How to Tell Your Advisor That You're Leaving Academia

28. August 2014

Jena Pitman-Leung, Ph.D. 

This post is based on content that has already appeared on the Propel Careers website. It is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.

Many people enter into a Ph.D. program or postdoctoral fellowship thinking that they’ll be in academia forever. But for about 70 percent of trainees, this plan changes along the way. Sometimes it happens over a long period of time, and sometimes it happens quickly. Either way, their advisor is usually the last person to find out. Despite the changing culture, many advisors simply do not want their trainees to leave academia.

One of the questions that I've been frequently asked since joining Propel Careers is, “How do I tell my advisor I'm leaving academia?” For many people, the anticipation of this conversation is worse than any other conversation with their advisor.

I wish I could remember how I told my postdoc advisor, but I was too flustered to remember the details. I do, however, remember the outcome–thankfully, I received understanding and support. I've had a number of years to look back on this experience and talk to others who've gone through it, and I’ve identified a few tactics that made this conversation easier.

Give enough notice
When you decide to leave academia, try to give your advisor enough notice to make him or her feel comfortable. Most Ph.D. students begin looking for a postdoc position about a year before graduating, so this would be a good time to tell them you plan to look for a different job.

Have a research plan in place
Present your advisor with an exit plan to ease any worries about you leaving the lab with unfinished experiments. Create a list of work left to do, along with a timeline and who you will hand tasks off to, if necessary. Include as much detail as possible!

Have a future plan in place
You may not know exactly what you want to do after leaving the lab, but hopefully you have an idea. Once you choose a career path, allow yourself enough time to assess your skillset and build any skills needed to transition into your new role. If this requires some time out of the lab, tell your advisor what your plans are, why they are important to your career development and how you will build the skills you need without interfering with finishing your research.

Don't present your choice as a bad thing
You may feel guilty or like you are disappointing your advisor. Even if you get a less-than-supportive response, it is important to stay positive. Present the news as an exciting career transition, NOT as a backup plan. The more self-reflection you do ahead of time and the more confident you are in your decision, the easier this will be. It's okay if it takes a little time to get to this point–just remember, this is your career, and you are in charge.

Make sure they know you value your training
Ph.D. and postdoc training is incredibly valuable. Even if it's not the experience you hoped it would be, you can’t get through without learning something. You want your advisor to feel that the training you received will not be wasted. Your technical abilities, communication skills, ability to collaborate and work with others, train junior colleagues, grasp complicated questions, think critically and see solutions are skills that will be useful in careers outside of academia.

Although research trainee success is still defined by many granting institutions as “success within academia,” this is changing. As you progress in your career, check in periodically with your advisor to update him or her on your successes. This way, you can be included in faculty boasting as the former trainee who “helped discover the cure for cancer while working on a team at X pharma,” or the former trainee who “developed a medical device used to diagnose X disease.” As a bonus for doing this, you may make it easier for your peers to have their own discussions with your mentor!

Jena Pitman-Leung, Ph.D., is a Career Development Consultant at Propel Careers and has been with Propel Careers since August, 2013. During her graduate studies at Northwestern University and postdoctoral studies at the University of Massachusetts Medical School she was the primary mentor of over a dozen undergraduate and graduate students; providing career advice, and training them to be independent scientists. Prior to joining Propel, Jena worked as a consultant at a Boston-area firm specializing in fatigue risk management in 24/7 industries.

 

Academic careers, Career, Communication skills, Nontraditional science careers, Ph.D. Perspectives, Postdocs , , , , , ,

Effectively Personalizing Your Resume

26. August 2014

Arlene Smith

I recently attended a career-themed panel discussion at an OSA Topical Meeting. Scientists and engineers from industry and academia were represented in the panel and the audience, so this was a great opportunity to hear from both sides how to most effectively write a resume and cover letter. Here are some of the highlights.

Tailor your resume.
Some of the take-away points on the age-old issue of resume layout and content were perhaps unsurprising. The panel reiterated the importance of tailoring your resume to each job application, listing experience and skills relevant to the position to which you’re applying. Be selective! An application for an industry role doesn’t require an in-depth publication list; a list of “selected publications” related to the role is sufficient. This becomes increasingly important as you get more experience and your project and/or publication lists grow. First, list the experience that is most applicable to this job opening, then, if space allows, additional information can be included. For each prospective job, rank your achievements and experience in order of pertinence and build your resume from there.

