Networking: And I'm Not Talking About Cell Signaling Pathways
I thought I'd take a break from divulging information about the various career paths available to life science/medical physics graduate students and talk a little bit about some of things you might consider doing to land that dream job of yours. In the past, I always believed I was special in some way - that the jobs I coveted would somehow fall into my lap. This "dream" has come crashing down as rejection letters or silence are the two responses I get most often. I'm sure we've all heard the old adage, "It's not WHAT you know, but WHO you know." Unfortunately, even for graduate students - it is a saying that I think needs to be taken seriously.
Typically graduate students are terrible at networking and really who can blame us? We rarely see anyone outside of our immediate circle of friends or labmates because we are slaving away writing computer programs or pipetting furiously. We don't have much time to think about our future and how to get there and generally assume that it will "all work out".
Looking back, I think this is a mistake. Sure, some people will get that job they've always wanted and not ever actively try to build a network of contacts. But for most of us, the earlier we prepare for our eventual job hunt the more likely we are to land that interview.
Option #1 Get Involved!
So what can you do? First and foremost, try to get involved in your department or other extra curricular activities that may present themselves. That guy you play floor hockey with every Wednesday? He might actually work for Sigma Aldrich! Your volunteer friend at the hospital could have a son who works as a patent agent. These are the simplest of connections that present themselves just by being involved in extracurriculars.
Option #2 Social Media
Well, you say,"I don't have time for all those activities!" There certainly are alternatives - the biggest one being social media. We've all heard of social networking and I'm sure many (if not most) of us are on Facebook. Well that`s a huge network of people out there waiting for you to discover. But don`t stop there. Employers generally value media savvy employees. So - don`t have Twitter or LinkedIn accounts? I suggest signing up - get your name out there. Twitter is a useless tool you might argue - and for some applications I would agree. However, if you use it right I believe it can be powerful. Don't just tweet what you had for dinner last night - find interesting scientific literature and post a link, tweet about an interesting development in the field you would like to land that job in. But also, engage your audience - those who follow you want to be recognized so give them that opportunity. Twitter is supposed to be an interactive media platform!
Link to Twitter: http://bit.ly/cEX236
LinkedIn - never heard of it you say? Well LinkedIn is essentially a social network for professionals. You can post your resume, picture and background and read job postings or join groups and engage in discussions. LinkedIn is essentially a specialize Facebook for people looking for more "serious" networking.
Link to LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/9EeyDT
If those options aren't quite up your alley - there are even specialized sites for graduate students like graduate junction http://bit.ly/a4byiW
So you've signed up to volunteer as a consultant at endeavour http://bit.ly/9nZXB4 and made yourself a LinkedIn and Twitter account - building your network takes time so don't get discouraged; you have to start somewhere.
My last piece of advice for this post was given to me by Duncan Jones, managing director of OnSETT (Ontario Society for Excellence in Technology Transfer). So now that you have started your network - time to ask for leads on a job right? Wrong! Good networkers will tell you that it is as much about providing other people with valuable information than it is asking for it. So that business contact of yours looks interested in patent law? Send them a recent paper on the subject and never hesitate to help someone who asks for it. Duncan also told me - carry a business card! Well, as a graduate student what the heck would you put on it? It doesn't really matter! Just the fact that you have one with your name and contact info and current position (M.Sc. or PhD candidate for instance) will leave a lasting impression - and that's exactly what you want to happen.
p.s. Don't forget to check out my previous posts if you missed them: The inevitable career search and the inevitable career search pt 2. http://bit.ly/9cSIf8, http://bit.ly/dpam1b