Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Don't bring your CV

When you go on an informational interview, everyone tells you not to bring a CV.  "You are just getting information, you aren't asking for a job."  I do a lot of informational interviews, and at least 1 in 10 will the person be confused that I didn't bring my CV.  I think I look like a much better candidate in person than on paper, so I prefer this.  When I say I have strong communication skills while I am talking comfortably about my background, it feels much more compelling than the line on my CV that says the same.  I'll get back to this, but it also gives me something to follow-up with.

Recently I had an informational interview with a local small pharma company.  Fortunately, the acquaintance of an acquaintance there is the CSO.  I wasn't sure how much he would know about the actual position in question, but he had a Ph.D.  I wanted to know the basics, how big is the company, who is the hiring manager for this opening, is 2-4 years experience essential?  Sometimes I come away with a better global perspective (ie- we can't take you for this job, but check back in a month because things are bananas here), but I don't usually ask that.

Anyway, I sit down with this guy, and he gives me this quizzical look at asks for my CV.  Instead I give him the twitter version.  Holding his skeptical look, he asks for my life story starting with where I am from.  I'm from Juneau, Alaska, which pretty much everyone thinks is cool.  I told him about my undergrad research, and what I did in grad school.  Or I tried to- he kept cutting me off with really odd, direct questions and that confused look.  "Are you good at the bench?  What are you good at?"  "Are you smart?  How do you know?"  "What have you been doing since you graduated?" Contract editing. "Do you have classical training in writing?" Um...

It was hard to read.  I couldn't tell if he was trying to make me uncomfortable so I would leave (I'm immune to awkward), or if he was pleased with my answers.  He called in the Director of Pre-Clincal research and one of his PIs.  He tried to look aghast that I didn't bring my CV, "But I'm not asking you for a job." "But you are looking for a job, aren't you?"  The questions kept coming, ("What's your goal in life?" "Are you opposed to animal work? Ever work with Radiation") and I figured the game was already lost and simply mine to win.  A year ago I would have been really intimidated, and what a difference a year makes.  Finally, the CSO says, "I wouldn't hire you.  You don't have any experience..." The Pre-Clinical Director says, "She has a experience- she has a Ph.D.  She's been in the lab before."  "You know that's different.  Send them your CV.  If they like you and want to bring you on as a contractor, that's great."

Cross your fingers that this works.  I sent them my CV.  I know my CV says I've worked on some random projects using a host of techniques, I published in mediocre journals and I've been up to all kind of other extra curriculars.  Hopefully they'll remember that super weird meeting this morning and be curious enough to talk to me again. 

But getting back to the point I started with, What would have happened if I'd had my CV?  They might have left me with the same cliff hanger, and then I'd have to write back later and say, "So, um... do you like me?"  I will probably still get to send that email, but that seems like a terrible place to start correspondence.  Instead, my first email to these people was reiterating the conversation we had shared and giving them a tangible reminder of who I am.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Disclaimer: I'm educated, not handicapped

When moving outside of academia, it's sometime hard to know how to address having a Ph.D.  Lately, I've been trying not to overemphasize it (I'm a strong communicator and critical thinker who happens to have a Ph.D), but I think I am missing an opportunity to talk about what I really learned in graduate school.  A lot of the feel good literature for Ph.D.s thinking about finding a new career path teaches us to recognize the value of the Ph.D. in terms of communications skills, teamwork, independent work, critical thinking...  Sometimes I forget that other people (and I mean hiring managers), don't read this stuff.  I have certainly written cover letters where I failed to address some of those secondary job requirements.  I'm not sure if that cost me the job, but "strong communication skills," "attention to detail," or "Proficiency in Microsoft Word" sometimes seem to obvious to state.  

Then again... I met someone a while back who was really surprised, could barely contain his surprise, that I was such a capable communicator.  Not that I did anything out of the ordinary, he just assumed I would speak only in math equations and that I'd never hear a word he said. He really thought I'd be handicapped by my education. He was thinking about ways to get kids into STEM fields, and gave me one of those "geeks don't have social skills" lines that made me sigh.  I carefully corrected him, scientists don't always value their interpersonal skills, but it is impossible to be successful in science if you cannot write a grant that present a compelling argument to fund your work or present a clear story of your novel finds that gives you credibility with your colleagues.  He was sold, but it reminded me that a huge part of communication is understanding your audience.  If I am applying to a position where a Ph.D. is unexpected, I should probably explain why I think that 5 years in drug discovery provides me enough professional experience to be successful in a new role.  I gotta remember that to some people, a Ph.D. is for those who are too single minded to make it anywhere but in that chosen field.  And saying, "This job isn't as hard a grad school," isn't likely to win any hearts or minds.