Personalize your cover letter.
While the resume conveys that you fill the prerequisites for the role, the cover letter is where you can show your enthusiasm. For example, you might highlight the experience and skills that are relevant not only to this role, but to the company’s mission statement or to the academic department’s broader research goals. The panel expressed their frustration with the frequency of generic cover letters crossing their desks, so put in the time and effort to make yours stand out and show that you’re passionate about the position.

Consider your personal interests.
Just how important is the “personal interests” section of a resume? Does a prospective employer actually pay attention to your extracurricular activities? This section is typically very short and devoted to showing a bit of your personality in just a few words. Do you love team sports? Craft beers? Rebuilding your robot vacuum cleaner so it can fetch your paper and brew your morning coffee? If so, be prepared to talk about it.

A hiring manager with several years of interviewing experience highlighted how this seemingly innocent list of hobbies can prove an important topic during the interview, and can be a potential downfall for a candidate. If an interviewee professes a love for playing basketball in their spare time, this manager will inquire as to the air pressure level they use when pumping up the basketball. When the audience expressed their shock at this line of interview questioning, the hiring manager simply explained that, in his view, a technically-minded person would know this information, or at least possess the skills to give a good estimate.

So, do you like to lift weights at the gym? Do you like playing the latest Call of Duty game interactively via a Bluetooth headset? Do you play racquet sports or guitar? If so, it’s time to do your homework. Be prepared to explain why you chose to include those particular personal interests, and explain how they could relate to the job that you’re applying for. This is another opportunity to make yourself stand out and show how uniquely qualified you are for a position.

Arlene Smith (arlsmith@umich.edu) is a research fellow in the department of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, U.S.A.

 

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Learning to Improve (and Enjoy) Your Public Speaking

20. August 2014

Antonio Benayas

Over the course of your career, one of the tasks you will likely face is speaking in public. This makes some people very nervous because the audience’s attention is focused solely on you. Public speaking is something you will learn to enjoy, not to fear. It doesn’t matter if you are describing research at your master’s degree examination, teaching undergraduate students, presenting results at a conference, or (hopefully someday!) giving a speech in Stockholm when receiving that prize—there are some universal steps that you can take to make any kind of public speech better and easier.

Define your topic: The first step is to decide exactly what you want to communicate to your audience. It’s okay to be ambitious in scope, but be sure that your ideas are clearly and concisely expressed. Your ultimate goal is to be understood, so quantity of concepts is far less significant than the quality and depth of your connection with the audience.

Prepare your script: Use a topic outline to structure your talk. At the beginning, this scaffold will be based mostly on your research and the list of facts you want to communicate. Gradually, as your talk evolves, you will also need to think about how the concepts and ideas you are going to present can best be delivered to the audience.

Think visually: There is much to be said on the topic of presentation visuals, but keep in mind that images or graphs are usually preferable over words. The rule “six per six but never thirty-six” means that you can have six lines or sentences on a slide, each composed of six words or less, but you should never reach both upper limits on the same slide. Practice, practice, practice: It’s natural to be nervous before facing an audience, especially if the crowd is made up of experts in your field. You can fight your fears by becoming completely comfortable with your talk and its contents well in advance. The only way to do this is to practice frequently. This might seem tedious; but I promise it is perfectly possible to enjoy the training process. Pay attention to how much your performance improves and your confidence increases with practice.

Get advice from others: It is always a good idea to practice your presentation in front of friends and colleagues and ask them for their honest advice. Their feedback will be invaluable for polishing your performance (tone of voice, pacing, body language, etc.) and the structure of your talk. You can adjust your script based on their input.

Be yourself: You likely admire speakers who connect with the audience and make a lasting impression. Try to identify the characteristics that make this speaker so good, and then think about how you can adopt or develop these features for your own presentations. However, you should try to find YOUR personal style as an outstanding public speaker. Don’t just imitate good speakers—use them as models for how to accomplish specific goals. There is no need to practice up until the last minute before your talk. Relax and enjoy your moment in the spotlight. Remember that everyone in the audience has almost certainly been in your shoes, and they are there to see you succeed.

Antonio Benayas Hernandez (antonio.benayas@emt.inrs.ca) is an Eileen Iwanicki postdoctoral fellow (CIHR-BCSC) at Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université du Québec, Canada. He completed his Ph.D. in Physics in the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain. During his Ph.D. he participated in several international research projects at Heriot Watt University, UK, Federal University of Alagoas, Brazil, and University of Pittsburgh, U.S.A. He also worked for Galatea Consultores S.L. as a junior consultant for aerospace industries. His current research is focused on fluorescent nanoparticles for biomedical applications, nanothermometry and thermal imaging.

