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The myths about networking

in That Makes Sense by

During a recent talk  I gave on transitioning to tech transfer from academia at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Bronx, NY, USA), I was asked quite an interesting set of questions. In this write up I want to focus on two issues which I find many of the young academicians struggle as they plan their next career move.
A young aspiring postdoc asked me from the crowd “ When I see all the alternative career choices I get totally lost. I wonder what is the best fit for me?” I have been trained to think about the experiment and publish and enjoy the academic, intellectual rigor and I feel totally lost as soon as I see the list of alternative careers and wonder where should I start?”
Those who have transitioned to alternative careers have found that what helps most is talking to people who have made the leap. One can either reach out to alumni from your institutes or now with the availability of LinkedIn and Facebook you can reach out to people beyond your alumni and ask for an informational interview. From what I have seen people are always willing to help if you are earnest in your approach. During such interactions, you can ask them about the job roles and responsibilities and also how their academic training gets utilized in their new role outside academia.
An another approach to test whether you will be suitable for such a career would be to do internships/ online or regular courses which can give you the flavor of the job. In my case, an internship with technology transfer offices at Cornell CTL and Columbia CTV were of immense help. I had known beyond any doubt that this is exactly what I want to do. Of course, I had great mentors in tech transfer, and that always helps.

There is also a misconception that whether alternative careers can be intellectually stimulating given one of the things which drive most of us in academia is the intellectual aspect of the profession and of course the creativity. From what I have seen from my experience and from others who have transitioned more or less with me, one would be surprised to see the kind of smart people who runs the world outside academia. In fact, they many times brings more meaning to academic science as the science steps out of the lab. More than once during my interaction with my colleagues I have often wondered how much science would have benefited had they continued academia. Apart from academics, many are fluent from Beethoven to Shakespeare to Charlie Parker to Ravishankar…and often flawless in their assessment.

So my suggestion would be to talk to people, get to know about what excites them about their work and what doesn’t. When you meet people, you can also gauge from their personality that whether such a job will suit your personality or not. Even if nothing substantial comes out of the meeting, at least you will make an attempt to make a new friend outside academia, and that is a good start.

The another question that I got asked was “When should one start to network? Also, everyone will know that he or she is desperate for a job which will defeat the entire purpose of networking.”

Networking is not to seek a job. That is perhaps the biggest misunderstanding. No one asks for a job in networking. It is to find common ground. However, one should mention at a suitable time that you are ready for a new opportunity or challenge in your career. Moreover, networking events are the best places to find your mentors or sponsors and just like academia it always help to have them by your side.

I remember in one of the career development events at NYAS, New York a speaker said: “You should start networking from yesterday.” One should do networking throughout the year, whether you are in a job or looking for a job or planning to make a leap to a new field. I have known professionals who got great introductions from the people they met in jazz bars or from soccer matches they played together. So make sure you have a life outside lab to talk to people about your hobbies and interest. You will be surprised how hobbies can be a game changer.

One needs to learn the art of talking to professionals in networking events, and that once can develop with time. One of the best ways is to practice your introductory pitch, and that itself can take months. Remember the first impression always counts. We have seen many during networking events slips in his/her resume and that according to many is an absolute no. Everyone in networking events is in general aware that people who are attending the session have either came to learn about new opportunities, job description or are looking for new challenges, so don’t be shy. Keep a smile and reach out, show your strengths your passion and commitment to try new opportunities.

In a world we live in there are now other forms of networking. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook are all great platforms to network and meet interesting people. There are several career support groups. Join them, engage in stimulating and useful conversations. You will be surprised you will have friends sooner than you thought and who will vouch for you during your job search phase. Therefore, learn the tricks of social networking sites and use them to your advantage. Also, networking is not only about asking, but it is also about sharing and many comfortable forgets that part, unfortunately.

To conclude, meet new people with an open mind, help them if you can, all the person in front of you wants to know is how interesting are you professionally.

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Ananda

Enjoys good friends, music and adda.

Tweet@Andz79

Others who contributed substantially to the ideas expressed in the write-up are Roshni, Satarupa, Gaurav, Sutirtha, and Madhurima.

Image Courtesy: https://pixabay.com/en/truss-historically-stolberg-resin-1731118/

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This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Avoiding anxiety attacks in today’s contract based academic training-10 commandments

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“It brings a persistent low-grade anxiety that lingers around my heart, sometimes traveling up to constrict my throat as the time remaining on my contract dwindles. Rinse, and repeat. For years. I don’t know what impact this lifestyle is having on my health, but it can’t be good.” The Guardian about contract based positions in academia. https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2016/dec/02/short-term-contracts-university-academia-family?CMP=share_btn_tw

How to circumvent the situation?

As long as you are in Ph.D., things are fine, there is a stability for at least 5-6 yrs where a continuous source of scholarship is promised on paper, however, the situation changes once you are a scholar and now want to move onto the next obvious training in academia which is postdoc and which is unfortunately, CONTRACTUAL. The training is a must to pursue an academic career and rightly so.

