Diversify your Career Options Recap

Post date: Feb 13, 2015 3:07:47 PM

by Nadia Jaber

On February 5th 2015, the GCA hosted a panel event aimed at introducing graduate students to a variety of career options. The panelists included Steven Isaacman, CEO of PhD Skincare; Zach Marks, co-founder of Oystir; and Damon Love, oncology medical science liaison at Eli Lilly. The discussion flowed from networking to skill-building and back. Here are a few highlights.

How can I explore my non-academic career options?

Dr. Isaacman suggests using LinkedIn or Monster, two job posting websites, to explore your options. Check out the postings and what their requirements are. If you’re interested, find someone in that same job and ask for an informational interview. He admitted that as an undergraduate and graduate student, he found people with a career he was interested in, called them and said “I want to do what you do!”. He landed multiple internships and gained extensive experience this way. Dr. Isaacman stressed another big tip – write better emails! The professional you are contacting is probably willing to help you out, but their time is their most valuable resource; acknowledge this, and keep your emails concise. Be clear about your intentions and your background.

Should I tell my advisor I want a non-academic career?

The panelists all agreed – YES. Although there is a lot of pressure for us to stay in academia, you have to look out for yourself and do what’s best for you, even if that means you may “disappoint” your advisor. Dr. Love points out that if they are turned off by your non-academic interests, then they aren’t the right person to advise you anyhow. Consider finding a career mentor outside of the academic setting. On the other hand, your advisor may have some experience and connections that could be useful to you. The only way to find out is to have that conversation. Dr. Isaacman recommends being upfront about it, and very early on in your graduate studies; you don’t want to mislead him/her, either. The alternative is being stuck in a career that you aren’t satisfied with.

What skills are desirable for non-academic jobs?

Each of the panelists had varying opinions on this question. Dr. Isaacman values problem solving, writing, presentation skills and salesmanship for his budding business. He argues that PhD students have extensive experience in sales – we have to sell our research and ideas every time we write a proposal, grant, paper, give a talk or explain a poster. Channel these skills if you want to enter the business world.

On the other hand, Dr. Love said “soft skills” like affability and creativity are important for every field. Any employer wants to know that you will be a good co-worker and teammate. This will come across in your interviews and references.

What’s your advice for a graduate student trying to network?

Dr. Love had a number of good tips. First, start on LinkedIn. Make sure you have a stellar profile and it will get you the exposure you’re looking for. Once you’ve connected with people virtually, meet them in person at networking happy hours, conferences, NYAS meetings and so on. You can also ask to arrange an informational interview with him/her, which is a great way to network and educate yourself on a particular career path. When you are networking in person, simply try to find common ground – your research, interests, hobbies etc. Think about what you can offer them as much as what they may be able to offer you. Also, don’t spend all your time in one corner; spread out and talk to as many people as you can.

Dr. Isaacman suggests networking in your immediate network – family, friends, classmates. If you explain what your ideal job is, chances are someone will have a connection. Try the “broadcast email”: describe your experience and ideal job, include your resume and send it to everyone you know. Your network can easily forward it to their network, and you’re reach has just become exponential. When asked about cold calling/networking (reaching out to someone you have no formal connection with), the panelists agreed you have nothing to lose, so go for it!

How can I make myself a good job candidate?

Dr. Love suggests finding a career mentor – someone who is a veteran in your field of interest, who can guide you along your career development journey. Ask him/her if they can suggest a number of distinct steps you should follow to break into the field. Also look to the resources we have here on campus, at the Career Center and IREP office. He also mentioned that if you want to do a postdoc, make sure it aligns with your final career goals (more advice on that here).

Dr. Isaacman suggests thinking about ways you can make yourself stand out from all the other applicants. You have to sell yourself – so make sure you are eye-catching! Mr. Marks suggests achieving this through your “extra-curricular” activities. Having experiences and interests outside of the laboratory/office will set you apart from other graduate students and makes you a more attractive candidate. They also reminded us to tailor our applications and resumes to the specific job position. Know everything you can about the company and make sure both of your missions and statements align.