Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What's a career coach for?

While job hunting, I've been running across a lot of people with murky titles like HR, Recruiter, Career Coach. They tend to run in the same circles, but they clearly aren't the same at all. I'd heard of Career Coaching before, but never gotten a good feel for what that actually is. So when a career coach contacted me via LinkedIn (we are both in the AWIS Group), I was excited to hear from her. I mean, what the heck is a career coach??

That being said, she was fairly oblique about the reason she wanted to talk to me. We spoke (over the phone) about our AWIS discussion, and she asked me a bit about myself. Where was I located, what did I study? And then she got a little deeper- What is your dream job, where is it, who else is there and what are you all doing? And to these questions, she would say "I hear you saying that passion is important to you." or "You seem to be saying that you wish you had taken more time to develop soft skills." You know, counselor type things to say. And once we got to the central fact that I don't know what I am supposed to do with this degree, nor how to do it, she told me a little about her background and her role as a career coach.

Her role was to help her clients assess their career goals, their professional strengths and weaknesses and then to help them formulate plans to reach their goals and improve on their weaknesses. She uses assessments (which Google informs me is typical of career coaches, who should have undergone some formal training in counseling) to gauge and guide these interactions, and draws on both her background as a scientist and a former recruiter to help see that path. Many of the career coaches I've seen are HR or recruiting folks- clearly being a scientist in addition is pretty unique. She works with people who are trying to earn promotions, considering major life changes or just getting started in the job hunt. She's like a guidance counselor for adults. If you've started your own job hunt, you can probably picture how having someone on hand to occasionally explain some of the social niceties and keep you on task ("You said you were looking for jobs in drug development. Why have you applied for 4 jobs in regulatory science this week?") would be invaluable.

Ok, so this all seems warm and fuzzy- who wouldn't want a career coach? Someone with more practical job hunting experience than your boss sounds like a good person to know, right? Well, someday I will dream of being able to afford such services. I include her quoted prices to you here simply to provide some comparison should you ever want to engage your own coach. She told me she usually works for $200/hr, but for the unemployed (oh! me!) she will set up a package of 10 1-hr sessions (usually 3 a month) for $1000. And as a graduate student, she'd be willing to lower her price to $75/session for 10 sessions... This made me acutely aware of my need for gainful employment- but also gives some value to the mentoring relationships we cultivate naturally in real life. Sure, my boss might not know much about the current job market, but he's never charged me for the pleasure of sitting in his office to whine about it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How To Use LinkedIn- Even Better

I had two phone calls today about my job search. The first was from a career coach who told me about the services a career coach can offer. This is totally worth talking about, because it's a resource I was barely aware of, but it left me thinking "I need to do some soul searching before I'll ever find a job." The second call was from one of the recruiters I follow on twitter- I don't mean to name drop, but @levyrecruits was deeply helpful to me, and I suspect he would like to be to you.

After first spooking me with his scary phone voice, Steve asked me about what I was looking for (and I could tell that he had already been through my LinkedIn profile- good thinking to link to that from my twitter profile). "Job in biotech or pharma in umm... drug development..." (still working on the pitch). So he prompted me to feed him names of companies that I could see myself working for. "AstraZeneca? Pfizer? Amgen? But I don't ever know what positions I should be looking for..."

This might seem fairly pedantic, but I surely hadn't done this yet- so I'm recording it as a mark of my diminished naivete. So Steve made me get on LinkedIn and do an Advanced People Search for "AstraZeneca" and "University of Pittsburgh." Then he found a scientist there- and used google to pull up his email and his list of publications (via ResearchGate- note to self: look into that), and told me to shoot this guy an email to say something like "I'm a fellow scientist and University of Pittsburgh alum, I'm wondering if I really need to do a post-doc to break into this field, would you be willing to entertain a phonecall?" Because if he is willing, it seems pretty obvious to ask "What is the job title for scientists with Ph.D.s and no experience??" and the eventually "Who is the HR/recruiter for your department/company?" And if I start hearing "You NEED a post-doc to enter biotech," I'll go get one.

We chatted a little more, Steve flipping through companies and profiles while I realized he sees LinkedIn much less statically than I do. He is posting articles, commenting on things- his LinkedIn probably looks like my facebook but with less pictures. My LinkedIn looks like a lonely gossip board- but I'm working on that. He told me to go and join 25 groups with at least 1000 members in them, so I'll have more excuses to connect to people.

He asked me about working at a national lab while googling Infectious Disease Lab and we perused the CDC, and then he remembered a guy he knows at Pacific National Labratories. We looked at jobs there, and when I said it sounded like fun, he dropped the PNL recruiter's phone number on me. Told me to call him right away. He told me to ask him about opportunities at PNL that I might be a good fit for. (And then to tell him that's what Steve Levy taught me to do. If I come off like a tool as a result of this cold call, I'm pretty sure that spreads the blame a bit...) I'm starting to get it- you are looking for the recruiter, and then you need to find out what the recruiter needs, and help them see how that is you.

I'm still unsure about navigating this whole world run by recruiters, but it seems best to just own up to it and dive in. I don't think it makes me a sell out, I am hoping it makes me competitive.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Interview: Science Textbook Editing

My occasional work editing manuscripts got me thinking about the whole field of science publication. And just as I started to boggle at the overwhelming amounts of scientific literature that might require editing or publishing services, I was reminded I know someone who worked in Textbook editing, so I sat her down to talk about it.