But how to avoid getting trapped by the feeling described aptly above?

Here are 10 points which I feel might help:

  1.  Do not put all your eggs in one basket.
  2. Be aware of the employability scenario.
  3. Network and meet people, talk to people, use social networking sites.
  4. Develop SKILLS beyond the bench, Ph.D. is a long time to DISCOVER yourself- what you are good at and what you are not made for.
  5. Be truthful to your potentials- Most of us are not truthful to ourselves. We will ignore all the signs which tell us that this might not be the right thing for us, till we fall into the trap.
  6. Do proper due diligence on the Postdoc lab.
  7. Choose mentors not the university.
  8. Think ahead-Plan the career, does not mean you should not relax and enjoy your life outside the lab hours.
  9. Have alternative BACKUP plans.
  10. Have a financial plan from day one of Ph.D. – It will help in the times of despair.

 

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Ananda

Enjoys good friends, music and adda.

Tweet@Andz79

Image Courtesy:

Copyright “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham
www.phdcomics.com

 

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 

Mid-Career Transitions Across the Oceans

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Recently I had a discussion with a friend regarding mid-career transitions across the continents. I thought these discussions may be useful for this forum, hence this posting.

Freedom is intoxicating and dangerous. It is like spicy food. Once you get the taste, you do not like blunt foods. Same is true with freedom. Once you get the taste of freedom, you do not want to go back. Same is also true with working at places that see your value and provide an opportunity for you to grow. At times, those who spent a few years at a top-rated institution in the USA,  go back to their country either because of idealism, or family reasons, or got an opportunity that they misjudge as equivalent to what they have been used to in the USA. Some of them adjust, some resign and say “well, I can’t do much”, and very few turn the odds around to an opportunity. The first person that comes to my mind of the third category is “Satish Dhavan” and the second person is “Roddam Narasimha”. Interestingly both have worked in Aerospace and Space Sciences. There may be many more examples like Dhavan and Roddam – I’m sure.

If you do not have the tenacity that these brilliant people have and if you think you should have stayed back to have a better career future and if you have already spent close to a decade after your PhD in your career, here are some hard facts and challenges that you need to keep in mind, when you try to make a mid-career transition across the oceans.

Keep in mind that these words here are not hypothetical and each word has heavy experience of going through toughest times since I left India to USA for postdoc and USA to Germany for mid-career life – where I did Habilitation (tenure track) and started my family life with my German girlfriend (now life partner), but then left Germany at the age of 40 back to the USA to take a deep dive into the US career culture, but now with three daughters and little savings.

Number one: Healthy financial situation is critical and of utmost importance. If finances are good, many problems can be solved. If the finances are bad, many healthy relationships are screwed-up and destroyed.

Number two: Whether academia or industry that you are trying to make a transition. You need to have someone who is your advocate, who really thinks you have the “spark” that is outstanding, and who buys into your abilities to succeed and contribute. If you do not have such a colleague (not a friend, who is not in your area of expertise), you need to start from the bottom again where you left a decade ago.

Number three: If you are ambitious to establish in academia – DO NOT take up a “research faculty” position, this kills your opportunity to get into tenure-track faculty career. Research faculty is in most places a “glorified postdoc” on soft-money, though there are exceptions.

Number four: If you have a partner and children, it is a must that your partner works as well and that one of you should NOT be career oriented, as the children would have very difficult time adjusting to new culture and one of the parents must have time to cushion their fears and comfort them with confidence. But two pay-checks is critical, because if one of you loses your job, you have a temporary financial crisis that can be mitigated through the second pay-check. Keep in mind that you cannot expect friends and relatives to support you in such situations, because many work hard with “thin margins of savings”. Lending a few dollars may be easy, but taking the burden of a family is out of question. You need to start saving the day you start your first job for the college of your children, which based on where they go may cost anywhere between $100 K to $200 K (per child to complete undergraduate studies).

Number five: Irrespective of whether you start at mid-career or back to the beginning (postdoc), you are expected to deliver the worth of $10, if you are paid $1. So, only way to succeed in the US is to deliver – period.

Bottom line is – if you have the courage, health, spirit of not giving up, you are likely to succeed. But, you should be ready to take a failure as gracefully as you would enjoy the success and always have “Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, and Plan E” in the priority list – if Plan A goes South!

murthy-photo

About the Author: Murthy S. Gudipati (aka G. S. Murthy at IISc) is a Principal Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. His research focuses on the evolution of organic matter and ice in the Universe, particularly the outer solar system, comets, and the potential origin(s) of life on Earth. He worked at the University of Texas at Austin, at the University of Cologne, Germany, University of Maryland, College Park, and at NASA Ames before joining JPL/Caltech in 2007. Murthy obtained M.Sc. at the Central University of Hyderabad (1981), Ph.D. from the Department of Chemistry, Indian Institute of Science (1987), and Habilitation (similar to tenure) at the University of Cologne (1998). He stayed in almost all the Men’s Hostel Blocks, dined at all the three A-C Messes, ran a half-marathon, and developed life-long friendships during his 1981-1986 stay at one of the most beautiful campuses in the world – the IISc. His PhD research was recognized with “Guha Medal – Best Thesis Award”. Murthy is one of the founding members of the IIScAANA.

