A Note from Our Career Counselors

Post written by a guest blogger Anne Kirchgessner, Career Counselor in OITE.

In my role as a career counselor in the OITE Career Services Center, I often hear postdocs say something like “My mentor hasn’t done anything to help me get to the next step.” The sentiment is understandable.  Your PhD advisor may have taken a more active role in your search for a postdoc position.  Maybe your advisor made a call to get you your current position, or may have referred you to a colleague or collaborator.  This sense of security using your PhD mentor’s contacts may fail when you realize that the next step is a new game with new rules, requiring new skills and strategies for success.   In a recent article in Science Careers, David G. Jensen discusses the facts that the recognition and help we seek doesn’t always come from the top down.   It suggests looking at the bigger picture, collaborating, and finding satisfaction in work that you want to do, and taking charge of your own career decisions. 

There are various reasons why a postdoc mentor doesn’t just “make the call” that links their trainee to a career position:

  • Your PI doesn’t know your career interests – Often we assume help will be extended without asking for it or having discussed our career interests with our PIs.  If you want help from your PI you must start conversations about where your career is going.
  • Your PI may want to be helpful, but doesn’t know how – If your career interests are not to pursue academic research, your PI may not be knowledgeable about other science careers. (e.g. industry options, science policy, non-profit, science communications, technology transfer etc.)  However, you may have others in your network map that can help.
  • Your PI may seem focused on his/her own career and not your career -Be your own advocate, and search out opportunities to move your job search forward.

Right now there are some very effective ways for post-docs and graduate students to identify and explore strategies for career success, the job search and as Dave G. Jensen recommends…find internal job satisfaction.