Editing science textbooks (first for middle school, then increasing grade levels) requires a mix of talents- knowing science, being a good communicator and understanding how students learn. The role of the editor in the book writing process can be everything from fact checking to improving the themes of the book to pushing on the bureaucracy to be sure that deadlines and budgets are met. If you start as an editor, you probably do less of the managing type roles. The editor does things like determine or assess teaching objectives, themes and layout. She didn't feel like she needed any special experience to be successful at this- it was her first job out of grad school. That being said, more of these types of roles are being contracted out by the major publishing firm, which is one reason she suggested this can be a good "mommy-job" or a good summer semester work if you aren't ready to go full time.

She also told me that this has opened a lot of doors for her to do different things, she is currently a lecturer, but has done college level text editing and even written her own textbook. She gets pretty regular contacts for new and different kinds of work based on the network she started while being a full-time editor at a major publishing house. She said she can make $400-500 a project, which can be ~$30-$50/hr depending on which education level she is writing for. Editing End of Chapter Questions for a Middle School Bio book at $6/question can add up, if you are quick.

She had some other insights on the field as well. By the time she had progressed to a senior editor within a firm, she was much more aware of how changing state education guidelines were re-writing textbooks (for better or for worse). But she also felt like she had a really great opportunity to educate teachers. When preparing for a new book, she was involved in preliminary market surveys to find out what teachers needed, and was surprised to realize how much help they needed to teach, especially science. This could be a fantastic platform to really reach a broader audience with the excitement of science. She did get to travel seasonally (to market the finished product), but she rarely had much of an impression of anywhere she went because the work was so consuming. But the biggest thing she told me was that she felt like this work made her a better teacher- it made her empathize with the poorest student in class, and really helped her think creatively about different ways to reach students. Her work in college text books made it possible for her to transition to a lecturer position, and she said she feels like this is her niche- teaching most of the year and doing some projects over the summer to keep a hand in it.

She encouraged me to think about other kinds of scientific publishing that might require a scientific background, which also seems like an intriguing possibility.

My reason to expand my LinkedIn Network

I've started to realize something huge and basic about LinkedIn. Remember I complained that people mostly find my profile by searching for my old boss? It's not as if my old boss is famous- it's actually that she has a fairly common name. Which means that many people are looking for someone with that name on LinkedIn.

Where am I going with this... have you ever done a search on LinkedIn? The first people it pulls up are people who are in your network. So how are you supposed to get on the radar of the types of people who might be hiring? Get in their network. I think the fastest way to do that is that is connect with the well connected; ie recruiters (look up Nick Folger of Biocareers, for example). These people are always happy to have you in their network, they are hoping you'll bring with a trove of new contacts- because remember, that's what they sell. Qualified candidates like like me and my coworkers. My network has expanded by ~2,000 people since I've added 3 recruiters to my network- and that is 2,000 people who are more likely to find me when they search for terms like molecular virology or cell culture.

I don't think this is really what is meant by SEO (search engine optimization), but it does seem like an easy start. Being in (active and relevant) groups is another good way to get into people's networks. Frankly, working on my network has vastly increased the activity of my LinkedIn account, although it might be that I've liked to my profile in a lot more places (like here on the blog and in my twitter profile). Sure, it feels a little like advertizing, but how else am I going to attract scads of people to throw amazing opportunities my way. They have to know what a catch I am first, right?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cross your fingers- is this working?

Last week, I was all over the twitter. I've been following/interacting with tons of recruiting types and trying to crack their lingo. Remember my joy over #HireFriday? Well, there is also this other stuff that goes along with it, like the Hire Friday chat or #hfchat. I'll let you know more about this when I can figure out what it means.

BUT, in my investigations, I connected with one of the chat moderators, mostly to ask him what that means. And he said, for someone of your pedigree, there are possibly better resources. I hope he is right, and not just assuming (like so many people do) that there is a magical backdoor to success and fortune once you get a PhD. More on that later- but it gave me the courage to try the social media approach on a small biotech I'm following on Twitter.

Namely, they said via Twitter that they were hiring, but it isn't clear for what positions. I sent my resume and a cover letter, called 4 times and haven't heard from them. If there isn't a job, I'll stop stalking. So, I called them out on Twitter. And they sent me a direct message asking for my resume. Yeah, this means they are pretty flaky, but how awesome is it to open my email and see a request for my resume?!

I've also got a phone call planned for next week with a recruiter/career coach I chatted with briefly on the AWIS Group on LinkedIn. I'm starting to think about investigating the services of a career coach (I suspect that will be the nature of our phone call), I promise to report if I can find out what one of those does. My impression it they are pay-per-mentor, and a good one would give you insights into hiring processes in fields you want to move into or advance in. Should be a good week, and I've got some other good posts planned.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ways I'm going to try to use LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a struggle- there is supposed to be lots of important connections to be made there, and yet I'm not sure I am doing any of them. I'm looking into what I'm "supposed" to be doing on LinkedIn. Here are a few of the resources I can recommend, which are helping me think about how to use this tool:

HOW TO: Get a job via LinkedIn (and other good resources at by the Avid Careerist)
HOW TO: Use LinkedIn to Find out What makes Hiring Managers Tick, (hint: you look at how managers are recommending other people. This was insightful)

The blog of the internet's first LinkedIn Guru.
Ideas for beefing up your Profile.

Want to be found by recruiters? You have to show up in their searches, so think about search engine optimization.

All this aside though, LinkedIn is a social network- it's only as good as the people you are connected to. Do a favor for the people in your network, and keep your profile up to date and well connected. Want to know how good you are doing? Beansprock will grade your network strength, my network scored a D.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Experiment 4.2: #HireFriday

Well this just blows the lid off the old-school job hunt.

