Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Networking on campus

I've been making a lot of trips back to my undergrad institution to bug my old professors with help in the job hunt.  I don't really expect they will be experts, but it is sort of confusing to hear from them that they don't really know anyone who can help, since they are just faculty members.  But I think I can see what the problem is- they think of their network as their peer group, not just the people they know as a result of their professional activities.  Sure they know lots of other professors- but I was kinda hoping that they'd keep in touch with their old students- surely some of them are professional scientists by now, right?  And many of them do keep in touch, but for some reason they don't think that is who I am looking for.

I had success after some pointed questions about one employer 'that, well, actually, several of our recent grads have been hired by Dr. Whoever.  They are just techs, but we have a good relationship with that lab since they like our grads so much. ' Bingo!  Not every contact I am making is a personal introduction of a friend to a friend who opens the gold gates of employment.  Many more of the contacts I have made lately start with an email like "Hi, Someone you haven't heard from in ages suggested I get in touch with you..."  and I still get a decent response rate.

I've found that the best way to job those ideas for my profs is to sit down with them and tell them what I've been up to.  And then when they say, "Oh drug discovery?  We had someone like 3 years ago get recruited to that type of position.." I ask for their name and any other info they have on that.  I'm realizing that a lot of the people who are in a good position to help me, don't really see their position that way. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Interview: Medical Science Liason

This week, I had a phone call with a Medical Science Liason (MSL).  I met with someone who was previously in this position, and it sounded like so much fun!  Travel and shmooze with docs! Learn about cutting edge technology in your field, and you don't have to sell anything.  Heck, you are forbidden from selling anything!  She suggested I talk to some others first before I jumped in (I think I am just primed for jumping in to things these days).

I called up a colleagues of hers, who also had great things to say about the job.  It is well paid (Glassdoor suggests 6 figures and up), and there are great perks, like a company car.  You get to be the recognized expert to the people you work with, and the position is far from routine.  And, he says, "there is no one at the home office that I don't get along with."  That's right, the MSL works from home when they aren't traveling. 

So what does the job really look like?  A big drug company wants to release a new product.  They will unleash some of the team of MSLs (and this large drug company has about 100 nationally), to meet with "thought leaders" like physicians to drum up interest in the drug.  The MSL is not allowed to promote the product, they are in a support role.  I imagine them bringing by copies of journal articles and preliminary results to share with curious docs.  Then the drug comes out, and all these docs have questions about how the product works, when it should be used, and what else it might be used for.  The sales team is not equipped to handle that, so enter the MSL again.  He made it very clear that an MSL really needs to develop deep expertise on the product, and broad expertise in the field (his field being rhuematology).  He does get to attend professional conferences (at least one in Europe every year) for training and reconnaissance purposes.

In addition, he spends a lot of time in contact with other MSLs in his field (via conference call), talking with the researchers that developed the product, and training the sales team.  He suggested that different companies utilize their MSLs for different amounts of these roles.  And he loved this job!  I've heard that with the heavy travel demands (30-70%) over wide territories (AK, WA, OR, ID, and Northern CA, for example) people often burn out of this role and transition to something more stable after a few years, but he has been at the job for 9 years.  But he said his working interactions are not like a normal job, he doesn't have coworkers he interacts with regularly.  His "regular" contacts he sees quarterly, and most he sees less often. 

He suggested I look at the MSL Quarterly Newsletter for job postings and ideas about skills to perform the job better.  He also suggested, with a chuckle, cafepharma for trending news and occasional industry gossip.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Experiment: Get active

One of the easy networking advices given out is "join a professional society."  This certainly puts you in the path of people in your field, but most only have monthly or so meetings.  This isn't ideal for an voracious job hunter like myself, so I've joined 3 or so since I've been here.  But having a membership isn't going to open doors- it's not like ACS is some elite fraternity where people do you favors if you know the secret handshake.  So how do I convert those professionals I might cross paths with into a useful part of my network? 

I've started volunteering with the society. 

