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Own your career

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Own your career

Postby Ana » Thu Mar 16, 2017 3:58 am

I want to make everyone sees Dave's last column on owning your career and not relying on others to open doors for you or guide you.

When talking with young scientists in this forum, we often see two thinking patterns that hold people back professionally. One is thinking that because you have done a good work and played by the rules you will be rewarded with certain job. As in being entitled to such rewards. The second is not being proactive about career steps or choices, like expecting your PhD/postdoc advisor to make the best choices for your and your career, or believing that "bad luck" or "the market" are keeping out of a job.

In the column The keys to career control Dave covers these aspects as well as the psychology behind them (the locus of control). I recommend everyone to read it.

And I leave you with a quote:

A lesson that everyone eventually learns is that you are the only one who cares enough about your career to make the right choices. And in order to make the right choices, you need to take control.


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Re: Own your career

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu Mar 16, 2017 1:14 pm

Thanks for mentioning this article Ana. That's one of my core beliefs, and I am surprised I haven't written about these topics more frequently. I sometimes make the mistake of thinking, "Everyone already knows this stuff."

Just for fun, let me tell you about something that was omitted from this article, and get a sense from our audience if my advisors were correct. Before every article goes to press, I bounce it off of professionals who take a look and give me their editorial comments. And one of these strongly suggested that I remove all references to the following topic:

Time investment -- in my discussion of controlling one's time expenditures, I had written something along the lines of "Hey, you've signed up for a science career. While it would be nice to work a normal 35-40 hour work week (depending upon where you live), you won't find successful people thinking in terms of limiting their efforts to a "standard" work plan. Most people in science jobs, whether in academic, industry, or consulting, will invest an additional ten hours or more, so that the average work week is more like 45-50 hours a week."

This was taken out because others felt that this was discouraging to the current generation of students, or that it was inaccurate. However, in rethinking my column, maybe I should have stuck to my guns? Would others have some input here PLEASE? What do YOU see as the average work week for successful professionals with a science degree? Personally, I'm way over even that expanded work week, but that's because I love what I do.

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Re: Own your career

Postby Rich Lemert » Thu Mar 16, 2017 2:36 pm

To me, an implicit part of the agreement you're entering into when you accept a salaried position is that you are expected to do what's necessary to accomplish your assignments. This means that if you need to put in fourteen-hour days for a week (which I've done), you do it. On the other hand, it also means that if you need to take off an hour early to catch your child's piano recital, you have the flexibility to do that as well.

That said, I would agree that 45-50 hour weeks are very common in all professions - including science. In fact, for many academics in particular, that would be a low-ball estimate. There it's hard to make an argument for a work-life balance because for so many academics, their work IS their life. This has led to a self-fulfilling expectation that you need to put in long hours to be successful because everyone else is doing so.

In industry, the picture is a little more complicated. Some places, for instance, start wondering about your time-management skills if you consistently put in long hours, while others 'encourage' going the extra mile. (I've heard of one company that said "we don't require long hours, we just have high expectations of what you accomplish; if you can get your work done in 40 hours - more power to you.")

I'm currently limited to a fairly strict 40 hours, but that's because I'm working on an hourly-based consulting contract through a third-party firm that requires overtime to be pre-approved. (I'm essentially a wage-earner rather than a salaried employee.) When I was salaried, however, I was 'encouraged' to put in 45 hours.
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Re: Own your career

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu Mar 16, 2017 4:10 pm

Same with me Rich . . . when I started recruiting, I was working for someone else, and the motto there was "Since you work on commission, you'd be a fairly disappointing hire if you worked only the minimum work week." People all around me were there when I got in at 8, and were still there when I left at 6. I am not really certain if they always were more successful than I was, but some of them were. That is, until I wised up and learned to put truly important things ahead of what was "urgent" at the time.

