A Roadmap to Consulting

24. October 2012

Jennifer Kruschwitz

At last week’s Frontiers in Optics meeting, OSA member and thin-film consultant Jennifer Kruschwitz shared her advice about how to prepare for a career in consulting during a Minorities and Women in OSA event. Jennifer was recognized as Digital Rochester’s 2012 Technology Woman of the Year.

There are a lot of reasons why one might want to pursue a career in consulting. For me, self-employment was something I’d always wanted to do. It was in my nature: Both my parents and siblings owned their own businesses, and I viewed the prospect as familiar and doable.

Others might find that they’ve hit a wall in their current job; even though they always get excellent reviews at work, they consistently get passed over for promotions. For still others, consulting could be the option that allows them the flexibility they need to balance work and family or to circumvent the frustrating “two body” problem, in which professional couples must figure out how to live in the same geographic location when relevant jobs there are limited for one of them.

No matter what your reason, you’ll need to prepare well before embarking on your journey toward consulting by taking the following steps.

Gain expertise in your field. In whatever job you have, you can set the stage for a consulting career by becoming the go-to person for challenging tasks. Find ways to add value to any project you are involved with and learn how to be productive between projects, so your expertise is always growing. Also, the more you can publish and present your scientific work, the better. Getting your name out to the community is critical.

Build your network. As you build your reputation, grow your network as well. You’ll want to get to know not only other scientists, but other professionals in the small business community. Volunteering with professional societies is a great way to start.

Put yourself on solid financial footing. Try to start your business from a strong financial position. You can do this by reducing your personal debt and saving as much money as possible. Before you get started, you’ll need to research your rates so that you can justify them to your clients and yourself. If you set your rates too high, you may not get any business; it you set them too low, others may perceive your work to be of low quality. Finally, think about how willing you are to be flexible with clients based on their particular situations.

After you’ve taken the plunge, the next step is to build your business. You might pursue one of more of the following options.

Partner with a larger firm that doesn’t have your specialty. Keep on top of the businesses in your field and related areas so you can identify those that provide a good, strategic fit. Then set up a time to talk with a contact there about how you can work together to your mutual benefit.

Work for a previous employer on a contractual basis. This possibility is one reason you shouldn’t burn bridges when you leave any job. You can never count out any company as a potential client or partner down the line.

Complement your business with another form of income. Whether it is a teaching position or research gig, having another role can help sustain you financially while also contributing to your portfolio of skills.

By being prepared, you can position yourself strongly as a fledgling business. Don’t let a lack of confidence get in your way. If you are nervous about being a consultant … pretend you’re somebody else! You (or your alter ego) can do it!

Jennifer D.T. Kruschwitz (jkconsult@kruschwitz.com) is a Senior OSA member and principal optical coating design engineer at her own company, J.K. Consulting, Rochester, N.Y., U.S.A. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Rochester and an adjunct associate professor at the University of Arizona.

Career Path, Communication Skills, Consulting, Job Search, Nontraditional Science Careers, Small Business and Entrepreneurs , , , ,

Career Advice from Top Entrepreneur Milton Chang

16. October 2012

Milton Chang

At this week’s Frontiers in Optics meeting, Milton Chang shared his advice about how to forge a path toward entrepreneurship at the OSA Student Leadership Conference. Here are highlights from his talk.

Many of you are already off to a good start toward constructing a fulfilling technical career: You have shown active involvement in your community and picked a technical field for your future. You will find your niche and do well.

I was once where you are: wondering what to do with my career. I immigrated from Hong Kong for college; worked my way through my undergraduate years; and was employed by an aerospace company for a few years. Then I joined a start-up as the 7th employee. Eventually I became president of that company—The Newport Corporation—and took it public.

