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Getting ready for a fellowship - interview with Dr Chris Wood

Home > Getting Ready Fellowship Interview Dr Chris Wood

Dr Chris Wood started with i-sense as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Stevens group at Imperial College London in 2016. Dr Wood is an experienced researcher with a background in chemical synthesis, supramolecular chemistry, bioengineering and the design and synthesis of nanomaterials for biosensing. His qualifications include a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from the University of Cambridge and a first-class degree in chemistry from the University of Oxford. In 2018, Dr Wood was awarded a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Tell us a little about your work with i-sense and how this developed over your time with the Stevens group?

I moved to London after doing a PhD in supramolecular chemistry. I wanted to change research area completely and to work in a more applied area of science. I had been recommended Molly’s group by a friend and meeting her and some of her group convinced me to take the plunge. Whilst there I worked on an i-sense project in collaboration with Dr Vijay Chudasama’s group at UCL. In this project we were looking to create ultrabright nanomaterials with precisely attached antibody fragments for use in a lateral flow diagnostic for detecting the influenza virus. A very different area to my PhD!

Were there particular training activities, or support and tips you received during your postdoc that prepared you for your fellowship?
I was lucky to be asked to help write a few grants whilst I was doing my postdoc. It was great training for writing the fellowship application and in general is a great skill to obtain if you are thinking of an academic career.

How did you know you were ready to apply for a fellowship?

Talking with colleagues and thinking up new projects has always been one of the things I enjoy most about research. So, when Molly suggested taking my own ideas and writing a grant application for myself based on them, I jumped at the chance.

Tell us about the application process for your fellowship… what did you find useful or challenging during this process?

Beyond the idea and the science behind it there is an awful amount of other information needed in the final fellowship application. Things I hadn’t thought of before such as PI track record and institution suitability. Thankfully Molly and her group have been excellent mentors to me. They talked me through what is needed, showed me examples of previous applications and helped correct early versions of these parts, which was super useful.

Were there any surprises during your fellowship that you wish you had known before you started?

With every research project it always surprises me how long it takes to get set up and to start generating meaningful data. Given the number of projects I have started over my research career you would think I would remember this by now, but it still always amazes me.

What was your favourite part of your fellowship?

I have got to meet and mentor many great people out here in Sweden. I have learnt a huge number of new techniques and skills. Most interestingly of all I have got to see how science is done in another country and institution and although they are similar it’s interesting to see a different way of doing things.

What opportunities do you think your fellowship has opened up?

The greatest opportunity has been to move to a new country. It has been a huge learning experience both inside the lab and out and I have made some great new friends and connections as a result. On top of that, taking even more control over my research has given me at lot of insight into what it would be like to run my own group.

What would be your top five tips to someone moving into a postdoc position or applying for a fellowship?

  1. Get as many people as possible from as wide a range of disciplines as possible to read and critique your fellowship application. In many cases you cannot predict who is going to read your application and what their research background will be.
  2. Don’t choose the lab you want to work in solely on the scientific credentials of the PI. The atmosphere and the personalities of the people in the lab are as or in some cases even more important to how your fellowship or postdoc will turn out. In the end these are the people you are going to spend most of your time with each day!
  3. Try and plan your research so that there are some early publishable results even if the impact is not that high. Once you have these going through the slow process of publication you can aim for the riskier and more long-term high impact results.
  4. As you progress through the stages of an academic career soft skills like mentoring and project management become more and more important. It’s good to work on these early and identify your strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Following on from this, if there are key skills that you feel you are lacking, be they soft skills, lab skills or data processing skills you have yet to master, find a course and ask your supervisor if you can go on it. Many fellowships have budget already set aside for your personal development or if not, there are grants you can apply for that can help.