 

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How to Use Your Business Card

21. July 2014

Arti Agrawal

“Here’s my card.” How often is this sentence uttered at conferences, meetings and other networking events? The ubiquitous business card is a marvelous thing, and its repertoire of functions is expanding beyond just providing your basic contact information.
 
Make an impression.
The first time I saw a card with a long string of letters after the name, I was bemused. What do all of those acronyms mean? Why are they included? That’s when I realized that this rectangular piece of paper can be more than a convenient way to give someone your email address. Increasingly, business cards are becoming miniature CVs: some cards list every degree the person has acquired (and perhaps even where they were earned) and all of their professional affiliations.
 
When you state on your business card that you are a member or fellow of a professional organization, or are chartered in your profession, you relate key achievements, abilities and your professional standing to the reader. You are starting to sell yourself before you give someone a full CV. Presenting someone with your card is a way to both inform and impress, and including some additional details can help you stand out from the get-go.
 
Strike the right balance.
But how much additional information about your qualifications is appropriate to include on your card? Is this the proper context for telling people where you did your undergraduate degree many moons ago, or to which institutions you pay a yearly membership fee? It’s important to strike a balance between providing the a few key details to catch the right person’s eye, and inundating readers with unnecessary and possibly incomprehensible information. Do some research on what is standard in your profession, and look at the card carefully to be sure that it’s not difficult to read. Regardless of what you decide to include, the card should be simple and easy to decipher.
 
Be careful with acronyms.
Certain acronyms and abbreviations can provide valuable information for those in a specific field, but for others, they can be befuddling. For example, within the U.K. physics community, “FInstP” signifies being a Fellow of the Institute of Physics. But to someone outside of the country or the field, it might make no sense at all. Listing “SMOSA” on a card may lead some readers to think of the fried Indian snack of samosas, but the intention is to state that the card owner is quite distinguished and is a Senior Member of the Optical Society! Choose your acronyms with care, and be ready to explain them.
 
A card can’t convey context, so you can’t depend on it alone to get your message across. However, when used correctly, a business card can provide a valuable snapshot of your professional life. Use your card to grab someone’s attention, and then follow up by filling in the details.
 
Arti Agrawal (arti_agrawal@hotmail.com) is a lecturer at City University London, U.K., in the department of electrical, electronic and information engineering at the School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. To follow her blog, visit http://artiagrawal.wordpress.com.

 

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Three Simple Steps to Networking Success

10. July 2014

Arlene Smith

I want to address a topic that is almost essential for career progression but can strike fear in an introvert’s heart: networking. Although it may feel like you’re the only one who gets nervous in networking situations, you’re not alone. Everyone fears rejection or embarrassment, but you don’t need to be afraid!

If speaking with your optics idol or asking a question makes you queasy, the following approach can quell your fears. I urge you to try it out.

1. Make your approach
The first step is deciding how to approach someone and begin a conversation with him or her. If you are in a panel session, approach a speaker and say, "I have a question and I would like to hear your thoughts." This shows the panelist that you value his or her opinion.

 If you are in an informal networking situation, try approaching a group and simply asking, "May I join you?" Remember, networking is about meeting new people. They want to meet you, too.

When deciding who to approach and how, ask yourself, "What’s the worst thing that could happen?" The very worst possibility is that the panelist or group isn't friendly, in which case you just move on. A better question to ask is, "What’s the BEST thing that could happen?" If you don’t put in the effort, you could miss out on great opportunities.

2. Have a conversation
After introducing yourself to someone and exchanging basic information, start asking him or her questions. I estimate that 90 percent of networking is showing interest in other people, so be sure to focus on the person to whom you’re speaking. Sometimes conversation flows naturally, but other times it might take more effort. Here are some good questions to get a dialog started: 

What are you currently working on?
• What result do you expect to see?
• What has challenged you?
• What has been your biggest success?
• Is there anyone here you hope to meet?

3. Follow up
When it is time to move on, exit the conversation by simply saying, "It was nice to speak with you. May I have your business cards/emails? I need to see a few more people today, but we should get in touch." Make sure to follow up:

• Write down a relevant detail from the conversation as soon as possible. This will help you remember the conversation and reconnect with that person later.
• Within two days, make contact and mention a specific point that you discussed. If you meet a lot of people, prioritize your list and contact the individuals you deem most likely to be helpful first. Contact the others at a later time.
• Make an effort to keep in contact with important people. Don't let them forget about you.