Currently, I am applying for a hot curriculum development position (LinkedIn can tell you how many people have applied- I'm #117.  I suspect my application won't be read, or if it is, it will be forgotten.  I'm developing the materials for similar positions, so what the heck- I'm being ridiculous and possibly memorable).  My short cover letter explains my background and interesting in the position, but I felt it needed more.  They wanted someone with a BA in Comm, so I included this paragraph. 
Briefly, I want to address some of the other job requirements that may not seem obvious given my background.  I earned my Ph.D. in molecular biology by taking the lead on a large collaborative project that involved investigators in 3 states, so I am familiar with team work, collaboration and the value of interpersonal skills.  This project allowed me to share my work in both papers and talks for an audience of highly educated skeptics, so I have developed strong communication skills, attention to detail and a thick skin.  As a freelancer working off-site, I have mastered independent work and time management.  
 Too much?  My new, fatalistic attitude about the job hunt is helping me to try new things.  But approaching every job thinking, "well, I already don't have this job, how bad can it get?" might not be the fast lane to my dream job.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Notes on working with entreprenuers

In a meeting the other day, an entrepreneur shared a moment of great self-insight.  He said, "I'm an entrepreneur, I come up with all kinds of ideas.  Some of them are great, and lots of them are terrible.  I need people around me to tell me which is which.  But I really need people to get things done."  At first, I thought this was just his take on the role, but I've had the chance to work with several now and I see it's a bit of a universal truth.  And knowing that can help those interactions quite a lot.

This is a guy I am day dreaming about a STEM program with.  He loves it when I tell him which ideas might work, or how we are going to have to pull them off.  He doesn't perceive those responsibilities as his role- his job is to have great ideas and find the resources to make them work.  I am one of those resources, and I'm valuable because I can tell him when his ideas stink. 

When I look back on my interactions with the algae guy, he had a lot of this too.  Great ideas that weren't always bounded by our current access to technology, money or other practical considerations.  I'll admit that that kinda spooked me a bit.  A good entrepreneur is so compelling about that "The Sky is the Limit!" pitch that other people buy into it, literally giving money, and suddenly you've got everything you need.

Scientists can be a little like this too.  If you dread showing your boss data because they will come up with 8 equally important follow-up experiments that don't overlap with the experiments they proposed that got you there in the first place.... you work with an innovator.  I knew a guy like that.  I work with some of these PIs now as an intern at C4C.  The tech managers often complain that their teams can't make forward progress because they get distracted by all kinds of other considerations.  You mix the entrepreneur's dream with a habit of basic research and it can be really tough to move a brilliant idea to a product on the shelf. 

One of the (many) reasons I don't want to be a faculty member is because I don't think like that.  I don't like to invent bad ideas to find good ones, and I am much more opinionated about the practical things.  Honestly, I thought that made me less of a scientist.  But I think in a commercial world, there is a real need for people like me.  Brilliant ideas aside, if you want to put a drug through trials, there is a lot of regulation that doesn't usually benefit from creative thinking.  I mention this, because I think recognizing which type of person I am and how I related to the other type has helped my professional interactions.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Work-Life Balance: AWIS Panel

Yet another thing I have done while looking for a job is join a couple professional societies here.  I am on the Board of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), which is a great organization because the membership is diverse and active.  I've met a lot of interesting people as a result, and this is a fairly large organization, so I have been able to use that to connect with several people on LinkedIn.  One benefit of being on the Board is that I feel compelled to attend all of our events, which are targeted to issues I actually care about.

This last week was a great panel on work-life balance, presented by women at different career stages and with different career trajectories.  This wasn't just a Q&A on when the best time to have babies is, I think that these women were able to highlight some universal truths.  For starters, AWIS National emphasizes that work-life balance is personal and changing.  What makes you feel satisfied with your life and trajectory is different when you move to a new city to start grad school and don't know a soul than when you are mid-career and settled with a family.

These women talked about setting boundaries to carve out time for their families, but also finding ways to have a family while enjoying a fruitful career.  The job is supposed to be satisfying, remember?  Several people said that they considered the few hours of the day where the were at home were too precious to worry about maintaining their home, so they paid a house keeper or yard service.  Others talked about finding a way to keep the pressures of family from preventing them having a fulfilling career.  One worked from home after the baby went to bed so she didn't feel guilty about leaving early to be home, one who religiously took off at 5 would give herself a night to linger at work when she felt too much pressure from home.  There was discussion about routine, for one woman a routine was so important to her she normally carpooled to have that added structure.  Others felt that the best advantage of their career track was the the flexibility. 

