This week, we ran our annual career development week in which I encourage the lab to participate in activities that fill gaps in their career development, explore career options, and find new strategies to help them progress. Often we don’t focus on these things because we perceive it takes too much time away from experiments. Other times we don’t focus on them because it involves some soul searching, self-assessment, and pushing outside our comfort zone. As I wrote in a piece in the American Society for Cell Biology quarterly newsletter, there are many benefits (for both lab members and their advisors) of setting aside some time and mental space for a dedicated focus on career development. With luck, some of the new tools and skills explored this week will carry over into the rest of the year. We have quite a few new lab members that were participating in this activity for the first time so it was interesting to see them navigate the process. Here’s what they each had to say:

While focusing on career development this week I had the opportunity to talk to people from various jobs at different stages. These interactions really highlighted how there is not just one set path that one needs to take to ultimately get to a certain stage in their career. I also learned that one always has the capability to alter their career path if they discover that what they once thought was for them is no longer what they desire.

-Steffie Villanueva (2nd year grad student)

Steffie just returned from the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) and I was really impressed with how she pushed herself to meet and discuss career options with people. She described in some detail what she learned from people in industry, non-profit organizations, and university administration. This not only helped her to see how various people decided on and obtained their careers but it was helpful to me as an advisor to become more knowledgeable about these other career paths.

I learned that CVs for industry typically focus more on productivity, innovation, and cooperativity than personal accomplishments. Typically, personal achievements go towards the end and the teamwork/leadership/collaboration are some of the first points you draw the interviewer’s attention to. I also learned that I need to apply for summer internships the winter before the summer they’re in at the latest for industry.

-Larissa Dougherty (2nd year graduate student)

After her comprehensive exam next year, Larissa plans to start gearing up to look for industry internships. Larissa was the only person that rotated through my lab that had a prior interest in plant biology (somewhat uncommon for students in our program), so I was also thrilled to see how excited she was about joining the plant science community at Plantae!

Lately I’ve been unsure about what career path I should focus on, and this week gave me an opportunity to do some more in depth exploration of the careers that I’ve been thinking I might be interested in. I haven’t completely decided on a career, but the chance to explore some of my options has been really helpful in helping me narrow down what I might want to do. I also got the chance to do several things, like updating my CV and website and expanding my network, that will help me in any career.

-Brae Bigge (3rd year graduate student)

Brae spent some time using exploring career options using the MyIDP tool. She had been thinking about exploring a little more about science writing and saw that her questionnaire outcomes aligned with this budding interest.

I’ve found it so tempting to remain short-sighted in regards to the thought of my career. It can often be hard to look further than a week’s worth of experiments when those checkmarks waiting to be checked off are held short by contaminated cells or the often hapless process of fixing and staining cells. I really enjoyed having a week where I was able, and encouraged, to broaden my perspective past the normal day-to-day. It has enabled me to think more about the bigger picture and the “why” behind my current role, which, in my experience, is always beneficial.

-Dave Turkowitch (research assistant)

Dave did a great job of making plans to prepare for grad school applications by fostering connections that will eventually be strong letters of recommendation.

I have learned that there’s always something I can be doing to works towards my career goals and it’s never too early to start getting ahead on deadlines that seem far away. I also learned that I need to reach out for help with these tasks in order to be as successful as possible.

-Nick Rosenthal (research assistant)

Nick is planning for medical school and volunteered to translate for Spanish-speakers at a local student-run free clinic. As he mentions, he’s also planning on preparing his med school application materials early so there’s time for broad feedback.

By taking time to focus on career development, we are encouraged to explore what career is right for correct fit for us. This week allows us to spend time fully immerse ourselves in what our future career will be and what we need to do to make sure we are competitive for that career.

-Brittany Jack (3rd year graduate student)

Brittany was the winner that did the most activities this week (I think for the 4th year in a row). I was excited about the elementary school visit she’s doing for a friend’s relatives in which she might bring one of these awesome DIY microscopes I just learned about.

As always, I’d love to hear if you do something similar in your lab and have activity ideas we can add to our list.

Categories: Reflections