One of the less acknowledged perks of scientific and technical training is that these educational paths prepare you for a vast selection of career options. Scientists are certainly following many diverse career paths these days. A recent National Science Foundation study showed that 57% of PhDs in US Biomedical workforce will NOT go into “traditional” academic positions. More recently, I have been hearing exit survey data from postdoctoral programs in the Boston area that demonstrate that 85% of leaving postdocs pursue a career outside the traditional academic silo to tenured professor. Non-academia encompasses millions of choices including pharma, tech transfer, management consulting, science communication, policy and the diverse options in nonprofit science. No one list can ever encompass them all. We can’t designate non-academic jobs as “alternative” anymore.
Like graphing data, choosing controls, or mixing clear solutions—public speaking is skill that any scientist can learn. Any time you give a science talk, you are also giving a job talk. Even if not being interviewed, there could always be a future boss in the room, so it is a good idea to start thinking about public speaking early and often. Two of my jobs have indirectly resulted from someone seeing me speak in a non-interview setting. There are many resources on self-promotion (how hard it is for some people, especially women), visibility (how to get it, especially if introverted ), and networking (how to get people to remember you). What better way to accomplish all of these things naturally than to give a dynamite presentation? To that end, let’s chat about giving science talks and how to make them serve you well. The happy byproduct might just be a career opportunity.
Having never been to China myself, I was pleased to be able to participate when the organizers of the Canton Nucleic Acids Forum (CNAF) 2015 conference invited me to attend and speak about Addgene’s experience helping scientists share plasmids, especially those of the CRISPR variety (see slides from my talk below). Largely organized by Dmitry Samarsky, and a very welcoming team from China’s Ribobio, the illustrious speaker list attracted a host of sponsors based all over the world. With three Nobel Prize winners, one NIH Director and a co-founder of BGI-China presenting, it’s no wonder it was attended by over 300 Chinese scientists eager to hear current findings in nucleic acid science. I was delighted to see that the majority of attendees were scientists still working at the bench. It was a fantastic opportunity to talk to so many scientists who were potential Addgene requestors and depositors. China is in one of the top 10 countries in number of plasmid requests from Addgene.
Expanding your network of relationships early and often is the most effective tactic a scientist in training can adopt to ensure opportunities in the future. Studies show that the majority of job offers arise as a result of existing professional (and personal) relationships. However, most job seekers will and should apply for jobs posted online as one part of their job search. This is especially true of scientists seeking a first job after the academic bench. Utilizing existing relationships as part of the job application process can dramatically increase the chances of being seriously considered for an open position.
We are inundated with articles and books on the topic of leadership. Perhaps one of your advisors or mentors has urged you to work on developing your “leadership skills”. Leadership is prized at all levels of an organization and is also one of the most common criteria required for a promotion. Yet little explanation is given for how someone can or should demonstrate this quality.
I am often asked to give career seminars on Leadership Skills. After attempting to put together such a presentation many times, I could never actually figure out what skills were really leader-specific. How is leadership different from good management? Aren't all career skills leaderhsip skills when done well? Do you just have to know it when you see it?