Author: Cliff Mintz
There was an interesting article in Science Careers Magazine this week entitled “Should you consider another degree after your PhD.” The article traces the journey of several people who earned PhD degrees in science-related fields who transitioned into new careers including law, regulatory affairs, business development and science writing.
The gist of the article is that if you can afford the costs of earning another degree, it may be worth it for persons with PhD degrees who want to get “out of the lab.” However, based on my own experiences and those of the persons mentioned in the article, most graduate students and postdocs lack the financial resources to enroll in professional degree or certificate programs after completing their PhD programs. Consequently, most of the people showcased in the article were able to leverage unpaid internships and volunteer work into new jobs that paid for additional training or professional degree programs.
I have long posited that obtaining another degree after a PhD degree may not be in the best interest of PhD degree holders for a variety of reasons. First, as mentioned above, the financial obligations of a degree or certificate program may be too onerous or unrealistic for graduate students who worked for minimum wage for many years to obtain their PhD degrees; the funds simply are not available. Second, by the time a PhD degree is awarded and postdoctoral training is completed, most science PhD degree holders are in their mid 30s to early 40s and in many cases, have families, which may not be conducive to going back to school full time. Also, who wants to be a student for most of their adult lives? Finally, the mere exhaustion and stress associated with spending close to 10 years in a laboratory may discourage even the most ambitious individuals from pursuing another degree or certificate. Put simply, there may not be “enough gas left in the tank” to obtain another degree in the hopes of possibly changing a career trajectory.
Based on my experience as an instructor in a program offered to PhD students and postdocs who had already decided that a research career was not for them, internships, volunteer work and an unrelenting pursuit of an alternate career is probably the best way to navigate a career change. What I observed about all of the students in this program (over 70% of them obtained non-research jobs after completing their PhD degrees with no postdoctoral training) was that they were highly motivated and did whatever was necessary to network and leverage the resources offered to them by the program (which included mixers, invitations to professional meetings, and guest speakers outside of the research world including pharmaceutical executives, venture capitalist, medical writers and clinical study managers) to get “where they wanted to go”.
For example, one student, who was interested in regulatory affairs, went to the dean of her medical school to get the funds necessary to go to a national regulatory affairs meeting rather than attending an annual society meeting to present her research findings. Today, she is a director of regulatory affairs at a major biotechnology company. Another student wrote reviews for an online financial services company regarding the technology behind various private and publicly traded biotechnology companies as a graduate student, now works for a financial service company as an analyst. Finally, another student who was interested in technology transfer was able to leverage an unpaid internship in his university’s technology transfer office into a full time job (he is now a director of the office).
The bottom line: while obtaining another degree or certificate may better position you for a possible career change, it may not be emotionally or financially possible or likely. That said, rather than fantasizing about what may have been if you simply chose law or medicine or business over a graduate career in science, you best shot at changing the direction of your career may be to identify alternative career options and obtaining the necessary skill sets, qualifications and real life experience to make it a reality, Once you have identified those things, the next step is to devise a financially-viable plan to obtain them and then spend the majority of your waking hours successfully implementing the plan. It won’t be easy but as the old adage goes “if there is a will then there is a way.”
Author: Cliff Mintz
Most human resource professionals contend that some form of online networking with colleagues and peers is probably the best way to land a new job. To that point, online networking offers several advantages over live networking and other traditional ways of keeping in touch with others.
First, online networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn make it easy for people to find you. Unlike live networking where information flow is painstakingly slow, online networking allows users to provide prospective employers with large amounts of professional information. Moreover, online network users can control the information that employers and others can access. Effectively controlling online information may mean the difference between employment or not.
Second, membership in online networks allows users to easily keep tabs on others and visa versa. Also, users can configure online networking platforms to automatically receive news, updates and alerts in real time. Being the first to learn about a job opening may give a jobseeker a competitive advantage.
Finally, online networking sites allow users to quickly connect with one another (or access the knowledge base of a network) without investing much time or effort. In contrast with live networking, small talk and casual conversation is not required to get the information that you or a prospective employer may be seeking.
An important first step is to create a professional profile. This should contain a candidate’s career path including educational background, past places of employment, awards and honors, and his/her current position and job responsibilities. Sites that are designed for professional networking usually provide new users with templates that allow them to quickly create a profile.
