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Helen’s story: Healthcare to scientific publishing


When my children first started school I bought a care home which was very scruffy and badly run, and concentrated on getting it running well and profitably.  I was really enjoying being back at work, although it was very hard to fit in child care, house work and managing my own business, especially as the care business is 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

After five years my personal circumstances changed and I needed to sell the business to concentrate on domestic responsibilities. After three years of caring, things changed again and I found myself at a loose end.  I really wanted an intellectual challenge so I went back to university to study physics.  Four years later I managed to graduate with a first having been away from work by then for 7 years.

Taking the degree was really challenging but very satisfying.  I find the subject fascinating but also enjoyed getting an insight into the world of scientific research.  However, I had taken the degree purely for academic interest and when I finished studying I had no idea what to do next.   I really wanted to use my physics but didn’t know quite how and felt that although I had gained a lot of knowledge it was mostly quite esoteric and that I had no useful skills.

Following some career coaching with Women Returners I was able to see that I have a lot of useful skills.  I spent some time thinking through exactly what I wanted from my career and drew up a CV.  The first and most difficult step is to actually get on and apply for that first job.  I found that phoning the HR team and chatting to them before applying is very helpful as it gives you some insight into what type of person they are looking for and draws attention to your CV.  It also makes you get on and submit the application, as they are looking out for it.   My first interview was a disaster but did at least get to interview stage.  I did have to brace myself to get back to the job hunt afterwards but I think you have to expect to have some bruising experiences and regard them as just that, a useful experience.  I applied for three more jobs, one of which was a temporary research contract with an engineering firm.  I was invited for interview and was offered the job at interview.

I found the short term work experience tremendously useful.  It made me feel like a member of the working community again, and I learnt to work as part of a team.  Having been self employed in one way or another for over 20 years this insight into employment has been invaluable.  It also gave me the confidence to go into another job interview with the knowledge that I would be an asset to the company.  So I was offered another job, again a contract but with a high probability of permanent work at the end of it.  I have just started work as a publishing editor at a scientific publisher, with responsibility for some of the physics journals.

My advice for others looking for work is to remember that you have as many skills, probably more, than most people who are already working. Also, look out for temporary work, as it can be easier to get through the selection process to get that first step on the ladder.  And if it’s not exactly what you want to do, you are gaining experience without being tied to it for too long. There is work out there and I think most employers value the fact that people who have chosen to take a career break are looking to get back to work because they really want to embrace a change and have the courage to go out there and do something about it.