You too can build a successful future. With your technical know-how, you can do anything you want, as long as you continue to broaden yourself, learn and study. Here’s how to ensure that your career will move in the right direction over the long term:

Gain as much expertise as possible to compete for opportunities. Hiring managers are looking for someone with expertise who can get the job done. Having a graduate degree is a great starting point—

but don’t stop there. Learn as many skills as possible to gain access to jobs that others will not have. Often having the combination of a few skills will lead you to many more opportunities than you would have with just one area of expertise: 1+1=10.

Having a breadth of knowledge enables you to make sound decisions. When choosing your career path, you don’t want to have blinders on—so make sure you learn about subjects beyond your technical area. In particular, having business acumen and an understanding of management can make you more effective on the job as an engineer and also provide you with more career options.

Your reputation and your network are your resources. There are two types of networking you can engage in as a professional: The “shoulder slapping” variety, in which you forge friendly connections with a wide range of others, and the stronger relationships you have with a few confidantes. Both types are important to your career.

For those interested in pursuing the entrepreneurial path, here’s how to get started:

Be really good at what you do and know your industry. This is the #1 requirement for being an entrepreneur. You need both technical expertise and knowledge of business and management. Avoid pursuing an idea that is outside of the industry you know intimately; instead go for a niche that capitalizes on your expertise and grow the business over time as you gain experience.

Start by joining a well managed company. Perish the thought of starting a company right out of school—you simply don’t know enough yet. Strive to succeed by first learning what it takes to succeed and by building your professional reputation and network.

Take on project management. You don’t want to just grind away at a narrow task or technology that could at some point become obsolete. Engaging in big-picture project management will help you gain well-rounded skills, build your network and learn how the world works. This is what will make you become more valuable over time. Volunteering for a professional society is a great way to start.

In summary, I recommend that you think broadly about your career first, and then decide later if entrepreneurship is right for you. For more specifics on starting a business, read my book Toward Entrepreneurship: Establishing a Successful Technology Business.

Milton Chang (miltonchang@incubic.com) is the director of Precision Photonics, mBio and Aurrion, a trustee of Caltech, and a member of the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies.

Career Path, Job Search, Nontraditional Science Careers, Small Business and Entrepreneurs , , , , ,

Social Media Tips for Scientists

10. October 2012

Catherine de Lange

This post is adapted from one that initially appeared on the Naturejobs blog with the kind permission of the author.

For many scientists, the thought of spending time on social media sites is distinctly unappealing. To some it’s just a question of time: Why add to your already long to-do list? For others it’s more to do with social media itself; they find the idea of sharing thoughts and ideas with the whole world pointless or self-indulgent.

If that sounds like you, it might be time to reconsider your options—social media includes much more than the usual suspects like Facebook and Twitter, and there are even sites dedicated to academics. Indeed, a vast number of scientists are using social media for tremendous gains— whether that be forming new contacts and collaborations, sharing ideas, communicating science, inspiring others or just entertaining them. Why not join them?

Starting out in the world of social media can be daunting, especially when you have a serious professional reputation to uphold. So what are the rules and where do you start? At last month's Naturejobs Career Expo in London, social media guru Nicola Osborne offered her tips on how scientists can get the best out of social media. You can find her tweeting at @suchprettyeyes if you’re already on Twitter. If you’re not, then follow her advice and you soon will be.

Why use social media?

Social media sites are go-to places for expertise and advice, so if you’re not taking part, you’re missing out. You also get much more control over your profile –you can put up what you want, which often isn’t the case for the highly formatted profiles you are used to seeing on academic websites. And social media sites give you direct access to all sorts of people, from networks of peers to potential employers, which opens the door to all manner of new opportunities.

What types of social media should I use?

Blogs are great, says Osborne, not least because they can move with you across different roles. If you’re thinking of setting up a blog, she recommends WordPress as it is straightforward to use and appears nicely on search engines. Twitter is really good for peer support, sharing resources and building up your networks. Video and audio are a bit more demanding, “but really good if you want to do public engagement, especially television, in the future,” says Osborne.  LinkedIn is a good way of sharing your CV and professional networking, as well as Academia.edu which lets you build a profile. Researchgate and Mendeley let you update your research publications.

