Archive for: March, 2015

The things that helped me move outside academia.

When you're in academia, as a grad student or a post-doc (or probably even as a PI, but I wouldn't know that), it is sometimes hard to envision what things you can do outside academia. When looking for a post-doc, it's pretty easy to look up other academic labs, see who works there, see what papers they have, etc. Most labs have websites that nicely list what they work on. Companies on the other hand, rarely have websites like that. Sure, they have slick looking websites saying what they make or do, but it's usually impossible to see who works there and what their jobs entail. So then how do you figure out if you could work there and in what kind of job? Here are a couple things that helped me find my job outside academia*:

Be among others looking for jobs: often, looking for a job outside academia can feel lonely: you cannot always tell your PI about it, and it may feel like you're the first and only one doing it. A couple years into my post-doc, my PI decided to leave academia. This meant for many people in the lab that they would be without a job within a limited amount of time. After the initial panic had faded, the lab turned into a little factory of people looking for jobs: people checked each other's CVs and resumes, talked about what kind of jobs would be an option and talked about how to get informational interviews and actual interviews. At that time, I wasn't actively looking for a job outside academia, I still had some time on my PIs grant, and I was planning to do another post-doc in the homecountry after that. But I listened to what everyone said, and most importantly: all of a sudden finding a job outside academia was a thing that around me did. If you're not in a lab that is disintegrating, find these people elsewhere: on twitter for example, or at events aimed at finding jobs outside academia.

Find examples of jobs on LinkedIn: as I said above, it is often hard to see from the outside what kind of jobs you can do. Or the other way around: what does it mean when somebody is "Regulatory affairs manager"? On LinkedIn, it can be helpful to look up companies you want to work for, and then see what the job titles are that people have in that company. Google what they mean and then figure out what you need to do to become that.

Informational interviews: when you have identified jobs you might want, find out if you have somebody in your network who has that job - or works for a company where you'd see yourself working. Approach them and ask for an informational interview. This may sound easier said than done, but in my experience people are usually very willing to explain to you what they do and how they got there.

Ask for help with your CV/resume: here, I was very privileged in that a family-member worked for a company in the same field as the one I was applying to, and in that way, they were very skilled in helping me perfect my CV. In addition, a couple tweeps were very helpful in improving my CV.

Just start somewhere: probably the best advice I read on twitter is that the next job doesn't have to be THE job: once you're somewhere, new opportunities and paths will follow.

*This list is in no way meant to be exhaustive, it is my limited experience in finding a job in industry. For much more advice, Biochem Belle is curating a list with all sorts of advice on finding a job outside academia.

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How my personality test tells me to be on twitter

Mar 29 2015 Published by under life in the office, new job, personality

A while ago I wrote about personality differences, and recently I had the training where we discovered our personal profile. Apparently, I am pretty extravert, and also competitive, enthusiastic, determined and strong-willed. But, the best sentence in my personal profile came from the page describing my blind spots: "This person would much rather engage in quick intellectual banter than complete some mundane task..." Seems like a perfect description of procrastinating on twitter!

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On working for a company

Via Nicoleandmaggie I came across this post about whether to work for a large company or not:

This is what I imagine working for a big corporation feels like:

You’re somewhere in the belly of a huge ocean cruiser, making sure that some aspect of the engines run smoothly, but you do not see where the cruiser is going, why it is going where it goes, and you are not sure whether it might currently be in the process of running over a small fishing boat or polluting the sea with oil. But at least someone is paying the cruiser for what it does. You feel some loyalty to the rest of the huge crew in the cruiser and you know that they all depend on the engines working well, maybe you also feel loyalty to the passengers who are paying your salary, but the captain and his plans are extremely far away from you, and you suspect the captain may be evil, you don’t know, you will certainly never meet him except when you see him in the news.

But you are surrounded by a nice team of specialists working on the engines with you. You have fun together and you can use your talents and capacities really well. Your direct boss is likable and praises you for your effort. You earn good money and you can live a life in safety.

Is that good enough?

*Spoiler alert*: this post is a couple weeks old and the last comment says that they did decide to join the large company.

I really like the analogy of being somewhere in the belly of a large ship, not being able to see or influence where the ship goes. For now - with small kids who still sleep-deprive me more often than not and a husband working towards getting some stability in academia - I like being in this safe big ship. I like the people in my ship and the ship often sends inspirational videos of what happens out on the sea to inspire the people working in the ship. But it's a BIG change from academia where I felt much more like I could decide what to do and what to work on (which of course if you think about it is only true if the PI and/or funding agency allows you to work on it...). Now, I have to think about what my targets are, and which of those has the highest priority. And when I want to know exactly how something works scientifically speaking, the answer is that if it's not in the interest of the big ship, it's not something that I should be working on.

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"Women are just not that interested in a career in academia"

I keep hearing people say this over and over and I am never sure how to respond to this. I usually ask if people who say this have data to support their statements, which they usually don't. But in yesterday's diversity journal club on twitter, the following paper was brought into the discussion: "What's the purpose of a scientific career?" in which Kenneth Gibbs makes the point that women and underrepresented minorities tend to choose their career based on slightly different motives:

This and other work shows that women and URM scientists on average “choose differently.” Their choices are made “outside of ability, outside of competence”—but in keeping with expressed desires to pursue social justice, community involvement, and altruism, he says. In contrast, men from well-represented groups more often seek academic research careers that incorporate the value of “scientific freedom, the ability to research what you want on your own terms.”

For scientists with strong social concerns, scientific and social motivations are “intertwined,” Gibbs says.

This really resonates with me, because when people ask if I'm happy in my new job, I usually answer that what makes me most happy at the moment is that it is less personal. My job now is not about my ideas and my papers and my rejections anymore. It is about what I contribute to the team, and in the end: what we as a team make for the people that buy the things that our company makes. And while it makes me a little sad that the victories are not mine alone anymore, it makes me very happy and relieved that the rejections are not mine alone either. And maybe this feels different when you are the PI of a lab and you have a team of your own, but the difference between being a lonely post-doc in a competitive environment versus a team player feels like a huge difference to me.

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On changing academic science

First, go read the long discussion happening over at drugmonkey about how the current funding situation affects early career scientists and current grad students and post-docs the most. Then come back here 🙂

In my homecountry, the funding situation is not that different. Less money goes to universities and the money that is there is divided through research grants that are harder and harder to get. At the same time, the EU is funding huge training projects for which 10-15 PhDs who are supposed to finish in 3 years and then those 10-15 PhDs with roughly the same experience and expertise flood the job market around the same time. Has anyone thought about the implications that might have for them?

At the same time, a couple people in my homecountry have started an initiative called "Science in transition". You would think that one of the things they address is this: how to make sure the people that are trained can get jobs and how to make sure established scientists get funded. Perhaps if you put together a collective of white, middle-aged men, it is no surprise they don't think about this...

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