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Being stuck in a certain specialty

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Being stuck in a certain specialty

Postby Joel Knopf » Wed Feb 16, 2005 1:39 pm

Hi everyone.

I'm posting this in response to a previous question raised here concerning the emerging situation where HRs are demanding expertise in a certain specialty/subspecialty.

My general question is: at what stage of my training am I labeled (stuck) in a specialty/subspecialty?

I ask this because I have just been accepted to a PhD program in the field of cancer research after completting an M.S. in the field of plant biology (algae actually). When I interviewed for my future lab, I was asked in what field I did my M.S. research, and got a disappointed face in return, along with a remark that it is a shame I do not come from the field of cancer or signal transduction or performed the methods they use. In the end I probably got in to his lab (a top lab) because my M.S. adviser knew him personally and highly recommended me, but probably would not have gotten in otherwise.

It seems to me that at such an early stage of my training the issue of my expertise should not have come up. I actually moved out of plant biology and into cancer biology exactly for the reason of not being labeled a plant biologist.

Will I now be stuck as a cancer researcher forever?!

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Being stuck in a certain specialty

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Feb 16, 2005 2:25 pm

Hi Joel,

You are always labeled by what you did last. Fortunately, some people are open and they recognize talent when they see it, so this isn't a universal problem. You'll have no problem taking the work you do in cancer research and applying it to other therapeutic areas. Thank Goodness that you moved away from plant biology before it was too late!

Dave

(PS - Added Later as an Apology) Sorry about the tongue-in-cheek (foot-in-mouth?) comment on Plant Biology careers, which are fine for academia. My comments were intended, somewhat too sarcastically, to point out how difficult it is to move to heath-oriented biotech from a plant background. Thanks!
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Being stuck in a certain specialty

Postby TF » Wed Feb 16, 2005 2:28 pm

Nothing is forever.

Many, many, many people do post-docs in areas unrelated to what they do their dissertation in. That doesn't mean it will be a total cake walk into another field, but it can easily be done if you want. As an example, I signed up for a job fair at a professional meeting I went to. The way it worked was you can request to meet potential employers, and the employers can request to meet with you. The only people who openly requested to meet with me were people from within my field. But I have no intention of staying in my current field, or with my current techniques. Most time you just have to show a genuine interest and have a productive track record. I have seen it many times.

Besides, I mean you have to spend a certain amount of time working in something or else you will be seen as unfocused. Do what you like and you will be successful. If what you like changes, there is always a way to get there.
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Being stuck in a certain specialty

Postby Shawn Baker » Wed Feb 16, 2005 2:51 pm

I, too, left the plant biology field after my Ph.D. because I wanted an industrial career and I wanted to open up my options. However, I think Dave is being a little harsh. I found Plant Biology to be a wonderful field to be in for my graduate program. It's a good community (especially for Arabidopsis) and I think it can be a reasonable choice for the academic path.

Shawn
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Being stuck in a certain specialty

Postby Kevin Rogers » Wed Feb 16, 2005 3:01 pm

I went for a job interview the other day - in an area closely related to my background - the core skills used are essentially the same but the systems worked on are different.

Anyway, at the end of the interview I asked 'what happens now?' - the hiring manager said 'we have another person coming in who has some background directly in the field, but thats not to say I don't value having somebody with a different perspective around.'

During the questions after my seminar I was told ' thats not how people in our field would approach the problem'. So I asked him how he would do it? he suggested a totally unfeasible solution that showed he didn't even understand the problem in question.

I was very disappointed by their attitude - whether I have got the job I don't know - but as I was almost treated as a stranger from a foreign land who doesn't know the customs I am not that sure I want it.
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Being stuck in a certain specialty

Postby Carlysle Tancha » Wed Feb 16, 2005 3:18 pm

Yes, I think that people try to make a lot of differences that are not really there. Seems a little like political election debates...
I think that egos speak in this kind of manner and Nick, it sounds like you should not take this job anyway, especially if someone were to be so closed-minded that he couldn't see your line of thinking. This reminds me of an exam I took in grad school... the PI obviously had one idea of how to solve a question on an exam and I clearly wrote a different way of approaching the problem. The prof. wrote back "this wasn't what I showed in class." Yet, he at least gave me some credit for coming up with an alternative way to get to the solution. I think that it is important to know a field well enough to think beyond the expected answers and to see multiple approaches to a given problem. Nick, I would not want to work for someone like the person you interviewed with--best of luck.
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Being stuck in a certain specialty

Postby Emil Chuck » Wed Feb 16, 2005 3:44 pm

Too many people think careers ought to progress in a linear fashion. Once a plant biologist always a plant biologist. Of course, the fact is that not all scientists stay in the same field, and many assume identities in multiple fields.

It is useful to have some people's assumptions of how you got to where you are shaken up a bit. I mention to people about how I jumped from my pre-med curriculum to engineering to molecular/cell biology to physiology. I certainly feel that I have a much better appreciation for the nature of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education now than if I just stuck with molecular biology forever.

Hooray for multidisciplinarity. It will definitely benefit you and other research teams in the future. Or at least that's what the NIH Roadmap wants.
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Being stuck in a certain specialty

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Feb 16, 2005 4:00 pm

Shawn's comments are good ones. I was absolutely too harsh. Even after searching out a couple of old friends and inviting them here to post about how great plant biology careers are in an earlier thread, I still bashed it. I am embarrased and yet I know that I will at some point in the future bash the plant biology field once again. I can't help it. I've seen too many science careers crash and burn because people think that they can study whatever they want to in their grad studies and then move to an industry job.

It doesn't work that way. People will look at you, smile, thank you for applying, and then hire someone else. Plant biology is not a great background for a job in a biotech company, unless that company is in the ag-tech arena.

The sad part is that it probably is GREAT training for a biotech company. It is just that companies don't recognize it and they are unwilling to train! So, once again, the job market dynamics are such that you need to move quickly from plant biology to something else if you want an industry job.

So, Shawn, I am now going back to my original post to modify it. Thank you for keeping me in line. I get too passsionate about these issues, and plant biology is one of those hot-buttons for me.

Dave
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Being stuck in a certain specialty

Postby Shawn Baker » Thu Feb 17, 2005 12:01 am

Dave,
I think you've hit the nail on the head - Plant Biology probably isn't a great choice when trying to get a job in industry (sadly). I just didn't want everyone to give up on it, even those that were planning on staying in academia.

Shawn
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Being stuck in a certain specialty

Postby John Fetzer » Thu Feb 17, 2005 12:09 am

You get stuck with a label whether you want to or not. Many places screen applications by having an HR person or someone of little science experience (or even a computer) look for key words. They might ask for a mass spectroscopist. The screener does not see MALDI-TOF-MS as that and you are out.

The "hit the mark" searching for very specific experience should be a warning to you that you are hired for that only and might be out of the door once a project gets done. This temporary hiring mentality is more prevalent than it used to be, especially in the fluid workplace of some pharma and biotech companies. They do not value flexibility and technical diversity as much as they could. They think every type of expertise can be bought off the shelf.

I'd try to avoid those situations, as job security is very flimsy.

John
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