Grad School! But then what? (Part 2)

Photo by @aleksbud / Instagram @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @aleksbud / Instagram @gradlifemcgill

A couple weeks ago I expressed some of my anxiety about my future career plans, my decision to explore my options other than a post-doc and a Career Development Day I was organizing. The event was a rousing success! (I might be a bit bias.) Organizing the event was a learning experience in itself and I’ll talk more about my experiences working with BGSS in a future post but here are the 4 top things I learned from the event.

1. Know what is important to you.
This was an exercise from the Individual Career Planning workshop run by CaPS. Basically you make a long list of different values you might look for in a job (ie. work-life balance, high salary, security, flexibility, problem solving etc.) You take these and put them into 3 piles; needs, wants and neutrals. Then you take your “needs” and order them from most to least important. When you really sit down and think about it, you might be surprised by what aspects are the most important to you, I know I was. Once you have your list you can see patterns and maybe associate them with certain careers. Better yet, give it to a friend; they might see things in there that you can’t. This activity really helped put things into focus and is allowing me to look for careers that will fit with who I am.

2. Networking is essential, and not as hard as it seems.
“Networking” has always been a scary word for me. I dislike doing it, but what I learned is once you start doing it becomes easier. For our event we organized a networking event with life sciences alumni in a “speed-dating” format. Small groups of students rotated through all the guests for short intervals. I really like this format because it takes the pressure off going up to someone in the first place; these people have agreed to talk to you. We had people from a variety of fields and by discussing the different aspects of their careers my eyes were opened to paths I hadn’t considered and helped me cross a couple off my list. One of the guests had some particularly good advice; “Just keep telling people what you’re interested in, you never know when someone might be able to help you. You’d be surprised how often people will want to help you.”

3. Soft skills; learn how to talk about them.
The ability to load an 80-well agarose gel in 20 minutes or less might be mildly impressive but it is unlikely to land me a job. Grad school teaches you a lot of technical skills. Some will be useful in your future, but many of them might not. What it also teaches us are many transferable skills that we aren’t necessarily aware of or know how to talk about. For example, optimizing your protocol equals problem solving skills and attention to detail. Presentations and manuscript writing are oral and written communication skills. Running 5 experiments at once? Time management and the ability to work under stressful conditions. Pinpointing the exact location of your samples in the -80⁰C, organizational skills. We have more skills than we think!

4. There are resources available, take advantage!
I touched on this in my last post, but I think it merits repetition. There are career resources at McGill of which you can and should take advantage. These services aren’t just for undergrads; they can help you too! Go and see the people at CaPS. They offer workshops, seminars and one-on-one advising. Check out their website; they hold all kinds of great events. If your writing needs work (CV or other), Graphos is a great place to go. SkillSets is constantly holding workshops to hone your transferable skills. There is the DCAT at the MUHC, Desautels Career Services, McGill Alumni Association and CaPS run a mentoring program, and the list goes on. Well hopefully it’s not too much longer, let me know if there are services out there I don’t know about it! My point is there are people out there to help you, don’t be shy and go see them.

In conclusion, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. However, I have a better idea of what is out there now and I know where I can get more information. Job hunting is not fun; it’s stressful and emotional and necessary. It’s a process but I feel a lot better having taken the first steps to help me figure it out.

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