The Career Center – a leg up on my next step

Today I ended up spending quite a bit of time at the BPS Career Center.  I attended two of the three lectures they provided in room 26A today about how to begin thinking about science and our science training outside of academia – Beyond the Bench and Selling Yourself to the Life Science Industry. It normally seems that talking about moving into industry is normally only whispered in dark coffee corners in the dead of night, when PI’s are no where to be found. All the while, people moving away from academia seems like an elephant in the room since academia is, in essence, a pyramid scheme with piles of grad students, a select though ample number of post docs and an elite group of professors, a few of whom get full tenure and la creme de la creme of which are internationally recognized. In filtering through all these ranks, most of us scientists will end up somewhere else in society. But talking openly about this obvious fact while within the white towers of academia is number two on the “taboo-ness” scale, second only to the idea of voting Republican.

So, it is very heartening to see that BPS is tackling it head on and has brought in professionals to give direct advice as to how we can go about these changes, if we feel we need to. The biggest point in both of the talks mentioned above is that when moving away from academia, we the applicants must change the intended audience of our CV or resume. More than flaunt all our Nature papers and international invitations to conferences, we have to highlight our acquired skills in a fashion directly tailored to a desired job. An exhaustive list of honors and distinctions is likely to get your resume quickly passed over by the over-worked and under-motivated HR representative, the first line of defense against your accomplishments list getting sent on to someone that you want to see it.

Above and beyond this, we have to deal with competition from others in our ranks, as with grants. You have to stand out so your CV gets out of the ‘meh’ pile and into the ‘forward to the boss’ pile. This involves getting, well, involved in your new direction. We should seek out information about the specific job we want to move into. We need to be well-versed on the information relevant to our new direction, luckily finding information is our specialty. If it’s really a different direction and not industrial bench work, joining societies of these non-traditional jobs is strongly suggested. Moving into industry could involve more networking in uncharted waters, depending on how far away from your current training you are.

This all was very useful to me. I may have realized that it was important, but having it repeated and reiterated and then repeated again during the two lectures was re-assuring to me that it can be done.  I just have to be aware of these points.  It seems, too, that it involves marketing ourselves rather than our ideas. The best lecturers I’ve seen sell their science, make people interested in what they have to say, they market what they accomplish and are rewarded with piles of grant money and ambitious grad students & post docs. It seems that these skills are directly applicable to finding a “real” job, too, but requires thinking about the audience a bit differently. A business is going to invest in you as a person, so you have to before-hand re-assure them that it’s a worthwhile investment.

I also had a one-on-one CV session with Joseph Tringali, who also gave the two lectures I attended. I found it a great use to have my CV evaluated in a low-stress setting that was totally personalized to my CV and to what I wanted to do. I hope that BPS will keep this as an option at future meetings.

After all I heard today, the biggest problem remaining is … finding out what I want to do, getting that direction I need to learn about. From there it seems pretty straight forward – get involved. But getting this direction is a tough part that, unfortunately, can’t be found from a lecture or a one-on-one meeting. It has to come from inside and searching on our own time what options there are for scientists away from academia or even away from science bench work. It’s going to be a long road, but I now feel that once I find the first foothold to start down it, the rest of the journey will fall together.

If any one reading this has also found the Career Center of use, or if you have a suggestion for something you’d like to see from the center, let the BPS people know! Leaving a comment here could be a good start!

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