Little did I know, that the top folk at any professional society are slightly overwhelmed professionals, trying to do a littler service for their community without losing their real job.  Although the may be "elected," in the local chapter of most societies, this probably means the volunteered and no one said no. And they need help.  I am no on the board of TWO professional societies, simply because I've volunteered to help.  Now I have some active professionals who are grateful to have me around that I am free to impress with my work ethic, organizational skills and general demeanor.  It's a great way for me to build a little credibility with some folks who are well connected.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Informal Science Education

Last week I was in New York at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) for the Design Make Play conference, which was a conference of Informal Science Educators and facilitators.  As I mentioned before, this was a new field for me (informal science education), so I wanted to share a little about the field in general with you.  Informal Science education is meant to be any of the learning that takes place outside of a formalized school format, from the Boys and Girls Club to playing with Legos.  This was vaguely like what I had heard of called "Outreach" before- giving students positive experiences with science to encourage them to pursue that as a career path.  But Informal Science Education is much more-so a field driven by educators, and has less of a specific purpose.  Many folks from museums and science centers were there, as well as small organizations that do fun hands-on activities with children and adults.

The keynote speakers addressed the fact that kids spend most of their time not in school, and that this is time that they are still learning.  They talked about the "leaky" STEM pipeline, only 2.4% of the adult population has a STEM career- but really is that bad?  One of the themes of the meeting was not just that we need more trained scientists, but that what America needs is more innovators, people who can think scientifically and understand how to solve problems, work collaboratively and aren't initimidated by technical problems.  Science isn't the only place that requires those skills, but it does provide decent training for these ideas.  The conference organizers were aligned with the Maker Movement- you know, the people hanging out at Maker Spaces, Maker Fairs, Hackerspaces and their own little tinker shops who are finding ways to build things like robots out of vacuums, or paints out of household items. 

You can picture how this would not only cultivate the skills of innovation, but give a young student confidence and perhaps help a student who is not gifted in the traditional sense realize that they are quite bright afterall.  It's very feel good stuff.  It also parallels the idea that if we need a more science literate society (say, one who will oppose cuts to NIH budgets and stuff), in order to have an informed citizenry who can address the complex and technical problems our country and and world are facing.

In the informal arena, the measures of success are quite different, and I noticed this immediately in the culture of the people at the conference.  Many people took photos of presentations.  I never figured out who the Big-Wigs were, since everyone was sharing with everyone.  And being a conference about learning by exploration, everyone was very willing to jump in feet first to all kinds of crazy things and really share their enthusiasm.  Yes, this arena is generally grant funded, and as I said, dominated by educators.  But, when I mentioned that I was a scientist, people would flip!  They LOVED that a scientist wanted to get involved in this stuff, and were really supportive despite the fact that all the education/assessment/etc. stuff was new to me.  In my dream world, I'll have a solid job as a professional science somebody, and then get to work with groups like this to help them in their efforts to promote play a a tool for education.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Seriously professional networking

One skills I have been working very hard on these last few months is networking.  I'm not going to claim to be a genius at it now, but I used to be the type to go to a conference and only talk to the people I went with.  The horror.  I had occasion to go to a professional conference recently, and since I am reading Keith Ferrazzi's book (Never Eat Alone, I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but these are the concrete skills I am trying to put into practice), I wanted to rock the networking.  This was the conference I attended as a result of my volunteer work, which is in a fairly new field for me.  Perfect timing, I'll try everything I can think of, and if I totally blow it, this isn't a field where I have a reputation, or even know that I want one, so I can be as brave and brazen as I can stand.  I promise another short post about the content of the meeting since informal science is so fun, and Makers seem like cool people- but for now, networking.

Two days before the conference, a list of attendees was mailed out.  My former grad student self would have been too harried to open this file, but as a job hunter, I've got nothing but time.  So I flipped through and Googled just about every single person in attendance.  I didn't get too creepy deep on the info gathering (in Never Eat Alone, Ferrazzi recommends trying to figure out what hobbies potential contacts might have), I just wanted to know their job function, because I was trying to get a sense of the hierarchy of the meeting.  Turns out, there were have a dozen folks from Major Funding Agencies, so I made a note and shared this with my colleagues.  I also found some people who had overlapping functions to the program we were presenting, as well as people in my geographical area.  Basically, I wanted to have some clue about the type of people who would be there, and to be prepared to recognize when I was speaking to someone who might be a good contact.