You know how I've been trying to use twitter to help in my job hunt? Earlier I'd posted that I was finding lots of job postings there, and I keep meaning to throw up some more of the links I run across about effective tips and tools. (I promise I'll get to it!) I'm trying to follow the "traditional" advice to follow recruiters, listen to and engage with them a bit. One of the people I am following who is doling out lots of good advice is @AvidCareerist- she is always giving informative advice from a reasonably conservative standpoint ( I don't want to get a job by going viral, I want to get a job because I am reasonably well qualified.) She is the reason I changed my twitter profile to link to my LinkedIn Profile, instead of this blog. Follow her or her blog for general job hunt/career advice.

Ok, all of this was an introduction to the mindblowing that just happened. See, AvidCareerist posts a lot of HOW TO type posts, HOW TO use Twitter, HOW TO Network, HOW TO Connect on LinkedIn- practical, right? So of course I looked at this: HOW TO Use #HireFriday to publicize your job search. Remember how I was working on a good pitch? Tweet your qualifications with the hashtag #HireFriday and recruiters are watching. If they like it, they RT it- or better yet, contact you. I'm really amped to try this- job hunting would be WAY more fun if I was being approached by good prospects instead of digging around for them.

On a related note, @TalentDiva promises to RT your pitch with the tag #HireMeWed on Wednesdays- I could be tweeting my CV everyday of the week! But seriously, has this ever worked for anyone ever??

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Experiment 7: Giving recruiters what they want

I got a phone call from a recruiter today. Let me restate: I got a phone call from a recruiter today! She found me on some job board, and wanted to ask if I would apply from some position at her large biotech. Uh, yes... of course? I was a little confused at first by this interaction, but she sent me the info on the job (post-doc in Mol Bio Group working on lipids and membrane for Agilent, let me know if you want more info), and encouraged me to apply. And if not apply, could I please tell her someone else who might be interested?

Oh! This is where all this time on Twitter is starting to pay off. You see, one of the MAJOR worries of recruiters is that the best talent for any given job isn't where they are looking. They are constantly sharing tools and tactics for finding the right person, the hidden networks and getting the best candidate in the job. After observing a few weeks of this, I do wonder- if they are spending so much time looking for the right person, why don't I have a job yet? More on this later (hint, the best candidate doesn't get hired, the candidate who sells themselves best gets hired), but being reminded of that haunted feeling of Recruiters, I sent her the contact info for a few friends who are also in the market and might be a good fit. Why? Why would I give myself competition for this job? Well... I don't really think it is a dream job (I mean, I'd flip if I got hired, but I can't honestly confess a lifelong interest in lipids. Or, studying them that is). And I'd rather have a good relationship with a recruiter a major tech company in CA. Who knows, maybe we'll all get lost in the shuffle and none of us will hear from her again, but I hypothesize that I will hear from her.

Recruiters are so much less squimish about these business social activities. I mean, her email literally said "If you are not interest, would you please send this along to others who I can network with." 4 months ago, that would make me cringe (it still makes me cringe a little), but yes, "reaching out," "connecting" and "networking" are all just ways to sending infomation to where it needs to get. I am hoping that if I can provide that for this recruiter, when a job I am crazy excited about comes up, she'll contact me and put in a good word, too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I need an elevator pitch

I've heard this phrase, the elevator pitch, thrown around and I always thought it only applied to entrepreneurs. You know, explain why you are worth investing in in 20 seconds or less. It the rough and tumble world of job hunting though, I'm wishing I'd worked one up sooner. In the last week, I've started following a lot more people on Twitter, most of whom are recruiters. Several tweeted back an introduction and asked who I am. That's right- who are you and why should we have even a superficial professional relationship online, in 140 characters. Someone even threw up the challenge to tweet your CV (#CV2020).

While not everyone buys into the brevity of Twitter, you always need to introduce yourself when you are networking. What you say to start that conversation shouldn't be a soliloquy, but a brief and enticing launch into a more meaningful conversation. Something that combines both what you have accomplished and where you want to take your career. And I need to work on mine big time. It used to be easy, "I work in the X lab, and I'm on the Y Project, we collaborate with Dr. Z's lab a bit." When I hear that, I'm immediately thinking who do I know in that lab, have I heard any seminars from X or Z, do I know much about Y? There are lots of directions for that conversation to go. Now that I've lost that major identifier, I need to find a new way to describe and define myself that conveys a few interesting details and doesn't make me seem desperate or helpless.

I'm sort of waffling between a couple different career routes at the moment, all of which would really benefit from some networking savvy, like being able to prompt the people I meet to give me relevant help and advice.

So here are three, not quite tweetable versions that I am working on:

I am a molecular virologist and I just completed worked characterizing antivirals from two high through-put drug screens. I am interested in transitioning into a position in drug or product development, especially in a regulated environment.

I'm a recent Ph.D. interested in the way that the public interacts with science. My interest prompted me to design and teach a course for undergraduates on science and ethics, and now I am looking to get involved in policy or outreach.

I'm a newly minted biologist who values the importance of good communication. I am doing some contract work in editing, and looking for new opportunities in educational publishing.

What do you think, too long? Not specific? I'm conflicted because I know that all of these sound relaly different, but they all stem from the same core interests. Probably less confusing for anyone I might talk to if I keep it separate though. Heard any good ones lately?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

LinkedIn- What am I doing there?

I've been to a lot of job talks over the years, and if the speaker is outside of academia, at some point they always throw in the advice to "Use LinkedIn. You know, make sure your profile is up to date and such." Dutifully, I signed up and started a profile. And.... nothing happened. With it's professional style and audience, LinkedIn is intimidating to interface with; sure, I could spend a lot of time harassing strangers, but what are normal professionals doing on this site?

