Tips on Conducting a Job Search Anywhere

May 20, 2013

Do you need to find a job in a geographically limited area far from your current location? Maybe your significant other just found a dream job, or maybe you just always wanted to live in Seattle, WA – whatever the reason, a remote and geographically limited job search poses a distinct set of challenges that require some strategizing to overcome. Here are a few thoughts that may help from a person who recently was searching for a job in Dallas, TX, while living in Bethesda, MD.  These tips are useful in any job search, but particularly for conducting a remote search.

Begin the search early. Job options tend to be reduced when they are limited by geography. Imposing boundaries on the location means relying on fewer potential employers. The more time you allow for finding a job, the better.

Use your network. Your network should be your first resource in a remote job search. Know the histories of the people in your network, and keep up with their current locations. Ask people currently or historically linked to the area for suggested companies or connections. Some of your contacts may work for a company with an office in that location and may be willing to send out feelers on your behalf. Always ask permission before using a contact’s name or, even better, ask them to provide an introduction.

Do not limit yourself to professional contacts. Talk to friends, alumni associations, volunteer organizations, members of your religious institute, or anywhere else you may find an unexpected lead. If you are a member of a professional or volunteer organization, contact the local chapters to make some connections. Seek local people at conferences. Make your job search as widely known as possible – the more exposure the better. Conducting a secretive job search poses more of a challenge, but typically you can advertise pretty broadly without you current boss finding out.

Use job Sites. Job sites will be your friend. Most career sites filter searches to a specific area or radius around an area. Check out the state labor department for local search engines. The City of Dallas website had links to six local search engines.

Know your business. If you are looking for an academic job, search all the universities. For me, looking for a job in science policy in Dallas meant searching anywhere that might have a policy/government relations office, like non-profit organizations and universities. After finding some leads, go back to your network and look for the connections. Cold e-mails to directors or assistant directors (managers) located in offices of interest can end up in future leads or even a job.  So don’t be afraid to write them a note.  None of the offices I contacted were hiring at the time, but I continued to receive several leads from the people I contacted with in those initial cold e-mails.

Be flexible. Compromising a little on the job you are seeking may go a long way towards finding a position. As a person recently preparing for a science policy career in Washington, DC, where policy jobs are plentiful, now moving to Dallas, TX, where science policy jobs are next to non-existent, I had to broaden my search to jobs with similar skills requirements and career goals. After some considerable research, I found a job in the communications office of a local university requiring many of the same skills and tasks that I enjoyed in science policy.

To recap: start early, use your network heavily, use search engines wisely, cold call companies of interest, and use your network even more.

What are your suggestions or experiences for a remote job search?

Finding the Perfect Postdoc

May 13, 2013

Are you starting to think about finding the perfect postdoc position?

First, you need to decide whether you need to do a postdoc at all.  Depending on your career aspirations, a postdoc may only serve to delay your entry into your desired career or even hinder your ability to get started doing what you really want to do.  However, that is another post for another time.

You have decided that a postdoc is the next step, so here are some key elements to consider:

Advisor:  Many people think that the advisor’s reputation is the only thing to consider but we argue that to have a good postdoc experience you need to make sure that you and your advisor are compatible.  Here are some things to look for:

  • Mentoring style: We all say we want autonomy as a postdoc, but the level of autonomy really can differ.  Some advisors you may never see and getting their attention to discuss data is difficult. Others are more hands on and stop by multiple times a day to discuss experiments, techniques, data, etc.  Determine your preference in this spectrum.
  • Record: Understand where they publish.  How stable is their funding?  You should also know if they have expectation that you will write for your own funding or not. Consider the pros and cons of both tenured and tenure-track investigators (feel free to discuss this is the comment section).
  • Your Career: Pick an advisor that will support your career, no matter what you want to do next.  A good sign is if they know where former trainees work and are still in contact.  Do they have a strong network that you can tap into as you look for your next position?