We were at this meeting to present a workshop, which was a lot of work to put together, frankly, so we really wanted to share our work with people who could help us in the future.  We had post-card sized info sheets about the program (the Click! Spy School through the Girls Math Science Program at the Carnegie Science Center of Pittsburgh) which my colleagues were using like business cards.  This conference was really great, being in workshops with people was very disarming, and it was a diverse group without a previously established hierarchy (unlike, say, conferences on virology).  This made it very easy for us to walk up to the woman with deep pockets from Time Warner Cable, interrupt her email and invite her to our workshop.  This turned into a friendly conversation about how Time Warner Cable got into the informal science arena (they started the Connect a Million Minds project, to connect parents and teachers to informal science resources).  Honestly, I was shocked that this worked- she came to our workshop, and loved it.

I also approached several other people I didn't think I would have the guts to- like the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  He was totally cool.  The two things that worked really well for me here were 1) knowing who I was talking to, and 2) Having something to say to them. Part one doesn't take much mastery, just prime yourself to recognize the types of people you'd like to meet. Part two is a little harder, and something I will keep working on, having a clear, succinct message that is sincere and interesting to the person you want to connect with.  Not to ask for a favor, but to share relevant information.
I was not so strong on the second part- sure, talking about our workshop was a good fall back, but I really wanted to say "even though I am presenting this workshop for Pittsburgh, I am a volunteer there, and btw, I live in Seattle where I am looking for a job." This is a more complex message then I felt comfortable conveying.  But I did make good contacts with an editor at a major publishing house (who might be able to connect me with more freelancing?), and a researcher at the UW.

Oh, but this brings me to the third thing that I had never tried tactically before- being emotionally honest.  Usually, in this type of setting, I would have on my grown-up face, and speak in that mellow, 'professional' tone of voice like I am channeling and NPR jazz radio host.  But, I want to be remembered, and I want to be remembered well- and I was having a crazy good time.  So, yeah, I blathered a little about how excited I was about our workshop, and I bragged on some of my favorite exhibits in the hall of science and I said exactly how much I appreciated talking with these people (in one case, that came out "You are my hero!"), and every single one of the follow up emails I sent has been returned.  Awesome!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Experiment: Learning Computer Programming

Today I am beginning to learn to program in Python.  I'm not totally sure why I am doing this- those Makers make you feel you should just jump in and do things, I've seen some jobs for computational biologists that don't seem stressful and I am bored by job hunting are all reasons.  A couple weeks ago, a computer programmer friend of mine said that "Not everyone has the mentality to code." and he suggested I just take two weeks to see which camp I was in.  Then he made an "If/Then statement joke" and everyone else at the table laughed.  That might be the real reason I am doing this.

I have been saying "I am going to learn computer programming and get a job" for a while now, so I have already amassed some tools to get started.  I have also set the bar really low- I don't need to be an elegant programmer, I just need to know if I am the kind of person who can break problems down into codable, solvable, chunks.  If in two weeks, I am ready to pitch my computer out the window, well, lesson learned.

Anyway, if you, for whatever strange reason, want to follow along with the Are You a Programmer? Challenge, here is what I am doing.
My intent is to learn Python, as this is a language that might be relevant for a biologist, and is not entirely dissimilar from MatLab- which is the other language people in the know have suggested.  I've downloaded Enthough Python as my python-ing environment.

And while that was dowloading and installing, I learned Java.  Ha!

Actually, I did take a lesson at Codecademy, which has some very gentle resources for learning the basics of programming (what is a variable, how is it defined...).  I passed my first (free!) course online in about an hour and half, and that gave me a boost of confidence for Project Python.  Oo, and that is the name I am going to stick with.

My personal outline for Project Python: 14 days.  If I have to take breaks for contract work or meetings, I'll skip a day.  But, since I've promised the internet I am going to give it a try, I feel obliged.

Here are some other resources that were recommended to me by former colleague ,
Learn Python the Hard Way -- http://learnpythonthehardway.org/book/  (It's not really the hard way)
Anyone else have resources or encouragement to send me?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Professionalism- areas of improvement

