So how do you know that? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to answer that question. I mean – if you just think about the people you are talking or sitting with at the moment, or those you are working with right now, it’s not so hard to decide if you are in “good company.” After all, you probably know a lot about them. Now broaden that thought a bit. What about finding “a good company?” That takes a bit of research on your part – but as a PhD, you are good at research. Some people call it research, others call it “doing your homework,” and I learned how important that is pretty much by accident.
Are you thinking about “making a change?” Most of us do that more than one time during their professional development – voluntarily or not. The first career change that I made came after doing a postdoc, a year of being an adjunct prof in a couple of places, and then being an assistant prof first in a non-tenure track position and then in one that was tenure track. However, from the beginning, it was pretty clear to me and my as yet non-tenured colleagues that the chances of tenure were only about one in five. As we all liked teaching and research as faculty members, we decided to “do our thing” and stick around for a while, but to keep our eyes open for other opportunities either in or out of academia. So, we were in “good company” even if not all of us thought of it as “a good company.”
The first development came when an MD friend of mine offered me a position as a research fellow in his hospital lab, but his grant was only big enough for a part time person. I took him up on his offer since my contact, office and mentoring hours at the university left room for a part time job – and I liked the research. Of course, I was quickly made aware that I lacked the “visibility” so important for getting tenure.
This was before widespread availability of the internet, so my job search – made a bit more urgent when my friend lost his grant support – was pretty much limited to ads in newspapers and scientific journals and the occasional job fair. The main differences between then and now are in the ease of doing the research to find “good companies,” not the importance of doing it. I’m saying that because just before a job interview, someone gave me the company’s annual report to shareholders to look at. It turned out that introducing some of the information in that report into the interview discussion was key in getting that job.
Looking back at various “changes made,” it seems more and more to me to depend on developing some basic selling skills. Careful research on potential employers is part of the process of qualifying leads – seeing whether it might be “a good company” for you. Then you can decide – by taking stock of your own strengths and weaknesses – on how to approach them or respond to announcements of open positions. Come to any interview with a definite plan in mind to present yourself within the context of the open position. My advice? Try to keep the first minutes general. Build some rapport. Even if asked, before you say anything about the benefits you have to offer, ask them a few questions to confirm that you have understood just what it is that they are looking for – and listen very carefully before you actually begin to present yourself. Be flexible. Depending on what you hear, you may decide to adjust the plan that was based on your initial research.
What finally happened with the others in the little company of academics? One of the five did get tenure, one who did not moved to a nearby university where he did get tenure and eventually became the department head. The others (including me) moved to various positions in industry. So there you have it. One person’s view, based on a few experiences, on pursuing professional career changes. Until next time, good day and good luck.
Clement Weinberger, PhD
The Stylus Medical Communications