

My time as a PhD student in Plymouth was probably one of the hardest and, at the same time, best periods in my life. It was hard work, but also life-enhancing. I met many interesting and supportive people at Plymouth and I really enjoyed the environment with its natural beauty and the Devon lifestyle (including cream teas and all those water sport opportunities).

Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?

Just get involved and seize as many opportunities as possible. Make the most of your time in Plymouth.

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