Arlene Smith (arlsmith@umich.edu) is a research fellow in the department of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, U.S.A.

 

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Building Your “Soft Skills”

5. June 2014

Lauren Celano

This post was adapted from content on the Propel Careers website and BioCareers.com. It is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.

I often advise Ph.D. students on career planning and the various job options available to them. When I ask them to discuss their specific skills, many of them focus only on their research and technical skills. These are “hard skills,” such as genetics, computer science, chemistry or pharmacology. When I inquire about “soft skills,” I am often met with looks of confusion. Below are a few examples of “soft skills” that can help scientists become well-rounded job candidates in many different fields.

Teamwork
A Ph.D. student who works on a multi-disciplinary project team, for example, a cell biologist who works with a biochemist and a pharmacologist to understand a disease pathway, must have good teamwork skills to be successful. The same is true for someone who works on or leads a collaborative project with other labs in and outside of their institution, industry partners and foundations. These experiences provide examples that can be shared with potential employers to illustrate how one successfully worked on or led a team and learned through the process of working with others.

Non-Technical Writing
Many scientists are accustomed to writing manuscripts, grants, review articles, and of course, the ever-popular thesis. While this type of scientific communication is important, the ability to communicate with those outside your field of study is invaluable.

In fact, Albert Einstein is often credited with saying, “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” To develop these skills, students can make an effort to write for different sources, such as the school newspaper, departmental newsletter, association publication or a personal blog.

Verbal Communication
Public speaking is a valuable asset for the career scientist. Students can build this skill through teaching and speaking at conferences, departmental meetings, association conferences, as well as foundation and charity events. One should also take on leadership roles in student organizations and associations (for example, OSA Student Chapters) as well as groups such as Toastmasters.

Networking
Formal and informal networking opportunities are everywhere; you just need to know where to look. Examples include participation in student government, technical interest groups and clubs and professional and industry organizations. Some professional organizations even have student affiliates.

More generally, you can find networking avenues are through common interest, advocacy and charitable groups, and social and professional networking events. In fact, I would bet that there is a networking opportunity to be had just about every night of the week. You just have to be willing to seek it out, and more importantly, gather the courage to attend and participate. You never know who you might meet—it’s truly up to you.

In today’s job market, hard skills are not always enough to get you into that perfect role. Employers are looking for “the whole package”: people who have the right mix of both soft and hard skills. Take the initiative to immerse yourself in opportunities to grow and develop in new directions. The effort will pay off.

Lauren Celano (lauren@propelcareers.com) is the co-founder and CEO of Propel Careers, a life science search and career development firm focused on connecting talented individuals with entrepreneurial life sciences companies.

 

Academic careers, Career, Communication skills, Conferences, Job Search, Ph.D. Perspectives , , , , , , ,

Do You Have the Right Attitude?

27. January 2014

Lisa Balbes

This post was adapted from content on the Career blog of the American Chemical Society (ACS) with the kind permission of ACS and the author.

Have you ever had a great day, where everything was going right and one success just seemed to lead into the next one? Conversely, have you ever had a bad day, where you started off in a poor mood, and all you could see was the bad in everything? Did those good or bad days sometimes extend into weeks?

We’ve all experienced stretches of time where things seem to keep going in the same direction. But did you ever stop to consider that it might be your attitude that is the driving factor?

Sometimes, having a somewhat negative attitude towards a particular task can be a productive thing. For example, if you are a technical editor, you start a project by thinking, “What is wrong with this document, and how can I change it to better meet the needs of the intended audience?” You go in looking for things that are wrong, knowing that they are there, and don’t stop looking until you find and fix them.

While working from the hypothesis that “there’s something wrong and I must find it” is helpful in some cases, approaching every situation that way can work against you. If you are in the habit of always looking for problems and mismatches, you will be at a decided disadvantage when you are searching or interviewing for a new job.

Instead of focusing on how well you fit the company and how your professional accomplishments are ideally suited to the requirements of the job, you may continue looking for problems and ways that you don’t fit.

There is no job that is absolutely perfect for you—there will always be something you don’t like or don’t know how to do. What you’re looking for is a position where the good outweighs the bad, and you enjoy doing the good parts so much that the other parts are only minor annoyances. When looking for a new job, it is important to focus on the positive, looking at the skills and experiences that make you qualified for that position instead of dwelling on areas where you don’t fit.

