It’s that time of year again when the lab takes a week to focus on career development. We all have the tendency to prioritize these activities below research and upcoming deadlines but, given their importance, I wanted the lab to focus on them for a week. The hope was to equip everyone to continue selected activities throughout the year as needed/desired. Unlike last year and the year before, this year’s list of potential activities was much longer. This would give everyone more options so they could choose activities that best suited their goals.

Usually we do this as a competition, assigning points for activities undertaken, and giving out prizes for the winner and runner up. This year, our two grad students, first-timer Brae Bigge (runner up), and career development week veteran Brittany Jack (winner) were way ahead, with only a few points between them. Congrats to them both!

To my surprise, nearly everyone made or overhauled their website. They did a great job personalizing them and were each very proud of their creations. You can see here the websites for Brae, Brittany, Kristen, Ananya and Jenna. Several people noted their interest in blogging, particularly rotation student Ananya Srinivasa, who combined her interests in art, poetry, and science on her website. Stay tuned for all their new posts!

The students used a great tool with detailed simulation exercises to explore career options. Many thanks to Jordan Ward for sharing information about this! Postdoc Shengping Huang also did some concrete planning for the next steps in his career, contacting colleagues to ask about how to best position himself for a job in China. Several people opted to do a 5 minute presentation to a scientist or non-scientist and asked the viewer to rate their presentation afterwards. I love this activity because it forces everyone to really assess their audience’s understanding in real time and adapt their explanations appropriately. Of course this is a critical skill for all effective presentations and short presentations provide more opportunities to practice. I think they each enjoyed sharing their work with their parents, roommates, significant others, and friends (and hearing how effective they were in conveying their ideas).

I was also very impressed with the outreach and advocacy activities some were planning. Rotation student Kristen Schwingen planned to overhaul the STEM week at her daughter’s school. Brittany has maintained a partnership with her former undergraduate institution (Rockhurst University) to bring undergrads to KUMC for research opportunities as part of her NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. She planned to bring fellow graduate students to Rockhurst in January for an interactive discussion about grad school experiences. Rotation student Jenna Frick along with others joined the Coalition for the Life Sciences, a collection of organizations advocating for public policies supporting biomedical research. Research Assistant Evan Craig also read some of their advocacy talking points,  plans to contact his congressional representatives, and highlighted this interesting fact:

  • U.S. government’s investment in life sciences research over the next half-decade will be barely half of China’s in actual dollars and roughly one-quarter of China’s level on a per-GDP basis.

Importantly, some lab members developed productivity or time management habits they plan to continue or found that some strategies didn’t work for them (views on the pomodoro technique were mixed). Evan also came up with his own idea. He decided he wouldn’t shave until he was finished with a draft of a manuscript he was working on. While he decided it was too itchy and abandoned the plan, he hilariously said that he was indeed VERY motivated to finish the draft as a result.

As before, some shared their thoughts on how they felt about career development week:

Career planning can be tough, almost painful for some. But there are tons of free resources available that make this process simpler, even exciting. The activities you participate in during this week only help future you, and brings present you a sense of direction and optimism. -Evan Craig, research assistant

I enjoyed participating in career development week. It was helpful to take a step back and look at the big picture to clarify what my career goals are. I am often overwhelmed when I try imagine my long term goals, so it was helpful to identify manageable steps that I can take today. At the end of the week I had not only created my own website, but also gained a more clear view of my goals for the future. -Jenna Frick, rotation student

I was always confused about what aspect of science I enjoy, and I feel like I’ve understood my preferences more thoroughly this week. Prospective career options always intimidated me, because uncertainty is so scary. I have started to understand what I enjoy/what I could be good at and I wouldn’t have done it without a push in the right direction! I’m now looking forward to the next few years of grad school rather than being anxious about it. -Ananya Srinivasa, rotation student

I learned a lot through the whole career development week. Importantly, how to make a CLEAR career timeline and how to get there. I also appreciate the whole lab’s warm discussion. -Shengping Huang, postdoc

Career development week allowed me to take a step back and think more about the big picture. What is the goal and how do I get there? This week gave me perspective on what I am actively doing now to advance my career but could see the areas that need more focus to stay competitive with my peers. Most importantly, the opportunity to actively think about the big picture and what lies ahead in the next 10 years is an amazing opportunity. -Brittany Jack, graduate student

While everything we do in graduate school is supposed to help prepare us for our future career goals, many times we get so caught up in the little things that we forget the bigger goal that we’re working towards. This week gave me the opportunity to step back and remember why I’m doing all of this. I got to work on my website and CV, explore potential career options that I hadn’t previously thought of, and start some reading/writing/idea generating habits that I hope stick! – Brae Bigge, graduate student

I’m always so impressed with how seriously the lab takes this activity, earnestly putting forth their best effort. This year, everyone had so many other pressing obligations (papers, posters, committee meetings etc) that I considered rescheduling career development week for another less hectic time. However, perceived pressures can always be used as an excuse to postpone. If we want the far-reaching benefits of these activities (often synergistic with scientific goals by promoting general well-being, network building, renewed passion/motivation, expanded skills, and increased productivity), we must make time for them.


Categories: Lab IdeasReflections