Personal information should not be present in a professional profile. Things like age, marital status, political persuasion or sexual orientation should not appear anywhere in a user profile. User profiles MUST be devoid of compromising photos, inappropriate remarks or political or religious diatribes
Ensure that the information is publicly available so that it will appear in Google searches. Also, keep the profile current and remember to add things like recent speaking engagements, new publications etc. to remain competitive.
Expand Your Network
The next step is to find people at the site to connect with. Connecting with people who work at companies or institution where you may want to work is a great idea! Don’t be afraid to connect with others who may be more senior or even junior to you. However, only connect with others who you think may be important or valuable to your job search. Connecting for connections sake may overwhelm your network with irrelevant or inappropriate information.
Finally, invite professional friends and colleagues to join your network. Having a Nobel Laureate or a member of the National Academy of Sciences in a personal network can really do wonders for a job search! Again, this is a professional network; so only invite people to join who you can trust to keep it that way.
Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn?
Despite its massive size, Facebook has yet to prove its value for jobseekers. Twitter is better than Facebook, but like Facebook, its value as a job seeking tool remains to be determined. At present, the largest and perhaps best online networking site for professionals is LinkedIn. It boasts free job boards, paid advertising and is regularly scrutinized by professional recruiters. One of the more valuable LinkedIn features, are the LinkedIn groups where it is easy to start conversations with prospective employers and hiring managers
Keep it Professional
These days hiring managers routinely scrutinize candidates’ online presence or personas before moving forward with the job application process. Therefore, it is a good idea to Google yourself from time-to-time to manage the information that is available to prospective employers. Any damaging information may mean the difference between employment or not. Finally, online networking, if appropriately used, can be an extremely effective job seeking tool for those seeking employment in the life sciences industry.
Author: Claire Jarvis
As young scientists, we are often taught the academic notion of letting “your science speak for itself” and believing technical skills and research are our most important assets in obtaining a meaningful job. Indeed, when STEM professionals are hired into their first jobs those qualifications and strong technical competencies are important factors.
However, once they start at their new company, entry-level hires are often surprised when technical skills don’t seem as important in the eyes of management. They may also see colleagues with less skill in the laboratory climbing the promotion ladder faster, and perceive this as unfair.
It’s a disappointing and unfortunate truth that the promotion process is often unmeritocratic, and that climbing the ladder as a bench scientist requires self-advocacy and political skills as much as expertise and skill. The best way to make sense of this perceived unfairness is to understand that most individuals hired have cleared the minimum technical requirements needed to perform their job . Your organization doesn’t need STEM superstars: they need people who can get the work done. In that light, once you’re inside the company, your technical skills stop being the most important determinant of your value as an employer. Your soft skills and ability to work with others play an increasingly important role in levels of management and leadership.
How to Self-Advocate
Political (or more appropriately, interpersonal) skills aren’t disdainful or underhanded techniques to get ahead in the workplace. They demonstrate that you understand company culture and can act in a future management or leadership capacity. If people in management can’t get along with you as a colleague, why would they promote you to work alongside them?
Self-advocacy means highlighting your contribution to successful projects and documenting your achievements to leaders instead of hoping that you will get noticed.. The political side of the process means doing this is a way that doesn’t annoy those around you or take too much credit at the expense of others.
Self-promotion and interpersonal skills take time to develop and should be accomplished in a subtle, tasteful manner: it can be helpful to find a mentor outside your current company who can guide you through the process with a degree of separation from your chain of command.
There are personal brand marketing gurus that can offer lots of insight on the topic of self advocating: Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss and Gary Vaynerchuk among others.
Although learning to proactively promote your accomplishments takes practice and requires trial and error, it is an indispensible tactic in moving on to positions of increasing responsibility. Even if you worry you don’t deserve to – it is a difficult trick to master, and one that becomes important as you grow into your new biotech career.
It’s the million-dollar question among job applicants everywhere…. “I have good qualifications and work history. I think I meet the minimum requirements… Why haven’t I gotten a response to my application?” Or worse, “Why haven’t I heard back after my interview?”
The silent treatment after an application or interview isn’t all that uncommon. Some sources cite that up to 75% of applicants never hear back from employers after applying; even if it’s actually less than that, it seems there’s still a lot of applicants getting no response. So why exactly does this happen? And is there a way to prevent it?
The Application Black Hole
As it turns out, there may not be an easy answer to this. There may not be one specific reason you haven’t heard back; it could be a mix of factors, some within your control and some not. And there’s a good chance it’s nothing personal.
