Skip ahead to:
1:00 – Resume Musts For PhDs w/ Isaiah Hankel
17:50 – Choosing Yourself In Your Career w/James Altucher
36:20 – Show Me the Data
51:31 – Finding A Career You Love w/Philip Kruger Ph.D.
Are you prioritizing your own values in your job search or just following a predetermined path?
Ready to choose yourself in your career and find a position that you enjoy?
In this episode of Cheeky Scientist Radio, James Altucher, best selling author of Choose Yourself talks about the steps you can take to choose yourself in your career and find a position that you enjoy. Then Philipp Kruger, Ph.D. author of the Nature article ‘Why it is not a ‘failure’ to leave academia’ gives great insight into how PhDs can figure out what jobs are a good fit for them.
About Our Guests
James Altucher is a Top 10 Linkedin Influencer, prolific writer, successful entrepreneur, chess master, and venture capitalist. He has started and sold several companies and is actively invested in, or advises, over 30 different companies in areas ranging from tech to energy to healthcare to biotech. But more important, James has been inspiring people both in person through hundreds of events and through weekly Q&A Twitter sessions by speaking on topics including stress, fear, anxiety, money, and relationships.
His writing has appeared in most major national media outlets, The Financial Times, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and The Huffington Post. His blog, The Altucher Confidential, has attracted more than 10 million readers since its launch in 2010. His podcasts, including “The James Altucher Show” have had over 50 million downloads. James is the author of eighteen books, including the motivational best seller Choose Yourself and I Was Blind but Now I See.
Philipp Kruger did his B.Sc. at the University of Tübingen, and recently finished his Ph.D. in immunology at the University of Oxford, UK.
He is the author of the Nature article ‘Why it is not a ‘failure’ to leave academia’, which is about how PhD students can prepare for different careers, and how lab heads can help.
Philipp is currently a Career Outreach Fellow at the Careers Service at the University of Oxford, where he runs career-development activities and gives presentations and workshops.
1. To successfully make a career change (ie transition from academia to industry) you need to set up a ‘pyramid’ that will help you move forward. From bottom to top that pyramid is: made of 1. eliminating toxic people from your life 2. practicing your creativity 3. learning microskills 4. finding your plus, minus, equal and 5. just doing it.
2. Diversify your ‘tribe’ when you feel like you are slipping or losing value in your current group.
3. Keep a perpetual pro and con list to learn what you enjoy and don’t enjoy doing so you can make an educated choice when seeking out a new career.
How To Find A Career That Brings You Value
Inside Higher Ed reported a study about the prevalence of depression and anxiety among PhD students. They study found that 41% of PhDs in the survey experienced anxiety and 39% of PhDs experienced depression. These number are higher than what the average population experiences and highlights the negative culture that is often associated with academia.
Interestingly the study found that having a positive relationship with an advisor mediated the levels of depression, where if the PhD student ‘felt valued by the mentor’ the level of depression dropped from 56% to only 30% and the level of anxiety dropped from 55% to 34% when PhD student felt valued.
The big takeaway here is that sometimes you can’t control who your specific advisor is, but you can always find other mentors. Look somewhere else, and find a mentor that you really can look up to and that makes you feel valued. So you can find that positive relationship, rather than relying on one that’s built in for you, that’s not working.
And it’s important to find a career that you enjoy and is satisfying because it will influence the quality of your life. A study in Frontiers In Psychology found that job satisfaction and life satisfaction were positively correlated with a value of β = 0.43.
So, if you’re life is feeling crappy now, take a look at how things are going at work, and vice versa. And so if you are not happy in academia now, your life is not going to be happy, right? That’s why you might be experiencing anxiety, depression, et cetera, because it’s a powerful influencer.
All of us understand that frustration that you can feel in academia. It’s empowering to know that a lot of times the reason that your whole life feels like that is just because of the work you’re doing. So if you switch that up, if you give something new a shot, you can totally change the entire trajectory of what you’re feeling.
Choosing Yourself In Your Career: A Conversation with James Altucher
Isaiah: What could somebody who’s trying to change careers do to push themselves into a position where they have to go forward, where they have to make a change?
James: I think that’s such a great question, and there’s not a one sentence answer, there’s kind of like a pyramid of answers.
First you have to build the foundation. You have to build the foundation of where you’re able to physically and psychologically make a change from something you’ve already invested a lot of time and energy, and maybe money into. And that foundation is saying to yourself, “Okay, I need to make a big change.” You got to be ready for it, you’ve got to be physically healthy, you’ve got to be psychologically healthy, which means eliminate the toxic people in your life, eliminate the people who say, “No, you can’t do that.” Or, “No, you shouldn’t make that change, that’s such a bad decision for you.” Or, they try and put you down. So that’s really important. Eliminating toxic people and being healthy are probably the two most important things you can do to prepare the foundation to make a change.
Second, practice your creativity. Creativity is a muscle, like any other muscle. So make sure you’re being creative, every day, and most people aren’t focused on being creative every day. I guarantee you, within three to six months, of even just writing down 10 ideas a day, your idea muscle will be an idea machine.
Third, for whatever you want to learn, identify the microskills of what you learn. As an example, let’s say you want to be good at business, there’s no such thing as a business skill. Business skill is divided into microskills, there’s negotiating, there’s sales, there’s product development, there’s execution, there’s monetizing, there’s marketing, there’s leadership and management and motivation. So these are all skills you have to develop to have this umbrella skill of business. For instance, in the past couple of years, I’ve wanted to learn to be a standup comedian, just for fun, just to get myself out of my comfort zone, because it helps in other areas of life. And I realized there’s no such skill as standup comedy. There’s humor, there’s likeability, there’s crowd work, there’s stage presence. You have to be good at all of these microskills. Okay, so that’s the next layer.