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Re: Own your career

Postby D.X. » Fri Mar 17, 2017 3:56 am

Hi all,

I think Rich touched on it a bit, but I have to agree with advice to cut out the discussion about number of hours and this has nothing to do with rather it discourages People or not. And I think I may have diluted away from your Major Point. You could have said there are just a certain number of hours in the day and your Job is to maximize it by prioritization. Which you hinted to, no Need to talk about exact hours.

On the other hand, maybe for this audience, Dave may have been right to include such point but that should not be the Primary reason to rule out a path.

And if number of hours it's discouranging well, too bad. Deal with it. I think ist an academic Thing to Focus on the number of hours, its an antiquated System to use as a ball park estimate to deliver the Job.

If Dave included it, i think it would have detracted from the key Point he raised about time-Management, which is prioritization, it has nothing to do with number hours, it has to do with doing what's important and balancing that with urgent vs. non-important, urgent and non-important non-urgent.

I think the Focus should be exactly what Dave spoke about, which is prioritizing workload and doing what's important. I loved that Quote.
And that's where the discussion starts to get interesting if you start getting into defining what's important.....and where some nice politics start to happen. How do you prioritize? how do you Management your time, where do you Focus, how do you Balance that with Business Needs with individual Needs. Are you prioritize the same as others, and what happens when its different, and to whom should you be more aligned with vs. not in Terms of that time-Management...... Fun stuff.

Going back to hours demanded, alot of this is Team or Company culture and can related to sector. In some sectors the work-load is high and well, that links to the hours, everything is deemed important - you'll find that in Management Consulting and law firms. In some Teams and companies, its expected you are in the Office from 8:30 to 6:00 PM. Well I can say based on my experience, most People get there things done by say 4 to 5PM and sit around the Office Surfing the web until 6:00 PM. In my Company we have a culture of trust when it Comes to this, its basically get it done. If you walk out at 3 PM on a Friday, nobody cares. Yet down the street at another pharma, well, its that 9 to 6 culture.

So anyway, glad you kept it out.

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Re: Own your career

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Mar 17, 2017 6:12 pm

Thanks DX, you make some great points. Appreciate your comments as always,
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Re: Own your career

Postby Dave Walker » Mon Mar 20, 2017 3:21 pm

Thanks to Ana for pointing out a great article -- you have great taste!

And thanks to Dave for hitting a subject we don't always talk about, internal motivation. I don't know what that is; too many introverts? Too touchy-feely for people who thrive on facts and figures? It's also a hard question, existential even.

At my current company we had a similar dialog when a VP brought up Simon Sinek's "Start with Why?" style of doing business. (I apologize for the business-speak that might make your eyes roll; it all started with a TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA). WE were asked: why do we do what we do? What are our beliefs? Nobody had a good answer, except "to make money," which is a result, not a belief. Similarly, I don't think scientists really give a thought as to their career motivations. "It seemed interesting" is the one I hear most often -- that's not much of a path to success in my mind.

I think I side with Dave's colleagues regarding time put in: the numbers themselves are irrelevant, and are too easy to focus on over actual job performance, as Rich and DX point out. If anything, a scientist knows extremely well how much time it takes to succeed -- you have to physically be in the lab for hours to do experiments. They know it takes a lot of time; the issue is that they are not motivated. Reasons for this are varied.

Finally, I want to once again suggest that the "career treadmill" in academic science discourages career development. It's a well-worn path between graduate school, post doc, tenure-track professor, full professor. If you live in a system like this long enough, I think it starts to seem like the only way to succeed, and makes it mentally much harder to "own" one's career.
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Re: Own your career

Postby RSD » Tue Mar 21, 2017 11:50 am

Great topic. Of all the career advice I've come across this one resonates with me the most.

