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Job search questions

PostPosted: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:42 am
by Miranda
It has been nearly a year since my M.Sc. (Biological Sciences) defense at a Canadian university. I have since been working as an office clerk, being unable to find a job in the sciences (I have tried applying for academic and commercial laboratory positions). I have several questions:

1) My graduate career has been my only research and lab work experience. This amounts to less than 3 years of lab work. On the other hand, I have had several papers published in reputable journals -- I had hoped that would balance out my lack of experience. Is that expectation unreasonable? What do employers consider as job experience?

2) I have been reading the other threads on the board. I've gathered that I cannot reasonably expect to be noticed by employers unless I've applied through a network. I have always acquired employment through ads. I don't know how to network, especially without being considered a nuisance. Are there any guidelines on this?

3) I have had a few interviews. One of the standard questions is on pursuing a PhD. I don?t understand the relevance of this question, or what information the employer is trying to get.

4) It has been a while since I?ve worked in a lab. How long is it before my skills and knowledge become obsolete, which would require my re-training if I intend to pursue a career in the sciences?

5) It is possible that I cannot find a suitable job because my skills and knowledge are not marketable. If this was the case, are there companies who are willing to train their employees, or must I find a way to acquire more marketable skills before I even consider looking for lab work?

I consider myself new to the science realm, there is a lot about it that I don't understand. I would appreciate any advice, answers, and (or) suggestions.


Job search questions

PostPosted: Tue Nov 02, 2004 7:58 am
by Val
Answering from the point of view of my experience (I got a PhD in Physics in Australia 6 years ago, and worked in 4 different areas of science & technology since then):

1. Professors tout it is a necessity for would-be-postdoc to have papers published in good peer-reviewed journals. My experience shows that industrial employers are absolutely not interested in publications of the prospective employee. If the academic employers in the same field of science are not _already_ interested in your candidature to do a postdoc with them (or become an assistant prof), then your papers are useless -- they won't get you a job with academic employers in other areas of science.

2. People are born with the capability to network. If you do not have it, you will probably never have it. I got all of my jobs through the competitive process of addressing the selection criteria in the newspaper job ads. I had less jobs than I needed.

3. I do not quite understand this question of yours. The employer is asking you about your PhD probably because they have nothing else to ask you, or treat it as a conversation starter in the hope that they would be able to pick up something bad about you as an employee.

4. If you do not have a job (postdoc) offer straight away after your PhD, then this makes your skills already obsolete. From the technical point of view, you will lose your skills after about 1 year. Also, the employers will start avoiding to hire you into scientific jobs if you were out of scientific work for about 1 year. taking more courses to keep one up-to-date is a bad idea. You better get some science-related job, or "creatively correct" your CV.

5. Today's companies are economically short-sighted, and are absolutely unwilling to train new employees. Instead, they prefer to procrastinate with filling in the vacant position, meanwhile looking for the employee with the "perfect fit". (Do not ask me, why). I would advise you -- weasel by any means into any scientific-related job, and after working for 1 or 2 years, it will be easier for you to find the scientific job.

Finally, to the moderator of this forum, Dave Jensen: I came to this forum with the negativity stuff (more exactly, lacking warm and fuzzy type feelings) to your forum. Tell me if it is OK or not. I do not want to invade someone else's territory without invitation.


Job search questions

PostPosted: Tue Nov 02, 2004 10:58 am
by Dave Jensen

I think Val did a pretty good job on many of those questions. I would personally say that anyone can make networking contacts, however, as opposed to only those who are "born with" those skills. It's just a matter of making contact with people who are a year or two ahead of you, and asking them how they did it. It isn't calling companies and asking them for a job on the phone.

I sure agree with Val that companies today are very short-sighted and that they are unwilling to train. They wait and wait and wait, hoping to find that perfect candidate, and all the while they could have brought someone up to speed by hiring them and training them. Journal ads in SCIENCE used to read "PhD Cell Biologist Needed" and now they read "PhD Cell Biologist with large-scale CHO Cell Culture experience Needed".

[To Val: I have no concerns about someone joining the forum with some perceived negativity. Your opinions are welcome here -- it is no one else's territory. Dave]

Dave Jensen, Moderator
CareerTrax Inc.

Job search questions

PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2004 3:19 am
by Miranda
I appreciate the prompt and honest response to my post. It is refreshing to read practical information on the industry. It is certainly more useful that the stock response: ?love of science conquers all.? I only wish that I had known of forums like this (had they existed) in my undergraduate and graduate years.

Although it will not affect the answers to my questions, I feel the need to clarify one point: I have a MASTER OF SCIENCE and NOT a Doctor of Philosophy degree. As such, I have been responding to job ads for analytical and (or) lab technicians ? NOT postdocs or professorships. This may in turn clarify my third question (though Val?s response was adequate) ? why employers ask about my intentions of pursuing a doctorate. I was worried that I am not taken seriously because I have never been out of school (I went from my undergrad straight to my Master?s), and as I previously stated, my only research and lab experience is through grad school.

As to training: I suppose it is too much of a responsibility for laboratories to judge an applicant?s potential for the trade ? a gamble to invest valuable time and resources. Still, I am disappointed that we are expected to be like Athena -- born fully formed, armoured; shield and spear in hand. Perhaps it depends on the methods, but it generally does not take long to learn new techniques.

Again: my thanks.


Job search questions

PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2004 12:28 pm
by Dave Jensen

I believe that employers ask about whether you will want to pursue a PhD because . . . 1) As Val suggested, sometimes an interviewer is uncomfortable and the first few questions are resume-oriented. It is just to get grounded and get the interview going, but 2) Employers want to know if you will be with them for awhile, or if you are going to be leaving after a year or two to pursue another degree, and 3) Will you be happy in your role, because there will be a glass ceiling over you and you'll never be the P.I.


(PS - Despite the "pat" nature of this comment, a love for science is indeed a major factor of career success)

Job search questions

PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2004 7:46 pm
by Val
> I only wish that I had known of forums like
> this (had they existed) in my undergraduate
> and graduate years.

Dave Jensen prolifically contributed to the science careers forum on the Usenet in approximately 1994-98. Ask him about it.


Job search questions

PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2004 9:17 pm
by Drew Parrish
Hi Miranda,

My take on your questions is that you're having trouble getting a technician's position because they'll have to pay you more than some one straight out of undergrad. I just finished a postdoc where I hired two technicians - I was given very clear guidance from our senior lab manager on what to look for/who to hire. The instructions were:
1. A BS who worked in a lab as an undergrad is usually better than someone with a masters because they're a lot less expensive (about 8K where I was). True, they may have less research experience than the masters, but not necessarily. Think about it: you have 3 years of research exp from your masters...a lot of undergrads who did a senior thesis come out with that.

2. Ask if they're planning to go to grad school, med school, law school. He wanted a yes answer on this because: a) he wanted a two year commitment but no more, because after two years they have to be paid more; and b) this showed him that they were motivated and ambitious - qualities he thought good in a technician.

I know this isn't the way everyone thinks about tech positions, but these were common attitudes within that department.