This becomes even more important when you get to the interview stage. The interviewer expects you to convince him or her not only that you can do the job, but that you really want it. You should describe in detail how perfectly suited you are for the position, and how your prior accomplishments have prepared you to do exactly what they need. In order to sell yourself to the interviewers, you first have to sell yourself to yourself.

After all, if you can’t convince yourself that you’re perfect for the job, how do you expect to convince a potential employer? So the next time someone tells you to keep a positive attitude about your job search, remember that they are right. Be positive that there is a job out there for which you’re the perfect candidate—and keep looking until you find it.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D., of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.

Career, Communication skills, Job Search , , , ,

Learning by Teaching

13. January 2014

Takayuki Umakoshi

The people in my family are not very familiar with science. I sometimes wish that I could discuss my work with them, but it is not easy to explain my research to people without a scientific background. This is just one of the many instances in which we as scientists need to communicate our work to people without extensive scientific knowledge. Communication skills are crucial to your success—for example, when applying for government funding for your research. Even if you get tremendous results, they won’t have an impact if you cannot explain them properly and make their significance understood.

Engaging children with science
My OSA/SPIE student chapter at Osaka University, Japan, recently held an outreach activity called “Super HIKARIJUKU.” During this annual event, we invite about 50 elementary school students to our campus and showed them how fascinating science can be through optics-related experiments. This year I served as a student chair, and the event was very successful. The kids had a great time and learned a lot about light. After helping to organize the event, I realized that discussing science with children taught me some important lessons about how to communicate scientific topics with non-scientific people.

Communicating successfully
In order to get our message across to the students, we had to do a lot of research. We asked parents and teachers what the children already knew, so we were aware of their level of scientific knowledge. We also found out about the latest popular cartoon characters, so that we could use fun images and concepts that children already recognize and enjoy to engage them even further. Practicing and testing our demonstrations was also very important—we showed the experiments to non-scientific people so that they could give us advice on the best way to make ourselves understood and to get kids excited about the subject matter. It took quite a bit of planning and effort, but we ended up with a really good set of experiments. Our thoughtful, hands-on demonstrations allowed us to explain complex concepts to children who might not have understood them otherwise.

Applying these skills
The communication skills that we learned by working with children are also applicable to adults outside of our very specific fields. I discovered that you need to be able to break down complicated ideas into simple, understandable pieces so that they can be useful to a wider audience. Think about what language will be most comprehensible and interesting to your listeners. Where possible, hands-on demonstrations are extremely helpful and can make seemingly abstract concepts much more engaging. If you are capable of making your research easier to understand, then it will be much easier to communicate its importance. Through my work with OSA, I realized that outreach activities like these are not only informational for our audiences, but also teach us how to communicate effectively. Teaching is learning.
 
Takayuki Umakoshi (umakoshi@ap.eng.osaka-u.ac.jp) is a Ph.D. student at Osaka University, Japan, and president of the Osaka University OSA/SPIE student chapter. For more information, please check out his website: https://sites.google.com/site/takayukiumakoshiwebsites/.

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Combatting Engineering Stereotypes

8. January 2014

Brian Monacelli

Quick! Think of a well-known engineer, real or fictional, from pop culture.

I bet that took longer than expected, right?

Perhaps Scotty from Star Trek came to mind. He is admired among his fictional peers because the fate of the crew often depended on his technical prowess, but this chief engineer seldom made the promotional posters for the series.

Maybe you thought of Dilbert, the fictional comic nerd-hero who is disgruntled and unpopular in his own world. Though humorous, his frustrations with his job are not always relevant to engineering. However, he does share with real engineers the reputation of being unsocial.

Even in our modern society that relies so heavily on technology, engineers and scientists have a fairly negative social reputation. Though there are a handful of notable, socially visible scientists held in high regard in popular culture—Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and Carl Sagan, to name a few—I’m hard-pressed to think of any publically familiar engineers (not counting technically savvy entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk or Bill Gates).

The Wikipedia page for “engineer” is telling—there is an entire section specifically about public perception of the profession:

“…engineering has in the popular culture of some English-speaking countries been seen as a dry, uninteresting field and the domain of nerds. One challenge to public awareness of the profession is that average people lack personal dealings with engineers, even though they benefit from their work every day.”

