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.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Field Application Scientist

April 16, 2013

Name: Jill Hesse, PhD

Job title and company: Field Application Scientist, GenoLogics

Location: Raleigh, NC

How long you’ve been in your current job: 9 months

Postdoc advisor, IC, and subject: Richard Paules, NIEHS, micro-RNA’s role in damage response

What do you do as a Field Application Scientist? We joke that I drink coffee and run my mouth professionally, but basically my job is divided into two parts: on the pre-sale side, I visit customers and give them demonstrations with high-level information on how my company can help them and their science. On the post-sale side, I help coordinate the implementation of their software and provide computer training to get the customer into the software to get the information they need.

What was the hardest thing about transitioning into your career from bench? I think the interesting thing about moving from bench science is there’s a fear that you’ve never done anything other than bench science, and we know that we are really good at bench science, but what if I am not good at anything else? The second thing is that it’s just a different mindset. Science is very much a you’ll-get-there-when-you-get-there pace. When you go to industry positions, there’s much more of an immediate timeline and things move at a faster pace than the research environment.

What is your favorite aspect being a Field Application Scientist? I like being a Field Application Scientists for two reasons: One, I get to talk about science at the 10,000 foot level. Instead of talking about your favorite mutation or protein, you get to talk about things really affecting critical research and clinical trials. The work also changes all the time. With research, you might get one particular little tiny thing that you do over and over and over again everyday – now I talk to different people all over the country about different things every day.

What was your job search like? I knew relatively soon after coming into my post-doc that I didn’t want to stay at the bench forever, so I started looking to see what was out there and explored what my options were so I’d be ready for the right job when it came along. After I decided that something in the sales side of the world would be interesting, I started looking at field application jobs. They’re a good way to get your foot in the sales door. You can take the science you know and apply it to whatever technology a company happens to sell.
I’m actually one of the very few that applied for a job on-line and had a recruiter call me instead of an HR rep. I had a really good experience with the recruiter. We did a couple of interviews before ever getting passed on to the company that I currently work for. She did some of the initial vetting and helped me throughout the process with the scheduling and giving me interviewing pointers, telling me the most likely interviewers and what they might ask. It was great.

What soft skills are needed for this position? In this job, you need the ability to talk with anyone about anything, including talking about science to talking about items that I’m selling to talking about what happened today in the weather. For researchers, getting out and learning not to be afraid to talk to people is really useful. Additionally, anything you can do that will show that you are a self-starter. Teach yourself to do something new or get a certification you didn’t need for your post-doc. People I interviewed with found it interesting that I had the initiative to learn things on my own, like some basic bioinformatics I taught myself to analyze a data set. These jobs tend to move fairly rapidly. Sometimes you’ll be given a project and told “just work things out”. The fact that you can learn something and not afraid to do so will translate well.

Last bits of advice: Everybody is given advice that you need to network, you need to get out more, and you need to meet people. While I didn’t get my job that way, going out and doing all that networking was very important. I had been involved with the NIEHS Training Association (NTA), which broadened my network my network of postdocs, faculty members, and staff at NIEHS. My involvement as the postdoc representative on several NIEHS wide committees gave me the opportunity to learn more about how government science works and exposed me to people I might not have otherwise met. Additionally, the committee work helped me develop skills in talking and negotiating with my superiors. When I got my job, my previous experience networking had made me unafraid of people even if I didn’t understand their science. Networking is useful, both for getting the job and in developing skills that we sometimes miss at the bench, such as talking about things that aren’t specifically related to our science.

NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Patent Examiner, United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

April 4, 2013

Last year we had a number of postdocs from the NIH Intramural Research Program leave to start their careers with USPTO, here we interview 3 that started in May of 2012

Names: Sean Barron, PhD; Andrea McCollum, PhD; and Julie Wu, PhD
Location: Alexandria, VA
Time in current positions: 8 months (all started at the same time)

  • Sean: the affect of nicotine on the hippocampus with Chris McBain at NICHD.
  • Andrea: biomarkers in ovarian cancer with Elise Kohn at NCI.
  • Julie: the role of mTOR for aged related processes with Toren Finkel at NHLBI.