According to research conducted by both Glassdoor and FlexJobs, there are a variety of reasons for non-response to an application. Some of the more common include:
Most online job postings generate a considerable response with a substantial number of applicants submitting their qualifications. The larger and more well-known the company, and the larger the radius from which they are recruiting (think remote vs. geography-specific), that response could multiply exponentially. But even smaller companies with a more limited recruiting radius could be overwhelmed by applicants depending on the appeal of the role and the resources available to screen applications. It just may not be possible to respond to each applicant who expresses interest. “Ideally,” explains Sci.bio’s Director of HR Allison Ellsworth, “the ATS (applicant tracking system) used by a company will at least send a confirmation email that your application has been received so you know it successfully went through. Beyond that, the volume of candidates does not usually allow for personal follow up unless you have moved along in the interview process.” The volume of applications is not something that you as a candidate can control.
Recruiters/Hiring Managers Are Recruiting for More than One Role
It’s one thing to be focused on filling one role, but most recruiters are juggling multiple requisitions simultaneously. If the number of applicants for one opening can be overwhelming, imagine multiplying that by numerous openings that need to be filled as soon as possible. Add to that a full interview schedule and other recruiting-related tasks, and it quickly becomes very difficult to respond, even when recruiters/hiring managers have the best of intentions to do so.
Position Isn’t Actually Available
In some cases, it’s possible the position to which you applied isn’t available anymore, or something has shifted internally and the hiring team is reevaluating their needs. Maybe the role has already been filled, but the new hire hasn’t started yet and they don’t want to take the posting down prematurely in case it doesn’t work out, or maybe something budgetary changed and the position isn’t going to be filled, or maybe there is a new project taking priority and recruiting is on hold for now.
While all of these are out of a candidate’s control, they are still worth noting as they very well could be the reason for no response. But what about the things that candidates can control? Some of the most common in this category include:
Applying for Too Many Openings
Job searching is a numbers game to some extent; the more applications you put out into the world, the greater the chance you’ll hear back. But if you’re indiscriminate about what and where you apply, if you apply to jobs where your qualifications don’t really match, chances are you’re not going to hear back.
Resume Could Be To Blame
If you consistently don’t hear back but are fairly certain your background is a fit, it could be how your resume is crafted. Maybe it doesn’t effectively highlight your relevant experience and accomplishments, or isn’t using the right keywords and industry specific language.
How Do I Ensure I Get Noticed?
So, what can you do to increase your chances of being noticed and making it through the initial screening process? It comes down to three categories – your application/resume, your social media presence, and your networking efforts.
There are a number of things you can do to make sure your applications are more targeted and put you in the best possible light. As previously mentioned, although you want to get some volume of applications out, spend a little extra time at this phase and be selective and thoughtful about the applications you submit.
- Try to limit your applications to jobs that are truly a good fit for your background; it’s not necessary to meet all minimum qualifications, but make sure you meet some or most.
- Research the companies you’re considering applying to and make sure their goals and values align with your own. Then try to convey that through examples on your resume or in a cover letter.
- Craft your resume so that it’s not just a timeline of job titles and responsibilities, but also highlights specific projects and accomplishments, especially those that are relevant to the position. A good practice is to tweak your resume for each job you apply to.
- Include links to your online presence (more on that next).
Social Media Hacks
In today’s world, your job application incorporates more than just the resume you submit. Most people have some kind of online presence, and many employers will check into it. Make sure you’re using your online presence to your advantage.
- Although a professional headshot isn’t necessary, ensure any photos you use present you in a professional light.
- Similarly, do a scan of any photo tags that are publicly viewable and remove any that could be controversial or present you in a less than ideal light.
- Just like your resume, ensure that the language and keywords you’re using reflect the jobs and industries you are seeking and highlight any relevant projects or content; for instance, LinkedIn has a specific profile section where you can include information about projects, publications, or other work that may not be reflected on a resume.
- Ensure your social media bios are succinct, relevant, and targeted to the jobs you’re seeking.
This may be the most understated yet most important piece of advice: don’t necessarily rely only on applying for a digital posting without human contact. We live in a world driven by relationships; who you know can often make a difference, or at least give you an edge. Often available jobs aren’t even posted publicly; the only way to hear about them is by knowing someone involved. Some estimates cite that 70% of available jobs are never posted and up to 80% are filled through networking.
When recruiters or hiring managers are overwhelmed with applicants, those they have a connection with will often rise to the top. When looking at equally qualified candidates, being a “known entity” could be the deciding factor in who moves on; minimally it may help guarantee your resume moves to the top of the pile and gets a second look.
