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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Career Path: Mineral Sciences to People Management – applying scientific approaches in unlikely ways

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    17 Nov

    15a-clare-and-koalaOver the 10 years since I began studying Natural Sciences at Murray Edwards, I have come to realise that although I don’t use the scientific knowledge that I gained during my degree (at all!), I do use the scientific skills and approach to learning that I gained (a lot!). While at Murray Edwards I spent a lot of my time and energy doing people-focussed things alongside my studies, within and beyond the college. It was this experience that helped me realise that combining my scientific approach to work and problem solving, but also involving people and teams, was where I wanted to focus my energies. This has turned into a career in Human Resources focussing on Organisational Development. I work with people across organisations to understand underlying business issues, and support people and teams to get the most out of their work and deliver the best possible results. This means managing change projects to make work more efficient and effective, and designing and delivering training, resources and team events.

    I enjoy my work because it requires a combination of big thinking and detail focus. On one hand I have to understand an organisation’s strategy at a high level and the wide range of factors that may be affecting an organisation’s performance, internally and externally (like understanding overarching scientific theory and models). On the other hand, I look at specific and detailed data, to investigate particular teams’ ways of working more closely, and to identify underlying issues and problems (like gathering and analysing data in scientific research).

    I have come to realise that I use scientific approaches in my work more often than you might expect:

    • At the heart of working in Organisational Development is having an understanding of relevant theories and models – these might be about learning and development, motivation and engagement, or change management. I find out what knowledge has already been developed and keep up to date with what research has already been done. Most importantly I have to combine these models and theories into my own understanding of the field.
    • I consider business problems as interesting questions – “why is this team getting lower customer service feedback than the rest of the department?” or “if we change a particular system, how will that affect ways of working across the organisation?”
    • By applying existing knowledge to the question at hand, I can identify potential answers and come up with a hypothesis – “people in the team are not as engaged with their work, which means they aren’t giving as good customer service”
    • I test my hypotheses by gathering and analysing data - recent employee engagement surveys, feedback from teams and from customers, or performance data. This can mean discovering that the answer to the question is not what I expected. I must be open to changing my thinking based on the evidence I observe.
    • Working with managers to improve ways of working, I communicate relevant theories and describe how it applies to their context in an understandable way, and I have to share and explain the findings from my analysis.

    Having studied sciences I am able think critically about what I see and what I know, I can use what I observe to challenge my thinking, and I can put my work into much bigger context. I am excited about continuing to apply the skills I learned in my science degree to all my jobs in the future – I have found that these skills are incredibly transferable between organisations (I have worked in charities, a museum and in food retail), as well as countries (I have recently moved from London to Melbourne, Australia!). I would encourage everyone to consider study sciences as it opens up so many possibilities – it absolutely doesn’t mean you will only be able to do jobs labelled as “scientist”, as you can take a scientific approach to anything you do.

    Clare Tyson