I've done a few things to figure this out, I read some articles (5 Tips for Leveraging Your Network, 5 Tips for Finding a Job via Social Networks, 5 Tips for Professional Online Networking and that genre), I looked at more polished profiles and I joined some groups. I'm not sure I've got this right yet, you can look at my profile and see what you think. LinkedIn isn't just about the profile, but we'll start there.

Your profile page is organized to look like a resume, but the people I think are using LinkedIn well have more than just an e-CV up there. So my profile shows the things I've done, even things I'm fairly confident I wouldn't be hired to use in the future ("identify more than 100 bird species at distances of up to a mile"). But, I have tried to highlight the things that I've done and enjoyed that I might like to do more of in the future, as well as highlighting successes (developed novel techniques for... supervised... designed... I'm a thesaurus of good resume and cover letter words right now). I've described my research experience as separate from my education; I'm educated as a virologist, as a professional I'm a collaborator and teacher. I've put up keywords. I've gotten recommendations- and this is WAY fun. On LinkedIn, anyone can recommend anyone- so your old boss, your current coworkers, your unofficial mentor, it goes both ways. There certainly is some cache to having recommendations, and it makes you feel great. (If I know you and you are working on your profile, I'd be happy to write one.) My profile has been through several iterations, and I'm still not convinced it works. I recently upgraded my account so I can see who looks at my profile (awesome) and how people find my profile- they mostly find me by looking up my former boss. I'd love to hear some tips.

BUT, as I mentioned, I think LinkedIn can/should be used for more than a CV hosting site. I signed up for a couple groups to highlight my interests (BioCareers and AWIS), but I think that is where the magic happens. If you can find a group that shares your interests and is reasonably active, this is an easy way to make connections with like-minded folks. And let's be straight, everyone in these groups is hoping to make connections. In all of these 5 Tips articles, the authors allude to the idea that recruiters are always lurking to see who is active, professional and interesting. I've got no evidence of that yet, but it's nice to hear form people with a slightly different perspective.

Finally, my favorite feature of LinkedIn is the Jobs Board. Most often, jobs are posted by a specific person, so it's easier to start the cover letter. I actually use LinkedIn, so I know my CV is up to date and there are really high caliber posting on the jobs board. Making it easy to apply for good jobs is huge, and if that's all the more I get out of LinkedIn, that's cool. But I still get the sense I am missing something. There are features that I've never been brave or insightful enough to use- like getting introductions. When would I decide to do that?

The HR/Recruiter types I am following on twitter are desperate to find ways to mine LinkedIn for better candidates, which sounds like a good reason to at least try it. My other endorsement for LinkedIn- when you Google my name, it's among my first hits. I'm glad to have my professional profile being along the first things you see about me, instead of the Petition to Clone Elvis I signed in high school.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Post-doc at the Museum?!

Let me get you up to speed, my train of thought went a little like this: I like thinking about how the public interacts with Science. One place where that is really positive is at the museum. I wonder if there are jobs at the Carnegie Science Center? Maybe an outreach position? Wait, can post-doc at the Museum?!

Awesome post-doc!

And that's how we got to here. Yes, this is a research position, and no, I don't know much more about it. Count on the Natural History Museum to make even post-docing sound like a fun adventure. And for the record, there are some part time outreach positions available at the Science Center. But does anyone know about what it's like to be a researcher at a museum?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Experiment 6: Can a staffing agency help?

When I first started looking for jobs, my brother the engineer told me to find a relevant staffing agency. I tried to explain that in science, you have to get a job by knowing who to talk to at a meeting and having impeccable timing for their grants. He was slightly baffled, "What if you don't want to work for someone you already know? What if you want to change fields, or work in industry?" I didn't know, but as baffling as I was finding the entire search I was pretty sure Scientists don't use Staffers.

Actually, this is totally false. I've now met a couple scientists who've been hired through staffing/recruiting agencies, and I've been interacting with these recruiters more myself. In my limited experience, this is a better place to find an industry job than an academic position, since many of these jobs come from mid-size to multinational companies that have contracted the hiring component of their HR to another company. Even though I haven't scored so much as an interview from any of my interactions with recruiters, I really like interacting with them. They are always looking for new and hire-able people (as a recruiting agency, having new capable people to hire is their product). These a predominantly the people/companies I am following on Twitter.

Some places will call you after you've submitted your resume to their site, and this gives you a good chance to talk about what you can expect from them and from a job. They always ask what salary you are willing to accept (I don't fill this out online because I am waiting to talk with a recruiter), and so I ask what is typical for their area and the jobs I might qualify for. Examples- associate researcher (Ph.D. with no experience) in Colorado was $45-50K, in San Diego $65-80 and in Boston $80-95. All of these places encourage you to stay in touch (again, you are the product that they have to offer), and mention when you see jobs they can put you up for. And from the scientists I know who've been placed this way, this is really the key- stay in touch!

This is really the ultimate test of your resume and coverletter, someone who doesn't know any more about the job than the blurb posted online is going to fit the resume you submit to that discription- it helps me to keep that in mind. Am I presenting myself as a match for the position, and not just a generally smart person? Yes, this whole process takes a lot of your time, but in principle, but being presented by the recruiter who has a long standing relationship with the company looking to hire gives you more credibility.

Oh, one more thought, many of these jobs are presented as "temp" or short term contract jobs. That's not the whole story, for most of these posted positions, if you are successful in the position, a permanent or full time position will follow. So don't take those temp postings too lightly! Staffers know the field and can help you gauge your marketability, which makes them a pretty unique resource.

