Who am I? My name is Chiat Cheong. My first name is pronounced as [key-a]. You know… like the Korean car brand : )
I am scientist by training. I did my undergraduate studies in Biomedical Sciences at the medical faculty of Leiden University, the Netherlands. In 1999 I moved to Belgium where I spent 6 years on my PhD project on cancer immunotherapy using viral vectors at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
I very much enjoyed doing research while being abroad, constantly being exposed to cultural differences: very enriching. It was easily decided that after Brussels, my adventure abroad would continue. So, after finishing my PhD in 2005 I left for the United Kingdom to work as postdoctoral researcher. London life was amazing, both socially and work-wise. Great people, great research group at Queen Mary’s University of London – Institute of Cancer, located in The City – the financial district in central London. I cherish great memories and friendships that started there.
I was doing pretty well in my career, although I was never the brilliant scientist. Up to the 3rd year of my postdoc, I kept myself busy doing what my academia expected me to do: Keep myself updated about relevant scientific developments, design – perform experiments, analyse – discuss results, write articles for publication in order to build a strong scientific record for my future career. Does this sound familiar?
One day, it occurred to me that a research career might not be the career that would make me happiest in future. Some ancillary activities I undertook made me realise that I had talents other than research. I noticed that I could make a difference by making use of my other skills. More importantly, I felt energised by what I did, something I had not felt for a while in my work.
‘Are you saying you do not want to be successful in academia?’
‘Why? You were on the right track!’
‘You have come so far and now you want to drop everything? For what?!’
The comments I got when I told people I was leaving academic research had not always been encouraging. Somehow I knew this was to be expected. I only disclosed my ambitions when I had already signed my contract. Admitting to myself that I had to make a career switch was scary enough. What I needed were answers and support. Not questions to make my decision even more doubtful!
So in 2009 I made an important transition in my career. My professional mission became: Making PhDs and postdocs aware of their potential and providing support in their career development. A mission that was and still is close to my heart. A mission that is in demand as 80 – 90% of all PhD graduates will eventually have to make a career switch.
The 6,5 years that followed were years of professional growth. I gained knowledge about personal development, transferable skills, demands from industry, employability. I learned to provide training in career development, I set up targeted programmes for PhDs and postdocs, led discussions about PhD careers. Having gone through the transition process myself proved to be very valuable in my mission. In this job I served over 1,000 early career researchers. Gradually I became an expert in this field. Regularly I got invited at career events, PhD Days to inspire young researchers, to provide training workshops or to contribute to discussions. And I am loving it!
Still I had not yet reached the peak of my own career. At one point I started to feel the limitations in my job and those feelings only got stronger. Again it was time for change. Again it was not easy to let go certainties, but this time I did feel more confident doing so.
I mark January 2016 as the next milestone in my career: independence! I have seen what impact I can make on PhDs in transition, how I can structure their development to unleash the PhD Power within. I am happy to share my experience, knowledge and skills to support PhDs like you in making the most of your potential by finding the spot where you can flourish and find fulfilment.
If you think you may use a little bit of support, let’s discuss possibilities over coffee.
No costs or obligations for this exploratory meet up. It is then up to you to decide to proceed or not. But be warned: this may be an important first step towards an empowered PhD career : )
Find information about my career summarised on my LinkedIn profile