A quick Google search on career prep advice in the sciences is disappointing. The first few hits assume the only thing you want to be is a professor. Industry, independent, and research scientists are all lacking, not to mention any axillary jobs, like lab techs.
This post aims to make a more inclusive list of career prep tips you can take at any age to either start, maintain, or change your science career across any industry.
Oh, and we promise not to pull any punches. The world isn’t exactly a catwalk that you can waltz down and pick up a career. There are lots of twists, turns, and obstacles in the way.
General tips ahoy!
Seek occupations that are compatible with your skills, interests, and goals. Don’t be afraid to go outside the box a bit, but the better the fit, the more likely you’ll find yourself on a smoother journey towards a happier ending. Here are some great resources we’ve collected from across the web:
Identify role models. Identify a few role models in the industry and role you want to go into. Then, try to reach out to them and ask them to talk about their jobs. Don’t just ask for the highlights, ask for the low points to that showcase the entire job – not just the fun bits. After all, if the job routinely asks you to give presentations, but you are afraid of speaking in public, it could be a very bad fit.
Develop a plan. If you’re still interested after talking to several people about your potential career move, then develop a plan from where you are today to where you need to be to get there. This includes all of the above, plus considering what certifications and training you need. In case you need it, here is a good example of a career plan.
Participate in work-based learning opportunities. At every turn you can, you should engage in learning activities that prepare you for your goal. The more you experience, the more you can clarify your goals, built your network, and refine your skills.
Polish your résumé (CV). For every skill you add, every project you work on, and every win you have, come up with several CVs. Each CV you make will have a slightly different angle on it based on the types of careers you’d like to have. For example, if you’d like to work at a career in data management and the company is people oriented, you’d want a CV that is slightly more people oriented and highlights teamwork versus data wrangling.
Develop and practise interviewing skills. It isn’t just about first and good impressions; it’s about being able to negotiate yourself into a life you dream of living.
While a great start, we really can do better. For example, what’s the standard for an academic scientist versus an industrial one? What if you want to work with your community more versus being squirrelled away in a lab somewhere? That’s where it starts to get tricky and where your role models will be a great asset. Here are some things you can elicit from them during the interview or job shadowing event:
⇒ What skills should I focus on? This is for all the “extra” skills that make the job easier, such as a hidden need for photography, coding, or stand-up comedy that can help put you in a better position to be an asset.
⇒ What holes are there in this field I can potentially fill? Nothing is worse than having to compete for a job that everyone else is competing for. Being unique among the crowd and filling a niche helps see that you don’t just stand there with your CV looking pathetic in the end.
⇒ Are high quality publications a must? A lot of places use this as weeding out standard, but not all of them. Ask to find out how if it’s requirement that will help you at least stand on the platform.
⇒ Will I be judged by for the mentors I choose? Again, this is often used as a weeding out criteria. If you have good, well established mentors, then you have a better chance of getting in the circle. Some areas, though, are willing to overlook your network if you are stronger in other skills.
⇒ Are there any special certifications that are a must? Every day the fields needs are changing. If you have an opportunity to get certificates in something, you should. Especially if someone else is paying for it. Beyond that, insiders working where you want to be can often spot trends before others and give you a heads up.
⇒ What are some limitations I may face in this career? Personally, what can you expect to find as limitations. Remember, what someone perceives as a limitation may not be what you would think of as a limitation. You should ask a few people and get an idea of what they perceive as a limitation, then make your own judgements.
⇒ What are some major obstacles that this career has? This is more of looking for any kind of regulation that the field as a whole might have that you could look forward to overcoming.
I’ll admit, the job market is harsh, but the career market is even worse. Put yourself in their place: would you want to hire just anyone, or would you want to hire the best that you can get? When you ask questions, you find out what their idea of “best” might be. Focus on where their idea of “best” is and where you want to be overlaps. That, my dear Insanitekians, is your earthly paradise.
OK, that’s all fine and good for generalities across fields, but what do you need to know for each major area? This is where things start to get a bit more fuzzy since there are literally thousands of science careers. This is also where we will leave off this 1000+ word article and direct you to the scientists of the world. Go, search them out by entering a field name+your location. Look for names in a university director, an association meeting book, or business directories. Some search ideas could be:
⇒ science teacher
⇒ outreach coordinator in any of he major fields to a museum liaison
⇒ writer to a researcher
⇒ lab tech
Admittedly, this is still very vague. Here’s what I suggest to my students that are researching for a potential career choice:
You want to find any public interviews and read or watch them. You also want to get personal by looking for a good role model’s public information and ask them if you can ask them a few questions about their field. Then, repeat a few more times until you have a good view of what you want to do.
It takes persistence and time. During the time you are researching the potential job, you should always be learning and expanding your horizons so you can add more skills to your CV, but also so you can better know who you are and what you want to do in life.