Friday, February 24, 2012

Advice for contracts

The number one advice I have heard about finding stable work as a contractor is to respond quickly and to always meet deadlines.  An editor or manager would rather work on improving your work with you then wonder if you've done any.  So this week I am focusing on meeting my next round of deadlines, and I'll have more to say later.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2 more Part Time gigs

Good news!  I've got two new part-time job-ish things to keep me busy.  At some point, I decided the monotony of the job hunt was wearing on me too hard, so I started applying for entry level jobs.  This is how I landed a job as a teller at KeyBank.  I have had several other PhD types seems surprised and excited that I was able to get this type of job- it is well paid, respectable work, even if it isn't what my committee had in mind for me.  I told my interviewer that my passion for learning is what took me to grad school, and my passion for learning would propel me to success in a new industry as well.  This meshes well with the corporate culture (which likes to promote from within, and encourages and facilitates training opportunities for career development), and I assume the fact that I can speak well, am personable and have been practicing dressing like an adult helped a bit as well.  It's a bit humbling to decide to go this route, you don't need a college degree to do this type of work, but I am ready to get to work.  And I am being reminded of all those nifty perks that other professionals get, like retirement options and paid time off. However, this doesn't mean I am done job hunting.

The other part time gig I'll be starting is as a commercial licensing intern at the University of Washington's Center for Commercialization (C4C) (Tech Transfer office).  They have a nice program to provide Ph.D.s the opportunity to provide (unpaid) technical and intellectual support in terms of considering the commercial viability of ideas and products.  I'll spend a few hours a week on campus interacting with licensing managers, Entrepreneurs in residence and innovators, digging up info on a tasked basis.  And I'll get journal access, which I was worried was going to catch up to me eventually.  It is awesome that they are able to provide this type of opportunity in the community, I am hoping to learn the language of business and expand my network while doing it.

While both of these feel like good opportunities, I still feel frustrated that the things I can do don't feel like they really get me that much closer to the prized job.  Working as a teller will ease the financial burden of job hunting, and maybe give me some perspective to reassess what I really want out of my working life.  But do you see that side-bar?  Someone out there spend hundreds of thousands of dollars training up my brain, and I feel compelled to do something good with it.  The internship is more like what I am looking for, but I have no expectation that a position will open up at C4C.  Even though it is a much more relevant opportunity, it's not really the short track to finding work, either.  A lot of this job hunting work doesn't seem to result in a job, it just primes you for when the job comes along.  Wish me luck- both start in a couple weeks.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Day 2- STEM Economy

Today was the wrap up of the STEM summit.  I heard about STEM oriented K-12 school, STEM/Maker-inspired school programs, and novel ways of building post-secondary education.  I worked with a team to develop a short curriculum that could be used in a variety of different ways to teach math, physics, Project Management and communication using a hydroelectric power generation.  I even got to be on the STEM Education panel, representing informal education. 

We talked about the role and importance of STEM Education, how to make that more engaging and where to draw resources from.  What did I choose to highlight? I have feelings on all those things- I talked about how all citizens in a democracy need to have a basic understanding of STEM, including the ability to continue to learn, in order to contribute to our national needs.  I talked about how at the Girls Math & Science Program we have refined techniques for getting girls to engage in STEM, and why this (ie- compassion) might work well for other underrepresented groups as well.  We know we need to provide mentors who look like our girls, to explain the pathway to entry, and to provide an external motivation (studying hard today opens opportunities in your future, like good pay and fun work). Girls like collaboration, so that's a huge part of how we structure events and activities.

And finally, I talked about drawing on students to be mentors.  As I said, my boss doesn't know as much as I do about the workforce right now- he's had his job for 20 years.  Someone did a rough estimate that each of these STEM high schools has a graduating class of 150 students every year, that it would be just impossible to find the mentors for all those students.  I would argue that one mentor can have relationships with multiple mentees, and that borrowing from people who are farther along in the pipeline (post-docs, grad students), helps those of us in training remember why we got on this crazy train in the first place.  My panel also talked a bit about the Grand Challenges in Engineering and Global Health, but I'd like to talk about that more later.