Project:  You will want to know the project(s) you will be working on and how much you get to define it.  Is it really your project, or your boss’s project where you are doing the work?  Also, does the project have built-in skills development for you to learn new techniques and write grants? Is it interesting to you?

Labmates:  Do you like small labs that feel like family, or large labs with lots of people with differing expertise?  You will want to ask the current lab members about the work culture, work-life balance and the average length of a postdoc in the lab and where past members have gone after leaving.  These are the people you will spend a large portion of your time with, so getting the right fit is key to your overall happiness.

Institution:  Does the institution where the lab is based have career support in the form of a postdoc office or association?  You will also want to know the standard pay scale and benefits for postdocs and whether that is negotiable.  Also, don’t forget about your science and determine if the institution has facilities, such as core groups, that will support your research.

Location:  Yes, it does matter.  For some, being in a big city is the only way to truly live. For others, all that noise and commotion is too much to handle.  If you have a family (or are hoping to start one), their needs are important to consider as well.  Also, remember that your income needs to be considered with in the context of the cost of living for that area.

These are just a few key elements to consider.  Feel free to add a comment discussing other considerations when choosing the perfect postdoc.


Finding Time for Career-Enhancing Activities

May 6, 2013

Research is your top priority as a graduate student or postdoc. That, coupled with your passion for science, may drive you to devote every waking moment to your research.  You love discovery.  You need to publish.  However, regardless of your career aspirations, your regular routine may benefit from a slight change of pace.  Maybe there is a certain career you’ve always wanted to explore or skill set you’ve wanted to develop.  Participating in activities outside of lab can help you learn a lot about yourself, forge meaningful networks, and potentially guide your future career path.

Earlier, we discussed serving on the career symposium committee and how to make the most out of such opportunities.  Other activities may range from writing an article for a newsletter, organizing a monthly seminar series or social event, teaching a course or leading a journal club, taking the initiative to start a new interest group, or serving as a co-chair of a postdoc or graduate student association (such as FelCom or the Graduate Student Council). There is a variety of opportunities with a range of time commitments to explore.

Choose the right moment, but make the time: Develop a comfortable balance between your research and activities, and never overextend yourself.  For both graduate students and postdocs, the “middle-years” of your fellowships are generally good times to participate.  Don’t get heavily involved when just starting your fellowship or when your lab is in the midst of preparing for a sensitive event like a grant deadline or a BSC review.  For grad students, avoid periods of time when you have a high level of academic responsibilities.  Perhaps it feels like there is no perfect time or personal/family commitments make it difficult to participate in events that extend into the evening.  Though, let’s say you devote 5% of the “standard” 40 hour work to such career-enhancing activities.  That’s 2 hours a week!  Look at your schedule from that perspective and determine how you can find the time.

Do the job right or don’t do it at all: Don’t participate in an activity if you are just looking to add a line to your CV, and don’t agree to take a role if you are not truly enthusiastic about it.  That line on your CV alone won’t do or say anything if you can’t support it by explaining the transferrable skills that you may have acquired.  Make sure you clearly understand what is expected for each one before you volunteer.   If you don’t fulfill your responsibilities, it could irreparably damage your reputation with colleagues and staff.  Give plenty of warning if you have to respectfully miss a meeting or withdraw from an activity.  Again, research is your top priority and everyone understands if extenuating circumstances arise.

Taking the next step: Talk to your mentor about your participation in any activities during normal working hours.  If your mentor isn’t too enthusiastic about your participating in a certain activity, start with an event that doesn’t take up much time.  Explain to your mentor how these activities can be important for your future career path and show, specifically, how small the time commitment really is for many cases.  Show through experience that these activities are not interfering with your ability to get new data or proceed with your research.

The NIH (or your university) is a great place to explore your skills and interests both in and out of the lab.  If you choose the right activity, plan ahead and manage your time efficiently, you can significantly enrich your experience here.