The other morning, as I was running around my house trying to decide which of my frumpy sweaters looks most professional and wondering what combination of make-up I should wear that would appear professional and not childish, it occurred to me that these are things I thought I would have figured out before I turned 28.  I learned many important lessons in graduate school besides science: how to effectively answer questions, how to keep a cool head during tense moments, how to convey complex ideas.  But being on the job market, there are some really basic things I wish I had managed to master before I made it this far, or perhaps will need to master before I move on to the next step.  In no particular order, professional skills I wish I had mastered already to help me in the novel job hunter situations I find myself in these days.
  • Professional dress.  A quick survey of my closet suggests that my clothes go from bleached bench clothes to annual seminar with no middle ground.  What about attending a networking event, or meeting a colleague at their place of work?  I want to convey "put together-ness" rather than "trying too hard," with my wardrobe, so this needs some help.  And if I had to dress like a pro 5 days a week, I would be doing laundry every day.
  • Professional hair and make-up.  For the first half of graduate school, I didn't own a hairbrush.  I've made some strides since then, but I am haunted by the feeling that there is some unspoken rule like "mascara is never work place appropriate." Years of college at a hippy school mean I never really mastered the art of wearing a "natural" level. Pasty blemish face, or clown?
  • Taking notes in person.  I know better than to think I am going to remember every nugget of information that comes from a personal meeting.  Years of attending seminars means I have a wealth of beat up notebooks and swag-pads to take these notes in (is that appropriate?).  I usually tuck one under my arm, and resist the urge to write every detail like a stenographer, since I have found this makes people nervous.  Should I be writing at all?  Should I have a nice notebook for this?  Carried in a briefcase bag, instead of my childish purse or tucked into my coat with last fall's pumpkin spice latte spilled down the front?
  • Making small talk. Everytime I move to a new city, I wish I were better at this.  But I cannot really take in my surroundings and talk at the same time.  Networking event somewhere unfamiliar?  I clam up.  I'm getting better at learning a couple easy questions where I don't really have to remember the response (How are you? Have you been here before? etc) which gives my under-practiced social skills a grace period to catch up, and I try to ask questions rather than provide answers right off (I'm embarrassed by how often I hear my own voice trail off mid-sentence while my mind has been rerouted by other thoughts like, "am I the worst dressed person at this event??") but I know I come off as a robot when meeting new people.
  • Sending short follow up emails. I have gotten much better about sending emails that make sense, including context, subject matter and clear decision points.  But sometimes you just need to convey "Yeah, I got that, Thx."  Why is that a 200 word email? There are several others of these types of emails I find myself sending these days (introducing myself, requesting a meeting or info from someone who might not provide either etc.), and I still wondering if I am doing it right.
I know much of this seems superfiscial, but I am trying to present myself well.  As a job hunter with no golden ladder connections, I need to appear polished enough to earn myself the opportunity to share how bright and motivated I am, rather then just eliciting a negative response that wastes my chances. Any tips out there on becoming a polished professional for a lifelong dork?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Job Hunters Anniversary

One year ago today, I submitted my first job application.  I remember the anniversary with mixed feelings; I've come a long way, but I am still job hunting.  The job I applied for was to be a Hellman Fellow at the National Academy of Arts and Sciences.  This was to be the culmination of my years of quietly hoping to break into science policy, and I wrote a passionate letter about my belief that science can and should influence ordinary citizens everyday, and that to maximize this, trained scientists should rise to the occasion to influence policy.  I talked about my efforts to show leadership in graduate school, and to develop my communication skills while balancing a productive science career. 

In the six months that I waited to hear back about that fellowship, I wrote my dissertation, I came to realize that I was going to need a MUCH more pragmatic solution to the jobless-ness problem as my funding was up, and I began to question, once again, whether I really knew where I wanted to take my career.  I love science, LOVE it, but I realized as a graduate student I love learning science more than doing science, and if we want to be perfectly honest, I'm not always that successful.  As Mark Roth once told me, "someone else can do this science.  I knew I could do something different that others couldn't."  That's what fueled my interest in policy, that and the realization that I spent hours watching the last presidential race when I should have been writing my comprehensive exams.  But,... maybe that's not all.  I did interviews with scientists working in policy who loved thier jobs too, but they loved them in DC.  Isn't there some way I can have a job in the same timezone as some of my family?  I am willing to bargain with my overall career happiness for the chance at personal happiness- and that was a revelation to my mega-career focused mentality. When the call finally came that there might be money, and then again, that there was not money for my Hellman fellowship, it felt like that ship had sailed without me.