If you are a teacher who wants to bring more hands-on, inquiry-based or  different teaching materials into your classroom, here are some of the interesting resources I learned that are available: the Girl's Math and Science Partnership that I work with- we have educational games and materials Energy related resources changing our math-phobic culture - Science Competitions in Washington (I believe this is a national program)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

STEM Summit- Day 1

For the next couple days, I am participating in a state-wide STEM Summit, aimed at K-12 educators, Community College and Voc. Tech schools.  The focus of the summit is more Aerospace and Energy, but it is interesting to hear employers discuss the future of the workforce, and specifically their needs of the mid- and entry-level applicants.  Just to be clear, I'm not participating because I think these people should be telling me how to get a job, but because I really believe that Science affords us the engine for innovation, and that STEM careers can and should be open to a wider range of the population to support a strong economy.  That being said, I was pretty well baffled when I heard employers (Boeing, Tacoma Light etc.) saying We need people to enter trades!  Please!

This certainly wasn't something I heard when I was in high school, but the modern "trade school" is very technical.  That's why they earn such a solid salary (average in WA state for all "STEM" professionals, $76,000/yr in contrast to the state average of $55,000- and the jobs are dominated by those that require only a 2 year certificate).  But the two major barriers for getting people into these jobs is perception and pre-reqs.  Admit it- you kinda think trade school isn't brainy, or doesn't provide middle class jobs.  But running a hydroelectric dam doesn't require a degree in engineering these days.  Maybe that means that yuppies are paying for college degrees while thse seats at Trades Schools are being filled by those who can't afford it- but those students still need to have gotten a C in Algebra and be capable of learning and performing very technical tasks.  Students who go through the two year program are prepared to make twice as much money as that prissy communications degree and in half the time.  Not bad, right?  We focused on this gap of perception and pre-reqs today- teachers begging for more info to distribute to their students about these very good jobs that don't require a 2400 SAT score, and industry begging the teachers to get those kids the science and math skills they will need to get into those programs. (I hope it was eye-opening for both sides, it was for me.)

Sure, the industry buffs would waffle a little on "what should we train the next graduates to do." The pace that technology changes in these industries is hard to keep up with for those working in it.  It's nearly impossible to hone training programs to accommodate that level of fluidity.  Ok, so you might not be able to a Nano-Circuitry-Informatics-Fitter Certification from your local community college.  But, they kept harping on the same skills that would make a person succeed in the long run at any level.
  • Curiosity, passion, excitement for the field (which means staying abreast of those changes, be they in advanced manufacturing or rocket science)
  • Project management, team work and collaboration
  • Technical communication-"The only classes you take in college that are still relevant 5 years later are technical writing and Public Speaking!"
Those are the skills for the "jobs of the future," and will be important for everything from Green power generation to the colonization of Mars.  And it made me feel like outreach efforts by people like me who can find ways to make science look fun and stay interesting to students at risk of hating it might do more then just make the school day run smoother, it might pave the way for a stronger economy.  Scientists!- Go judge at your local science fair or drop by for career night- it's for the Good of America!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Referral Pool

Ever hear about someone getting a job cause they knew someone who already had a job there?  This may seem unfair, but it’s a fact, and one I need to get better at taking advantage of.  Many big companies have a referral program, some system through HR that let’s employees submit a friend’s resume with some nice words about what a rockstar they are.  These get immediate priority in many of these systems.  I was unfamiliar with this system, and actually found that several of my employed friends were unaware of the system in place as well.  But, once I asked them to look into it, they found it was pretty easy to add me to the referral applicant pool- which is way better then the suckers-who-applied-via-job-boards pool.  Some companies even offer a referral bonus to the employee- and that’s in addition to the cold one you’ll buy them when you get a job.

