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Getting the Most Out of Your NIH Career Symposium Experience

Submitted by peryan79 May 7, 2012

Post written by a guest blogger Lillian Kuo, Postdoc at NCI. It’s time for the 5th Annual NIH Career Symposium on Friday May 18th, 2012!  This is an action-packed day of panel speakers and skills blitzes to provide insights into the myriad of professional career options for biomedical scientists.  Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of the event.  Before the Symposium:

  • Take a look at the Agenda and decide which panels and skills blitzes you’d like to attend.  Use the Panel Descriptions to give you an idea of the topics that will be covered.
  • Look at the list of panelists and prepare a list of questions you would like to ask. Please remember that this is not a job fair.  This is an opportunity for you to gain information about your next step in your career.
  • Keep an open mind!

During the Event:

  • Attend the Keynote Leadership Panel:  To get your juices going, we have an esteemed Panel of Leaders to kick-off this great day.  This panel of brilliantly accomplished and experienced scientists will share with you their success stories and provide you with encouragement and advice as you embark on your scientific career journey.
  • Are you interested in academics?  The academic sessions will guide you through all the big steps to achieving your goal to be an academic scientist.  First, you’ll learn about how to prepare for the plunge into the academic search process.  The next sessions will walk you through job packet and interview preparation, and how to negotiate and transition into your fledgling academic position.
  • Are you looking for careers away from the bench?  A plethora of non-bench careers will be covered including: regulatory affairs, scientific administration, medical writing, grants management, technology transfer, consulting, and strategic planning, just to name a few.  Even more exciting, the panel sessions are organized by scientific theme, so you can learn about how you can utilize your scientific training in “Protecting Public Health” or “Scientific Innovation.”
  • Do you want to work in industry?  This year’s industrial sessions have been designed and constructed around the steps in discovering, developing and launching a new drug.  Panelists will describe the industry jobs available to you from the initial research and development stage through marketing and selling a new drug.
  • But wait, there’s more…  Are you still uncertain or are looking for general career guidance?  The OITE Career Services team will provide an informal and interactive session to answer any of your questions and help point you in the right direction.  Finally, the 14 Skills Blitzes are the most exciting part of the day as you get a whirlwind tour of the skills you need for your career development plan.
  • Network, Network, Network:  Regardless of what sessions you attend or what career path you are pursuing, this event is a great opportunity to make contacts in different fields.  Rooms will be available for you to meet the panelists and speakers in person.  Exchange business cards and set up informational interviews.

After the Symposium:

  • Follow-up with people you have met.  The OITE has great resources to help you make that cold contact and utilize proper email etiquette.
  • Be bold. Set up informational interviews with someone in your field of interest.  Ask to meet again in person. 
  • Practice what you learned.  Utilize what you learned from the panelists and in the Skills Blitzes.

A Note from Our Career Counselors

Submitted by peryan79 May 10, 2012

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.

What Luck Really Looks Like

Submitted by peryan79 May 21, 2012

If you attended the 5th Annual NIH Career Symposium last Friday, you heard about how many professionals in a wide variety of industries got their job.  You probably heard more than a few panelists say they got their job by “luck.”  However, if you listened to their whole story, you would have realized that they made their own luck.  What you did not hear was a panelist say, “I worked in the lab all the time.  One day, this person that I had never seen before came into the lab and said, ‘Hey, you want this job?’” 

A common response from our panelists to the question, “How did you get into the field you are in now?” was something like the following:  “Really, I kind of got lucky.  I was volunteering with this organization…” or “I was serving on this committee…” or “I was working on this council…” all followed by “…and I started to develop these skills,” or “…and I meet this individual who worked where I now work.”  They did not sit idle waiting for providence to shine upon them.  Most of their stories share a common theme; they were out working to develop skills and gain experience doing what they wanted to do.    

Their “luck” was not random chance.  The second century Roman philosopher, Seneca, is credited with the saying, “Luck is where the crossroads of preparation and opportunity meet.”  While opportunity had to present itself, the panelists from the career symposium were doing the right things to be in the right places at the right times.  The panelists may feel “lucky” to have the jobs they have.  They enjoy what they do and they are excited by the new challenges they face.  But, they had done the work to be prepared to take advantage of that opportunity when it came.  Their word of choice may have been “luck,” but their story was one of preparation meeting opportunity.  They made their own luck.  How will you make yours?