Name: Dr. Tracey Sara Sweet

Current Role: Head of Science at Brixham College

PhD Subject and Graduation Year: Chemistry – 2001

First job/employer following PhD:

Institute of Cancer Research

What were your reasons for your career choice, including why you left, or stayed in, academia?

When I finished my PhD I was unsure about continuing my career in research. I felt a little unfulfilled working in a research laboratory and I was not sure if this was because I had become disinterested in my PhD research or whether it was research as a whole. I took up a post-doctoral position at the Institute of Cancer Research because I was very interested in the work and I thought that this would enable me to really make a difference through the research I was doing rather than carrying out research for the purpose of Chemistry itself.

How many jobs have you had since completing your PhD?

Since completing my PhD I have had 3 jobs and about to commence my fourth.

Could you briefly describe your career path?

After completing my PhD I worked as a post-doctoral research scientist with the Institute of Cancer Research. I worked in the Cancer Research UK laboratories and I was involved in drug discovery and optimisation. After working there for 18 months I began to realise that the aspects of the job I most enjoyed were training graduate and PhD students and presenting my research findings. I had always thought about teaching as a possible career path for me so I decided to go back to Exeter University to gain a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education in Secondary Science (Chemistry). Upon successful completion of this I took up a teaching post at Okehampton College where I worked as a Teacher of Science before being appointed to Head of Chemistry. I stayed in this job for six years before moving to South Devon College, which is a college of further and higher education. This role involved teaching Chemistry to A Level, Access to HE, BTEC and GCSE students. I also taught Biochemistry to foundation degree students and I was the Chemistry lecturer and admissions tutor for the BSC Extended Science (Year 0) course. Typically I would work with students of age 16-adults. During this time I was also involved in some research work with the University of Bath. I am about to start work with Brixham College in September. I have taken up a position of Head of Science with them.

What does your current job involve on a day to day basis (briefly)? Any highs and lows, skills needed and developed?

Day to day my job involves teaching science, chemistry and environmental studies to students of 11-18 years. I also manage the running of the science department and ensure that teaching and learning is of a good to outstanding standard; monitor the progress of students; communicating with parents; reporting of department and student progress and performance management of department staff. The highs of the job are working with young people and making a difference in their lives. To be successful in this you need to be determined and have resilience. Working in education can be extremely demanding emotionally and physically. It can take up a lot of your own time if you want to do an excellent job. You have to be prepared to make some sacrifices but also be aware that that you still need to build in time for yourself and family.

Do you have any key messages to current PhD students, particularly any looking for a career in your field?

Get some experience in fields that you think you might be interested in. There is no substitute for trying out something to see if it is the path for you. Do not rush into a career path; take your time after completing your PhD before committing yourself. Personally, it would have been better for me to get a temporary job to earn money and give me some time to consider all my options.

Could you share any tips on effective CVs/Job applications/Interviews for entering your chosen career?

Tailor your CV/application to each job you are applying for; use words from the person specification in the advertisement in your application; read examples of CVs and applications; be succinct; support any statement you make about your skills with specific examples.

For interviews look at example questions and practice your answers. Read through your application before the interview and try to think of more examples of the skills and qualities you have. Think about why you want the role you have applied for and what you can bring to the role.

Do you know of any useful sources of information/vacancies for careers in your field?

The best place to look for education vacancies and information is For general information about careers I found very useful.

Have you any general tips for successful career planning and/or career decision making?

It is important to think about your skills and the kind of things that you enjoy doing and the environment you would like to work in. Once in a role, think about how you would like to progress and look for opportunities to gain experience in different aspects of the role.