Help me build a "Timeline" as career advice

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Help me build a "Timeline" as career advice

Postby Dave Jensen » Tue Jun 28, 2016 9:26 am

Hello Forum,

I want to publish a "Timeline" for recommendations from the Forum and elsewhere, with some good quotes and ideas starting back at the time a person selects a grad student advisor to the time they accept a job offer. I realize it's a bit different for every person, but there will also be some common ground. Please post below this to add ingredients to the timeline with your commentary. This is, of course, discussing an ideal world, and no one lives in the ideal world -- but it doesn't hurt to have thought through a timeline while developing a plan. I find too many young PhD's are six weeks from their defense when they decide "OK, I'll consider Industry jobs" and this is a big error.

- Begin with the selection of a grad school program and mentor.
. . . comments about choosing the right one for you?
. . . if you know you'd be considering industry seriously, find one with industry connections?

- Choose a topic area and question for your research
. . . ensure your question has some relevance broadly, including industry, and that it is not some arcane aspect of academic interest only.

- Start to build your network
. . . develop a response to "Tell me about yourself" that you can use when you meet others who might be a part of your developing network.
. . . get a LinkedIn profile set up and update it regularly reflecting your progress

Forum community please add and elaborate!

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Re: Help me build a "Timeline" as career advice

Postby Dave Walker » Wed Jun 29, 2016 12:19 pm

Hi Dave,

I think this is a great idea, and it addresses a fundamental problem in a PhD trainee's time: the next step is so far away, that it's natural to delay thinking about it for a very long time.

I'll just put out some random ideas, trying not to mention what you have. Hopefully it's useful, I'm happy to clarify (or to say that some might just be just my humble opinion...)

From the beginning:
- Keep the end in mind early. Grad school/postdocs are stepping stones and are not meant to last. What is your 5 year plan?
- Somewhat unorthodox: I think the early part of graduate school is a good time to research career paths in one's spare time. There's no pressure to decide, so it's easier to do casual informational interviews.
- Corollary: time thinking about careers is not wasted time.

Choosing a mentor:
- Choose a mentor that will help your career. Career help is thin on the ground at many universities, and though they can be a tremendous resource (I'm biased of course!), your PI is in the best position to help your career, more than anyone else at your institution.
- Check their record: where have their trainees gone? Have they helped in placement anywhere? In my experience this can be surprisingly hard to do as it's not tracked, but current students/postdocs are a great resource.
- Like a job offer, have an upfront conversation about you: your career, how they can help, their expectations, why you should join them.

- Learn and understand the power of networking first. If you don't believe in it, it won't work well for you.
- Join a society, and if it's pricey look into your mentor / department to help pay for it.
- Go to annual meetings, and talk to people. Don't spend all your time listening to famous people give lectures!
- Don't be afraid to approach someone and start a conversation. Posters at meetings are good for this. Becoming friendly with members of your field early allows your professional relationship to grow. It also won't seem like desperation when you are approaching the end of your training period.

The Job Hunt
- The last year of your training should involve job hunting. You must prioritize finding a job if you want to get a good one, and you will have to spend some of your waking hours doing this instead of research. This can be a hard concept for some PIs and trainees to accept, but it can be a major career pitfall.
"The single factor that differentiates Nobel laureates from other scientists is training with another Nobel laureate." -- Sol Snyder
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Re: Help me build a "Timeline" as career advice

Postby Rich Lemert » Wed Jun 29, 2016 12:41 pm

While it's a good idea to see where a PI's former students have wound up, it's not always practical to do so. Someone early in their career may have only produced three or four PhD's - too small a sample to produce any meaningful statistics.

In these cases, you can check who they've collaborated with. If they've co-authored papers with people from Pfizer or are working on a project with someone from Dow, they probably have more exposure to industry than someone who only works with other academics.

Take a look also at where he/she did their graduate and post-doc work. If they come from labs that have a record of placing people in industry, they've at least been exposed to the idea and the process.
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Re: Help me build a "Timeline" as career advice

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Jun 29, 2016 5:09 pm

Great stuff so far! Thanks Dave, and Rich, thank you as well. I hope that we're able to get some feedback from the readership as this develops further,

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Re: Help me build a "Timeline" as career advice

Postby D.X. » Thu Jun 30, 2016 11:39 am

As this is a timeline and some steps are already given - i leave it to Dave to put into the rest.