At the very least, I like getting called after I drop my resume/CV into the internet black hole, it's like someone is actually recieving it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Post-doc for Cancer Prevention- and an MPH to boot

I'll admit it, there are times I wish I knew what public health was before I came to graduate school. Don't get me wrong, doing basic science has polished my skills as an investigator and gave me the potential to learn about anything I want to know about. It's just that now I am pretty sure I am ready to learn about something new. "Great!" my boss says, "That's why you post-doc!" Sure, but do you know how easy it is to get into a post-doc and forget that it is supposed to be a stepping stone in your career? What do you really GET out of a post-doc, besides a new letter and a better publication record?

This is one reason I've been really interested in unique post-doc opportunities, programs that are meant to get you more than just another 4 years of experience on the bench. Which brings me back to public health- since I am coming to a realization that I would like to apply my science, really help people in real time, public health keeps coming up. But I don't know anything about epidemiology, or statistics, or ... those other public health things you should know... Which is why the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program seems like such a great opportunity. For the first year, fellows get their Masters in Public Health (MPH) and then they spend a couple years doing research related to cancer prevention with a mentor either at NCI or the FDA. This is one of the transition programs to get a permanent FDA job, as mentioned before.

A few specifics- there is a yearly application cycle for this program. Applications this year are due August 25, and fellows start in June. There are a lot of preceptors (research advisers), hopefully there is something to fit everyone's interests- although most of these looks like they are in DC. Any Irish citizens out there? There is a special application process for you to work at the Northern Ireland NCI.

There may be other programs in non-cancer fields that give you the chance to get an MPH and try out public health research , if you see these, please send them this way! And heck yes, I am applying for this one.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Another way to get teaching experience?

For reasons that seem silly to explain, I was searching on the AP Central website for info about AP Bio exam. If you were a bright kid in a well funded school district, you might have taken AP Bio for college credit, and the experience culminated in taking a long standardized exam. Remember that?

Now that you've got your degree, you could be on the other side of that exam. Turns out they always need people to read those exams. My impression is you need to have taught Intro Bio at the college level in the last three years. I'd never really thought of using my teaching experience anywhere but inside a classroom, but obviously there are plenty of other opportunities for the creative career seeker.

That kinda made me wonder who scores the GREs. Looks like they are always in need of science writers, and teaching type folks. If you like thinking about pedagogy, this might be a cool way to supplement your experience, or just a good career to pursue.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What networking means to me

Last summer I went to a conference knowing that I was about a year away from graduating. My boss has prompted to make meaningful connections that might lead to a post-doc, but I quickly fell in with a group of post-docs and young faculty who were sharing gossip and beer in the setting sun. When I mentioned I was supposed to be networking with people who might be in a better position to hire me, and the Aussie (of course) said, "Naw, anybody worth sitting down and having a beer with is worth networking with." He was right, I learned a lot about molecular epidemiology and the tenure track in Europe at that meeting. That genuine chatting with interesting people because you have things to share is the kind of networking I can get behind.

In science, there is sometimes a sense that anyone who would use the word network as a verb is some brown-nosed contact-grubbing social-climber who will ingenuously flatter and hob-nob the right people to get ahead. You hear people saying they wouldn't do that because they want to get by on their science alone. But you don't have to be a sellout to benefit from the knowledge and experience of people you know. Do you really think that being an awesome scientist will help you figure out which jobs to apply for, where you are a good match, or if you are getting the right experience to get there? How to decide where to send your manuscripts, or which grants to apply for? No, that's what your network is for. How many times have you asked how someone got their cool job, to hear that they "just fell into it?" That's code for 'my network hooked me up.' (If you've never asked someone how they got their job, consider that your first Networking Homework Assignment.)

For me, networking has been a lot of friends just letting me know when they hear about jobs opening up or introducing me to people who had success in jobs I am interested in. Or funding sources for training opportunities. Or certification programs. Just telling me things that I don't know about. And listening to what I am hearing too. When I've gone out recently with classmates on the job market, it's part rant, and part checking in- am I doing this right, are you doing what I am doing? Where are you looking for jobs, and are you finding what you want? The job hunt is like a full-time job that I have no training in. I'd be a fool to waste the resources right around me, my friends and colleagues.

How can you be better at networking? People always recommend the book (which I have yet not read) Never Eat Alone. For me, it comes down to two things, making it clear what I need, and connecting other people with what they need. I'm seeing a lot of jobs I have no interest in taking, but I send them to friends I know are also job hunting. And I've tried to tell people I am on the job market, so when they hear about a colleague getting funding for a post-doc or start-ups hiring, they think of me and it saves me time. Maybe that makes me an ingenuous social climber, but my eyes aren't big enough to filter through all the information out there to find only what I am looking for- I'm grateful for my friends who can help me out.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Start your job search early

People had told me to start looking for my next job 6-12 months in advance. I had several thoughts on this:
1) What if I get a job, and then have to tell them I want to start in another 12 months?
2) It's kinda hard to find much motivation for the job hunt when you aren't sure if you are really graduating.
3) Is it really going to be that bad? What will keep me busy for a YEAR?

With the benefit of experience, I wish I could reach back and respond to each:
1) You should be so lucky. If they want you, they'll wait. And if they can't wait, you can find another job you are that well qualified for. I applied for a job that I didn't get a call back about until SIX MONTHs later. The job you apply for on the first day of hunting might just take 12 months to get their funding in order. Especially if you are looking for a post-doc.

