The topic of career planning is something that I discuss with almost everyone I speak with, regardless of whether they are a graduate student or industry professional. I emphasize that regardless of where someone is in their career, steps can be taken to develop the hard (e.g. techniques) and soft (e.g. management) skills necessary for career advancement. Since successful careers develop over years, even decades, the earlier someone starts to plan, the better. Even as a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow, ample opportunities exist to develop skills.
You see it all the time—in a popular news article about a groundbreaking research study to even the primary literature—that so-and-so researcher is the “first” to make some brand new discovery.This claim makes me cringe every time I see it. Why? Well to be honest, it’s highly unlikely to be the absolute first at anything with millions of scientists around the world, many of whom are working in similar fields on similar problems.
Chances are good that at some point in your career, you will need to teach people something in a formal environment like a classroom or lecture hall. You might get assigned the entire first year of intro bio (with labs), or you might just give a guest lecture in some graduate seminar where you are visiting, but it is a common responsibility for scientists.
Years ago, during my grad school interviews, the late Seymour Benzer told me that I would be forced to decide in grad school whether I would “run with the herd,” or instead become one of the few scientists who would be comfortable operating more independently. That succinct statement encompassed all of his advice to me—a clear yet puzzling challenge. I have reflected on this comment during and beyond grad school.
Two weeks after I finished graduate school, my father-in-law introduced me to a friend by saying “I want you to meet my son-in-law. He just became a doctor.” While I forced a grin and politely accepted the ensuing congratulations, I instead wanted to clarify that I just received a PhD, and that I was not a physician. Immediately, after meeting his friend, I asked my father-in-law not to introduce me as a doctor in the future. This encounter also conjured up a memory of explaining to my grandmother that I was not studying to become a medical doctor.
This doesn’t sound much like the title of a career path blog, does it? You most likely know it as the title of a song by Paul Simon, but while it may resonate with a lot of people, what specific relevance could it have to science PhDs and postdocs? Well, it does make sense if your first love is Academia, you know, independent research and teaching in varying proportions, and you decide on a career change.
I am new to Bio Careers Blog. Excited as I am as a first-timer, I will set a rule for my blog: I do not intend to give out specific action items or tips to fellow job seekers. You see, I am one of you. After many years of academic research, I am ready for a major career change. It seems like I have walked a long way to get here, and I know perfectly well that I am not alone. If you are thinking of pursuing a career in graduate school, postdoctoral training or staying on as a non-tenure-track research scientist, you may find this blog useful.
Ramos da Silva
Since I was an undergrad, lab meetings have been part of my scientific development. Although some people don’t like lab meetings, I think it is a great opportunity to brainstorm, keep up with your experiments and most importantly, it is a great way to organize your data. Different labs have different kinds of lab meetings. Some of them are based on journal club discussions, which is great, because we were taught to critically analyze a paper, and not just accept everything that is published as black and white.
PhD students, and a majority of PhDs in science, spend many hours at the bench doing research designed to obtain results that will either confirm or reject a hypothesis. They write, defend and revise a thesis. Along the way, and as soon and as often as possible afterward, they publish the results of subsequent research and comment on its significance.
At some point, you will have to choose journals to submit your articles to. Finding the right journal is important because if your article isn’t published in a timely fashion, say within a year of a congress presentation, no one will know about it, and a delay will make someone ask, “why did it take so long?”