But first i wholeheartedly agree with Dave J's comment on choosing a topic. Be board and think early about non-academia applicability. For life science folks, Dare i also say choose your program wisely. If you go to non academic route, at least in my experiences, its may be easier to say you have a pharmacology background rather than cell biology or say developmental genetics. Sounds shallow but having a something that "sounds" as though there is clinical application or relevance may be a bit more advantageous. Of course this is just a general statement. And try to chose a project that at least touchs closely on a pharmacokinetic (absorbtion, metabolism,etc.) or pharmacodynamic (i.e receptor pharmacology) aspect of a human disease state. Ill leave it there but say studiying imaginal disc formation in fruit flies in my opionion would be tougher to sell later.

So timeline wise:

Choose wisely the decision for grad school:
Be clear on why you want to go and have a target objectives both professionally and personally, linked to a standard of life you want and by when. Understand what you are getting into and map clearly where the benefits and risks are. Do not go in thinking this is and easy path with employers coming to knock on your door when you are done.

Post qualification exam:
Focus on getting your data and have a clear map as possible to graduating. Map milestones very top level and bench mark against it. Start thinking a bit about what you like and where your strengths are. Begin informal interviewing of any and all posdible career paths when free time permits as a primary career exploration objective. Focus on trying to meet people with the sole objective of trying to understand what they do etc. you will see the active networking will start falling into place - it will be the consequence of that first objective.

1 to 2 years from graduation.
Have a clear picture now on what you like and dont like. Be true to yourself and question now if you want to stay in academia or not. This will help you decide on how long and if necessary to do a post doc or not. The earlier you are clear on this question the happier and more satisfied you will be later on. You should have a clue of about 3 to 5 over-arching non- academic paths you want to explore by now. I.e commercial side industry, FDA jobs, non-profit reasearch orgs, etc. network now! If academia have at least 5 target post doc labs. Take a course in a subject area you like. Start doing community service. If not already, shadow a MD on rounds in a clinical interest area. Get the MD and patient insights and link that to relevance of your research.

Job hunt:

Hopefully you built your network brigdes and you have clarity on where you want to focus. If non academia. Focus your efforts on the job hunt. Learn to write a good CV and interview well. I leave this for job hunt because necessity will drive adaptation and crash course/experiencec based learning - the best type of learning.

First job:

Focus in learning and doing the job right fir at least a year, dont think much about next steps. Be attentive to career paths but do your job. After a year think about what the next step can be and most importantly...relax. Keep and eye out for opportunity but dont be obsessive. For the sake of telling a false story as a first goal and p,aying the game- and maybe a guiding personal map as a second objective, get a 5 year plan. Reherse it - but keep it in the back pocket - the reality is nobody has a 5 year plan and those who do rarely acheive it. Other things happen . Family for example. A divergent opportunity, reorganization. Etc. and in the early days - do not play politics, be saavy but dont play. Watch and learn - you will get dragged in eventually but get some street credbility first.

If you do a post doc have a no go trigger to leave academic research

Cant emphasize this enough - but define a clear trigger point/no go mark for you, fast as possible, to leave academia or a ademic research. These triggers can be, no high impact pub by year 2. No grant by year 3. At year four you afe considering another post-doc. You've been offered a non tenure role. You are doing adjucnt teaching to pay bills. Etc. have a clear no go and exit strategy, see my point about 1 to 2 years from graduation.
Dont dwell - then you risk being that 40 year old post doc with reduced chances for career advancement outside academia.

Hope this helps

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Re: Help me build a "Timeline" as career advice

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu Jun 30, 2016 2:57 pm

As always, great stuff DX, thanks!
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Re: Help me build a "Timeline" as career advice

Postby Dustin Levy » Tue Jul 05, 2016 9:13 pm

When selecting a mentor and research topic to set yourself up for a career in industry, the size of the research group may also be worth considering. I happened to work for a well-funded professor who had a very small research group, the pro being that I got a lot of direct hands-on time, the con being that I didn't get much experience collaborating with others, which became a liability when I entered industry. In a large research group you may benefit from name recognition but may be challenged to communicate the unique individual contributions you made to the group when interviewing for an industry job, particularly if there were several postdocs around. So, perhaps "not too big and not too small" is a good group size to choose when positioning yourself for an industrial career.
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