Interviewed by: Elizabeth Kaplunov (EK), who is a Health psychology PhD researcher at the University of Bath.
EK: How did you first here about the conference?
Nina: That’s a good question. I think some of our employees actually attended the conference and then mentioned it. We’ve been presenting here since 2016. I’ve done 2 of those presentations.
EK: Can you please tell me, what are Navigant approaches in terms of maternity leave or people having chronic illnesses or anything like that? How supportive do you find the company?
Nina: Actually quite supportive. I think it’s important that you have the right mentors and understanding line managers.The real telling fact for my story is that my boss doesn’t have any kids but he’s been very supportive in terms of my return to work, giving me the time to spend with my kids and then supporting me when I came back. I don’t feel my career progression has been hampered by taking time out. I think the company’s done a lot, valuing what I can contribute and what I can do well and making sure that we take advantage of that as much as possible.
EK: What has been the biggest difference for you between being in a smaller PhD team to working in this massive company?
Nina: Although we’re a big company (Navigant), actually the life sciences team has a very boutiquey feel to it. When I started we had 12 consultants in London and now there are 50. So we are a much larger team but still we’ve got a lot of autonomy in how we shape our work, how we develop our talent, how we recruit. It’s not corporate-directed, so I feel we sort of have the best of both worlds. We have the backing of a big company but at the same time we have a very entrepreneurial feel.
EK: That’s really important. Would you say that you feel a lot of ownership for your work?
Nina: Absolutely. I feel that you can really take a handle of your career and make it what you want it to be, you can shape your career. It’s not like you need to follow a defined path together with a hundred others. You can just choose the projects/types of workyou want to do.
EK: Are there more rules and guidelines to follow at Navigant compared to doing a PhD?
Nina: Yes, definitely. I think you would be hard pressed to find many other jobs in the city that are not a bit more rigorous and corporate in that way. Maybe that’s an overstatement but businesses do have a bottom line to maintain. All they’re trying to do is create certain frameworks, which allow them to monitor performance, make sure that they’re optimising their staff so I do see the reasons why those are in place. Sometimes they’re a bit antiquated and we do work with corporate to say: “Look, this is maybe not necessary or should be improved”. But a some is also being driven by the fact that we’re a publicly traded company, so we have certain reporting that we have to do to the Wall Street etc. You just take the good with the bad, in some ways.
EK: Both of my parents have PhDs. They almost feel like I’m “giving up” this rigorous academic lifestyle and I should just be in research. How did you feel about that, when you were going into consulting?
Nina: Yes, I think that’s very real. And it doesn’t just come from your parents, it comes from your supervisor. My supervisor said “Oh, you’re going to give up life sciences”, my ex-supervisor said the same thing.
EK: How did you get over that?
Nina: I think to some extent I didn’t because I did choose a company that has this life sciences story to it, so I sort of said: “I’m still doing life sciences”. That was as much to satisfy me as it was maybe to satisfy some of the important mentors in my previous life. But at the end of the day I think it’s all about your character and what works for you and I could see that I’m different in what drives me, and the pace of work that I want to do, maybe the level of detail I want to go into etc. It’s not to say that if I went to another lab that I wouldn’t get that experience; I think there are all sorts of types of work environments in science as well. But in my situation I had an opportunity to join Navigant and consulting was something that always appealed to me. So I think I just decided that this is what works best for me...There was also an altruistic element to it, where I was basically saying that I’m just not as committed to science as my colleague sitting next to me and who am I to compete against him for a grant, he’s much more into this. I’ve got this other opportunity, and I like it.
EK: Would you say that your job is generally more stable that work in academia or have there been some ups and downs?
Nina: Yes, I think it is more stable. I think there is more uncertainty in terms of grants in science (in academia)...You have this constant pressure of having to search for the next grant, whereas I find that in the line of work that I am at the moment, there’s a lot of demand for experienced life sciences consultants. It is also one of the growing industry sectors because of the aging population and the emphasis on healthcare.