Over the past several years, I’ve had the genuine pleasure of speaking
with students and researchers about
their careers. They look for advice and
inspiration for planning their career
path. These students and researchers
carry an infectious enthusiasm, a real
passion for what they do. But there is a
The more students I talk to, the
clearer it becomes that they all harbor
common misconceptions about what
career opportunities they can and can-
not apply for. There are assumptions in
the way they think–the way a lot of us
think–that place avoidable hurdle on the
track to success. Whether it’s someone’s
first degree, a Ph.D., or advanced post-
doctoral position, the questions remain
Where will my career go? What job
might I choose? What sort of scien-
tist will I be? How will people react? Is
there a correct decision? Will I love my
choice? Will I regret it forever?
Though we live in exciting times,
uncertainty is everywhere. It is understandable that students and researchers ask so many questions. Many jobs,
particularly in academic circles, do not
start out as permanent, and often persist
in the ethereal limbo of short-term contracts. Many aspiring scientists graduating today will eventually work in and
create jobs that don’t event exist yet.
Whether you want to stay in academia, head to industry, or leave behind
research altogether, my message to
everyone everywhere searching for new
opportunities is this:
Challenge Every Assumption
You Make About Yourself
Assumption 1: I’ve only published X
papers, so I probably don’t have enough
in my résumé to apply for the job.
Challenge: Some people have NO
papers and apply for the job anyway.
Why? While buried in the publish-or-perish mindset you have assumed
every employer needs to see papers. You
have also assumed that even when an
employer would like to see papers, they
can’t contextualize your current working
Employers are clever people. If you have
an article in preparation or submitted, say so. If you worked in a legally
or entrepreneurially sensitive topic on
which papers cannot be written, say so.
There are many ways to stand out from
the other (often numerous) résumés on
an employer’s desk. Have you considered phoning up to chat about the post
ahead of clicking ‘Submit’? Rethink your
assumption before discounting yourself
from the competition.
Assumption 2: I don’t really work in
that field. I won’t know enough to ap-
ply for the job.
Challenge: How did you train for the
discipline you are currently working in?
You worked hard, you tried, you failed,
you tried again, and you learned. It is
rare that your degree or research position will teach you everything you need
to know about a new job. What matters
is your capacity to learn, not what you
have already learned. Be adaptable.
Assumption 3: What if I want to
explore a career outside of my degree? I
feel like what I’ve learned is too specific.
Challenge: Business practitioners say
that training in Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
provides valuable critical and creative
thinking skills, which are useful in
many career spaces beyond STEM itself.
In a recent interview with Freakonom-
ics Radio, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi
explained how she views the potential of
“If you are trained as a scientist in
your youth…if you stay with the STEM
disciplines…your scientific disciplines
play a very important role and ground
you very well as you move into positions
of higher and higher authority, what-
ever the job is. [In your youth] stay with
STEM as long as you can!”
You may have heard advice along
the lines of “you are NOT your degree.”
I prefer to say that “You are your de-
gree…and then some!”.
Assumption 4: It’s OK for that per-
son; they have experience X, Y, and Z.
I don’t have any of that.
Challenge: One of the most common
forms of intellectual neurosis is the urge
to compare yourself to other people.
Such thought processes are understandable and often unavoidable, but they
need to be managed. Ask yourself: What
would happen if you could convert the
time you wasted worrying and procrastinating into effort toward that job application? Stop focusing on other people
and concentrate on what you can bring
to the party.
5 Assumptions You
Need to Drop Before
a Job Search
By Marc Reid
This article has been adapted
with permission from ACS Axial,
March 3, 2018. Copyright 2018
American Chemical Society Get
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The more students I talk
to, the clearer it becomes
that they all harbor
about what career
opportunities they can
and cannot apply for