June 2012

Advice for new grads entering the job market

‘In this age of rapid technological changes,
you have to be open to continuous training —
to be ready to reinvent yourself.’

grad with For Hire on her cap 
Photo by Thomas Campbell,
University of Houston

The caps and gowns have been returned, and the diplomas are in the mail. New grads nationwide are on the hunt for jobs that will both pay the bills and yield personal rewards. Here are some thoughts on how these emerging professionals should approach this challenge.

Have a plan, and expect it to evolve

First and foremost, it is important to identify your personal, long-term goals. The answer is not static, of course, and it may take awhile to arrive at a satisfactory one. At the same time, contemplate that any goal is a tentative one, and it will be rewritten many times over. Serendipitous (not random) opportunities will be important factors that will influence your goals. But even a plan that carries intrinsic uncertainty is preferable over not having a plan at all.

Your plan is a blueprint to guide the activities that are under your control: the specific actions that you will execute and that will move you closer to your goal. At the same time, the plan will provide the context and the background against which to identify opportunities, to influence people and to position yourself in circumstances that may not be totally under your control but will allow you to realize your goal.

In summary, there is an immediate result of your activities but also an important influential aspect on everything that surrounds those activities. Drawing the plan is a most personal endeavor, and the seriousness of it calls for not only a hard introspection but also consultation with a network of mentors, friends, colleagues and family members.

Assess your experience and your motivations

The next aspect to reflect on: the training you have received. This, too, will change. Indeed, it should change.

For biochemistry and molecular biology graduate students, the formative years in graduate school, followed by a few more years as postdoctoral trainees, lay down the path to a career as scientist. There is no better time in a young scientist’s life. During these years, we get ever so close to the pinnacle of the scientific endeavor: the seducing prospect of being the first to describe an as-yet-unknown phenomenon, the rigor of scientific inquiry, the love (and frustrations) of experimentation, and the testing and falsifying of hypotheses.

We form a vision of ourselves — the incredibly appealing vision of becoming an authoritative voice in the area of research that happens to be also of profound personal interest. In this vision, we become leaders of labs filed with bright students and postdocs. Some will realize that vision, but most will not. The reality is that the open positions at universities are very competitively fought over and that funding for research is scarce.


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Very good advice. Well appreciated



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