What is a patent examiner? A patent examiner reviews applications and determines their patentability according to the laws and regulations for the US government. Patent applications need to comply with US laws in their format, organization, subject matter, etc., and contain strong support for the claims. Investigating the evidence of those claims and making sure that no one else patented or published the idea is where the patent examiner turns sleuth. The work requires checking publications, conferences, books, and other potential outlets to ensure that the item being patented is not already in the public domain.
How did they find this job? Andrea conducted informational interviews early on to determine where she wanted to go next in her career. With her interest sparked by speaking to people in patent work, Andrea took the FAES course: Intellectual Property and Patent Prosecution for Scientists. Sean took the same course as a way of introduction to the patent world after hearing about technology transfer at an OITE event. Julie applied for the position after researching a job post on an organizational e-mail. So each person had a different level of preparation for the job.

What skills are needed? Everyone agreed that an ideal candidate would have a good attention to detail, be quick to learn, and, as Sean put it, “be comfortable being uncomfortable”. The USPTO reads patents on every sector of science (and more), and a patent examiner needs be able to quickly process an application that may be barely related to the science they have previously seen. Additionally, examining patents is a high-paced environment, and there is an expectation that a certain number of patents will be reviewed each pay period. Sean views these targets as a positive in that you always have a good idea of how well you are performing. Excellent time management and organizational skills help an examiner deal with the fast pace necessary for the high turn around requirement.

What adjustments did you make moving to the USPTO? Becoming a patent examiner requires a change in mindset from that of a bench scientist. As a bench scientist, you are expected to be an expert at everything you do and to know your field in great detail. As a patent examiner, time is a luxury. You need to learn just enough to be able to accept or deny a patent with confidence. This fast pace requires a big shift from knowing a lot about a little to knowing a little about a lot.

What preparation can people do to follow in your path? In addition to the course previously mentioned, FAES offers several technology transfer related courses that can be applied for credit for a Masters of Science degree at the University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Graduate School of Management and Technology. Detailing in the Office of Technology Transfer is also a good way to check if intellectual property is a field you are interested in (see the recent Catalyst article: Details, details, details: Leaving the bench, but staying in science). A nice thing about working as a patent examiner is there is no previous experience required. You will be trained (extensively) in the patent process after placing in the job.

Keep in mind when applying to emphasize the breadth of your knowledge rather than the depth. You probably will not be placed in the area you researched, so it is important to show intellectual flexibility.

Is this career for everyone? Although all three of our alumni love their jobs, they also recognized that the career of a patent examiner is not for everyone. The pay and work life balance is excellent, the science is fascinating, and you can quickly gain control of your own career in the USPTO. However, the work is pretty independent, desk-based, and fast-paced. But, for the right people this is a career they can love.

A Year in Review: Calendar for Career Success

December 11, 2012

If you’ve been following the OITE blog this year, you know that in the start of 2012 we decided to help you make a Calendar for Career Success.  We picked topics, and blogged about them, giving you advice (and sometimes challenges) each month to help you drive your career.  In short, we wanted 2012 to be the ‘Year for Your Career.’

And given that it is December, it is time to sit back and reminisce about the past year – because that is what everyone does in December, right?  Some of the things we talked about this year included having conversations about your career goals.  Not just you and your friends talking about your dream job over lunch, but a directed conversation with your PI or a career counselor.  These can be tough – but worthwhile. They help you take control of your career – set a plan, and work with people that have experience and knowledge to help you create a successful career plan.

And sometimes we made you work – pulling together resources to create your job application, practicing your interviewing skills.  Because your career plan is not just a theory or a timeline on a piece of paper, but something you engage in: Thinking critically about your resume or CV, assessing your skills and abilities, and taking advantage of resources and opportunities to strengthen your career.

If you followed our career calendar for 2012 (you can find it here) then congratulations!  You deserve a good pat on the back. Even if you are in your same job now (because you weren’t on the job market in 2012) or not (despite your best efforts you still haven’t moved on to your dream job), actively working on your career each month is a great achievement.  Even people in their ‘dream’ job constantly engage in making their career a ‘priority.’  They attend conferences and network with colleagues; they think about how to either gain new skills or apply the ones they have to new questions or problems.  For these people, focus is on making their current job more interesting or more challenging, not on getting a new one.

But why should 2012 be the only “Year of Your Career?”  The answer: No reason.  Every year can be your career year.  And if you weren’t reading our blog in January of 2012 (shame on you, by the way), then there is no reason not to start working on our calendar in January 2013.  And if you’ve been with us all year long, you can continue to actively work on your career – whether you want to just be better at your current job, or get a new one.

