With a degree in human physiology under her belt, Jenny Dimond (pictured at left) knew exactly what she wanted out of her career--even though she couldn't put a name on it. "There is a wealth of interesting jobs out there," she says. "I didn't realise until I stumbled into that ad in the Guardian and it had the word 'embryology' in it."
Dimond graduated in 1998 from Leicester University and she recalls having very little doubts about what her next step should be. "I made the conscious decision not to do a PhD, I wanted to go into the job market," she explains. "I wanted to find something in the context of my degree but that would not be in a lab, and I wanted to work with people."
Now senior regulatory manager at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority ( HFEA), Dimond found an ideal opportunity to bring together everything she was looking for. But she didn't strike lucky immediately.
Straight after graduating she spent 6 months with the national pub chain JD Wetherspoon, working as a shift manager. She then moved to Yorkshire for 2 years where she carried out administrative duties in a stockbroker, and then worked managing a department in a property management firm.
All that time she was hoping she would eventually get a job in the context of her degree. "I would always keep my eyes open on the ads in New Scientist and the Guardian," she says. In 2000 an ad in the Guardian from HFEA caught her eye. The Authority, which licenses and inspects in vitro fertilisation (IVF) clinics and centres carrying out research on human embryos according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 ( HFE Act), was fitting perfectly with her interest in both people and biology and didn't involve lab work.
Dimond's first job within HFEA was as an inspector coordinator, acting as the first port of call for 20 centres out of the 120 licensed in the UK. These are inspected at least once annually, and Dimond was in charge of attending HFEA inspections, either chairing the inspections or providing support. It also involved "following up in processing the licence," as well as "monitoring their compliance against our code of practice and the legal act."
Her background in science made her feel at home even though she stresses that one is not essential, nor is a PhD. In contrast the skills she gained during her previous jobs proved invaluable. "The experience of line and project management and administration has really been helpful," she recalls. She describes other transferable skills like "immaculate communication skills" as just as important. The job demands that one assimilates very complex information and delivers the key points to patients, doctors, and scientists in a way that is relevant to them. It is not for the shy and reserved either. "You are walking into the centres and inspecting them, this takes a lot of confidence," she adds. Being familiar with the legal aspects related to the HFE Act and the HFEA Code of Practice, along with knowledge of the public and private medical systems and political affairs, are also crucial.
If HFEA counted no more than 35 staff when Dimond joined, they are 83 today. "The structure changed and developed and I have moved up the ranks in part because of that, and also as an experienced member of the team having worked here over 3 years," she says. Courses and shadowing within her organisation helped ensure a smooth transition to senior regulatory manager. "I still inspect but I chair my inspections now." Her new role has also more to do with strategic management, developing the organisation, and improving practices as well as recruiting, training, and supervising staff.
Dimond also often gets to interact with people from inside and outside the HFEA. "We have committees who make the decisions for licensing, and I give presentations to them," she says. She also collaborates with external inspectors who may be scientists, clinicians, or Social and Ethical Inspectors, and goes to meetings with the various groups gravitating in the IVF field. "I am out and about a lot," she says, estimating she spends only half her time in the office, the remainder being spent with committees and in internal meetings as well as in the field.
And then, there is of course the public. HFEA receives a lot of queries for basic information or help to find a clinic. "[It is important] we put patients at ease, it is a very emotive subject and patients are pleased to see it is regulated by a regulatory body," says Dimond. Although HFEA is not per se a patients' ombudsman, it also deals with complaints. "If there has been a breach of the Code of Practice or of the Act then we will investigate that," she explains. The public can also contact HFEA to air their concerns. "There is the argument that we want to hold back science, but [our view is that] we are pointing it in the right direction," she says.
Like everything else with a great impact on the public, HFEA attracts a lot of interest from the press, and Dimond acknowledges this can become overwhelming in an already highly pressured work environment. Another challenge to the job is to juggle conflicting priorities and deadlines and be consistent, as required by the complexity and sensitivity of the issues. "It is a demanding job and we can't control the workloads, occasionally there is a serious incident or we receive lots of applications so it is sometimes difficult to plan things in your private life when additional external inspections and meetings are called for," she continues.
But the positives far outweigh the negatives, and Dimond finds her job extremely rewarding. "It is very nice to be able to do a job that is interesting," she enthuses. "I'm never bored, there are so many different [aspects to it]--not only scientific but ethical and legal." It also allows her to keep abreast of and contribute to the scientific advances. HFEA processes applications for stem cell research and is involved in other high-profile cases such as the licensing of clinics to treat patients using tissue type screening.
The market trend in regulatory affairs is expanding as interest in and greater need for regulations are increasing. Dimond advises scientists considering a move into this field to log onto the HFEA or Department of Health Web sites for the details of other regulatory bodies. "I encourage people to do their research and see what's out there," says Dimond. "When I was doing my biology degree, [I was doing it because] it was my favourite subject, I hadn't a clue what I would do with the degree. It never occurred to me [this type of job] existed." Keeping your skills broad rather than concentrate them is also paramount, that is, "obtaining management, communication skills, and admin experience rather than focusing purely on the science," concludes Dimond.