If you read my previous post you know I’m a big fan of plans and being flexible about them too. As I see many trainees prioritizing another experiment over spending an hour to plan for their career, I thought of writing a post about how to create your plan instead of waiting till the last minute after realizing you don’t want to stay in academia.
It just so happens that a couple of weeks ago Science Careers , in collaboration with FASEB, UCSF and the Medical College of Wisconsin, launched myIDP – a unique web-based tool that was specifically designed for grad students and post-docs to help them create their individual development plan. And so I thought it would be a good service to the Biocareers community to write about creating your game plan and review the new tool. Let’s get to it!
There are a few components to creating your plan:
1. Identify your interests – the first step is taking a deep look inside. We usually enjoy most the things we are naturally good at – is this the case for you? Try to figure out -what makes you get up in the morning? What do you enjoy doing the most? What makes you feel the most accomplished?
This is what’s great about this new “myIDP” tool (did I mention it’s FREE??). The first part is the “Assessment”. You will need to answer a set of questions regarding your skills, interests and values. The tricky part is that you need to be objective. The more honest you are with yourself, the better results you get.
The skills assessment covers your scientific knowledge, research skills, communication, leadership skills, responsible conduct of research and even your career planning skills!The next step is assessing your interests – it’s a list of activities that you need to rank from “I would never like to do this” to “I would like to this often”. For example – would your ideal job include designing and performing experiments often? or would it be writing about science to non-scientist? or maybe negotiating agreement and analyzing financial data? It is up to you, and again, for best results – be honest!
The last part is the values assessment: how important it is to you that your values match your career path and it covers values – everything from having people contacts, to supervision, to the pace of the work, to location and flexibility. Once you’re done with this part you will get your “career path match” which was compiled based on your answers in the assessment. However, since it’s harder to quantify values, you will need to check if a certain career path will fit your values. Another great feature in the myIDP site is that under “Resources” you can read more about each of the proposed career paths. Now that you have a list of possible paths – start exploring them! The best way is to TALK with people and conduct informational interviews.
2. Informational interviews are a great way to get information about a career path you are considering. I personally have done it and still do. Since I’m on the other side of the bench now, I’m often contacted by others and always agree to speak with them. However, even though some people are very hesitant about contacting people they don’t know, this is something you really shouldn’t be worried about. First, people LOVE talking about themselves and second, most of the PhDs (including myself) see it as a service to others to share their career path, especially when it comes to off-the-bench type of positions. The myIDP site has info on how to conduct information interviews, but the basics are:
a. Ask about the past, present and future
b. Never ask for a job
c. Be polite and appreciative of the interviewee’s time
d. Ask if they can suggest others you can talk withWhat is really nice about the myIDP is that you can have your own activities log for informational interviews. While it might take some extra effort to put in the details and the notes, if you are a typical scientist that has notes all over the place, this can be a good way to stay organized. I would recommend entering the notes immediately after the interview, while your memory is still fresh. Of course, there are other alternatives like Evernote or just a plain notebook devoted to informational interviews (and other career exploration activities). But, how do you find whom to talk to?
3. Networking – I know it’s a dirty word for many scientists but it shouldn’t be! Seriously, when done right, there’s nothing sleazy about it. I do feel networking deserves a post of its own, but briefly the point is to TALK TO PEOPLE! You can read about the different career paths, but the insights you can gain by actually talking to someone who’s doing a job you consider doing is invaluable. So how do you find possible interviewees?
a. LinkedIn is a great resource (and be sure to have your profile up to date) – you can use the advanced search to look for certain positions, keywords or companies within your vicinity.
b. Your scientific network: colleagues, alumni and even your boss – the previous post-doc in the lab might be a project manager in a big pharma company and your lab mate knows someone in regulatory affairs at a small biotech.
c. Your non-scientific network: family, friends, neighbors even your hairdresser – Really! I’m not joking. Your artist cousin might have a patent lawyer friend and your mom’s friend’s daughter might be a consultant at BCG or you might meet someone at a dog park. You never know – and life is full of surprises!
After you’re done with all the self-exploration and networking and conducting informational interviews, the myIDP site suggests you choose a career path and focus on setting your goals in regard to career advancement, project goals and skills goals. Which brings me to the next and last point in your plan – gaining the skills you need.
4. Volunteering/ extracurricular activities – as trained scientists we all have problem solving and communication skills. However, volunteering is the best way to gain the skills you need to advance your career, show initiative, and do something you enjoy. Under this falls anything from being on a committee, helping to organize a career development seminar, writing for the student newsletter or teaching science to underprivileged children. Whatever it is, you can show you have the extra skills needed for your career path – whether it’s organizational, teaching or editing. Don’t just do something so you can have it on your resume, however. Do it only if you care and are passionate about it, because if you “just did it” for the sake of having it on your resume, it will show during the interview process.
In sum, I think the myIDP assessment is a great starting point to think of career options that fits you. It provides various resources and helps you organize your career exploration activities, set your goals, and mainly – get a plan and implement it. Do you have a plan?