2) It's even harder to find the motivation to look for a job while writing your dissertation. You might not have a date yet, but if your boss is dropping hints about graduating (stops making reference to your attending the next 5 annual retreats, starts mentioning which PIs would be good mentors, stops writing grants for your project...), start the process. Even if you are off by a few months, you'll be glad you've put the time in. Because...

3) Grad student-self, you are way less prepared than you think, and this process will take way more time than you imagined. Oh sure, my CV was up to date when I first applied for a job. But the second job wanted a resume. And my first cover letter was awful : "To whom it may concern, let me summarize the contents of my CV, and evade my motivations for applying here..." I still am working on how to pitch myself in interviews or job fairs to prompt potential employers to see me succeeding in the positions they have open. But more than that, I still don't know what I am looking for. Reading job descriptions got me thinking about jobs I could or couldn't do, and made me realize that when we say "industry job" that's about as specific as "University degree." This has helped me to realize that while I want off the bench in the long term, I would like to try some applied R&D, in drug development or even clinical trials. It got me thinking about how to use my interest in writing, and even how many "industries" are out there. Sure, BigPharma and Biotech spring to mind, but biofuels, bioremediation, food science, regulatory science, medical devices and science publishing are all venues that need Ph.D.s in biology, and that I'd really never thought of until I started looking. It doesn't have to take a year to find a job, but if you are looking for a job you want, you need the flexibility to be more discerning.

Sure, you might get the first job you apply for, but it may take them half a year to get back to you. It's hard to get focused on the search unless you have a firm date, but really I should have started looking at job boards earlier- like maybe when I was applying to grad school. Seriously, if I had figured out what job I wanted after I had my degree, I might have tailored my education to get it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Science Illustrators

Have you read Peter Fiske's book? You've probably heard of "Put Your Science to Work." It's a fantastic book that gives credit and credential to the parts of your experience in graduate school that weren't "science," and by science I mean the hard to describe to your grandmother part of your job. Those writing skills, the fact that you give insightful seminars, that you can deal with very complex, dynamic systems and that you have the project management skills to keep the many threads of a complex project in-line. Fiske suggests you think about your transferable skills, all those things that will make you a fantastic professional in any job, even if there aren't conical vials involved. Things that make your science successful, or can make you the golden child at your next job. Recognizing and developing these skills will make you a better scientist, or a better whatever you choose to be. I highly recommend the book, it certainly changed the way I thought about graduate school, and what I want to do afterwards.

For starters, it made me lighten up on the way I spent my time at work. As a first year, if I wasn't on the bench, I felt guilty for slacking. As a result, I almost never had time to think about what I was doing. Now, I get that it is important to be more well rounded, or at least recognize the parts of my job that I like enough to want to develop. I enjoy writing, I like being around people who are learning, and while I find it much more tolerable to help someone else troubleshoot experiments than to solve my own, I hate being in a position of authority. This is why careers like Application Scientist or anything called Liaison are appealing to me.

Perhaps this is why this item of note got bounced my way. What are cool ways you can use your science for good, but on your own time? Take a minute to bound around Shmoop, a sort of social networking study guide for teens. Perhaps if the entire site didn't have the California cool attitude, the job posting for Scientific Illustrator wouldn't have been written so that I thought I could do it. I don't mean to sound like a billboard for them (although I'd love to have a conflict of interest), but there are lots of postings for writing and illustrating jobs to create accessible science for high schoolers. And the description of the posting is simple, can you make figures? Yes, you can. You probably did it for lab meeting already this week.

As it turns out, I actually kind of loathe making figures (I was just reminded of that when I opened powerpoint to diagram a cell for that very application), but this is a really interesting job you could either try out as a grad student, or look for in other venues. If making pretty figures appeals to you, this is a real job. There is even a guild (Guild of Natural Science Illustrators). There are graduate programs you could enroll in, but I suspect if could collect the portfolio of things you made for talks and posters, you might already have a decent start.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ideas for getting the bills paid

When I tell people from my normal life I've got my Ph.D., there is usually some well-meaning inference that "you can work anywhere." If by "anywhere" you mean in a select numbers of currently funded labs in diverse geographic locations, then yes, I might just end up anywhere. While I am trying not to fall into the caustically narrow-minded opinion that my options are limited, it's hard not to envy the writer/artist/freelance types who can generate themselves income as needed, and from anywhere.

But even the best laid plans for a dream post leave you with a bit of a gap. You know, grant cycles and academic calenders don't always sync up with the other factors influencing your job hunt, or more importantly, your credit card billing dates. So how can a scientist make some short term cash, or even just boost your CV while your dream job waits for that NIH gravy train?

The most common suggestion is to teach a semester, at your alma mater or a nearby school/community college. All calibers of schools will have surprise staffing shortages and may need someone to step into teach intro bio labs or senior writing seminars. Contact the department directly (especially someone in charge of curriculum), an ad hoc position may be exempt from affirmative action- meaning the person in charge of hiring can pick any candidate for any bias reason at all. Like there was a desperate need and you sent an email. If you know the right person to ask, this can be an easy job to find. These positions are not lucrative, but may provide some much needed teaching experience for your job hunt.

If you are more interested in the pay check and flexible schedule than the accredited experience and strong letter, you might want to look into teaching online courses. These gigs can vary in caliber and time commitment, but you don't have to commute. Or bathe. To me, this sounds like a great deal, although I've never heard of anyone doing it, just wanting to find this plum job.

What if you have no interest in teaching, but still need a paycheck? If you are a native (or proficient) English speaker, you may be able to be an editor for ESL scientists trying to send articles to English language journals. Working on short contracts may sound like a nice way to make some beer money, but this can be a full time salary if you work at it. This position will give you a chance to stay in the game, or even make some extra cash, until your dream job pulls in.