To the other great responses I would only add for young scientists that owning your career starts during your education. Selecting a graduate school, program, mentor/lab, and PhD project should all be done with a purpose. I believe that too many smart people expect a PhD to work like and MD - that once you are accepted into school your path is set, and that you just have to study hard and a great job and career will follow without effort. A science career is different, and its up to each individual to own it, plot his or her own course, and actively drive your career trajectory. I think its quite an empowering concept.
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Re: Own your career

Postby D.X. » Wed Mar 22, 2017 3:29 am

RSD wrote:Great topic. Of all the career advice I've come across this one resonates with me the most.

To the other great responses I would only add for young scientists that owning your career starts during your education. Selecting a graduate school, program, mentor/lab, and PhD project should all be done with a purpose. I believe that too many smart people expect a PhD to work like and MD - that once you are accepted into school your path is set, and that you just have to study hard and a great job and career will follow without effort. A science career is different, and its up to each individual to own it, plot his or her own course, and actively drive your career trajectory. I think its quite an empowering concept.


RSDs comment re: early scientists need to take control also applies to us later career Folks and the reality is the Need to have that control continues throughout ones career and into retirement. All the principles Dave mentions applies.

For example, a colleague of mine, Age 53 has decided to leave the pharma industry to go to practice pharmacy in his local home town for the rest of his working days. He noted his key reason was to take back control of his life. Not that he lost control, but he felt out of control, but the fact he took the decision meant he was in control after all, he ultimately didn't let the risk to get caught up in environmental pressure to Keep battling for something he was no longer convinced of. I.e. detractors.

Dave did touch on it breifly but there are many detractor is that may make you feel as though you're in control, for example the transtional path suggestive that the career trajectory is set or some of the behavioral aspects found in academia, and in my example corporate as well. The term, "stay the course" Comes to mind and navigating the elements Dave describes in his article helps here.

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Re: Own your career

Postby Nate W. » Wed Mar 22, 2017 3:33 am

Dave, thanks for the thought provoking article. I agree with all your points and the comments of other contributors. Sometimes you just can't take control despite your best efforts.

Young scientists should take the initiative in managing their own career but this can depend on the goals and values of the PI. We talked about the important of having a good PI and the power this individual can have over one's career as well as any potential future opportunities. The philosophy of how a PI views graduate training can hinder a student or post-doc's career initiative. Sadly, I have seen PIs who only think about themselves and not what is best career wise for the student after the training is done. I experienced this situation in graduate school where my PI's thoughts were only about trying to keep me in his lab and obstructing other options outside his lab that I wanted to pursue. I asked him to write a required letter for a CLIA sponsorship; "no, focus on getting lab data and publications." When I asked for his support on options outside his lab; I was met with a no, even after publishing my thesis and numerous positive evaluations. It is hard for me to put this behind me because I accomplished a lot for this PI. However, my initiative and accomplishments were all for nothing because my PI's needs took priority. There was NO reciprocation for a job well done in the mind of this PI, no matter what was accomplished.

My PI was able to limit my options outside his lab by writing inaccurate reference letters to accomplish this. Finally, when I figured out what he was doing, I asked him to stop offering his opinion if anyone calls or writes. Instead of agreeing to this simple request, he said that I am entitled to my opinion and ability to provide it. Eventually, I got the Dean to write a letter for me saying to ignore my PI's opinions and allow his (my) accomplishments to stand on their own. Legal counsel at the University eventually told him not to provide any future references for current or former students. This essentially blocked his ability to provide any future inaccurate references.

Today, I still don't know if I took the right approach to protect my career. It was difficult to do and I never suspected a PI would behave this way. Even my academic coworkers thought I shouldn't speak up and protect myself; what cowards? But my friends in the real world said go for it..you worked hard for those accomplishments.

I want this forum to understand this situation has contributed to some of my negative thoughts expressed on this forum. So, I am sorry for this.

I have seen this behavior in other PIs and it is difficult to deal with especially if the PI is charming and has a narcissistic deameanor; even if you are a reasonable person and have all the initiative in managing your career. I have had to start over in a different direction.
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