PhDone….Now What?

I’ve been unintentionally absentPhDimage for several reasons. The main reason being…I’m graduating! Yay! Finally!

I’m not quite sure how to feel yet…will it be anticlimatic like the boards? will it be scary?

Mostly I’m excited for the next step. I’ve realized that I’m a wanderer at heart and I’m ready to move on to the next stage.

With grad school done…the next step is job hunting…the big, scary world or the real world awaits.

Because let’s face it, grad school is a warm, fuzzy cocoon of safe, science-y goodness…if you’re lucky. If you’re not, well then I’m sorry about that because it’s not going to get any easier.

I try not to be all preachy and only to give advice on what I know about. I wanted to wait until I finished and went through the job searching process before I gathered my thoughts together for this post.

 

So..10 things I’ve learned about job searching based on my experiences are:

1. START EARLY: this can be tricky because you know how lab work goes, and PIs can be, and thesis committees can be. But usually, if you get the green light to graduate, at least for us..there’s a 6 month “final phase” period. This is when you should start polishing up your resume and CV and cover letters.

2. ACCEPT THIS: It’s been my experience that most PIs are not looking to train someone with no experience in their field of interest. They want someone that has some experience and is ready to work right way! I know right!?! That sucks for people who want to use their PhD training in a different field. It’s rare, I’m sure they exist, but when I was searching, I never heard back from positions that I was interested in, but had no experience. Well. it’s their loss cause i’m awesome :)…But seriously, if you want to do something completely different…you might have to find someone at your current school in that new field and maybe get some apprenticeship going on for a couple of months..this would give you the experience, but also maybe a new ally that might know people in the field.

3. DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO DO: do you want to stay in your field? try something different? do a post doc? go into industry? work for the government? take a year off and teach english in Japan? It helps a lot to know what your end goal is early on because you know then, where to focus your energy.

4. DECIDE WHERE YOU WANT TO BE: this is easier I think, if you want to do a post doc, there are lots of universities everywhere and lots of great research. With industry, you’re pretty much restricted to the east coast or the west coast.

5. CREATE JOB AGENTS & ALERTS: Unless you’re going the “i know someone who knows someone who knows someone route”…For me the best places for finding jobs are on company websites, jobsearch engines (Indeed, Linkedin, naturejobs, science careers). Most of these websites have apps, so download the apps, personalize your search and they’ll have updates for you daily if you want.

6. NETWORK: If you’re a shy, timid grad student who doesn’t really have any experience with networking because you came to grad school straight from undergrad…SUCK IT UP!!! You have to learn, go practice at happy hours, go to career fairs, go apply for jobs you dont want just to get the experience of networking and interviewing.

Seriously, let’s be real for a second, the job market is tough, funding is being cut left and right, the natural order of things is out of whack because there are not enough assistant professor positions so people stay in Post-Doc positions longer (4+ year post-docs, i’m looking at you..with a sideeye…no..NO!!!   (i know! i know! i hate hearing it too but it’s true..it sucks out there!)…it’s you or the next person….think of it like getting scooped..you dont want to get scooped so you do your best to put yourself out there and go for what you want. It’s a jungle out there…let’s treat it as such.

7. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX: I think the PhD training program truly prepares us for anything. There is essentially nothing we can’t learn or troubleshoot because we’ve been through the rigorous training that is grad school..fraught with failure, and fear and tears…making it through is truly a success. So don’t be afraid to think beyond conventional post-doctoral fellowships and do something different…I hope to have more on alternative careers soon.

8. BE PREPARED: at this stage, you should have hopefully a publication, if not, at the very least a story. On site interviews usually  require you to give a Job Talk. Make one…40 minutes, don’t overload with too much details…tell them a story, make it memorable.

9. BE YOURSELF:…again unless yourself is an arrogant, pompous jerk…then be the gracious, eager,learned graduate student you’re meant to be. Be curious, ask questions, be friendly.