I know that most of the major recruiting firms say that they are looking to fill temporary positions for tech's etc. The rumors I've heard lead me to believe that these are temp contracts that lead to permanent placement. These also aren't any easier to get than any other type of job, so start looking early. However, this might be a good way to get some "industry experience" before you go back on the market for the dream job.

What else do scientists do in lieu of freelance mini-preps?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Weekend Reading

This week I've run across a number of interesting articles I wanted to share, so let me get to it.

Two interesting studies out on employment in science (one I found on Twitter, one provided by Uncle Bart in the comments). The first on post graduate salaries and employment in 2009. The number that sticks with me is that only 67% of life sciences graduates go on to post-doc. Where is everyone else going?

The second, on the state of women in STEM jobs. The Department of Commerce still wants better representation.

Next, two blogs of science-job worlds I wish I knew more about:

Medical Science Liaison
- bridging the tech with medicine for both internal purposes and for physicians using your products. Sounds like an Application Scientist with a better clinical background, but check out the immense resources on this site to find out for yourself. If you are considering this career path, there is everyone from job postings to an active online community.

Here is another great blog written by a former bench scientist in sales. I'm linking you specifically to the definitions of jobs that I had never really understood before (Field Application Scientist? Territory Manager?). She's got some great insight about the hiring process as well, so poke around.

The great Twitter experiment continues. I'm curating a twitter list of job-posting-centric tweets. Check it out, or follow me directly. But actually, the list has more information on it.

And what the heck, it's Friday: I found this amazing radio interview on Twitter, too. It came with the headline Man Arrested for building Nuclear Reactor in Kitchen.

Other information you think deserves a wider audience? Leave a comment or email me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Interview with a AAAS Policy Fellow

Here is a hook: 95% of the NIH budget goes to fund science, either in the form of grants, awards and fellowships or equipment. The other 5% fund those that administer, facilitate, manage and advocate for the first 95% of the budget.

I had the opportunity to interview a former AAAS Fellow and current Legislative Liaison, and I must say- I'm smitten. The whole career path seems so compelling, it's exciting, dynamic and frankly very important, and if you can position yourself well this should be manageable transition.

So let's dive in: The American Association for the Advancement of Science has designed a competitive and prestigious fellowship program for Ph.D. scientists at any age/career stage to gain experience in policy. Fellows select one of the hosting agencies for their experience, and are provided with training and support for the duration. This is a 1-2 year experience, and provides a stipend on par with a GS12 level government job (depending on host agency. This is between $55,000 and $85,000/year). Many fellows use their experience and connections to find a permanent position in science policy, so this is a great way to transition from the bench to the Hill (or the NIH, or just check out the list of hosting agencies).

Anytime I have mentioned my interest in science policy, people suggest the AAAS fellowship. There is lots of information available on the website about this program, which you should explore. In my interview, it became quite clear that there is a lot of flexibility for a proactive fellow to create the experience they need during their fellowship time. But I've read through the requirements before and felt really outclassed. I was assured that a strong applicant is not someone who already had know-how and influence in policy; these people have an MPP and don't need more training. Rather, a strong applicant is someone who can demonstrate a desire and competency to be a good citizen to science and willingness to be involved in the aspects of science that take place outside the lab. Think about ways you can demonstrate if not an actual aptitude yet, but an understanding for the value of communication, management, education or facilitation skills. It's less important that you remember high school civics than you understand why scientists should take a role in science policy. For example, our fellow had some interaction with his university's Federal Relations Department, who basically act as lobbyists for the university on a federal level, which is what got him interesting in acting at the interface of science and the public. That covers what you might already know about the AAAS Fellows.

I also wanted to talk a little more about the position of Legislative Liaison. I first heard about this type of job during my interview with the PMF. Each of the Institutes of the NIH have people who bridge the science with the politicians who fund it. His role as a Liaison is to serve as the contact for legislative offices, to monitor and respond to legislative requests and to monitor and report the progress of the intramural funding of his Institute. He felt he was very involved in science, and he really enjoyed his position as an advocate and facilitator of that science. This requires a lot of communication, and depending on the institute, a breadth of expertise. In principle, a person can apply directly to this type of position, but if you are a grad student/post-doc, you might find it hard to demonstrate the ability to facilitate and manage programs. That said, if you are excited about a position, apply anyway. I will be.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Experiment 5: Calling HR

Once upon a time, I found a job and fell in love. I applied for the job, and dreamed of spending a lifetime happily ever after in that job. That's where the story ends. Actually, where it ends a lot.

I was complaining about this to my brother, "I apply for jobs, and nothing happens." And he asked my what the HR person said about my application. I was slightly appalled- you can't just talk to those people. And he explained, with the patience of someone who still remembers finding their first job, that 'no, you must talk to those people. That is, in fact, their job.' Then I was really appalled, "If the job of the HR person is to find and hire good talent, then there is a reason she never called back, and I don't really want to have that conversation." Again, the patience and logic won out, so I tried the experiment. This was well past the day I was told there would be some follow up, so I had already decided I didn't have the job. He convinced me to call and ask. If I was right, I can ask how to do better next time (valuable to know, if painful to ask), and if he was right, I could ask how long the process might take. I spent 20 minutes sweating and hyperventilating in an abandoned conference room before I dialed her number. "Hi, I applied for your posted position, I was wondering if you could tell me about the status of my application?"

