Career Coaching for Scientists: Why and Where Do I Find One?

By Joanne Kamens

Career coach coaching two individualsProfessional Career Coaching can be an excellent tactic for scientists making a career shift or who wish to improve their current job situation. What can a coach do that is different from an adviser, boss or mentor? First, professional coaches have experience and knowledge to help scientists transition out of the academic sphere into a different meaningful career in science. Supervisors in the academic infrastructure are not always as effective in mentoring for this transition. Second, a coach will help you set goals and then hold you accountable for carrying through on the actions you committed to. Finally, hiring a paid coach will make you take the experience more seriously and I have seen, without exception, that this helps people do a better job at reaching their goals. 

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I am a strong advocate for peer mentoring, but volunteer mentors are only able to go so far with their time and advice. A professional coach is paid to carry you through to a successful outcome and the good ones take this responsibility seriously.

As I make my rounds speaking at research institutions and at scientific conferences, I see that few scientists are aware of the benefits of coaching relationships and do not know where to look for a coach. Many (most?) graduate students and postdocs may feel they have limited funds to invest in this. However most coaches who focus on scientists are sensitive to this and have coaching plans that are financially accessible. Sometimes only a few hours of coaching time can make an enormous difference so don’t assume that this will cost a fortune for a successful outcome.

How do I find a coach?

Start with referrals. Are there scientists you know who have had a successful coaching experience? Some university career offices, postdoc offices or professional organizations can provide referrals. There are bad coaches out there, so finding a good one that is a style match for your needs can take some research. 

It helps to spend some time thinking about what your goals are for the coaching relationship. Do you want to change jobs? Grow your professional presence? Learn a key new job skill? Finish your thesis? Knowing your desired outcomes will help you assess if the coach you are interviewing is the one for the job.

A professional coach will provide an initial consultation meeting or call for free.  Take advantage of this to get the information you need to choose well.

  • What are their qualifications? Do they have certifications? How can they demonstrate their track record? Look for a coach that specializes in scientist coaching.
  • Always ask for references and follow up with 3-4 to hear about those clients’ experiences. Good coaches will have loads of success stories and plenty of people to vouch for them.
  • Trust your gut – only work with someone you connect with. Talk to the coach about their “style” and make sure this is a style that will help you. A good coach usually will be a clear communicator and make direct suggestions for improvement and change.
  • Work with the coach to define how you will know that the relationship has been successful – what are the desired outcomes?
  • Ask openly for clear information on costs.

Can you suggest some coaches?

Yes I can. Please note that Addgene does not endorse any of these coaches and I can't tell you which one will be a match for your needs, but here are a number I have come across for you to consider. Feel free to add other suggestions in the comments or email me with suggestions. 

Most coaches have websites you can review and most create useful online content in the form of blogs or articles. Look for them on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to see their online personas. Some have online coaching tools that can be very effective and also help keep the coaching costs low. Most will work with you remotely (by phone, Skype or Google Hangout) but in-person coaching is nice if you can get it. 

Because I am located in Cambridge, MA (and because we have a lot of scientists here) I know many coaches in the Boston area. Sarah Cardozo Duncan is a proven coach who helps people in science and tech get jobs. She is also a very popular speaker and workshop leader. Lauren Celano of Propel Careers is not a professional coach but is a professional recruiter who focuses on scientists. Her website and online content are rich in resources. Colin White and Anthony Collmann of White Consulting frequently do sessions by Skype or phone. Samantha Sutton is another very experienced and successful coach based in New York. Another experienced coach and speaker is Gwen Acton of Vivo Group whose tagline is Bridging Science and Business.

Maybe you just need help getting through your PhD? Some coaches focus on graduate students. For example Dora Farkas, founder of Finish Your Thesis (who has also blogged for us) offers a free report on her website called “Secrets to Success in Graduate School”. She has also launched an online career coaching program that might make her coaching more affordable for you. There is also a group The Dissertation Coach based in Illinois. A few of the coaches in this group have scientific backgrounds.

For a stated purpose of transitioning a scientist from academia to industry, you might want to consult the Cheeky Scientist. Their motto is “We Turn Academics into Confident and Successful Industry Professionals”. This larger shop might appeal to some although most scientist coaches can help with transitioning out of academia (because so many scientists are making this transition). Another coaching group is Still Point Coaching. One nice thing about a group is that sometimes this offers the option of matching with the best person in the group for your needs. Beth Schachter of Beth Schachter Consulting is part of that group and she is especially excellent in coaching for communication skills.

Industry transition is also an area of specialty for Michelle Capes at Adeptify Me. While based in Madison, Wisconsin she also works remotely and has experience as a scientific recruiter. Chris Humphrey from Jobs on Toast is based in the United Kingdom and scientists there would be lucky to work with him.  He is also available for speaking engagements as are many of the coaches I have mentioned.

I have seen a lot of fantastic online content for PhDs and postdocs posted by Toronto-based Jennifer Polk of From PhD to Life. She runs great tweet chats, has an outstanding blog and, while her PhD is in History, I think she would be a good match as a coach for many scientists. 

Sometimes it can be helpful having a coach that can offer extra support for issues of diversity in science.  A great person to contact is Twitter’s @DrQualls. Marquita Qualls of Entropia Consulting works remotely, will travel for speaking engagements and has many areas of specialty from leadership development to mentoring for women and under-represented minorities. Her online content is of great value. I have never been in contact with Aida Baida Gil of Coach De La Professional but the website looks interesting and it is in English and Spanish. She is based in Spain.

The bottom line – there are lots of people out there who want to help. Don’t be afraid to ask and to make an investment in your future.

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Topics: Science Careers, Mentoring for Scientists

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