What was really helpful was to hear them say that they each felt like there had been some critical junctures where the idea of "balance," came to a head.  How to solve that two-body problem?  When to seek promotion?  How to deal with a lay-off?  How to deal with a teenager?  I like this idea that work-life balance looks very different at different career stages, which means that our approaches can change, and that it is fine to reassess it whenever it feels off kilter.

There were several practical ideas floated, but in addition, it is always so helpful to hear successful women be honest about the challenges they have faced and how they were able to address them.  It's one of the reasons I am glad to be able to participate in AWIS events.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

On the STEM Skills gap

I have, in the past, weighed in on the question of over-producing Ph.D., and I will probably never run out of things to say on this topic.  But recently I've been thinking about the flip side of this problem, sometimes called the STEM Skills Gap.  You see, there are apparently many companies and recruiters who are at a loss to find qualified people to fill positions under that STEM umbrella (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).  From my perspective, this is why I get rejected for positions that require some clinical trials experience, or GxP experience.  Locally, employers like Boeing and Amazon need employees to push forward the boundaries of modern manufacturing, and run their SQL data bases or use Sharepoint or other things that we don't do in school.  The argument is that if 'we' (in this case the US or WA workforce) don't provide adequate workers, these jobs will go elsewhere.  I get that, the company needs a workforce that provide the engine of labor to move forward.

What I don't get is why they think these skills are so hard to come by- in contrast to, say, a Ph.D.  All of those 'experiences' I mentioned before are simply things a bright person could pick up on the job.  In a era of tight budgets, there is no time or money to train an insufficient candidate, and apparently leaving a role empty is less of a burden than hiring someone who might be inefficient at their role for a period. Is there a place where there is an experienced workforce ready to mobilize on these challenges?  If these companies don't stay here, where are they going instead, and how are those workers prepared that those of us here are not?  I'd really like to know the answer to this, I think we could learn a lot.

I like the phrase the Skills Gap, because it implies there is a disconnect on both sides.  Schools train us to do something no one will hire us to do directly, jobs are looking for people with training that doesn't exist.  If schools would help their graduates recognize that while your training may provide you expertise in some specific arena, this type of training prepares you, generally, to be successful in a wide array of fields.  And then those companies might be willing to look at these trainees with an eye towards their future, rather than just their ability today.  I think companies are too myopic in their hiring practices.  If the industry is as dynamic and changing as they insist it is, why aren't they looking for a workforce that is as well?  People who are brave enough to take on a technical challenge and have a history of success with other technical challenges are probably going to be just what Microsoft or Philips need to compete. 

I have one other gripe about this process- I don't believe that the people in charge of hiring really understand what they want and need in a candidate.  I was hired at the bank because (among other things) I am "good at math."  I took math up to 3 dimensional calculus; this does not make me a better teller.  Not once have I been asked to calculate an interest rate and returns for a client on the fly. I sometimes total checks and subtract withdrawals, but that is arithmetic- a skill set that I all but lost touch with by high school.  Yes, a teller needs to be comfortable with numbers and fairly detail oriented in that way, but no quantity of calculus will be required on that job. I often worry that I am overlooked as a candidate because my experience doesn't match verbatum the ambitions of a hiring manager who is asking for the stars and willing to settle in between.

I will recognize that if I had been involved in an actual clinical trial as a graduate student, my job prospects would be better.  But our work was funded to be basic research by the NIH.  I did some drug discovery, which means I learned how to pull the very interesting parts out of huge datasets, and how to refine my assumptions by performing iterative analysis.  Unfortunately, potential employers seem to believe that the ability to submit a 510K for FDA approval is WAY more important to my potential for success than my capacity to solve problems.  Sure, the first is easier to quantify.  But there are much fewer funding opportunities for academic researchers who have interest in commercializing their science.  This is why so few of us come out of our training with that perspective.

When I hear educators complain about the leaky STEM pipeline, my heart breaks.  They are looking at students who can't perform in basic skills categories that make it nearly impossible for them to perform, let alone compete for good jobs and opportunities.  When I hear employers talk about the leaky pipeline, I want to scream.  To them, the biggest leak is those who stay in the pipeline and fail to train into the fields that we didn't know existed.  But I don't want to leave this as just an angry tirade.  The gap is real, and it is part of the compartmentalized cultures of "academia" and "industry."  All parties need to do better about seeking out input from the other side about what funding can be earned, what training should be provided and what skills will be necessary to present a workforce that keeps up with the changing demands of the global economy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Navigating recruiter relationships

Because I am not a naturally socially savvy person, learning to navigate the new cultural worlds of business and recruiters have given me some chances to reflect on how I do interact with people.  I'll share a few of these here.

