Isabel Airas worked at Poly AI on its Business Development project. Her main aims were: to gain experience working in business development, gain experience working in teams, get experience working in the tech space, and discover what transferable skills she has gained from her PhD.

Isabel writes:

“I had an extremely varied fellowship where I have been exposed to a variety of aspects of business development at a start-up. I have worked closely with our Chief Customer Officer and learned a lot about the sales and marketing functions of a company. Furthermore, I have discovered that I do indeed have enough comprehension of technology to be able to work at tech companies in the future.

I discovered that I was particularly successful in adding value to the company given the diversity of holes that I was able to ‘tap’, executing a variety of tasks and driving a variety of projects that would normally be across different functions. I drove a project over the duration of my fellowship to acquire ‘Cyber Essentials’ certification for the company, which was a large important but “non-urgent” task that was very important for increasing the scalability and commercialisation of the company, directly contributing to one of the company’s objectives and key results. I have also organised the sales function’s organisational capacity. When I joined, there was no ‘sales process’, but I have since been able to create a proper management process (with the guidance of my line manager) so that the function is much more organised (e.g. creating a commercial master document with all target accounts and all data that the company has on this account).

I have learned a huge amount about business development, working in an AI company, working within the tech sphere, working for a start-up company (and witnessing how this influences your work experience). I have gained many new contacts and gained 6 months work experience which is intrinsically valuable for any job that I will apply for in the future. I have also been able to gain a huge range of new skills, and have learned a particularly significant amount about teamwork. I have written a work diary throughout the fellowship , documenting the range of projects I have driven throughout my time, along with the skills I have been developing. These experiences will be incredibly valuable when I apply for jobs in the future, as I will be able to quickly prepare to answer questions about examples of where I have used specific skills.

I have enhanced my teamwork skills, the ability to persuade people, leadership skills, management skills, and creativity and design (e.g. creating sales and marketing materials). I have also learned how to do market sizing exercises, market research, I have learned a huge amount about GDPR and other compliance regulatory frameworks that companies need to abide by, and learned a lot about the marketing and sales functions within a start-up company and what these functions do.

The fellowship has had a huge impact on both my PhD research and my future career. In terms of my PhD, I think it has given me incredibly valuable breathing room which has been extremely helpful as I enter my final year of my studies. Working within a team has also been incredibly valuable as it has given me a huge amount of energy to be surrounded by people every day. Going to work every day and being surrounded by friendly faces has been unbelievably energising. I also think that the work-life has helped me really establish a sense of routine (and taught me a lot about leaving work at the office), lessons which I hope will guide me during the final most arduous part of my PhD.

In terms of my career, the obvious biggest benefit is getting the 6 months of real experience working in the private sector. Having 6 months in the industry was brilliant as it has really gained me the upper hand when applying for jobs if comparing myself to other PhD students who may not have as much commercial experience. It will have a huge impact on my job application process. I have also gained a lot of experience by being to work in the tech sector and start-up world. The agile environment is extremely enjoyable and I have learned a lot about myself, what I enjoy doing, and what I am good (and bad at) during the fellowship!”

Do you think the experience would benefit others and what would you say to other social sciences students about undertaking an fellowship ?

“Yes, I would DEFINITELY recommend undertaking an fellowship during their PhD. I think that even if they wish to stay in academia, it could be a valuable experience for people to work in the private sector to learn about how it all works and to understand the incentives that drive the private sector. I would recommend it even more to social science students who do want to leave academia, as I think it is hands down an excellent experience. I really can’t see the negative sides of doing an fellowship (even the break from academia and my PhD has been a good thing, as I genuinely now feel a huge sense of energy and feel prepared to return to buckle down and write up). The fact that the ESRC supports these fellowships is probably one of the best things about my PhD studentship (if not the best), as it has helped me gain so much more than a regular PhD. This has made my experience of a PhD so much more holistic and diverse, and for that I am extremely grateful.”

Isabel Airas’s fellowship with Poly AI took place between October 2019 and March 2020

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