Practice Makes Perfect

tennis practiceLast week, I was privileged to share some time with trainees at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Biomedical Career Fair in Durham, North Carolina. The goal of this conference was to:

“provide young scientists an opportunity to explore a myriad of fields and create a contact network as they plan for future careers in the biomedical sciences,”

according to the website above. As it turned out, however, just about every trainee I met has already acquired some level of career development savvy.
Most of the graduate students and postdocs I interacted with, whether from UNC-Chapel Hill (GO HEELS!), Duke, NIEHS, the EPA, or elsewhere, have served as volunteers, freelancers, adjuncts, interns, or apprentices in a wide range of career fields. It is precisely this type of hands-on training that will give these candidates an edge in the current job market.
If you are currently exploring or are curious about a particular field, test both your interest and skill by creating an opportunity to work in that environment. One of the trainees I met volunteers as an intern in an office of technology transfer, for example. In this setting, she has developed specific skills that are attractive to employers hiring for this field. Another trainee has sought out multiple teaching opportunities by contacting faculty at several institutions and offering to guest lecture. His CV is now much stronger, as he has oodles of classroom experience to show prospective universities.
Yet another trainee I met called on her problem solving skills and quick reaction time by jumping in when needed at the career fair. Any trainee involved with the planning and/or execution of a large-scale event like last week’s career fair will be sought after by employers from a wide range of fields for their demonstrated teamwork, problem-solving, and organizational skills. (And on that note, let me take this chance to say THANK YOU for a job well done, Diane, Raj, Michelle, and others!)
Another innovative way to expand your skill set is to enroll in or audit a class of interest. If you are seeking to move into consulting, for example, you may want to check out the offerings of local business schools. While this type of experience may not seem as hands-on as some of the examples above, it may prove to fill a skill gap on your resume in a field you’re considering.
So get your hands wet, dirty, or whatever the analogy is to build your resume or CV for careers that appeal to you. And for exceptional career advice, you may need to look no further than your own bench. Judging from the trainees I met last week, your lab mates may be pretty career-savvy folk indeed. 🙂

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