There is plenty of advice that if you are working with a recruiter, you should ping them every week or so to stay relevant.  If you stop, they assume you found a job and don't bug you.  I've let plenty of recruiters come and go out of my life.  Since most of them never sounded like they would have much to offer a Ph.D. with no work experience, I let those relationships wither quickly- and guess what? They never got me a job.  This time around, I am trying harder to build a relationship and be remembered, and do it with brevity.  (Of course, this is easier to do when you are working with someone who will return your calls or emails- distinguishing which relationships to cultivate is a topic for another day).

I was sending out several of these pings this morning (I updated my resume to include being finished with my PM class).  This afternoon, I had a meeting at the recruiting office of one of these people (to talk to someone else), and she was of course surprised to see me.  She ended up introducing me to another person who might be in a better position to get me a contract position, and as I was leaving for the day she said, "Next time, let me know before you come down here.  That way I can get you set up to meet more people."  Oh.... that's actually the third time I've been in the office.  New rule of thumb, when you go into an office where you know some people- go say hi to every single person you know.

I went to an AWIS event last night on work-life balance (I'll be posting more on that and giving myself a pep talk later in the week), but one of the panelists said if you aren't comfortable going to network events, just network where you are.  Make conversation in the lunch room, and get around your department enough that you are well connected where you work.  Basically, build the relationships you have already. I'm having a much easier time building relationships through introductions than I have through those overwhelmingly loud and friendly networking events. 

There we go, some thoughts on networking and developing relationships in the arena of job hunting.  If any of these golden nuggets turn out to be the one that gets me my big break, well, you saw it here first.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Interview: Patent Law

Working at the UWs tech transfer office puts me in touch with a lot of scientists using their training in a non-traditional way.  I work directly with tech managers who have a portfolio of projects that they cycle through the development- moving from an idea, to a funded idea, to a company, or a patent or a license to another company.  This is a very cool job that I might talk about more later, but these tech managers also work in close contact with patent agents and patent lawyers.  In our office, these are all former researchers who've made the leap into law.  I got to sit down with a woman from an engineering background to talk about her move into law and her job now.

When we first sat down, she said, "you know, all you need to become a patent agent is to pass the patent bar, and that's really no big deal.  Seriously, just sign up, study for a couple weeks and take the test, and you can jump into law."  Hold that look of cautious surprise while we back up a bit.  Entering patent law is different than other forms of law- in order to sign up to take the Patent Agent Bar, you need a B.S. at least in a narrow list of technical or scientific fields.  If you have gone to law school following that degree, you can take the Patent Attorney Bar, which is a different exam.  I'm going to focus on the Patent Agent route, since there is no way I am going back to law school now. 

What the patent Agent does is help prepare and file documents related to patents with the US Patent and Trade Office (USPTO).  There are several levels of documentation that go in with a patent, depending on that nature of the patent and it's claims.  What this looks like on a day-to-day basis is juggling several projects, each which requires about 8-80 hours of work, and doing anything from prior art searches, provisional patent language to prosecuting (fancy lawyer term meaning "to persue") patents.  Sometimes patents come back from the patent office, and need a response, so you get to advocate for why your client's patent is different that patents 6,923,245.  In order to be effective, you actually need to understand the fundamentals of your patents well enough to distinguish it from other patents/ literature available.  Even though you don't "do" science in the traditional way, you really need to keep your understanding sharp and up to date.

A little more on the career path.  I've heard people say that a Patent Agent is kind of a dead-end job, there isn't room for advancement.  It's probably true that your job title doesn't change much over time, but my contact had a little more perspective on it.  She said that most people start out in a law firm for at least a couple of years.  You work with all the lawyers in that firm and really get experience in the entire life cycle.  She said (and I was stifling a smile here), you really need to develop a tough skin and be prepared to put in long hows.  You'll be doing a lot of work, getting different types of criticism from the partners.  The stakes are high and the deadlines are short, so there is a lot of pressure.  The hours can be long and the intellectual labor is exhausting.  But after a couple years at a law firm, you have enough experience to pursue another position, like her position at the University, or in a USPTO office.  In her position, she manages the law firms that are contracted to do a lot of that work for the tech transfer office.  Or to work part-time, or generally take more control over your career. I'm not sure what the job opportunities for Patent Agents are right now or are predicted to be in the near future.

That said, this doesn't sound all that different from post-docing (or graduate school, she had a B.Sc. in engineering before making the switch).  Except for the pay.  The USPTO reports the average salary for a patent agent is $74500.

