Graduate Q&A: Kathryn Billane (BSc Biology)

As an 18-year-old, Kathryn Billane didn’t really know what she wanted to do after University.

Having graduated in 2019 with a degree in Biology, she is now pursuing her passion for research, developed while doing her third-year project, as a Phd student at the University of Hull.

Biology Graduate Kathryn Billane
Biology Graduate Kathryn Billane

When you were 18, did you know what you wanted to do after University?

Not at all! I was hoping to make use of the wide variety of modules and experiences in the degree program to discover the field I was most passionate about during my undergrad. I found that I enjoyed evolutionary biology the most.

What made you choose the career path you are on?

I thoroughly enjoyed my third-year research project and wanted to find a way to do more of that kind of scientific problem solving. It was great to be asking questions the scientific community didn’t have the answers to yet, and I found I enjoyed independent lab work. My tutors at the time encouraged me to apply for a PhD and gave me the support I needed. I don’t think I’d have made it without them.

What do you like most about your job?

I think the freedom to pursue your own specific research interests, delve into side projects or change your research questions based on the data you get is my favourite part. I can also dictate my own working hours and pace and I have the opportunity to listen to new research all the time through seminars and lab presentations.


Q. What’s a typical working day for you?

I go through short intense periods of lab work and then spend a long time on analysis. I usually get to my work place between 9 and 10, organise my day or week with a to do list or experiment plan, get stuck in to some analysis work, go and listen to a research talk or have lab or supervisory meetings, take a lunch break then come back to work and change tasks to help with focus. I read or write if I’ve been looking at numbers all day, or vice versa.

Some weeks are more sociable and collaborative than others, and sometimes experiments dictate my schedule, including coming in at unusual hours because, unfortunately, live organisms have their own schedule!

What can students do during their time at University to increase the chances of getting their dream job?

Try as many different things as possible, and get some experience during one or two of your summers. Listen to talks and guest speakers and if you’re interested in that research don’t be afraid to reach out to the researchers and talk to them. It tends to be those kinds of conversations that get you noticed and allow you to ask for further interaction, research experience, or begin to have an idea of where you might like to go afterwards.

Dr Katherine Hubbard - teaching biological sciences

Q. Have you got any tips from your experience on how to smash the application and interview process?

For applications, there is a hard balance to strike between applying to so many that you’re including ones you wouldn’t be really passionate about, and not enough to give you a higher chance of acceptance.

For postgraduate research, if you’re finding projects on or email the lead supervisor and ask to chat to them about the project – this will ensure your name will jump out at them in the pile of applicants and you’ll be memorable.

For the interviews, you’ll most likely be asked to discuss a research project you undertook. Don’t be daunted by how big or small your research project was or what the actual conclusions were – focus instead on the skills your experience gave you and why this will make you a good researcher.

Why did you want to study biological sciences at university and why Hull?

I liked the flexibility of the course and the fact that I could take the degree in whichever direction I wanted as I went along. There was also a wonderful breadth of modules available, which was perfect for someone who wasn’t at all sure what they wanted to do.

If you had your time at University again, would you do anything differently?

Probably stress less about exams! As long as you’ve covered the content and can back up key points with literature you’ll be fine!

Otherwise I don’t think so, I’m really glad I took the opportunities I did, such as field trips, being a course rep and throwing myself into an extracurricular society.

Q. How has your degree helped you in your career?

Biology Graduate Kathryn Billane

It’s given me a fantastic base skill set in biology that now combined with the research and transferable skills from my PhD, means I can take my career in whichever direction I want to.

It gave me the confidence to take risks, even when I thought I was missing some skills or perhaps not quite right for some roles – I knew I could learn, and I knew I had a solid foundation in biological knowledge, academic writing, experiment design, field and lab work and coding.

It taught me to engage with the scientific community around you and to reach out and have conversations with people, as this is a great way to get ahead or even create new opportunities for yourself.

Do what you love, or do what pays the most? What do you think?

It is important to do something you enjoy. You will spend roughly 40 hours of your week doing it for several decades. There is a balance though between enjoyment and salary and it is important to find something that you find interesting but also that pays you well for your role so you can pursue your interests outside of work and live a comfortable life. However, the pay is not the only factor –finding a job that has good benefits, generous holiday allowances, and that will develop you are all important factors.

Interested in studying Biology?