Born and raised in in Southern India, Murthy lived in interior villages to mega cities in three continents. He at times walked over four miles each way to attend upper primary schools from his village. This experience bonded him with nature and animals immensely. Murthy likes Nature and National Parks and he has organized several hiking and camping trips for IIScAANA. Murthy’s passion is to bring knowledge, information, and education to the next generation humans to enable the future civilizations to treat themselves and the Nature with respect. Murthy’s pursuit of Science is balanced by his interest in World Music, Nature, Vegetarian Cooking, and Philosophy.

Tackling the networking monster for introverts

in Sci-Pourri by
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796 – 1875 ), The Artist’s Studio, c. 1868, oil on wood, Widener Collection. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

“Gloriously alone with her own thoughts for company, she was but walking in the painted landscape–wishing that she may remain locked there for all ages to come…”

 

I stared at the far hillocks wondering what time it was. Languid evening chatter created a fairly noisy din around me. The only other familiar face was meditatively sipping her aperitif, an Aperol Spirtz, glistening like the setting sun. The experience was surreal, sitting among strangers in a sleepy Italian town far away from home, isolated amidst the banter.

It has been two years since the 2-month work visit to Italy and that uneventful afternoon. Needless to say, the ‘Friday evening drinks’ networking meeting did not go that well. As an exchange student, I remained an outsider to the conversation spree and fled the scene as soon as propriety allowed. My prowess at battling the monster of ‘networking’ has only but barely improved. I have never made an attempt to intentionally befriend a resourceful person, even as the conventional ‘ networking tips’ guidelines admonished and berated my introverted self.

Recent times, however, have seen a change of heart. Don’t get me wrong, I am still not effective at networking. However, there has been an important realisation.  Networking need not be a slimy word reserved for relentlessly pursuing connections for material benefit, neither does it have to involve a charade of niceties directed towards some assumed gain. Yes, there will always the aggressive ones, who revel in the glory of the pursuit of beneficial associations. But that does not have to be the only form of networking. At the heart of it, it stresses on building relationships. One does not have to chase every rich, famous, and accomplished person ‘just in case’. One need not even attend those (typically) disastrous networking events wherein strangers meet, greet and leave after a bout of cheerful small talk.

For those who are disillusioned or distressed with the new craze in networking, well, it isn’t new. Throughout the ages, we have trusted people we know more than outright strangers. We have always given weights to human connections. Today, ‘networking’ is promoted as a marketing strategy, but it can be a rather gratifying experience if we focus on its essence and not just as a professional aid.

Get to know a famous scientist or entrepreneur exactly for that: to learn about his experiences and enjoy the conversation as it is, without wondering about how to glean benefit for your career. Who knows?—A positive first chat may forge a lifelong friendship, initiate a support system, bring forth great advice, all adding positivity to your situation. Of late, I have started reaching out to people gingerly, and have been surprised at the warmth I have received. For introverts, a sense of a distinct purpose, rather than an ‘I should be friends with as many influential people as I can’ attitude also helps, in my opinion. At a recent event, I wanted to ask one of the speakers about a possible freelancing opportunity. The swarm of gung-ho admirers did not give away and I just could not break-in; besides the prospect itself was mortifying for me. Finally I did get an apprehensive sentence across as she was going to her car, and we are ‘networked’ now! She was the only person in the illustrious panel I attempted to connect with, and thank heavens for that; the pressure of preparing something to say to the others which would be just the right ‘pitch’ might have been too much…

While offline networking is how it started, the phenomenon of online networking has been a godsend for networking-shy people like me. No eye-contact, no awkward facial expressions, and no uncomfortable silences! These, along with the protective barrier of a computer screen have transformed the networking monster into a friendly puppy (well, almost). I am much more comfortable email-ing or even chatting with people I would like to connect with. It is also easier to grow a thick skin for non-acknowledgment online than for a face-to-face disdainful snub. Online support forums are very useful to conquer the hesitation and unease involved in approaching people, especially for us introverts.

So here I am, a not-really-networked person preaching lofty about the right way to do it. There is no actual ‘right’ way but all of us do not have to buy into the business-strategist’s definition of networking. The introverts will fit in some part or the other of the networking pyramid. The emphasis should be on making it personality-allied. So let us all share the manifold benefits of networking. Some of us will have fewer nodes in our relationship-connectome, but who knows—perhaps the weights are greater!

Debaleena Basu

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