Back to the bar then.  It's a 3 hour exam, you can probably take at your nearest testing center.  You need to pass with a 70% score.  The fee to take the exam is a few hundred dollars (which feels like a lot when you are out of work), but could provide some new exciting opportunities.  Or, if you decide you don't like it, it doesn't shackle you to the debt of law school.  For a career that is a dynamic, challenging way you use your training, the barriers to entry don't seem too high. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Post-quiz analysis and reflection

That quiz I posted last week prompted a MAJOR spike in blog traffic.  Thanks to everyone who participated.  It was gratifying to know that I can drive traffic to the blog, if I want/need.  It's also pretty obvious that my usual low number of visitors is not the reason I am still searching for a job. 

Although I am leaving the quiz open for anyone else who wants to take it, I wanted to throw down a little analysis.  (So go ahead and add new answers, make my analysis irrelevant).  My big fear in putting together the quiz was that an overwhelming majority of respondents would say they had a brief job hunt with no struggle.  Unfortunately for everyone who had to sweat it out, this wasn't the case.  It's not rare to have a job with minimal job effort (you know, compared to the MAJOR effort that was earning the Ph.D. in the first place) (19% of participants report their job hunt was 0 months, 8/36 reported having no major barriers in their job hunt).  But it's pretty far from the norm.

On the other hand, people often tell me that being on the market as long as I have been is no big deal.  Again, more than half of respondents DID get their position in less than a year.  So it's ok to feel like this is taking longer than I thought it should.  I find it terrifying that a FIFTH of respondents said it took more than 2 years to find a job (22%), which is terribly long time to be seeking the stability of a job.  In a future post, I will have more to say about the STEM Skills Gap Crisis (15/36 reported having difficulty finding jobs that meet their qualifications), but for now it should be clear to us all that there is no "usual" way Ph.D.s get that first job- and it's probably because there are so many directions to go from here.

Today I got to chat with one of the other interns about her job hunt, she post-doced in comp bio, then took a staff position for a year and a half before deciding to leave academic science and has been looking for a position while doing some consulting for about a year.  She is hoping to spin-off with a company that she's been working with for a couple months.  She reminded me that lots of people post-doc while they are looking for a position, eventually everyone goes somewhere.  It helps keep your skills from getting stale, even if it doesn't add anything else.  Because how long can you be out of your field and still claim to be an expert in it?  As she was saying this, I was reaching for a paperbag to breathe into with one hand and starting to surf "post-doc uw" with the other.

But I stopped myself.

She has a really good point, you don't want your skills to get stale.  That's actually why I've been working so hard to get more communication experience as an intern and a contractor.  If I took a post-doc, I couldn't do that.  And then I would be letting go of the skills I've been working so hard on and I enjoy so much.  I asked my editor at Words and Numbers to be a professional reference for me, and she agreed.  I'm clearly not wasting my time, this is just MUCH slower than I wanted. 

I have a looming anniversary.  I defended my Ph.D. at the end of last June.  In just a couple months, I won't really be a 'recent' graduate anymore.  So I look back at what I've done with a year all to myself.  It hasn't been lucrative, but I've learned a lot, taken on and conquered some new challenges and developed new contacts and skills.  I don't know how long that will feel sufficient, but I'm not going to give up on this dream yet.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Survey: How long does a job hunt take?

I had dinner with the person who got me my internship, and she told me that spending "only a year" job hunting after earning my PhD isn't something to be frustrated about.  She said she spent the last year of her post-doc scrambling to get something together and STILL had no where to go for months.  I've heard several variations of this story, but how common is it?  

Two questions, and then you can see the answers.  Please share this around so we can get a bigger response.

Quizzes by | SnapApp Quiz Apps

The survey will give us a little perspective, but feel free to add additional details into the comments (what field, when was your job hunt, which job finally felt like "the first job," or what finally worked).  Thanks for your participation and encouragement!

UPDATE: For those who would like to see the results without taking the quiz, you can find them here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Project Job Hunt 4: Risk Assessment

As promised, a risk assessment for my Project.  To keep it organized (and because I'll need this for the Network and Schedule), I've converted the WBS into a task list.  I take the lowest level of division from that outline which are the specific things that need to be accomplished and from there I can assess each task for possible failures. I've changed the verbage on some of these that need a bit more detail to stand independently or be more specific, manageable tasks (see 1.1.4).  I will be adding my assessment of failure (what would failure look like here?), and how I plan to deal with that directly in the list.

