End-of-the-year checklist: Getting ready for 2021
In my final post of the year, I want to say: "Congratulations! We made it!" Take a moment to celebrate victories — even small ones. Everyone has a story to tell about how this time has changed them and opened their eyes to the things they truly want in their careers. I know there is still a lot of uncertainty in the world, but it is a good time to reflect on your goals and strategize for the future. No matter where you are in your career, consider these tips to take it to the next level.
Looking to transition to a new field or start a new job, but do not know where to start? Create a list of your top career interests. Then, set up virtual informational interviews with people in different fields to see what options you have.
Consider all types of opportunities: Do not limit yourself to academic or industry careers. I interviewed Kerisha Bowen recently about her transition from chemist to patent agent. The work she does now is completely different than what she originally sought to do. She encouraged job seekers to consider their skills, interests, strengths and weaknesses. Think about taking a course, earning another degree or finding a role that will prepare you for your next move. You might need to do some networking and positioning yourself for the right opportunity. There are many organizations that hire scientists, so even if a job title does not seem like a perfect fit, check it out.
Create something new: If you cannot find what you are looking for outside of your organization or are interested in staying put, create a job description and outline the goals you want to implement at your organization. Share this with your mentor or pitch the idea to your supervisor. In some cases, your organization will create a new role if you can make a strong case that there is a need for it and you're the right person for it.
Whether it means taking on more responsibility, re-evaluating your goals, or reaching out for help, you can always find ways to improve professionally. For example:
Learn how to negotiate: Financial security is one of the major stresses that workers are facing during the pandemic. Many companies are having cutbacks, which means that the job market is more competitive than ever. Focus on your strengths and skills that you bring to the company. Do your research and talk to mentors to get help negotiating offers. I interviewed Ernesto Chanona this year, and he noted that the art of negotiation is not something we generally learn as scientists. When he needed help, he used the resources to which he had access and talked to his mentors, which helped him negotiate a higher offer.
Ask for feedback: Working at home has a lot of challenges. Between getting the job done and maintaining our well-being, we sometimes forget to ask for feedback. Set up time with your supervisor to do a check-in to see if you are meeting your performance measures and marching toward your professional goals. Share any expectation questions you may have. Doing a minievaluation session can do wonders.
Goal: Increase your online presence
We are constantly online for virtual meetings and looking for ways to connect with others.
Share your brand with others digitally: Social media creates impact and is a way to share science with others all over the world. This summer I talked to Ariel Carter, an early-career food scientist who started a podcast to debunk food science myths. Using podcasts, Twitter and sharing videos of your work is a great way to get your science out there and meet people who can help you advance your career or simply offer moral support.
Participate in virtual speaking events: Science communication is on the rise, especially now that we are in virtual spaces. People want to know about your science, which is part of your professional brand. Enjoy public speaking and encouraging future scientists and students? Many organizations and universities are looking for guest speakers and panelists to speak about careers or their share their alumni experiences.
Goal: Support others
Mentor young scientists: Mentors are always needed, and mentoring is a way to connect with others who share similar passions and interests. Right now, many students are attending school online and are creating engaging science activities. Think about ways you can help schoolteachers, such as hosting a virtual science demonstration during National Mentoring Month (in January) or participating in another national science day activity.
Consider consulting: As scientists, we have varied skills to offer companies. If you are interested in supporting organizations and working on a variety of projects, consider a consulting side job. Many scientific organizations, universities and nonprofits hire consultants for their expertise on different projects. Look at your strong areas, publish your work to increase exposure and take a course on managing a small business (yours).
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Our academic careers columnist offers tips and low- and high-tech tools to help you overcome sticking points in your projects.
Beata Mierzwa is a postdoctoral researcher at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of California, San Diego. She is also an artist with a growing science art brand.