2014 Naturejobs Career Expo Recap

posted Jul 14, 2014, 10:02 AM by Nadia Jaber   [ updated Jul 14, 2014, 10:09 AM ]

by Wahida Ali

The first annual NaturejobsCareer Expo in the US was held in Boston this past May. The one-day event consisted of hour-long workshops designed to advance the job search for graduate students and postdocs in the sciences, and booths of representatives from biotech companies and internationally recognized universities. Nature works hard to get knowledgeable speakers lined up, so if you go to the Expo be sure to attend the workshops. Some of the topics included how to network, perfecting your CV, and making the most of your career search. Another workshop given by an editor of Nature Genetics focused on how to write a high-impact paper.

Listed below is some relevant advice learned from the event.

1) Be prepared at networking events. If you are interested in a job with one of the companies attending an event, apply BEFORE going to the fair. Many of the companies have online applications. Once you have applied, meeting the representative matches a face to the name and gets your application attention. The same applies for any other networking event – do a little research beforehand to see which employers will be in attendance and what qualities they are looking for in a candidate.

2) Carry business cards.  This was heavily stressed. Not carrying a business card sends the message that you don’t care if the person you meet remembers you. It might sound silly to have as a graduate student, but you need to act like a professional in order to become a professional!  Put your name, university, graduate program, and your email if nothing else. They’re inexpensive; try Staples or Moo, or print your own.

3) Use your connections. Many people leave their network untapped because they don’t see someone in their immediate vicinity who can get them a job OR they’re too embarrassed/proud to use the connections they do have. A significant number of jobs come not from your immediate network, but your network’s network. Maybe your cousin’s wife works at your dream job and you never even knew it. When you’re searching for a job, don’t be shy about letting people know what you’re looking for. Likewise, career counselor L.Maren Wood even suggests writing an email describing your credentials and ideal job, and sending it to everyone you know. You’d be surprised what turns up.

4) Impressions are important. You don’t need to show up in a suit, but when you know you are meeting people that you’d like to impress, choose your clothes carefully. Make sure the impression that you’re sending is the one you would like to convey to potential employers. Likewise, make sure that your Facebook page is either entirely private or limited to only the things you would like potential employers to see. They actually do look you up!

5) Make your connections personal. Online applications are a lot like online dating. Just sending the generic, “Hi, I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network,” does not give someone a lot of reasons to connect with you. Most “higher-ups” are happy to add you provided a) they have actually met you or b) you have a valid reason to connect with them. Include that in your request and you’ll have a better chance.

6) Network, but genuinely. Many scientists are not comfortable with the idea of networking because they don’t make small talk well. The advice that I heard was to develop relationships with people you genuinely like. And keep in mind that people generally want to help because everyone who has a career today was in your shoes at some point. Most of them remember this and will do their best to help students with potential.

7) Recognize your “soft” skills.  As a graduate student, you have acquired a number of “soft” skills along with your technical skills, such as critical thinking and adaptability. Make a list of these soft skills. Realize that they are just as important as your technical skills and that they have value. A good potential employer will recognize these skills; so should you.

8) Don’t rule out a job because it isn't perfect. If you have a Ph.D. you can pretty much learn to do anything. This doesn’t mean apply for a senior statistician position if your Ph.D. is in biology, but maybe apply to an electrophysiology lab even if you haven’t done it before. Think about how your “hard” and “soft” skills (see #7!) can be applied in different fields. Thinking outside of your comfort zone will open up a flood of more opportunities.

9) Be optimistic. Everything will be OK. Yes, we are in a recession. Yes, the job market is pretty terrible right now. But there are jobs out there; you just have to work a little harder to find the right opportunity or you may need to create it. Just remember that you have all the necessary skills to do just that. There is a job for you.