          1.1.1 Take Meyers Briggs
          1.1.2 Take Strengths Finder
          1.1.3 Ask colleagues for career recommendations
          1.1.4 Soul Searching: Define 'adequate' in terms of job satisfaction, use of skills, pay and potential for mobility
For all the 1.1 tasks, I may find recommendations I don't approve of- in which case I will keep assessing.  I may find that the jobs I should target are not common in the the Seattle Job market.  This is one reason to assess how I want to use my skills (transferable and technical) so that I can be more flexible given the limitations of the job market.  Overall, I am not too worried about failure here, as I have already begun this process.

          1.2.1 Target employers
          1.2.2 Target job titles
If I include the limitation that my target employers and titles must be in Seattle, this might be overly limited.  In this case, I will go back to the 1.1 tasks and reassess (deferring risk).  This might might be part of the quality control for these sections- 1.1 is not complete until 1.2 can also be complete.

     1.3 Informational interviews to refine target positions and employer
If I can't get people to talk with me, this may prove to be difficult.  I am (often) sharing the risk on this  task by asking for introductions through my network.

          2.1.1 Prepare Resume
          2.1.2 Prepare CV
          2.1.3 Prepare Cover letter
          2.1.4 Prepare Networking Brief
          2.1.5 Prepare Statement of research interests (?)
 Failure for any of these documents would be if they are prepared too poorly to earn me a job.  To mitigate this risk, I always have a proofreader, and will seek out peers to read updated versions of these documents as they drastically change form.  Basic quality control should manage the risk here.

          2.2.1 Update Job Board search clients
          2.2.2 Update CV/resume on file with job boards
          2.2.3 Contact Recruiters
 One issue when working with recruiters is that if a candidate gets submitted multiple times for a job, companies will sometimes drop them, due to confusion over who gets paid the finders fee.  I will only work with recruiters who can be clear about which positions they are submitting me for, so that I don't shoot myself in the foot by also submitting myself.  Further, working with a recruiter may limit my ability to negotiate the job package (pay, benefits etc) later on.  I am totally cool with this if it means I still get a job (accepting the risk).

          2.3.1 Ping network for opportunities
          2.3.2 Add to network though mixers and introductions
One worry about these types of tasks is that it isn't clear when I am "done."  In managing my time, if too much time is spent on this part of the project, I might never move to completion.  But these are still important steps.  It's possible these tasks are outside the scope of this project, or that they might be administrative in nature (something that will be done to support the project (like a status update meeting), but doesn't have a specific schedule for completion of the project).  To deal with this risk, I am going to arbitrarily remove these from the schedule.  I'll still be doing these, but if managed separately they aren't as likely to bung up my schedule.

          3.1.2 Find nice interview clothes 
I might have unfashionable taste.  I am willing to risk my career on this. (Risk accepted.)       

          3.1.1 Practice Interviews
          3.2.1 Use Glassdoor to find relevant salary info
          3.2.2 Practice Negotiation
This is another area where perspective will be very helpful.  I will attempt to share some of this risk by practicing with other job hunters and recruiters so that I can get as many different types of feedback as possible.  Another consideration for this is that I will want to be prepared with these relatively close to getting interviews etc., these may be repeated at various intervals depending on the length of the project.

    *3.3 Apply for jobs
          3.4.1 Phone or email to follow-up
          3.4.2 Use excel to keep follow-up schedule organized
 This is the riskiest section of the project.  If this doesn't work (ie, task completion doesn't lead to desired outcomes), I'll be repeating these tasks.  I'm not really sure how to deal with this type of iterative process, except to expand my definition of 'task completion' to having something to move forward with (like an interview scheduled, etc.)  What if that never happens?  Oh, it keeps me up at night...  I will mitigate this risk by focusing on applying for jobs I am a reasonable candidate for, and using the other tasks in the project to support this effort.  I'm not comfortable trying to transfer or share this risk, since this is my responsibility to solve this problem.  The remaining risk, I just have to accept and not get too hung up on, right?

One thing I've realized just going through the risk assessment is that spending a little more time with the plan has helped me to understand it better.  I've re-written some of the task titles, and thought a bit more about the order these should be done in.  I didn't uncover any big surprises, but I'm also more confident that there won't be any big surprises because I've thought about these tasks individually and in the context of the whole project.   Now I see why so much effort is put into the planning stages of well-executed projects.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Getting press for volunteering

Without a doubt, the best thing I have done as a job hunter was to volunteer with my local science center.  It's provided me with many more opportunities then I could have imagined, because I ended up working with a phenomenal team- motivated, bright, well connected, clear vision- who for some reason, really needed what I had to offer at the moment that I walked into their office.  As a result, a lot of fantastic work was done (sure, I contributed some, but it wasn't going to be lame without me), and they are very willing to give me credit and props for adding my unique perspective.  The nature of their work also requires a little more... contact with media outlets and others in the field.  A couple weeks ago, I gave an interview to someone writing a book about informal education.  I gave a quote to someone writing an article about the work that led to the funtastic trip to NySci. 