So where do you start networking? How can you best leverage your network? Here are a few ideas:
- Research the company and see who you might already know that works there. Ask those contacts for an introduction or at least a mention to those involved in the hiring process. Remind them to check the company’s employee referral policy–they may even get rewarded if you turn out to be a good fit!
- If you don’t directly know someone who works there, look for the mutual connection. Use your social media profiles to dig a little deeper; LinkedIn company pages will show you who works there and whether or not you have mutual connections. Then reach out to those mutual contacts that you already have a rapport with and ask for an intro, a mention, or ask to have your resume directly passed along.
- If you don’t have direct connections at a company or mutual connections that can facilitate an introduction, do your best to engage with recruiters. Seek them out on social networks such as LinkedIn or Twitter, and engage with or comment on their posts. By making yourself noticed, you’re more likely to be remembered when it comes to reviewing resumes. And if you engage enough and build an online relationship with them, you may even be able to ask them directly about available roles.
The key with networking is to be proactive. Build your networks before you need them and then they’ll be there to tap into when the opportunities arise.
But What If I Interviewed and Got “Ghosted?”
Let’s say you made it through the initial screening and interviewed for a role, but now you haven’t heard back from the employer. Or you were informed that you aren’t moving forward without any details about why. What’s a candidate to do in this situation?
Again, there could be a variety of reasons, many of which may be nothing personal. In the case of providing specific feedback, there could be legal implications in being too specific with candidates. Or maybe one person on the hiring team wanted you to move on, but someone else with more pull wanted someone else. Maybe the employer doesn’t have the time or resources to potentially open up a prolonged back-and-forth dialogue that providing feedback may initiate.
As for hearing nothing at all? That’s simply an unfortunate outcome of some hiring processes, and there’s not much you can do to control this. The best you can do is keep focused on the fact that it’s not you, it’s them. Many companies are now more focused on the candidate experience than in the past, and doing their best to ensure that even if it’s not specific feedback, candidates who interview at least receive a status update. However, the hard truth is that some companies just don’t or won’t do it for a variety of their own reasons. If a few weeks have gone by and you haven’t heard back, it is probably a safe assumption that you should move on to new possibilities.
The moral of the story here? There’s much that you can’t control, so focus your efforts on the parts you can. Revise and target your resume to the jobs you are seeking. Optimize your online presence to your advantage. Shore up your networking skills. And most of all… don’t give up!
Importance of Peer Networks
Despite progress towards gender and racial parity in the sciences, it can still be tough navigating a STEM education and career when you belong to a historically underrepresented group. Fortunately, surrounding yourself with a strong support network of like-minded individuals will increase your chance of success, and make your STEM career more rewarding.
As you start out and progress in your STEM journey, there are two kinds of support you should seek out. ‘Vertical mentoring’ is when you receive advice and coaching from a more senior scientist, who is often a few steps above you on the career ladder. This kind of mentor will help you prepare for the next stages of your career, and whose advice is informed by hindsight and time.
The other kind of mentorship is ‘horizontal mentoring’: receiving support from people at the same career stage as you, for instance fellow grad students or entry-level biotech scientists. Although they may not have the depth of experience within the field a more senior mentor has, your peers may be more attuned with the current state of the job market and everyday issues you face in your current role. You may find yourself less filtered around peers than a more senior mentor, and more able to have an honest exchange of experiences and ideas.
Your department, university or company may be the easiest place to find your peer network, but it can be challenging if you’re the only student or employee from a particular ethnic or racial group. Fortunately, here is a (non-exhaustive) list of organizations that foster peer networks among scientists. Many of these organizations have university chapters.
Peer Networks for Women in STEM
- AWIS (https://www.awis.org)
- Women In Bio (https://www.womeninbio.org/default.aspx)
- Society of Women Engineers (https://swe.org)
Peer Networks for Racial and Ethnic Minorities in STEM
- Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (https://www.sacnas.org)
- National Society of Black Engineers (https://www.nsbe.org)
- American Indian Science and Engineering Society (https://www.aises.org)
- National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Black Chemical Engineers (https://www.nobcche.org)
- Black In [STEM] Week (Search for hashtags on Twitter). This is not so much a professional society as a collection of grassroots organizations who amplify voices across the breadth of STEM and foster collaboration and discussion on social media. There are weeks celebrating Black in Neuro, Chemistry, Physics, Marine Science, Genetics, and many more!