Admitting to myself I would never win a Nobel Prize was an important first step, but I still can't get myself into a job I know I won't like.  Or, when I consider taking jobs I'm not a good fit for, such as post-doc or tutor, I don't imagine giving up my job search.  At the moment, that is my litmus test- if I take this job, would I stop looking for a better one full time?  And while on the one hand, I feel like I might be totally adrift- reconsidering all of those "non-traditional" career paths that are so common for PhDs these days like MSL and Grant Writing, I actually feel much better about my situation.  Although I have been doing this for a tediously long time, I've learned a lot about approaching people for help, making and maintaining good contacts, exploring my options and finding ways to keep myself buoyant in the meantime.  Volunteering has been huge in helping my reshape my priorities and earn new opportunities.  I know a lot more about what I am looking for in a job, and I have also had a chance to develop some value in my personal life that doesn't depend on success at the bench.   And I don't let the job hunt get to me in the same way.  After 6 months, when I almost had and then was rejected for what I thought was my dream job, I started applying to jobs I was a terrible fit for, which launched a strong of rejections.  Not surprising, but terrible on the fragile job hunters ego.  Now I try to apply for jobs in pairs so I don't get too hung up on "the one job." I try to make contacts with the people responsible for hiring before I start, so I can be sure I am a good fit, and possibly get some recognition in the process.  And I spend infinitely less time on job boards.  Now that I am working on a local search, I can literally apply for every job I qualify for within 50 miles, then get back to networking.

While I can't say it feels good to have an anniversary in a job hunt, I am celebrating this one in style.  The Science Center flew me out to NYC to help them give a workshop at the New York Hall of Science about novel and dynamic ways to engage young girls in STEM through thier very cool spy camp, Click! I'll be spending all day rubbing elbows with science museum types and thinking about what makes science fun.  Really, if I had a job today, I might not be able to participate in this exciting conference.  It's not so bad.  But if my "Last Day of Working" Anniversary (Aug 31) rolls around with no forward movement, expect a different toned blog post.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mixed feelings for my peers: Network!

Over the summer I caught up with a colleague, I had just defended, and was winding down my work as a bench scientist, and he was gearing up to defend.  I told him about my struggle finding a job, given my limitation that I didn't want to teach at the university level (even in the short term, I worry about getting tied to a contract) and therefore I don't want to post-doc.  But how to get an in with a company?  How do I make myself appealing? Like me, he is married to someone with a normal job, so a few months off the payroll weren't a panic for him, so he could empathize with my desire to stick to my guns on the post-doc issue.  But he said after graduating he was just gonna get a job with one of the companies his adviser consults with and enjoy living in Europe for a while.  That made me really frustrated.  Had I really mismanaged this whole process, were other people not worried about jobs??

Fast forward a few months, I still without a formal job, but managing to make my own way and quite enjoying the adventure (if not the frustration).  And his LinkedIn profile is getting an overhaul: post-docing in town and looking for a new position.  While I have to say I'm a little relieved that I didn't miss the boat here, it's not like every other graduate is having their first pick of jobs and I am out in the cold, I am frustrated for both of us.  Our training was similar enough that we both presumed we'd find jobs at drug companies, he even had some good contacts and really relevant experience.  If he can't get a job with his training, what am I supposed to do?

While others of my peers have gone on to adjunct teaching positions and post-docs, these aren't permanent positions either.  Just look at the post-docs in my old lab whose funding is running out.  Where do they go?  I'm not the first to notice this disconnect, and despite my anger and frustration for myself and my peers, I am trying to take a positive spin on it.

That is one thing about meeting more working professional scientists that gives me some faith, people DO get jobs, a Ph.D. is not unhireable.  But why must this transition be so unnavigable?  I actually thought I was well ahead of the curve on this.  I had been thinking for years about what I wanted to do, and worked on ways to indicate those interests and strengths on my CV.  I ran a networking group for grad students and post-docs to talk about learning relevant professional skills.  People often blame the ivory tower to failing to adequately prepare students for the real world.  But I am starting to get annoyed with the industry as well.  Those of us trying to do right by hiring managers and future bosses could benefit from more transparency about what they need, and how we can prepare for that.  Most of the things that distinguish my CV were things I did on my own anyway (designing my own course to be taught at night, attending conferences on science policy and algae), I was perfectly willing to go above and beyond my experience in graduate school to ensure a job at the end.  But how was I to know what to do?