It's all been a lot of fun, no doubt, but I think it is really helpful to get plugged into to professionals who are willing to promote me for what I have to offer professionally.  I know many scientists feel uncomfortable with self-promotion, either that it feels inappropriate or just difficult to get the chutzpah to do.  One way around this is to work with people who will do it on your behalf.  And, one way to encourage folks to do this for you, is to do it for them as well.  You can give recommendations on LinkedIn, or just talk up your collaborators who have great ideas AND stick to their deadlines.  Perhaps I'll have more ideas on this later, but sharing positive experiences is a really helpful way to add some content to your networking. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Project Job Hunt: Risk Assessments

Risk Assessment is the part of Project Management that I'd like to learn more about.  It seems very relevant for research.  The Project, as defined, relies on the success of all the outcomes.  In science we are more likely to take on projects that aren't guaranteed to succeed compared to other fields (cure for cancer vs. build a better tooth brush).  Risk Assessment is meant to look at the various components of the project, consider how they might negatively impact the success of the project and make choices about how to deal with those eventualities during planning.  What if you sat down at the beginning of your dissertation and your PI said, "I'd like you to cure brain cancer.  If that doesn't work, you should probably characterize the ways that curing brain cancer is different than treating other cancers.  Either way, you can publish and graduate."  Even though this is eventually what happens to most of us, this is more likely to happen in year five than year 1.

Risk should be identified in the planning stage, and decisions should be made about each risk.  These should be assessed from both quantitatively and qualitatively.  Will you spend all the remaining grants funds to solve this problem?  Will you be too beat down and burned out after tackling this to ever lay eyes on another pipette ever again?  Things that put the project off schedule or budget are more quantitative, those that negatively impact the team or the quality are quality issues.  Should these risks be mitigated, transferred, deferred, reduced, shared, accepted or avoided?  Let me present research relevant examples for each, because I am studying.

There is a risk that you might have the wrong construct from a previous student- you mitigate that risk by sequencing or otherwise verifying the identity before doing any real experiments with it.  I often struggled to grow the quantities of HeLa cells I needed for my experiments, the risk was transferred when I bought the cells I needed.  Some risks are deferred, you wait to run those expensive follow-up experiments that might derail the project until after the grant renewal.  Always running multiple samples and controls reduces the risk that you are just viewing and anomaly.  Taking on a collaborator can help share risks in a productive way- you can't do MUD-PIT, and they don't know much about growing yeast- sharing risk can decrease it as well.  In research especially, there is a high probability that whatever we are working on might not work- we accept that risk, including the consequences on time, money and talent.  The alternative is to avoid it, don't run experiments that you don't have confidence in, staying away from high risk-high reward avenues. 

What does this mean for my Job Hunt Project?  Well, I go back and look at each of those tasks, and try to think about what failure might look like.  Some of this is just more rigorous quality control- I'll be sharing the documents (CV, Resume etc) I create with peers to be sure that I am presenting myself well.  One reason it is important to do this in the planning stage is that risk assessment might create new tasks, which will need to be incorporated into the plan/schedule downstream.  Since this is such an important idea, I am going to split this into two posts- my next post will provide the actual risk assessment.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Project Managing My Job Hunt 2: WBS

Once the project has been defined and authorized, then the tasks can be defined and organized.  This results in a work breakdown structure (WBS).  The WBS helps define the budget, schedule and delegation.  It is not in chronological order, but rather grouped by phases or task types.  For example, in class we are working on a landscape project.  Construction efforts are separated from the planting efforts, since these are likely to be dealt with by different aspects of the team.  Again, in my case, all the tasks are my responsibility eventually, but it is helpful to me to see all the things I should be doing so I can determine whether I am spending my time appropriately.  Creation of the WBS, and even the schedule and budget are still planning

Our teacher showed several ways these can be organized, either like the outline for a long paper, with headings like 0.0 Landscape the park
     1.0 Landscaping
          1.1 Plant Grass
          1.2 Plant Trees
          1.3 Make walkways... right?
Or like a phylogenetic tree.  This would work better if I were doing this by hand.  Since I am putting this together in Blogger, you'll see the paper outline version.

My professor specifically recommended to think global first, keep the organization light at first, and not to define any task which seems to burdensome to manage.  Although he said it is common to refine to too much detail, and then remove tasks that don't seem worthy of being a line item on a schedule.  (I'll be honest, I am not entirely sure I understand what he means).

