Non-Traditional Career Routes

It is often assumed that, to have a successful career in a university, one has to progress through a so-called traditional and linear academic career path.

This has traditionally consisted of an academic education from school to a degree through to a PhD, as well as post-doctoral or industrial research experience before embarking on teaching and research activities as an independent academic.

We believe that this is no longer a true reflection of what makes a successful career in a university, with career breaks, career changes or part-time study all being common and in no way disadvantageous. Indeed, there is a variety of other pathways that can lead to a career not only as an academic, but to a broad range of other crucial roles within the University, including research associates, teaching fellows, as well as administrative and technical support. Our Department is proud of the diversity of our staff, not all of whom have followed the traditional career route into Chemistry.

Lorna Ashton


When I left school I was completely focused on becoming a primary school science teacher but realised quickly that this really wasn’t the career for me. Instead, I became a children’s nanny before having a family of my own. During this time I decided to complete my degree at the Open University and became interested in a career in research.

Even though it was difficult at times studying for a degree and then PhD with small children I’ve always had great support from my academic supervisors and colleagues. This support continues here at Lancaster and my now teenage daughter frequently visits the Department and is welcomed by all.

Lorna Ashton

Helen Quirk

Chemistry Superintendent

After returning from a year travelling abroad, I worked as a technician in a secondary school and began an Open University degree. I initially intended to study Biological Sciences to build on my HND, however, I quickly developed an interest in chemistry during the foundation course. A BSc (Hons) in Natural Sciences with Chemistry led to a position as Research Technician in the old Chemistry Department at Lancaster University.

Following the closure of the Department in 1999, I moved to Lancaster Environment Centre, initially as Research Technician and then Laboratory Manager in the Soil Ecology Group and later Laboratory Safety Officer. In 2014 I was offered the role of Departmental Superintendent and Safety Officer in the newly reopened Chemistry Department. The Department is currently supporting my part-time study of MSc in Safety, Health and Environment at Salford University.

Helen Quirk

Robin Short

Professor and Director of Materials Science Institute

I followed a traditional academic pathway for the first decade of my career. However, I had a passion for cross–disciplinary research and by the late 1990s, I had co-developed a new cell therapy for the treatment of severe burns, based on the use of a patients’ own cells. With no obvious way to take the technology forward in the academic setting, with colleagues, we formed a spin-out company in 1999 and this changed the course of my career...

By 2001 I was so engrossed in the activity of fundraising and further developing the technology, that I left the University to join (initial part-time and then full-time) the spin-out company.

Over the next four years, I held a number of roles as the company grew, including chief executive officer! But as we became more “professional”, I progressed into more technical roles. Bitten by this bug, in 2003 we spun out a second company based on “leftover” technology from the first.

For five years, we hunted down money and moved both companies out of the University into dedicated labs and offices. In the mid-2000s we started the process of “sale” of these companies, and on completion of the sale of both,  I planned to return to the University. However, just as I was preparing lecture notes etc., I was offered the opportunity to become the inaugural director of an advanced manufacturing institute in Australia – with a remit to develop new technologies and commercialise them.

I was in this role (and Australia) for a further decade before returning to the UK and academia in 2016.

Robin Short