Post Doc Alumna: Anu Nagarajan, PhD
Industry Position: Senior Scientist
The OITE interviewed a NIH postdoctoral alumna who successfully landed a position in industry. She shares her career exploration process, job search strategies, and knowledge that she gained about her employability as a professional scientist.
OITE: Tell me the story about how you began to search for career options as post doc.
Anu: In 2015 I started to feel a bit lost as a post doc. I needed mentorship and wanted to know more about a broad range of related careers. Simultaneously, because I had a newborn, I was also struggling with making a career choice for my family.
OITE: How did you go about getting the help you needed?
Anu: Job search is a job in itself and managing multiple active projects in the lab, while figuring out strategies to manage both family and work left me feeling like I could not invest the much-needed time to do a job search. I did some soul searching and determined that there was a mismatch between my personality/values and the career and the work life balance I was seeking. It takes a while to figure out which components of your skills and interests you want to carry forward in your career, especially when you are trying to figure out a new career path for yourself. So, I met with an OITE Career Counselor and began to learn about myself, my skills, and MBTI and I learned that I can do a lot of things that aligned with my values and personality. These included, education, outreach, helping, mentoring, giving to others plus research in the sciences. When I told my career counselor that I did not have the time to search for a job on top of my other work commitments, my career counselor advised me to create a Linked In account in order to easily explore jobs and easily create an online network. I put in all the skills I have and want to carry forward.
OITE: That is true, social networking sites like LinkedIn are potentially efficient ways to increase your visibility and connect virtually with colleagues and potential employers. Was it difficult to complete your profile?
Anu: It was hard for me to do this because I had to put my accomplishments out there! At that time, I didn’t feel I was strong enough, honestly because when you are juggling at lot at work and personally, it’s hard sometimes to see how many skills you actually have. So at that time I didn’t feel that I was “up to the mark. “
Shortly after I completed my profile. I felt good about my achievements as I populated the skills sections with science and other accomplishments. Soon after, people began endorsing me on LinkedIn and began adding me to their Profile which was great! I added peers, faculty, and members into my LinkedIn network. I also joined the professional groups, where I went to grad school, worked previously, and professional organizations.
OITE: What else did you learn by using LinkedIn?
Anu: An unanticipated side effect of this was that is that I became more confident of myself! I got 4 papers out, I went to conferences, and added researchers and representatives that I met from pharmaceutical companies to my LinkedIn links. I also started using the NIH Alumni Database. I met a professor on faculty at a local university who added me to his LinkedIn page who later became a key link to several more opportunities.
Talking to other people was so motivating to me! To see how other people viewed me was huge! This helped me to stay motivated, have a more realistic idea of who I am. I realized that I am good at a lot of things. The first thing I wish to share is that it is important to reach beyond your immediate lab group to gain perspective on your strengths. Your lab group might be great in giving feedback about your work, but you need a wider network of people, other scientists, mentors, and peers to endorse your skills and later promote you.
OITE: How did LinkedIn help you land an industry position?
Anu: I got a message through LinkedIn from an HR manager at a major scientific company who asked if I am interested in the company, to send her a CV and she set up a meeting with one of their group leaders. I agreed, and during the discussion, I learned more details about the position and the areas of expertise they were looking for. The group leader was also in the same professional network as my other peers, so they already knew about my background and training.
Next, the HR manager and group leader invited me to give an on-site job talk to the group about my research and met meet one-on-one with the scientists, all of whom had PhDs and postdoctoral experience.
OITE: Was it a traditional job talk format like in an academic interview?
Anu: Yes, it utilized a job talk format. Since this is a software company whose products are used by pharmaceutical companies for drug design, I focused my talk on my problem-solving skills, where I highlighted several methods I have used over the years to address many scientific problems, including some related to drug design. Their science is solid and accomplished. I hold them in high esteem. Their products are state of the art and I have used them before as well.
After this interview, I proceeded to candidacy. I provided my references who included my doctoral academic advisor, a mentor and senior professor who knew my skills, and my current PI at NIH. The following week, I was offered the job by the group leader who said, “we’d love to have you, we hope you will take the job!”
I negotiated for two weeks to evaluate the offer. During this time, I obtained more input about their research by talking to other members of the team. I also talked with my partner about the offer and what we needed for our family.
OITE: When you talked with them, did you decide to negotiate? If so were you able to negotiate everything that you needed?
Anu: Yes except I must relocate to the city where they are headquartered. However, I negotiated a later start date so that I had time to locate housing for my family. I also received time to attend conferences, publish, to work from home and telework which will contribute to work and family balance.
OITE: What words of wisdom would like to share with fellow scientists from your experience launching a career search and landing an industry position?
Anu: My main message is, feel confident about yourself and your accomplishments. A person who didn’t know me reached out to me through LinkedIn. Networking is about being yourself and knowing what you are capable of. It is important to have people who are impressed by you and promote you in your network. Finally, I learned that I interviewed more confidently because I was being my authentic self.
As scientists, we have a one-track mind and think we only a few career options that will work for us. But once I started talking to people, I figured out what my priorities were in terms of what values, skills, and interests I wanted to carry forward in my career. OITE workshops and staff were a huge help! Look up people on NIH Alumni database and cold contact them for informational interviews. Usually, people are open to informational interviews because you are from NIH. It’s not weird (I used to think so).
Please visit the OITE for more information about career counseling and other services for NIH trainees and fellows. We also encourage fellows and our readers who are not with NIH to access services through your college or university or in your communities.