I think the lesson from this is that students (at all stages of training, dear readers) should seek out successful scientists with real professional jobs to learn about what they do and how they got there.  And if someday you find yourself as a real professional scientist, please reach out to the confused graduate students who are about to navigate those choppy career waters.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A day in the life of a job hunter

Job hunting/freelancing lacks the structure of a normal job.  Sure, it's awesome to get up and hang out in your sweats drinking coffee for a couple days, even weeks.  But sometimes I wonder if I am doing it right.  For those who might wonder what I am doing, here are two days worth of my schedule- I'm doing two days because they are so different, and so totally representative of the ups and downs of a job hunt.

Day 1:
7:30 am wake up, shower, coffee, check email (AWIS Board meeting coming up)
8:00 am Informational Interview
8:30 am Hunting down resources from interview, scheduling tweets, writing blog
9:30 am Prepare to meet a local conference organizer (get directions etc.)
10:30 am Meeting with conference organizer
11:00 am Lunch while updating twitter and Daily To Do List
11:30 am responding to emails, getting updates from the Science Center, checking LinkedIn (why is no one looking at my profile?)
1:00 pm Skype with my algae person, discuss his future needs
2:00 pm Making appointments for my grandmother
2:30 pm Reading material for the Science Center, very focused
5:30 pm Skype with friends.
7:00 pm Dinner with Friends
10:00 pm Responding to emails from Science Center, more reading on educational standards
12:30 am Bed
Still on my To Do List: respond to emails for scheduling meetings, begin edits of a long chapter due in two weeks, get info on upcoming trip

Day 2:
6 am wake up, coffee, check email
6:30 am Scheduled call rescheduled for 7:30, update blog, twitter and start writing "bio" for conference organizer
7:30 am Phone call delayed, more time on Facebook then I can be proud of and returning emails to schedule a visit to my undergraduate institution
8:30 am Phone call finally happens, seems I am missing flight information
8:45 am Tracking down missing flight information, idly checking email while on hold
9:45 am Booking new flight info
10:45 am Waiting for last confirmation email before moving offline to do some contract editing
10:50 am Chocolate peptalk and laundry
11:00 am Editing
11:40 am Impromptu Skype with algae guy for update on sourcing products (feeling gratified for getting dressed and combing my hair this morning)
11:50 am Lunch with a friend and errands
3:30 pm respond to emails re: algae and networking opportunities (LinkedIn invites and meetings scheduled)
3:45pm Return to editing, realize the first 2 pages are copied verbatim from a national travel site.  Email editor and throw in the towel.
4:20pm Email out my "bio" to conference organizer

Still on my To Do List:prepare for informational interview tomorrow, confirm trip details for Monday, contact my editor about next assignment, finished current editing assignment, and begin work on AWIS newsletter.

It's true, some days are a beautiful amalgam of perfectly cooperative and productive magic, I work hard and feel good doing it.  Others it seems like a struggle to get anything started or moving and I am just waiting for the pieces to come together.  Actually, I think that pretty well sums up my job hunt in general.  I'd love to hear if others have tips for maximizing all of this unstructured time, or just want to commiserate on the ebb and flow of the hunt.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Interview: Grant Writer

It's been a while since I did an informational interview, I should do them more often.  Talking with people about why they love their job makes me feel optimistic, and every job hunt could use a bit of that.  So here is the context, as you know, I need a job.  While getting a full time permanent job has not come easy, finding small contract editing work (of manuscripts and educational texts) or some related writing seems to have come up fairly often.  I've been relatively passive about this, but I wanted to give this idea a fair shake, could I (should I?) make a career of reading and writing?

So I had to know, was she working week to week on contracts like me?  Well, no.  Although she had started doing that, she now works as an off-site contractor for a firm that sends her clients who need various levels of technical and administrative help.  She said this sometimes means she is literally writing their grants, and sometimes this means she is just convincing a disparate group of PIs to stick to their writing deadlines.  Depending on the client, this may feel like she is making the best use of her background, synthesizing complex data into an easily understandable package, and other times, this might just feel like she is the secretary (but she did admit the administrative work pays better).

Speaking of pay, she makes more than she did as a post-doc, and figures she'll continue to make significantly more than her husband (a post-doc) for a while. 