In short, your career is an activity, not a thing.  And by setting up a career calendar, and sticking to it, you’ve decided that your career is a priority, and actively engage in having your dream career!

Making the Transition to a New Position

November 26, 2012

You have a new job!  (or hope to soon).  Here are some tips to make the transition to your new position successful and as easy as possible.

First, remember that transitions are always tough.  While you are likely very excited about a new position, the transition can be overwhelming, especially if you are moving to a new location. You are closing out a chapter in your life that has likely lasted between two and five years (or more).   You are saying goodbye to friends and colleagues and disrupting an established routine—so some anxiety is totally normal.

Finish strong and leave your current job on a positive note.  Finish those last minute experiments, organize those freezer boxes, clean your personal spaces (bench, desk, etc), train other people in the group on what you do, and organize/clean/save important computer files and emails.  This always seems to take longer than you think it should, and many of us have put this off to the last minute and then scrambled to finish everything before we walk out the door.  Also, decide how many of those last minute experiments can honestly be done before you leave.  Someone else in the lab can likely perform the rest after you leave.

Make sure you take time to say goodbye to people.  Things can be chaotic as you transition, and sometimes we forget the people.  Schedule enough time to say goodbye (without over-scheduling so that you are going crazy trying to keep your social calendar in check).

If your new job requires you to move, ask the organization you are moving to for relocation help.  Even if this will just be a colleague that will point you in the right direction for good neighborhoods, childcare, restaurants, etc.  Finding a good place to live will make the transition much easier.  You can even search the alumni databases or Linkedin to find other people who are in that location to get guidance.

Make a plan for your arrival at your new job.  Some recommend a 90 day plan of what you would like to get done.  A good book on is The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins.  Also, if you are heading to an academic appointment, you may want to read Making the Right Moves (published by HHMI), and At the Helm by Kathy Barker.  Create a summary and overview of your position, as you see it.  Then make a list of goals that you should (and can) complete in your first 30, 60, and 90 days.  In this, also mention the assumptions that you have and any required resources needed in order to make this happen.  This gives you some good guidelines and goals as you move into a new position with many other unknowns.

Build a good reputation with both your new boss and your new coworkers.  Be part of the team.  Volunteer to tackle doable projects.  Ask your co-workers on the best places for lunch and coffee (and even invite them to share in a cup of coffee with you).  Don’t try to integrate too quickly into every conversation.  Remember, these people have built a bond and you will need time to really understand all of the nuances of the relationships.

Finally, make sure to take some time for your own work-life balance.  Finding new places in the community is a great way to find a new support system, to gain friends and to make this transition less lonely.

So good luck!!!  And keep in touch…..your transition now makes a terrific success story for those coming through the ranks behind you!

How I Overcame My Fear of Informational Interviewing

November 5, 2012

Post written by a guest blogger Yewon Cheon, former postdoc in the National Institute of Aging and current Program Coordinator in OITE.

“I love interviewing people!”

One day, I was full of energy, running down the hall and shouting with excitement, coming back from an interview. It surprised everyone, including me. Because I am shy and afraid of talking to people I don’t know, it was very hard for me to absorb and initiate informational interviews for my career development. I am a researcher who hates networking, but I am NOT afraid of doing an experiment.  So, I designed my new experiment: informational interviews.

When I started to treat informational interviews like an experiment I found myself enjoying this important career tool, and using it for my advantage.  Think of it like this: It is composed of a literature review (getting information about person and career), developing methods (preparing questions), an experiment (interview), data acquisition (Q&A) and data analysis (evaluating a meeting), and repetition to increase sample size and to confirm reproducibility (contact others).

Here is how I found success:

My background:

I was shy and not confident in myself, finding it easier to label test tubes at the bench rather than to talk to strangers about their careers. Informational interviewing and networking were not things I wanted to do . My career mentor gave me two names to contact for informational interviews, a handout on how to conduct informational interviews, and the encouragement to go out and try….yet, it still took me a week to connect.

I am an Asian woman. I was raised and educated in the traditional Eastern way; listening and following others is considered to be respectful, but being persistent and aggressive is frowned on. I felt that being proactive in conducting informational interviews was the equivalent of being aggressive. Read the rest of this entry »