May 31

Professional Development Tips!

This week, I had the pleasure of joining several UCSD Biomedical Sciences grad students and a few other Neuro grad students in a BMS-run career development course.  Over the course of 4 afternoons, I practiced the art of note-taking to add to my skill set and to prepare a tip sheet for you!

Note: Your eyesight is fine, I was also practicing micro-writing this week.. 

Don’t bother trying to squint your way through all those notes.  Here are the major pointers from the course: (btw, sorry for the formatting.. it looks better in the editor view.)

What should I do NOW to prepare for the FUTURE?

  • Network! Network! Network!
    • Set up your LinkedIn profile!
    • Talk to lots of people at conferences and local professional groups (e.g., AWIS)
      • Be memorable!
      • Finagle an email address if you can!
    • If you are interested in a particular career, don’t be afraid to cold call or “cold email” someone in the field to find out if his or her job is really something you want to pursue.
  • Work on packaging yourself:  “personal branding
    • Know your talents: You are unique, so your path will be unique!
    • Don’t be labeled just a scientist (depending on the job, you might even want to move science down and more job-relevant experience up on your resume)
    • Think of some compelling adjectives to describe yourself, not just “analytical” because you’re a scientist…
    • Specific techniques are not as important as your general skill set, which you can build in and out of the lab. (After all, “Learning a new science is like eating candy for a scientist.”)
    • Learn a new language, work on your computer skills, practice managing people (undergrads),…
    • An academic CV is different than a resume!
  • FIND YOUR PASSION!  Ask yourself, “What would I do if money wasn’t an issue?”
    • It’s not an issue of “What am I good at?” but “What do I enjoy doing?”
    • If you love what you’re doing, you’ll do well.  Don’t be insecure.
    • This is the best time to get experience outside of the lab (but you might have to do it secretly… shhh, I won’t tell!)
  • Put yourself in venues to learn to how to communicate with non-scientists.  (Unless, of course, you only ever want to communicate with scientists.)
  • “By definition, you can’t plan serendipity”… but you can be prepared!
    • Be open to new ideas and opportunities: several panelists were not thrilled about their initial job offers but took them for various reasons and now LOVE them (or where the initial job led them)!
  • Look for a postdoc ~1 year before you’re done with grad school!

Should I do a postdoc?  (Answers varied, so the following is a list of some of them.  Don’t just read one bullet point and blame me for your decision later!)

  • No!  You’ll be fine without it. (It seems that those hiring will look for employees with similar histories, so if they didn’t do a postdoc, that won’t be important for them… unfortunately, you can never tell beforehand.)
  • No.  If you start your own company, that is worth a couple years as a postdoc.
  • No, get your MBA or law degree…
  • Yes, for 1 to 2 years with a mentor who will support your future career path.
  • YES!  PhDs with postdocs are always more successful!
  • Yes, it will give you more credibility.  Postdoc = suffering = maturity.
  • Yes.  And if you want to work for a particular foundation, it is best if your postdoc work aligns with the foundation’s goals (e.g., work in a lab studying autism if you want to work for Autism Speaks!)
  • Yes, but avoid the “fake postdoc” (in your PhD lab) and the “elevator postdoc” (in the same building as your PhD lab): EXPAND YOUR REPERTOIRE
  • Yes… and go to another country!  It will be fun and a good life experience.  Justify the travel with science!
  • Yes and if you want to stay in academia, it’s a good idea to do a project during your postdoc that you can take with you to your junior faculty position!
  • Future professors: check out UCSD’s IRACDA program!

Where should I look for a job? 

  • Once you’ve got your degree, join the Drop Out Club
  • “Talk, talk, talk” to everyone about what you’re interested in, you never know who could help you!
  • Don’t look: start your own company!  Look for new technologies or blend science and ____?
  • Reach out even if there is no listing yet!

Tips for the interviewee: 

  • Don’t expect to be reimbursed for travel when interviewing.  If you really want the job, you’ll pay!
  • You’re better off if your references are well-known. (Keep these both in mind if you’re planning on going abroad before applying for jobs!)
  • You may have to interview at a LOT of places, don’t be discouraged!
  • A lot of times, you will be qualified, but both you and the interviewer must decide how well you’ll fit in
    • Ask about company values!  They are actually important to the way a company functions!
  • Don’t just apply for a biotech company because you can’t make it in academia (but if you have to, don’t let them know it!)

What kind of jobs did the panelists have?  (Send me an email if you want more information!  I can send you more specific tips or be your connection ;P)

  • PIs at Sanford Burnham, UCSD, and Pomona College (liberal arts college)
  • Science director at Cure Autism Now, then Vice President of Research at Autism Speaks, now Consulting Associate Professor at Stanford and Director of Science & Health at JM Goldman Foundation
  • Tech transfer at Sanford Burnham, patents at La Jolla Institute
  • Biotech assay developer, manager (started out as a scientist)
  • Biotech company directors (started or joined small companies very early and grew with them)
  • Dean of UCSD Extension
  • Scientific Review Administrator for NIH, now Executive Director for Research Development at Salk
  • Freelance writer, Science Writer at Scripps and Sanford Burnham, Communications Manager at Sanford Burnham and now at NuVasive

Don’t forget… 

  • Your PhD is a valuable commodity, not a given!  (We tend to forget that here..)
  • The PhD will always help, so don’t regret your time in grad school, even if you don’t end up where you are “supposed to.”
  • Even if you are not “doing science,” YOU WILL ALWAYS BE A SCIENTIST!! No one can take that from you!!
  • Whatever job you get will not be easy:
    • “With a PhD, you have priced yourself out of a mellow job, sorry!”
  • Your career trajectory will probably not be linear, and that’s okay!
    • Don’t worry about the next job while you are looking for your first.
    • Many of the panelists could still switch jobs at any time, and they don’t view that as a bad thing: “You will grow at each step along the way.”

tl;dr: get a business card, find your passion, talk about it a lot, do an internship during grad school, do a postdoc for 1-2 years in a different country, always think ahead but not too ahead, no one really knows how it works.  Good luck. 

Let me know if you have questions or would like an autographed copy of my notes.