Fourth, Frank Shamrock, who’s probably the best ultimate fighting champion of all time, he told me this, and I found that it’s true for every big change in my life, “Find your plus, minus, equal.”
The plus is a mentor to teach you, and that might be a real mentor, it might be a virtual mentor doesn’t matter.
Your equals are the team of people around you who are also striving to succeed, and they challenge you, and you challenge them, and you compare notes, and you exchange ideas, and you can grow up as a team with them. And it happens in every area of life. If you look back at, even the computer age, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, … they were all hanging out together, practically as barely more than teenagers, and they created the entire computer age. So every industry has this, the equals.
And then there’s the minus, which is, you can’t really know anything unless you can explain it. So make sure you can always explain at like a third grade level, what it is you’re learning, and find people to teach and share what you’re learning as you’re learning it, and you’ll find you’ll learn much better, and you’ll learn the nuances much faster. So plus minus equal.
Fifth, the final top of this pyramid is, Just Do It, the Nike expression. Just simply do what you love. If you love writing, write a lot; if you love computer programming, computer program a lot; if you want to start businesses, start side hustles or businesses or do whatever you can to monetize your interest. Just start doing things.
Isaiah: Let’s say you’ve realized that your current path lead to a dead end. Is there something you can do to shake off that feeling and show yourself that there’s more possibilities?
James: I think it’s about understanding a two million year old idea or longer, which is that we’re tribal animals. So we get into a setting, and join the tribe. In academia the professors who are famous for publishing a lot, they’re at the top of that tribe. They’re the alpha of that tribe. Then maybe the up and coming professors are next, and the genius students are next, and then of course there’s me at the omega level of students.
So you’ve got a natural instinct to place yourself in a tribe. But that’s all artificial. So whenever I find myself in a subculture or hierarchy where I’m feeling that those neuro-chemicals release, like the cortisol that happens when you feel like you’re slipping from the tribe, you’re losing status, I diversify tribes.
So make sure that you diversify the tribes that you’re in, and also just be aware that these feelings you have, whether it’s success or failure, it all related to whether you feel the tribe is accepting you or rejecting you. And try to just be aware of that so you can again diversity the tribes, and awareness is the key to freedom. You want to be your own self and pave your own way, and avoid all these primal neurochemical instincts.
Finding A Career You Love: A Conversation with Philip Kruger Ph.D.
Isaiah: Philip is the author of the Nature article, “Why it is Not a Failure to Leave Academia.” This is a fantastic article. My first what inspired you to write this article that’s been so well-received?
Philip: Well, mainly conversations with people around me in my research environment, literally over the four years of my PhD. Talking to other students, seeing other students and how much time they spend on the bench while I went off to do other things. But also having conversations or overhearing comments from group leaders, from senior academics, I heard one person say that only those people that are not good enough for academia go into industry. And I thought, “How can a person in such a senior position who has spent so much time in research say something that is so far away from reality? How can we allow culture like this to exist?”
And that was really when I started thinking about writing something that hopefully can help to change this culture.
Isaiah: I think you did a great job of discussing how to decide on career paths and how to gather data on options, and you do something called a perpetual pros and cons list that you keep as the hear about different positions, etc. Can you talk about this perpetual pros and cons list?
Philip: Yeah, it’s essentially more or less a kind of diary, but not on a daily basis, but based on experiences. If I have a very bad day in the lab, a frustrating experience or just had a very boring week of analyzing data, or whatever it is for you. Whatever task it was. I reflect on that kind of thing and I just make a note of what have I done and why did I not enjoy it, and then that list accumulates over years.
And at the same time you make a note if you have a really exciting day. If you have a very interesting conversations, a really elevating discussion with someone, a personal connection. And that way, for example, I’ve found that I really have this kind of feeling of excitement whenever I came back from conferences. Whenever I had interactions with lots of people, discussions about science. Not really when I was doing the science myself. When I was in the lab for a whole week just doing experiments, not talking to anyone, I never really enjoyed those parts of the work.
Isaiah: If you do this self-analysis, with the pros and cons list, and you still don’t know what you want, what’s the end of the equation? The last steps? The things you can do to expose yourself to new things?
Philip: Well I think taking initiative and organizing events, for example, and going out there, doing things, being on committees, exploring the outside world, within or outside the university. That is already part of self-assessment because you get to know yourself better by doing these kinds of tasks. If you’ve never had the responsibility for budget as the treasurer of a committee, you won’t know if that’s something you might like, and that’s the first step really.
But it can obviously also help you develop networks, talk to people, and that’s really the second part of the career development for me is learning about the world. Trying to figure out what jobs are there, what do people do, what is it on a day to day basis?
And I think for that, you can read as much online as you want, but you’ll never really get down to the day-to-day experience. You really have to talk to people. I really like this kind of idea of information interviews, even with strangers. But also just at conferences or in your environment. Observe where people are, what they do, and whether you might enjoy that kind of role.
Watch to the full podcast episode above to get even more insight into: strategies you can use to choose yourself in your career and specific tips for finding a career that you love and enjoy.
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Isaiah believes that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life right now, you should make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.