UCL Alumni


Alumni stories: Inspiring the next generation of researchers with Sheona Scales

Through inspirational talks, Sheona Scales (BSc Neuroscience 2004) is showing PhD students and research staff at UCL the breadth of work that’s open to them.

Image of alumni speaker Sheona Scales

1 June 2022

From revolutionary healthcare to game-changing discoveries, working as an academic research scientist is hugely rewarding. But it can also be tough, and it isn’t always clear what the career options are if life in the lab isn’t for you. Sheona Scales (BSc Neuroscience 2004) is tackling this issue with inspirational talks that show PhD students and research staff at UCL the breadth of work that’s open to them.

Coming from the Midlands, Sheona long had a desire to study in London. After a gap year working in a hospital, she discovered her passion for neuroscience and a plan came together. “UCL is the place to study neuroscience,” she says. “They’re doing big research, and obviously it’s in London, so everything fell into place.”

During her studies, Sheona was exposed to an inspirational world where her love for the subject deepened. She says: “When you're on these kinds of courses, everyone is really passionate about the science, and that drives you. Going to UCL set up my career. I made amazing connections among my friends and peers.”

Paying it back

After graduation, Sheona spent time working in labs, including at UCL and the Francis Crick Institute, before deciding to change her environment. Sheona says: “Moving out of a lab is actually very tricky. When you're a scientist, entrenched in the academic world, it's difficult to see what else your training sets you up for.”

This stuck with Sheona. And when UCL got in touch with an opportunity to speak at a careers event in her current role as Head of Research at Cancer Grand Challenges – part of Cancer Research UK – she jumped at the chance. “I love giving talks on how you can remain close to the science without being in the lab per se,” says Sheona. “There are many people who love their scientific career, but then want to utilise these skills in other places. And being able to support them with that is fantastic.”

Refining your public speaking

Sheona has volunteered at three UCL Researchers Careers events - careers events for PhD students and research staff - where she’s been a panellist, a host and a speaker, helping over 150 people. She believes that public speaking is a skill that ripples through everything in your career. “If you can do public speaking, it gives you confidence in other situations, for example handling difficult questions,” Sheona says. “My top tip is to make sure you consider what the audience wants and get that sorted in your head ahead of time. Understand your key messages and the three things that they're going to take home.”

Inspiring the next generation

When alumni share their time, expertise and insights, recipients derive real benefits and advantages. Seeing someone who has been in their shoes succeed is powerful. Sheona’s advice for PhD students and research staff who may not know what they want to do next is that there are many options beyond academia: “An academic life can be tough. You're living from grant to grant, which isn’t for everyone. People don’t always know that the skills they’ve learnt are transferable, and there are roles that you can love and can drive, but at a different level.”

To fellow alumni, Sheona says that getting involved with UCL events is a great way to expand your own networks. “Outside of your day job, volunteering helps you to consider your own career and learn things too. I took a lot from my sessions and the interest and engagement from the audience was brilliant.”


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