Engineering is challenging, but not uninteresting. Most of us rely on our engineered devices, so much so that they are often the first things we reach for in the morning or watch before we sleep. If engineering is dull, why are over 2.5 million people in the United States alone (per the 2010 U.S. Census) employed as engineers?

Wikipedia identifies the problem well: people don’t often have the opportunity to meet the person who designed their phone display or aligned their camera lenses. Layers of corporate customer service often prevent consumers from providing direct feedback to an engineering team, and technical topics are mired in nuanced jargon.

However, I find that it is both refreshing and efficient to have a technical discussion in which specialized topics are broken down into basic concepts that can be understood by an interested, but less experienced person. It’s key to find the right balance of precise technical terminology and universal language for your particular audience.

I suggest that public opinion of engineers can be improved if those of us making the technology spent a few hours during the day in a classroom or discussing technical projects with non-technical peers. Optical engineers in particular should be able to relate to most people, since almost everyone interacts with light every day, whether it’s something as simple as their rearview mirror or as complex as their head-mounted display of a 3-D video that was downloaded via an optical fiber link. If you can convey complex technical topics simply and directly to anyone you meet, then you stand a better chance of being crystal clear when you interact with your professional colleagues.

This new year, consider how you can alter the negative stereotype by reaching out to a young person, a family member or a peer to educate them about your passion for engineering. Understanding technology is awesome, so make it a story that’s told over and over again. Become a better storyteller, and maybe someone in your audience will consider engineering as a career.

Brian Monacelli is an optical engineer. He also teaches photonics at Irvine Valley College, Calif., U.S.A.

 

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How to benefit from internships, exchanges and scholarships

16. December 2013

Christian Reimer

Deciding where you want to conduct your graduate studies and on what kind of research are very difficult and important choices. Getting into the right program—ideally on a full scholarship—is even more challenging. Grades are certainly important, but there are other activities that can play a key role in starting your graduate studies on the right foot. Below are a few tips on how to make the most of these “extracurricular activities” to advance in your career.

Seek out new experiences

There are many ways for undergraduate students to get different kinds of experience and build a professional network, which will be helpful when applying to graduate school and other opportunities. Involvement with OSA Student Chapters, for example, offers valuable contact with other students and professionals with similar interests. Attending conferences and summer schools can broaden your scientific horizon and will help you to become more involved in your field. International exchanges are also valuable resources: a semester or year abroad will open your mind and provide new perspectives.

In my opinion, the most important activity is the acquisition of direct, firsthand research experience. Many research groups and companies offer internships for undergraduate students, which are a valuable addition to your CV and give you a glance into the academic or industrial world before you begin your graduate studies.

Apply, apply and apply

The lack of funds for research in academia is a fundamental and growing issue. It is therefore important to actively look and apply for as many scholarships and funding opportunities as possible. For example, there are many scholarships available to cover travel and other expenses for conferences, internships and exchanges. Even if these scholarships are small, there are very few reasons not to apply, and their impact can be significant for your CV. At first you may have to submit several applications to receive just one award, but after you have won a couple of scholarships and gathered some experience, you will find that success attracts more success.

Dare to ask

In my experience, there is a fundamental rule for a successful academic career: If you want something, ask for it. Being proactive and intelligently asking for what you want will help you throughout your professional life. For example, if you are interested in an internship, invest time and effort in writing a good and specific application letter, ask for help from someone who has already written successful applications, and apply even if no positions are advertised. The worst that can happen is that you do not get it.

The same applies if you want to collaborate with a research group, visit a conference or attend a summer school. If you do your homework and present legitimate reasons why you want to do it and how it will benefit your career or research, then do not be afraid to ask. You should be mentally prepared to have your request denied, but even then, the feedback and practice you receive will be valuable for the future.

While grades are certainly important, combining them with other types of experience will strengthen your CV and will help you get the right graduate position and succeed in academia. You can also take advantage of these opportunities without outstanding grades if you start small and apply often. The more you apply, the easier it will become.

Christian Reimer completed his German Diplom in Physics (equivalent to a M.Sc.) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany. During his studies, he participated in exchanges, research projects and internships at Draeger Inc., Germany; Heriot-Watt University, Scotland; the University of St Andrews, Scotland; Surrey University, England; the University of Glasgow, Scotland; and the University of Sydney, Australia. He is currently writing his Ph.D. at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS, http://www.uop.ca/), Canada, supported by a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (www.vanier.gc.ca).

 

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