At smaller companies (>1000 employees), there may not be a formalized system, but there is still the option for an employee to forward a resume to HR, or to request a specific person’s resume from HR.  I haven’t entirely figured out how to take best advantage of this behind the scenes stuff, but knowing it is there is huge.  At least it explains why I’m not getting a lot of calls back about my resume: sucker-pool.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Another week of being a job hunter

I was pondering “what did I learn this week about finding a job?”  Not sure I have a great answer, but I did stay pretty busy.
This week, I:
  • Sent an email about an unpaid internship opportunity
  • Met with a Scientist at Amgen
  • Interviewed for a part-time job (counts as interview practice AND I might get a part time job)
  • Finished my first educational writing contract
  • Got two new educational writing contracts
  • (Did not learn Python)
  • Attended an AWIS Board meeting, got some newsletter help
  • Found a location that might need some volunteer help: NWABR
  • Had coffee with another job hunter to think about strategies for the job hunt
If I were new to this, I might feel really pleased that I had some many different things going on.  But I’ve been at this a while- none of these seem like things are going to transition to employment next week, so it’s hard to get real excited about any of it.  However, it does give me some ideas about new things I can try next week.

Current Grad Students- Consider an internship

One of the major hurdles for finding a job is having "industry experience" and contacts who work in industry.  We often bemoan that grad students in biology can't do internships to fill those gaps, but I am starting to think, why not?  Sure, you might delay graduation by a couple months- but who hasn't had a few months where nothing works in grad school?  And your boss will probably not understand why you want to intern.  But unless your boss has tons of contacts in industry that are going to help you make the jump when you are ready, you might need to make a selfish choice.

And lest you think that such a thing doesn't exist, I will correct that with a list of companies that do offer internships for graduate students who are pursuing a degree in the life sciences.  With a little work, you can probably find one that isn't a total waste of your education, too.

Perhaps you have heard of some of these employers?  These are just what I came up with in a couple minutes on Google.  If you can imagine that you might be interested, now is the time to apply for summer internships.  Now may also be the time to suggest to your boss those in vitro experiments won't be wrapped up until the fall.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How to be a good panelist

In a couple weeks, I will be a panelist at a STEM conference for K-20 education at a local college.  (How did I swing that?  I wanted to go, so I asked the organizer if she needed help.  She looked at my background and this is what she came up with.)  I have never been a panelist before, but I have experienced panel discussions that were not great.  I am hoping the conference will be an opportunity to meet some local folks.  Being a panelist might give me a patina of importance when approaching strangers, so I want to avoid being the long-winded or argumentative type of panelist that can make such things painful.  Ideally, this is a chance to make myself look savvy and approachable in a group of my professional peers.

So I called my uncle the communications professor, to see what he would recommend.  Since his input was so practical, I wanted to share it.

First he recommended I reach out to the moderator, if there is one, to ask about the format for the panel.  Are the questions set?  Will this be open to audience feedback?  Are there topics we will definitely cover?  He said that email should start out as "I am on a panel you'll be moderating and I want to make your job as easy as possible..."  The response to this (which will likely be warm, if I start out like that) can help shape the rest of my preparation.

Then he recommended I think about why people are going to this panel, and who might be there.   Why would they want to hear from someone like me, and what can I add to this discussion.  In my case, I'm a little unclear on why I was invited, but I am confident I can give a different perspective then the other panelists.

And he said unless the moderator is likely to give a really swell introduction, they will likely ask each person to give a brief introduction.  It should be less than 2 min, but hopefully cover where your ideas come from and why anyone should listen to them.  Prepare that.

Based on what the moderator thinks we'll cover, he recommended I come up with some short talking points.  In an hour long session, no panelist should ever speak for more then a couple of minutes, and might only have the chance to speak a handful of times.  In order to be make those talking point effective, they should include a memorable fact, or a poignant anecdote- stories are really good for reenforcing those points.  You know how after a seminar you've been trained to supply answers that include evidence?  Like that, but more personal, and shorter.

The rest of his advice was seemingly obvious, but probably good to remember.  Don't get mad.  Listen to the other panelists.  Don't repeat their great ideas- expand on them.  Let the moderator be in charge, which means stay on time and on topic. Mostly have fun and try to learn something.