10. BE BRAVE: it’s scary, I know, but after 5+ years, it’s time to move on…you have to do it..so it’s ok to be scared. It’s not ok to let the fear consume you.

 

Falling (back) in love with Science

Rejuvenate!

Happy New Year Science lovers!

I wish everyone a very productive lab year with a renewed love for life changing research. Which it really is and I think that grad students get so caught up with the experiments that we forget the big picture.

I know I’ve been AWOL for a minute but the truth is I’ve been struggling with my blog identity. Many Science Bloggers are very good at updating their blog  with what’s cool in the world of science and I think that’s great. I don’t want to be just another science blogger focused on just scientific research. One of the reasons why I blog is because I haven’t stumbled across many blogs geared towards the struggles graduate students in biomedical research face. That’s what I want my blog to be about. I’ll do my best to be true to that henceforth!

That being said…I think a quick recap of 2013 is in order.

For me, 2013 marked the beginning of my 5th year as a grad student and with that came feelings of “I can’t believe it’s been 5 years”. “I’ve accomplished nothing!” “I’m so ready to be done” “OMG, I’m never going to get out”. And I refuse to believe I’m the only one in this position so let’s all just leave our feelings of inadequacy in this moment and agree to move on ok? Cool

Moving On.

It helps to know that you are not alone in all this and I’ve taken the following steps to cope with and overcome those loser-ish feelings. I’ve come up with the 3 R’s.

1. Relax (aka Chill out dude!) : seriously, unless you’ve been an absolute bum for the last 5 years, they haven’t been wasted. So what if 99% of your experiments have failed? At least it worked 1% of the time. The hardwork you put in trouble shooting failed experiments shows resilience and will pay off in the long run.

2. Rejuvenate (aka Take a break!): vacation, staycation, a saturday off, a bath. Take some time off and do not think about your project(s). Just decompress and then come back with a renewed sense of purpose. I’ve heard a lot of accomplished people say this..it’s necessary to take a step back and not think about your work. If they do it..so can we. Also…some of the best ideas are thought up in the shower!

3. Reconnect! (aka Whatchubeenupto!): I don’t know if it’s the same everywhere, but at my school, after the first year of classes, classmates dissipate and we often end up in labs with people from different years. If you were that loner in the corner who made no friends…er..can’t help you. However, if you made at least one friend..reconnect with them. Have lunch..or coffee. Catching up with an old friend and seeing what they’ve been up to should motivate you to work harder to help you feel better about your situation.

 

That’s all I have for my first post of 2014. As for me…I’m hoping to wrap up this year and move on to the next step in my scientific career. Scary and exciting all at the same time. I can’t wait! I’ll keep you updated!

 

Leaving the nest (MyIDP: career planning for graduate students and postdocs)

As I embark on the final quarter of my graduate career, I am often filled with a sense of uncertainty. Let me explain. My original goal was to return to graduate school in order to obtain a strong scientific foundation for a career in the pharmaceutical industry.

My plan was thus:

  1. Get a PhD
  2. Get a job in Pharma
  3. Work with other scientists to develop new drugs
  4. Save the world

However, I’ve had several bouts of doubt. I’m not sure this is what I want to do anymore. I’m not sure this plan aligns with what I really want to do for the rest of my life. As usual, I have decided to go about this by assessing my strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes.

So I said to myself: “Self, if only there was some cosmo type quiz I can take to determine what type of career I would be good at based on my likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses”…

Enter My Individual Development Plan,

History:

My IDP was modeled after the employee career development concept used in industry. It expands upon a structure proposed by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) for postdocs in 2003.

What it is:Individual Development Plan overview page

Did it help me?

Honestly, the first time I took it, I just breezed through it. I gave myself a lot of 5s: “highly proficient” on the skills assessment (self-love much?). Then I went back, and really thought through each question and answered truthfully.

