Thursday, 23 February 2012

What I learned at Careers Services

I came across an article today in the Irish Times. It was about how PhD graduates apply to non-academic jobs as if they're applying to academic jobs. Interestingly, that's exactly what my careers adviser said when she read my CV and cover letters. You can't expect your non-academic employers to care about all the amazing research you did.

1) Cut down your CV. Take out your research topics, project titles, laboratory methods, publications, abstracts, presentations and references. I was a bit reluctant to do this: isn't the whole point that I've done all this sciency stuff? Won't it make people more likely to hire me? Apparently not. Apparently employers take one look at a 3-page CV and chuck it in the bin.

2) Put in a list of Key Skills Developed. You know those things that you do during your PhD and kind of take for granted and never think twice about (because they don't really have any direct effect on whether or not you get published?) Here are some examples.

  • Writing and editing skills (papers, posters, abstracts, websites, reports, thesis, educational content)
  • Computer skills (statistics software, data analysis, programming)
  • Teaching and training experience (lectures, tutorials, problem-based learning)
  • Design and supervision of (undergraduate) projects
  • Clear and effective communication skills (poster presentations, talks)
  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • Time management and organisation skills
  • Ability to work both independently and as part of a team

3) Apply directly to companies you might be interested in working for. Don't wait for a vacancy or graduate program to be advertised, go ahead and send them an email. Say you're a PhD graduate interested in working for their company, CV and cover letter attached. You would be willing to consider any suitable position. get them to make you an offer. The idea is to get your foot in the door, and after some time, after they've seen what you can do, you can start working your way up. Interestingly, a good friend of mine told me she was planning to do this way before I'd heard of it from careers.

She also provided me with at list of pharma companies in Ireland, gave me a few more tips on my cover letter (talk less about yourself and more about the company) and told me to just keep at it, and to come back or email if I had any questions.

All in all, I thought it was more a lot more useful than I expected and ran home to put in a 'Key Skills Developed' section right away.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Step (I've lost track): Declining a Job Offer

So long story short, I didn’t go to Japan. Those of you who see me still lurking around already know this. They offered me the job (my first job offer!), and they even said the offer was not set in stone, and that I could make a counter-offer, i.e. ask for more money. But at that point, I had already made up my mind that this was not what I wanted. There were definitely perks, but the bottom-line was, the job was too far away. Too far away from science. Too far away from Europe. Too far away from home. Too far away from everything. And of course, the voices in my head pointed out all the obvious things: It’s just temporary, you don’t have to stay there forever, you get paid to travel and give talks, this is an amazing opportunity. And of course: you don’t have a job, you just got offered one, with a good salary and a fancy title, so just take it. If you were really brave and adventurous you’d take it. The voices in my head can get quite mean.
But I told them to zip it. I didn’t want to take a job because I needed a job, or because it had a fancy title, or because I needed to prove to someone (mostly myself?) that I was brave and adventurous. Or even because I got to travel or give talks. I wanted to take a job because I genuinely wanted to do the job. I felt like I owed it to myself: seriously, I have been studying for 10 years! 10 whole years! The least I can do at the end of it all is get a job I actually enjoy and want to do.
So it was back to the job-hunt for me. This time, I decided to change my strategy a little. I stopped sending in applications right and left. The Japan-experience taught me a few things: 1) that I wanted a job in science (if not in academia or research, then something where I got to think, talk, read, plan projects, or write about science), and 2) that I wanted a job in Europe. Preferably in a capital city. Or at least one of those not-capital-but-still-awesome cities that had a lot going on.
And the first thing I did, which in retrospect was probably my second-best decision of the new year (the first being NOT to go to Japan), was to book an appointment with the careers advisory services in college.
Coming up next: What I learned in that appointment and how it changed my life. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

False Memories Vs Job-hunt (0:1)

I know I haven't been posting; I'm still writing (always-it's how I think things through), but it's not always easy to decide what should go into cyberspace and what should just stay safe and anonymous on my hard-drive. I read a how-to on blogs (WikiHow knows everything about everything), and you're supposed to keep them as topic-specific as possible. The whole point, originally, was for this to be a science blog. Except that so far, my blog has not been about science at all. And every time I sit myself down to write about science, I get writer’s block. I can write about other things, the job-hunt, butternut squash, the abuse of domestic workers in Lebanon, but for some reason, I can’t seem to write about science.
And again, I blame my PhD. I’m currently struggling to write a couple of papers from my thesis, and it’s been a lot harder than I expected! I always thought the writing part would be easy, but the truth is: I just can’t motivate myself to do it. At first I thought I was just burnt out, but now it’s been a month, and I still can’t do it.
I’ve had an idea brewing in my head for weeks now, since I read an article in New Scientist on how scientists were able to create ‘false memories’ in fruit flies using lasers and gene manipulation.  I wanted to write about false memories and confabulations and Korsakoff’s disease, and I wanted to tie it in with the Lebanese civil war. I wanted to show a clip from Waltz with Bashir (the one about false memories in the amusement park), and write about how revenge was such a powerful motivator for committing atrocities, and how you could create an army of brain-washed super-soldiers if you could implant false memories to make them believe that the other side had killed their family. And how to do that you would need to make the memories labile, and how that happens in some forms of therapy, and how you could possibly do that with drugs. And how Ranformation is a form of confabulation. And about how dreams are a form of confabulation, according to the activation-synthesis hypothesis.  And about how the fMRI machine could potentially be used as a lie detector. And there are all these half-cooked ideas swimming around in my head, but I just can’t seem to sit down and write about them.
Because every time I sit down to write, I end up looking for jobs.