From Stars to Reservoirs – career paths aren’t always straight!


For our first lunchtime forum we decided to ask one of our professors to talk about their career path – and we couldn’t have picked a better example than Dr Gillian Pickup – Assistant Professor in EGIS. Looking at someone’s research profile or mini CV doesn’t necessarily give you an insight into why they did certain jobs or moved to different places and how this fitted with their situation at the time.

For instance, on Gillian’s CV it says that she has a BSc and PhD in Astrophysics and then ended up working for the Institute of Geological Sciences (now British Geological Survey) – it doesn’t say how that happened! But luckily for us she told us during the seminar.

Gillian was coming to the end of her PhD when her supervisor suggested that academia might not be right for her – so she started to look for jobs and found a post as  a geophysical programmer. Having learnt Fortran during her PhD she already had part of the required skill set, she just had to learn about rocks. This actually sparked her interest in geology which would prove useful in the future.

Gillian met her partner during her BSc and followed him to Hawaii where he was working on the Infrared Telescope. She moved as a wife and mother (they had one child before the move and a second during the stay in Hawaii) but kept links with academia through part-time teaching and part-time research jobs, teaching Astronomy and related subjects whilst in Hawaii and upon her return to Edinburgh.

Having two small(ish) children and a husband with a secure job at the Royal Observatory she decided to focus her job search on the Edinburgh area. She was looking for a while before seeing an advertisement for a position as a research associate at the Institute of Petroleum Engineering (IPE). Despite not knowing much about petroleum engineering, Gillian applied and got the job, investigating the impact of geological heterogeneity on oil recovery, which combined her interests in geology and programming.

She has been at IPE ever since and has had the chance to work on different projects during which time she moved through the academic ranks, becoming a lecturer in 2010. Gillian now works in Carbon Capture and Storage research and continues to use her modelling skills.

As some of her career highlights Gillian mentioned geological fieldtrips – either with student groups for teaching or to visit sites relevant to research. She also enjoyed the other travelling involved, teaching on Heriot-Watt campuses around the world or attending conferences and workshops. She finished her talk with a reflection pointing out that as a mother and female researcher she has had to be flexible but the opportunities she had led to a varied and enjoyable career.

It was great listening to Gillian talk about her career and experiences which were very relatable and hopefully showed early career researchers that it is ok to change subjects or research areas and that the skills gained are never lost – they just need to be re-applied.


Author: egispostdocforum

The EGIS postdoc forum is a peer-run support network for postdocs within EGIS, at Heriot-Watt University, to enable open discussion around issues relevant to postdocs e.g. research life, contracts, funding opportunities and career development.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s