For myself, this means I am creating a gross brainstorm of tasks, then organizing them into groups and subgroups and looking for gaps.  It's an interesting exercise for the job hunt.  I can imagine how on a larger project this might be a more iterative process with different teams weighing in on the essential tasks and predicted schedule and budget while the project is still in the planning phase.  Oh, and things that don't end up on the WBS include administrative tasks, such as "meet to create schedule," "budget," or "update supervisors..." even though these things will likely happen as well. 

0.0 Project Job Hunt
1.0 Define Job requirement
     1.1 Assess my skills (transferable and otherwise)
          1.1.1 Meyers Briggs
          1.1.2 Strengths Finder
          1.1.3 Ask colleagues for recommendations
          1.1.4 Soul Searching
     1.2 Define my job requirements (what is adequate?)
          1.2.1 Target employers
          1.2.2 Target job titles
     1.3 Informational interviews to refine target positions and employer

2.0 Locate Job opportunities
     2.1 Prepare targeted application materials
          2.1.1 Resume
          2.1.2 CV
          2.1.3 Cover letter
          2.1.4 Networking Brief
          2.1.5 Statement of research interests (?)
     2.2 Find sources for relevant jobs
          2.2.1 Update Job Board search clients
          2.2.2 Update CV/resume on file with job boards
          2.2.3 Contact Recruiters
     2.3 Network
          2.3.1 Ping network for opportunities
          2.3.2 Add to network though mixers and introductions

3.0 Secure the Job
     3.1 Prepare for interviews
          3.1.1 Practice Interviews
          3.1.2 Find nice interview clothes
     3.2 Prepare for negotiations on salary, benefits etc.
          3.2.1 Glassdoor
          3.2.2 Practice Negotiation
    *3.3 Apply for jobs
      3.4 Follow-up with applications
          3.4.1 Phone or email
          3.4.2 Use excel to keep these organized

*In the first version of the chart, I forgot this critical step.  Aha.

Notice which tasks end up in the project and which don't.  Working at my current job or taking contracts is not strictly in the scope of this project.  Blogging is beyond the scope of this project.  Taking the PM class is beyond the scope of this project.  None of these are bad things, but this does reinforce the notion that I seem to spend time on things that aren't getting me a job.  What the WBS contains are only tasks/deliverables that are essential to successful outcomes.  <== How business literate do I sound now?!

I have a certain skepticism that this rigid structure can work for nebulous projects where there are many uncontrolled external factors (I'm gonna have a hard time putting a deadline on this).  Research is another area that is hard to manage in this way.  Next up, we'll talk about risk.  For now, go ahead a gloat in that righteous feeling that 'if I'd done this in graduate school, I would have graduated in like 4 months!'  I'll revisit that (Spoiler Alert: that feeling goes away.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Project Managing My Job Hunt 1: Charter & Scope

My project management course has proven to be interesting, but I decided I would get more out of the process if I had a project to manage.  If only I had a short-term, complex problem to solve that needed to balance schedules and outcomes... oh wait, I'm looking for a job.  And that has proven to be an unruly, challenging project.  I am hoping that applying the PMI principles to the hunt will help me get organized, and reinforce what I am learning in class.  Here goes.

The first week of class, we talked about defining a charter and scope.  The charter grants the authority for the project, the scope defines the bounds of the project (which should be temporary in nature).

In my case, I already have authority to find myself a job, but setting up the project in this way necessarily organizes other downstream events. 

Sandlin's Job Hunt Project Charter and Scope:

This charter grants authority to Sandlin to find adequate employment, including enlisting necessary resources and refining the outcomes of the search (which must include a definition of 'adequate').  This project is only intended to identify and secure her next full-time employment, not necessarily future employment opportunities.

Notice how my charter includes some key phrases like "identify and secure employment," and "enlisting resources."  In the next round, we'll be defining the necessary tasks to complete this project, and those phrases begin to suggest what some of them might be.  One of the first things I am hoping to take on in the project is to more clearly assess what fields I might be able to apply my skills to, and then direct my applications to positions there, using appropriate tactics.  If there were a budget or specific deadline, these would be included.  Unfortunately, the job hunt has neither (this might turn out to be challenging in future steps).

Also, the charter is not very proscribed- it doesn't state that I will secure 'employment as a senior scientist in the operations division at Amgen.'  A project isn't worth managing unless there is an element of creativity/problem solving that needs to occur during the time frame of the project.  If the only creative exercise is to create the task list, which then is given to a team of automatons to complete without any further input, you may be micromanaging.   But, there is also an outer limit- I don't have to figure out what I am doing with my WHOLE life, just my next job.