She was actually quite happy to hear from me, it saved her looking up my number again. And actually, I wasn't out of the running for this job, they were very interested in me for this position. I don't recall much else of what was said, because when you go from that nervous to that relieved you sometimes get light-headed. Basically, the update was that they hadn't made up their minds yet, but they were pleased to know I was interested enough to check in. I called back every week until it became clear the project would be unfunded. Every time I called, the HR person said she'd been meaning to call, and it comes back to what my brother was trying to tell me.

The HR person is basically the door keeper to these mid-size company jobs. Their normal job revolves around keeping everyone paid, and on occasion, they get an additional project to hire someone. They don't know about you or your expertise, they are going to try to match the description someone else gave them to your application- try to make that as easy as possible with every aspect of your application. From there, decisions have to be made in a very human way, usually by someone feeling a little overworked and under-appreciated. Sometimes the hiring choice is made by someone who would be your manager or peer, and the same goes for them. Calling reinforces your interest, and the silly reasons you make up to call might give you more insight about the job. What is the next step in the process? Is there someone I can talk to and get more info about the specific duties?

The trouble I am running into now is that many of the jobs I am applying to, I can't find a person or contact to call. The next round of this experiment will be to follow-up more aggressively with the recruiter or Contact Us info that is available to see if I can track down someone who can help. This is more work then just uploading my resume, but when I've found someone to talk to it's been worth it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Do I need a writing portfolio?

I'm from the school of thought that your science isn't really done until you've told someone about it. Communication is essential to what we do, because we are supposed to be building a body of knowledge for the community, not just learning stuff to make ourselves feel smart. I take that part of my role and my education seriously, so please act surprised to know that I flubbed this question in an interview, "Do you have experience writing for a non-science audience?" Forcing my spouse to proofread my dissertation wasn't really the answer they were hoping for, but I didn't have anything more concrete than that.

At one time, I thought pretty seriously about developing a writing portfolio, or at least a few showpieces that could be collected should the need arise. I submitted some short things to writing competitions, and sweet talked my way into getting a brief article into a professional society newsletter. And then all this seemed like a lot of work, and I never quite got whole portfolio together. At this stage, I am not sure if a full blown portfolio would ever be looked at, but I am still working on my non-technical writing. If asked the same interview question again, I would point to this blog. But the benefit of writing regularly isn't that I've amassed of lot of Pulitzer Prize quality writing, but that writing regularly makes all my writing better. Right?

In some cases, I've seen applications that say outright that your cover letter will be used as a writing sample. You should certainly treat it as such. If you have non-peer reviewed publications, put it on your CV. If you are in a position where you interact with non-scientists, say, business people, or even just the HR person in charge of hiring you, they want to know that you communicate well in writing.

* * *
In case you are interested, here are some interesting science-y writing contests. The SCRIPT Award for a Mini-Epic and the currently running Clerihew Contest, seeking short poems about science.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Informational Interviews

Networking is not something that comes naturally to me. I'm pretty lame at staying in touch, I stress about meeting strangers and using the phone. But all the experts agree, networking is the key to landing your dream job. I used to think this meant I was going to have to meet someone who needed to hire someone like me, then coyly mention how great I would be for this job so they might consider making me an offer. Not so,but you do need your network to help you hear about jobs, and to help you appear to be a great candidate for them. So, I'm working on it.

One networking tool I am trying to use a lot right now is the informational interview. I hope to be sharing more of my interviews with you, but in case I am not talking to people with your dream job, here are a few tips about how to do an informational interview so you can get the information you need for your own job search. But first, the purpose of an informational interview is to learn from someone who has been through the same process you are facing. You aren't asking for a job. You probably aren't talking to someone who could hire you anyway. Most people are willing to share their experience if it is clear you aren't going to ask more of them.

First, who to talk to. It's great if you know someone directly, or maybe one person removed that you can ask to talk to. My most recent interview was an e-introduction from someone I was also e-introduced to, which is just shy of a cold call. If you can find a person who has a position or worked for a company you are interested in, chances are they would be willing to talk to you. Have you ever talked to an undergrad about getting in to graduate school? Then you can understand why someone professional might be willing to talk to you, just be brave and reach out.

Second, getting the interview. Once you've found someone who is interesting, send them an email or call them to ask for a couple minutes of their time. My last couple emails out were a few lines, to 1) Introduce myself, 2) Explain my interest in them and 3) ask if they'd be willing to talk. In my experience, a phone call or face to face visit is easiest for the interview, and it needn't take more than half an hour.

Third, what do you talk about. My last several interviews, I've had about 4 questions. You probably know generally what this person does, but the reason you are talking to them is to learn about how they got there, and specifics about their job. So when you introduce yourself, take a moment to explain why you want to talk to them, "I'm really interested in pursuing a career in drug development, but I am not sure how to make the switch to clinical research. Your colleagues told me you are very happy in your job, so I was hoping you could tell me about how you got there." Or "I'm interested in working for Pfizer, but I haven't had much success finding a job posting that matches my qualifications. Can you tell me about how you found your position?" Again, you aren't asking for a job, you are getting information to help you find a job or ace an interview, or navigate your fellowship application or some other aspect of the job hunt that you need some guidance on. Although this isn't meant to be a journalistic endeavor, I tend to scribble some notes, and just let the professional talk. Respect their time, try to keep this to about 30 min.

Fourth, say thank you. Wait a day or at least a few hours and then send a follow up email, first to the person you talked to. You want to have something to follow up with, "Thanks for your advice, I've been exploring the webistes you've pointed me to and have found a lot of great information there," "I am looking into the certifications you reccomended," etc. And did you find this person through a mutual contact? Thank them for their help, too. You want to reinforce to everyone that speaking with you was a good use of their time, in case you have more questions later.

Try this to get access to the information you need at every stage of your career.