What type of information should I share?

Share your work, and details of your research to the extent that it is acceptable, but you should certainly check any existing privacy, non-disclosure, or social media agreements that you have with your employer or the journals that publish your research. Do also share quirky or playful content around your work or research: “even the weirdest and wonderfullest of images can be a great way to link through to an interesting piece,” Osborne says.

…but don’t ever post

… commercially sensitive data, personal information that might impact on your professional reputation such as images of drunken parties. And, needless to say, don’t do anything illegal online! Watch out for automatic app updates, for example that Facebook app that shares with everyone the fact that you are reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Likewise, look out for old forgotten online discussions that could come back to haunt you.

How can I reflect my true identity online?

First things first: Google yourself. What comes up? Are your existing online presences findable and effective? When it comes to your online voice, if you aren’t sure where to start, look for role models—people who you think are doing a good job (scroll down for links to some great sites that Osborne recommends). When building your online social media profile, try to decide which tools suit your style, expertise and time availability, says Osborne. For instance, there’s no point in setting up a blog if you simply don’t have the time and motivation to update it. In which case, perhaps Twitter would be a better option. If your work generates incredible images that you’re keen to share, try Flickr, and if you simply want a more solid and static profile, try the academic sites like Mendeley.

What information should I include in my profile?

It might feel like a chore, but make sure you complete your profile carefully, and use it to connect to your other online presences. For instance, if you tweet and blog, include a link to your blog on your Twitter profile, and add a Twitter widget to your blog so visitors can easily find and follow you there.

What user name should I go for?

“I think a sensible name is useful,” says Osborne, and a name that is indicative of the content will work best. For a blog, a quirky name can age really badly, she says, although quirky content in the blog post itself can be good. Always think about who your audience is. Also, make sure you include your real name in your profile, which will help with continuity between all your accounts, and will generally be more transparent.

How can I judge the right tone?

Get a colleague to have a look and give you a second perspective when you start blogging to see if the voice is right, says Osborne. When you start, err towards the formal and loosen up later, but, “if your quirky stuff is in good taste, it should go down fairly well.”

Can I get rid of any discriminating evidence?

Even if you don’t tend to use social media, that doesn’t mean other people won’t be posting content about you, uploading pictures of you to Facebook, for instance, or blogging about a fascinating presentation you gave at a conference. In fact, that’s another reason to start using social networks—by being part of the conversation, you can see what’s being said about you.

If you Google yourself and see things you’d rather not share, there are a number of things you can do. It’s easy enough to un-tag yourself in Facebook pictures, and if you really don’t want the image up there you can always ask the person who posted it to take it down. Likewise, if there is information about you on a website that you don’t like, just get in touch with the administrator and ask them to remove it. If you don’t like what comes up in your Google search results, you can actually use social media to change them. That fan mail you wrote to your favorite fishing magazine that you didn’t know was going to be published online, for instance, will soon be replaced with your blog, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin profiles, shunting the embarrassing search results further down the list, where people are less likely to see them.

How can I manage my social media activity?

Once you are up and running, there are a number of ways to monitor and manage your presence online, to see how people are interacting with you and responding to your content. Apart from searching for your name in search engines like Google or Bing, you can also search in Twitter to see who’s mentioning you even if they don’t use your official Twitter handle. Who Talking, Icerocket, Social Mention and Topsy let you search across several social media platforms at once. You can also set up alerts to see what people are saying about you using Google alerts, Tweetbeep or IFTTT.

For inspiration, here are some links to sites that Osborne thinks make exceptionally good use of social media to communicate science. Good luck!