The contract for this is novel to me, it's the antithesis of a non-compete. She signs up for a 3-6 month contract with her employer.  They have renewed her contract consistently for 4 years now, so she has confidence that this is fairly permanent work.  However, for tax reasons (and as part of this contract), she must take other contracts, to prove that she does not have a sole employer who ought to pay her taxes for her.  She said she normally works 40 hours a week, but certainly goes through periods of working 80-90 hours a week, as a result of having to juggle multiple contracts. 

So how does a person get into this?  She recommended to get started, work with a recruiter.  Alternatively, there are writing firms that have stables of writers for regulatory/technical/medical writing, like Synchrogenix.  Another option is to subscribe to job lists, like the Hitt list (available here).  And this last website brings up some other interesting resources.  Medical writers are certainly in demand these days, and while having a PhD is great preparation for this career, to help with the transition, Emma Hitt offers some short courses and workshops on running a med writing business, or med writing.  Biotech Ink Insider is another resource for those in the field. The American Medical Writers Association also offers some workshops/short courses in similar subjects.  Again, these aren't essential certifications, but if you are looking for a way to show on your CV that you are serious about this transition or just want to build your own confidence this might be a good route.  I'd be very interested to hear from someone who has taken one of these courses to see what they think.

I recently joined the Council of Science Editors group on LinkedIn, and in one of those discussions these additional resources were listed.  Exciting, right?  Doesn't it make you think you could take on a whole new career??
National Association of Science Writers (http://nasw.org)
National Writers Union (http://www.nwu.org)
Society for Technical Communication (http://www.stc.org)
Health Sciences Communication Association (http://www.hesca.org)
Bay Area Editors' Forum (http://www.editorsforum.org)
American Copy Editors Society (http://www.copydesk.org/)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Experiment 10 continued...

Reaching out across my network feels hard sometimes, reaching out to people who ought to know me but usually don't seems like torture.  Hiya fancy scientist, you remember me right? I was a bright eyed first year when you graduated and moved on,... and no I don't think we ever went to the same parties... Right?  You feel my pain, don't you?  This feels very high school teen awkwardness, but in reality, if I can just present myself like a competent adult professional, most people are fairly happy to interact with other professionals, and might at least give me a pity email back that there was some vague connection that they don't specifically recall.  I've had this work when interacting with folks on twitter.  Why can't it work in my real world network?

In response to my post about editing working work, a former classmate suggested I look up someone who was technically at Pitt while I was, who I thought was glamorous and brilliant and has really no reason on God's green earth to know who I am.  But we are both doing editing work, and she has become a competent professional at it.  And... She is totally up for an informational interview!  Awesome!  Experiment success!  Now, I need to make this experience valuable for her as well, so I am thinking about what I might have to offer that she might be interested in.  It surely isn't professional contacts, but I might have more up to date news on some of our mutual acquaintances...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Experiment 10: Reaching to the past network

I'm pleased to be getting Christmas cards and New Year's greetings from old friends at this time of year.  My brother reminded me that this time fo year can be a great excuse to help with the networking.  Rather then leading off "Hey, sorry we never got together for that coffee..." Just jump in with "happy new year!  When would you like to get that coffee?"  He suggested brushing past the awkwardness, in most cases, it's not like I was hounded by emails for years that I ignored.  We both dropped the ball, I'm graciously picking it up for both of us, right?

So the experiment has to do with reaching back into the past.  How far back can I reach and still have success?  One of the professors I was better at keeping in touch with over the years suggested I come back to my undergraduate campus and see who might have contacts in Seattle.  It's only a couple hours to Western, so Seattle is where more alumni go to get jobs.  Surely someone knows someone, right?  And of course, the other awkwardness to fend off... my final research adviser/academic mentor left the university for a better offer.  At the time, I was given to believe that not all bridges remained un-singed, and I felt deeply tied to her.  Well, some years later that seems way less important, and I am wondering how I can revive those relationships.  I am trying to think about Ferrazzi's advice to have something to offer.  I might see if they need a departmental seminar speaker sometime.

Well, the first part of the experiment is who can I get to remember me?  The guy I took my senior seminar with?  My first research adviser (who gently encouraged me out of field work)? My letter writers?  These people all loom large in my memory, but this stuff all falls into the realm of their professional obligation.  Will they remember me?  Even though I got married and changed my name?  First email back was a yes, and I figure if I can get a couple, it will be worth making a day of it.  And if I am not back to back busy all day, I won't pass up the opportunity to sip coffee on campus again.