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How To Optimize Your Job Search As A PhD By Doing Less, Not More


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1:20 – Isaiah’s Job Tip: Leverage The Fact That People Read Your Resume In A ‘F’ Pattern
4:45 – Show Me the Data
23:40 – How To Optimize Your Job Search w/ Dr. James Gould

Are you making your job search harder than is needs to be? 

Do you know what key steps you can take right now to boost your job search?

In this episode of Cheeky Scientist Radio, we are joined by Dr. James Gould from Harvard University, an experienced career consultant who actively coaches postdoctoral fellows and encourages them to consider new career options. He shares great insights into how PhDs and Postdocs can leverage their unique skills and find a rewarding career.

About Our Guest

James Gould completed his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and his postdoc at the National Cancer Institute. While a postdoc, he joined the NCI Center for Cancer Research Fellows and Young Investigators Steering Committee and began his transition. James is a Presenter, Speaker, and Career Consultant and his given workshops and invited talks all over the US. He is currently the Director at the Office for Postdoctoral Fellows at Harvard Medical School. He has also written numerous articles about the PhD job search, such as this one which appeared in Nature.

Key Takeaways

1. Doing a postdoc hurts your career.

2. For the best job search results start about a year from when you need a job cultivating, maintaining and then activating your strong network of people.

3. The job search process begins with self-reflection.

Why Doing A Postdoc Is A Bad Idea

Very recently, Nature, published an article that examined the impact of doing a postdoc on a person’s salary over the long term. What they found was quite shocking.

The study showed that doing a postdoc actual means you will earn less money throughout your career than someone who did not do a postdoc. In industry, government and non-profit organisations those employees who did a post doc made  less money than those who did not do a postdoc over the 15 year length of the study. See the image from this paper below.

So, unless you become a professor (which is very, very unlikely) doing a postdoc is not only unnecessary, it will cause you to earn less money during your career.

If you have already done a postdoc, don’t worry, you can leverage this experience to get hired in industry. But it all about how you communicate your skills. You must learn how to make the skills you learned as a postdoc relevant to the company where you want to work so they can see your value.

Now is the time to start your industry job search so you can find a position where you can leverage your PhD and doing meaningful work.

How PhDs Can Optimize Their Job Search: A Conversation With Dr. James Gould

Isaiah: What do you think should be the biggest career priorities for a PhD or postdoc who is trying to ensure that they actually have options for their career?

James: The biggest career priority … that’s a difficult question. But in my mind, I think it should be a few things. If you can do these top three things: being an absolute expert in your field or technology or technique, being a visible person in that field, and then also cultivating, maintaining and activating a vibrant network of former schoolmates, former lab mates and maybe even future employers. Those might be top three. But I can talk about 30 other things that you should be doing as well.

Isaiah:What are the two things you could do right now to set yourself up in a career? We were talking about the Pareto principle a little earlier, so I’ll ask you what 20% of your activities can bring you 80% of the results in your job search?

James: What you can do right away would be making sure you’re not doing this alone. Reach out for help and keep those lines of communication and those lines of help active, and making sure that you don’t become isolated and then maybe burnt out and turn into a negative mindset, as you had mentioned.

Again, I will repeat, activate your network and continue to cultivate that network. And what I mean by activating in this sense is that you might know you’re going on in the market sooner or later, or you might even be on the market and just haven’t done this yet.

So one of the quickest ways to find positions and hear about new things and reconnect is to just reach out and activate the people that you know.

Tell them you’re on the market. Don’t necessarily ask for them for anything yet, but tell them you’re on the market and if they hear or know of anything … just more of a passive request. The third thing would be to be, you would probably like this phrase, cross training, and making sure what you’re doing is multipurpose, to give yourself the most bang for your buck. If you’re going to do something already, it’s on your calendar, it’s research related or career related, make sure you’re doing five other things while you’re there. I’ve mentioned this before in our webinars and chats.

If you’re going already to your departmental seminar weekly or monthly, make sure you’re introducing yourself to the speaker. Make sure you follow up with the speaker. Make sure you introduce yourself to somebody or a group of people that are new that you haven’t sat next to. So making sure what you’re doing and just expand that to the rest of your rest of your daily life. If you go to lunch in the cafeteria, make sure you introduce yourself, maybe sit in someone else’s table. Most of the time they won’t mind.

The other thing is making sure that you’re coming from a mindset and a perspective of positivity and moving forward. Making sure that you’re planning out your next strategic move. What’s the next logical step for you? Rather than coming from a place of fear or frustration. It’s okay to feel that. It might even be very close to the grieving process, but making sure that your decision making isn’t coming from a place of fear, but you’ve moved through that through reaching out for help, through activating your network, through cross training, and making sure that you’re moving in a positive forward … creating positive and forward momentum.

Isaiah: What is the job search process, in terms of just sequence? What’s the sequence you would suggest, given your expertise?

James: The sequence is, if you have the time and if there’s a timeline, I would say, you give yourself at least a year when you know you’re on the job market or going to the other job market. The longer the better, but probably a year.

The first thing is do a fairly in-depth self reflection.

What do I like to do? What am I good at? What are my values? Begin to think. Who do I know that shares these things? Who can I reach out to? What resources do I have institutionally in the lab, at my alma mater? If you’re a post-doc, you have at least two alma maters. Your undergrad school, your graduate school, and you might have even gone to medical school, so that’s three. You have all these resources that are just within your grasp.

So, you reach out and you say, what are the trends, what have you seen, where have graduates from these school or people from this lab, where have they gone on. Actually can I have their contact information and reach out to them? So, you begin to refine your vision for the perfect job for you. It may not be the first one out of post-doc or grad school, but hopefully within two or three jobs, you are very close.

You get this idea, you visualize your ideal job and you begin talking to people who you feel had jobs that are very close to that. Get their insights and you begin crafting your application materials, and you might be passively holding in job ads and opportunities. If there’s something that you absolutely can’t pass up then you need to move on very quickly. Give yourself time to digest what’s out there and learn how to read job advertisements, and learn how to read between the lines and learn how to find out who are you going to be reporting to, and then maybe reach out to them or somebody in that company or in that institution.

The job search is much more self reflective and inter-personal than anybody gets a credit for.

That would be a general sequence. Then, you go to a career counselor, a coach, Isaiah or myself and say, do you think my materials are strong enough for me to start applying now? And then you go through a series of revision, maybe peer review, expert critique and then begin to apply. Very strategic, very focused and targeted.

Watch the full podcast episode above to learn more about how to make your job search optimal from Dr. James Gould.

To get advanced access to the full length versions of these podcasts, as well as access to our live training webinars, exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the waitlist for the Cheeky Scientist Association now.

Isaiah Hankel

Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist
Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to 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.

Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.
Isaiah Hankel


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