The quiz is divided into 3 sections

Skills: here you rank your skills on a scale of 1(highly deficient) to 5(highly proficient)

Some things that rank for me at :

1,2 :Writing grant proposals and statistical analysis

4,5: Technical skills related to my specific research area, experimental design

Interests: Ranking from 1: (never do in my career) to 5(do often in my career)

For me:

1,2: Analyzing financial budgets and assessing business trends

4,5: Learning how to use new equipment and techniques and planning new scientific projects or developing new research directions

Values: Ranking from 1(unimportant) to 5 (essential)

For me:

1,2: Work alone and work in a low pressure environment

4,5: Help society, competition, job security and family friendly

Based on my answers, my top 3 career path matches were:

  • Product development scientist or engineer
  • Scientific/medical testing
  • Drug/device approval and production

Funny enough, “research in industry” ranks much lower on the list based on my skills and interests than i expected. Not surprisingly, principal investigator and research staff in a research-intensive institution rank even lower.

What I really like about this assessment:

  1. It gives you a framework to work with.
  2. It really does take into account your skills and interests.
  3. It links you to information about careers based on your answers.
  4. It  shows you your strengths and weaknesses and offers advice on how to improve on the weaknesses.
  5. You can download blank assessments and discuss them with your P.I (Ahmazing!).

Has anyone taken it? Did you find it helpful? I would especially love to hear from recent graduates who have gone on to careers in different fields.

PS: My opinions were not influenced by anyone directly associated with MyIDP. It was initially introduced to me by a friend and then again at a conference.

 

The problem with big Pharma

The recent economic crises hit hard across the board taking no prisoners. Funding for academic research has dropped significantly and in industry there have been massive layoffs.

“According to recruitment specialists Challenger, Gray & Christmas (Chicago, IL, USA), the number of pharmaceutical industry jobs eliminated in the first ten months of 2010 was 45,263 (in 2009, it was 58,696 jobs). “

So what does this mean for fresh faced young PhDs and postdocs ready to begin their careers? Honestly, I don’t know…I’m not going to pretend to know how to fix the problem but I think I know what some of the problems are.

This article in Nature Biotechnology does a pretty good job of outlining the issues and presenting proposed solutions.

OK..that’s the good stuff backed by lots of background and research…here’s my opinion backed by 3 wonderful years working as a scientist in a pharmaceutical company. There are 3 main issues that I feel need to be addressed:

1. Too many chiefs not enough Indians:

There are too many layers of management and not enough people doing the work. Brilliant scientists are rewarded by being promoted as it should be, but each promotion takes them further away from the bench. While scientists left at the bench are good at what they do and have years of experience under their belt, they often lack the motivation to step outside their comfort zone.

Definitely not the best breeding ground for ground breaking science = not enough compounds in the pipeline = not enough new drugs on the market = not profit for pharma = layoffs and hiring freeze

2. Not enough educated risk taking:

“It’s a business”…the most overused phrase regarding drug companies. Often times, promising projects get killed way too early because it would take a more time and money to get the project off the ground. Rather than investing in a risky but promising project, a safer target is chosen which may or may not end up making it all the way to the market.

3. Failure to promote career development:

This kind of goes hand in hand with the number one problem. Getting a good, secure job is like a marriage. People get into a comfortable routine…come in at 9am…leave at 5pm…lunch at 11:30am, 2- hour long meeting and whatever work you can get done in between the meetings and all the compliance training modules/ faux team building exercises…sheesh..no wonder no new discoveries are being made.

I digress…

If career development is made a priority, employees can be pushed (gently at first..and the progressively less gently) to expand their horizons and explore other areas that they might find interesting…even if it means stepping away from the bench and exploring other avenues. This way, employees that want to be at the bench and develop their career in that direction and the employees that want to grow in another direction can do so with renewed zest thereby increasing company productivity. It’s a win-win situation for both employee and company.

Happy wife..happy life!

I guess my bottom line is this…to make it in industry, we have to stay flexible and be willing to expand our knowledge base to include learning new skills and techniques while retaining the ability to get down and dirty at the bench when the need arises..corner office, company car and personal assistant be damned!