• What’s on my blackboard?
• Science in the open
• A Don’s Life
• Mr. Blobby the blobfish on Facebook
• Inside science  (good use of pictures)
• Francis Rowland on Flickr
• Marta Mirazon Lahr on Academia.edu (an informative and well maintained profile)
• Prabhav Kalaghatgi on Figshare (a site which allows people to share research techniques)

Catherine de Lange (naturejobseditor@nature.com) is a science journalist and the web editor of Naturejobs. She tweets at @catdl

Nicola Osborne is social media officer for EDINA, a national academic data centre based at the University of Edinburgh which provides digital resources for staff and students in further and higher education. She tweets at @suchprettyeyes.

The Naturejobs blog is regularly updated with expert science career advice as well as news updates and events that can help you succeed in your next career move. It also runs themed series of blog posts, guest posts and podcasts. If there's something you'd like to see covered, or you’d like to pitch an idea for a blog post please email the Naturejobs web editor, Catherine de Lange, at naturejobseditor@nature.com and follow us on Twitter: @naturejobs

Academic Careers, Career Path, Communication Skills, Job Search , , , , , , ,

Should You Follow the Science Fashion of the Day?

5. October 2012

Arti Agrawal

I want that gorgeous Chanel bag. I do!

Is there any logic behind it? While I’m not sure what’s behind my urge, I suspect that Chanel has it down to a science (and art)!

Surely the fashions sold to us are not merely the unfettered creative output of talented designers? I believe there is plenty of science behind how trends change and how new products are introduced to the market. As this blog post from IonPsych explains, designers may even draw on optical illusions to create clothes that help elongate the body or emphasize flattering aspects of a person’s figure.

So if fashion follows science, does science follow fashion?

After all, we’ve all seen that certain “hot topics” in science often crop up that attract the attention of policy-makers, grant-giving bodies, journal editors and reviewers. And the work done in these areas tends to get more funding, publications and attention than that in less “fashionable” ones.

The advantages of channelling resources into trendy areas is that it allows us to rapidly develop technology in strategically important areas and to realize a quick potential return to taxpayers, investors, industry and the public. With limited funding resources, it is essential to have a method of prioritizing.

On the other hand, some areas can get over-funded at the expense of other deserving options. Trendy science can cause us to neglect promising potential developments and restrict creativity and diversity in thought.

Science is frustratingly enigmatic: We can't always predict which seemingly obscure development or outlandish piece of research will lead to a fantastic new technology or product that changes our lives. Nor can we be sure that the hot area that many work on will deliver the goods on schedule.

This fickle quality is what makes science so exciting to work in. You can’t really know what the work of today will create for tomorrow.

Take photonics for example. It has many applications and is often thought of as an enabling technology. In my view, the current trend is largely to focus on experimental work. Theoretical ideas are sometimes regarded with a jaundiced eye in the peer review process: If you can't or haven’t fabricated a prototype or demonstrated your predictions, reviewers and editors cannot be easily convinced about the potential of the idea.

But look at how the laser came to be. The principle behind this transformative technology was published years before the first prototype was demonstrated. Today lasers are everywhere: in our printers, DVD reader/writers, medical equipment, industrial equipment. It is nice to see that Charles Townes, whose early work led to the laser, was recently recognized for taking risks when he received a “Golden Goose award,” which was intended to highlight how federally funded research that once seemed pointless can ultimately transform society.

Would this wonderful idea have survived the peer review of today?

Another example is that of left-handed or negative index materials. The concept of a negative refractive index was predicted by Veselago in the 1960s when no experimental verification of the concept was possible: Fabrication was not feasible with the technology of the day, and no known examples existed in the natural world.

Yet the work was published. Moreover, since the 1990s, it has led to a huge research effort globally. By now, everyone has heard of metamaterials! Whether these exotic materials will give us the breakthroughs that researchers expect remains to be seen.

And so I feel we need to encourage a more balanced perspective—and resource allocation—and not lean too heavily in any one direction, lest we ignore incredible ideas that can transform science.

Arti Agrawal (arti_agrawal@hotmail.com) is a lecturer at City University London in the School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. To follow her personal blog, visit http://artiagrawal.wordpress.com.

Academic Careers, Career Path, Women in Science , , , , , ,