What Can You Be with a PhD: Day 2

  • December 17, 2021
iJOBS Blog

By Sergio Crespo-Flores

This year from November 20th -21st, the iJOBS program helped sponsor the bi-annual “What Can You Be with a PhD?” event, a conference focused on expanding awareness of career opportunities for PhD candidates and post-docs at participating institutes. As an analogy to describe the impact of the conference, let’s imagine we are in the middle of Times Square. Instead of billboards advertising Broadway shows, neon lights describe all the traditional and non-traditional career paths available for PhDs. Exposure to opportunity is at the core of this event. Day 2 of the conference can be summarized by one statement: embrace unclear paths and uncertainty.  Attendees asked panelists how prospective job applicants can break into their respective fields of interest. As panelists reflected on their own journeys, many noticed that throughout their journey from graduate school to their current positions, the path was never a straight line. Their journey had been a combination of meeting the right people at the right time, taking some risks, and staying true to their own interests.

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Courtesy of www.NYCgo.com

In her session “A Strong CV is Not Enough”, Ms. Mary Mitchell, founder of the Mitchell Organization, offered some great advice for meeting the right people during this journey. The Mitchell Organization’s mission is focused towards helping individuals develop critical skills needed both in and out of the scientific community. She discussed how when it comes to networking, people often view the purpose of establishing these relationships as transactional, where your goal is to get something out of it, whether it be an internship or a job. Instead, Ms. Mitchell encouraged attendees to focus on building sustainable relationships.

Ms. Mitchell strongly advised attendees to recognize and understand generational norms, arguing that doing so can lead to better communication. For example, Millennials are multitaskers and appreciate speed, which is why they appreciate concise communication whereas Generation X tends to prefer a more familiar connection associated with basic pleasantries and formalities. In summary, Ms. Mitchell concluded that when we take into consideration the identity and preferences of the other, we can establish sustainable relationships.

To get a perspective of people who have ventured into the unknown for their careers, I attended a session about science policy. Science policy is a non-traditional career path that requires believing in yourself through uncertainty. A PhD holder in science policy would serve as a bridge between the laboratory and the public, advocating for the big picture impact of research done at the bench, and helping legislators craft legislation to advance this impact. This session included panelists Dr.Gabriel Moore, Dr.Zulmarie Peréz, Dr.Rebecca Nebel, and Dr.Allison McCague.  Many of the panelists embraced the idea that there was not a clear path to get into this field. They agreed that we should embrace working on things that are not in our background to get experience in being able to adapt to new and emerging fields that we may have to advocate for in the government. In this case, writing about science policies for blogs, not just bench work, can really make you stand out as an applicant for a job. When thinking about how a PhD prepares you for a job in government, they pointed out that a PhD gives you valuable collaboration and communication skills, project management experience, and writing skills. At Rutgers we have two resources that can help our readers that are interested in science policy. The first is the Eagleton Science and Politics program in which the panelist Dr. Moore is part of. The second is the SPAR club which aims to improve the communication of science to the local communities. 

New York City would have been the setting of the “What Can You Be with a PhD?” conference pre-COVID. Although the in-person experience was surely missed, I think the panelists and the sessions were all great and very informative. If there is one thing the pandemic has highlighted, it is that life can be filled with unexpected circumstances. Yet scrappiness and willingness to adapt, skills we learn throughout our PhD, is key for thriving in uncertainty. I personally benefitted from this conference because I am now aware of all the possibilities after I graduate. Prior to attending, I knew there were many career options, but I never had face-to-face time with anyone in these non-academic careers. I am now confident that if I stick to my interests, I will reach a career that I am passionate about after graduation.



This article was edited by Junior Editor Gina Sanchez and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.