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Career Planning: Identifying the Best Fit

By: , Posted on: September 17, 2015

You need to design career development plans at each major stage of your education, identifying competencies to be achieved and milestones to be reached along the way. To achieve your ultimate goal, your career planning within biomedical and life sciences research requires a suitable education, reliable information about jobs, and critical self-awareness to achieve a “best fit” between yourself and your specific chosen job (Figure 1).

career success

The sooner you can assess fit, the more quickly you can discard certain choices and focus on others. To achieve self-awareness, you need to understand yourself, your career interests, and your career goals. You have to be able to identify how your strengths and weaknesses will impact your job performance. To evaluate the fit of a certain type of job, you will need to clarify what the job actually is, the environment you would work in, the qualifications you need to be hired, and the expected outcomes of your job performance.

You need to be honest and critical in your own self-assessment to determine what your strengths and weaknesses are. By examining your academic track record carefully you will soon realize that you do not excel in everything. My advice is to play to your strengths. The road you travel will be easier and the likelihood of your success will be increased if you play to your strengths rather than spend time challenging your weaknesses, uncertain of what the outcome will be. This does not mean that you should avoid challenges; however, you need to be realistic and not stubbornly pursue a type of career path in biomedical and/or life sciences that is not suited for you. It is better to have fun and enjoy life rather than continuously pursue a profession that you are mediocre or terrible at. You have to be honest with yourself and concede that some paths, although interesting, are not for you.

Once you become self-aware, you will be much better able to explore the job market. In general, you may pursue academic bench research, non-academic bench research, careers that do not involve research in particular but require the knowledge and discipline acquired in your research graduate degree, and finally careers far removed from biomedical and life sciences research.

As an undergraduate you will obtain first-hand exposure to the world of research through a variety of opportunities, including project courses, summer undergraduate research opportunities, work placements, internships and informational interviews. Your undergraduate experiences will help you focus on a suitable graduate program. Once you progress beyond the first eighteen to twenty-four months of your research graduate program, you should begin to seriously consider actual types of jobs and positions, and plan how to use your further training to advance your career. At this point you may firm up your plans to make yourself most attractive for those academic or non-academic job opportunities that speak to you.

Having worked in the academic milieu during your training, you may wish to use some time in the later part of your formal graduate training to become well informed and even sample some new non-academic careers. For example, if you are interested in science writing, try your hand at working on a science newsletter, either a local one or one distributed by a professional science association. You may take writing courses while completing PhD or postdoctoral bench work. These activities provide a writing portfolio which can be assessed by recruiters and future employers and help with the transition from lab bench to science writing. If you are considering high school teaching, formal university teaching assistant opportunities provide experience and a source of qualitative and quantitative evaluations of your competency as a teacher. You may also volunteer at teaching and mentorship clinics set up to provide assistance to high school students who need tutoring. To explore several opportunities in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, you may investigate positions, for example, in drug development, regulatory affairs and business development. This investigation may inspire you to take some courses or obtain limited part-time work experience in this area even while completing your degree. Work experience will provide you with further information about how suitable a particular job is for you and will improve your transition to a non-academic career; however, you must be careful not to let these limited explorations interfere with completing outstanding thesis work that includes high quality publications.

A helpful tip is that once you are more self -aware and have explored types of jobs in both academic and non-academic worlds that are worth considering for yourself, you can begin narrowing down the options by first excluding some. An initial approach is to identify and list the features and characteristics you would not want in a job. Perhaps you dislike excessive travel that distances you from family and friends. Perhaps you do not enjoy constantly working to deadlines. An important aspect in biomedical and life sciences research is freedom to explore and investigate and lack of flexibility in what scientific problems you are permitted to pursue may be a deal breaker for you. Know what you like and dislike in a job and what you are willing to compromise on. This will help direct you to a career goal that is the best fit for you.

Read more on career planning from Avrum and Meshulam on SciTech Connect


About the Authors

Avrum GotliebAvrum I. Gotlieb, MD is Senior Academic Advisor to the Dean; and Professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

His book, Planning a Career in Biomedical and Life Sciences: Making Informed Choices is available for purchase on the Elsevier Store. Use discount code “STC215″ at checkout and save up to 30% on your very own copy!

Meshulam Gotlieb, MA is an Academic Translator and English-Language Editor based in Beit Shemesh, Israel.

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