Congratulations on graduating from college…now what do you do with that STEM degree?

graduationMaybe you are graduating from college but feeling a little uncertain about the future? Some of your friends may be headed to graduate or medical school and others may be starting jobs with pharmaceutical or biotech companies. It may seem that everyone else has a career plan, but you are not alone, and you have plenty of time to explore career options to put your science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) degree to use. Actually, taking a little time off to get some real world experience and help define your career goals can be more beneficial in the long run than jumping into grad school or a job that puts you on the wrong path… So, here’s your post-graduation homework: ten career development activities that will help you find a STEM career path that’s just right for you.

1.  Postbachelor/postbaccalaureate positions – consider a postgraduate research position or internship to test out different career fields, expand your skill sets and enhance your resume. Here is a short list of programs offering positions to recent college graduates (performing an internet search for “postbaccalaureate research programs” will yield even more results):

Oak Ridge Institute of Science Education

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Postbac IRTA program

NIH Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP)

Pathways Program at USAJobs.gov 

2. Certificate programs – some STEM careers (e.g., medical technology) require an additional degree program beyond the bachelor’s degree, so read up on education qualifications for any career paths of interest.

3. Professional science master’s programs – check out these graduate degree programs that teach students business skills along with advanced science courses to prepare students for careers in science management areas. There are also degree programs specific to entering engineering management.

4. Online professional communities – join an online community for career prep information, posting your resume and viewing job postings. Most professional societies maintain a career portal accessible from their main web page (e.g., MySciNet from Science Careers).

5. LinkedIn.com – create a free profile and start building a professional network, join professional and science groups and search job postings. (See “How to Build a Professional Network, Part III: LinkedIn” for more information.)

6. Career counseling center – check out your school’s career center and make an appointment with a career counselor to discuss career options in your field.

7. Career fairs – ask your local career center about ongoing career fairs and look up resources for resume and interview preparation from online career centers (e.g., University of California-San Francisco and NIH).

8. Faculty mentor – make an appointment to speak with a close faculty member that can point out your positive skills sets and offer career advice.

9. Informational interviews – conduct short interviews with professionals working in careers that interest you to learn more about entering that career path. (See “How to Build a Professional Network, Part II: Informational Interviews” for tips.)

10. Job search engines – make a list of job search engines and check the sites on a regular basis or set up alerts for keywords. Even if you are not looking for a job right now, you can gain a lot of information about jobs open in your field and see what qualifications are needed to land that dream job. I like to keep a text file of website addresses to periodically check out jobs in my field. Here’s a few STEM-specific job sites to add to your list:

Science Careers

Nature Jobs

BioCareers

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB)

Medzilla

BioMed Central Career Network

**Discussion Point: Do you have any other useful tips and resources to share with recent college graduates?**

How to Build a Professional Network, Part II: Informational Interviews

What is the value of an informational interview?

I find informational interviews to be one of the most powerful tools for building a professional network and exploring various science career paths. As the name implies, it simply involves setting up an interview to obtain career-related information from a person who is experienced in a career of interest to you and/or works for an institution in which you wish to make contacts. In general, I have found that people like to talk about themselves (and mostly not in an egotistical sense) and welcome the opportunity to share their background and career history with others. I have had success employing informational interviews as my predominant method for networking. Such interviews have yielded me the opportunity to take on different projects at work in line with my career goals and expanded my professional network at least 5-fold in the last year.

Besides gaining invaluable career-related information and advice, it is also a perfect opportunity to practice verbal communication skills, including describing your own career goals and learning how to translate your qualifications and skill sets to different audiences. Not to be too stereotypical 😉 …but scientists are not well-known for their social skills and in this ever-increasing virtual world, informational interviews are a vital platform by which you can establish professional relationships and maintain the art of verbal communications.

How to conduct an informational interview?

The first step is to identify a list of people to interview: you can start with contacts that you received from a career fair, recommendations from colleagues or even your current supervisor. Next, you will need to send an invitation for an informational interview, determine the best time based on schedules and the proper format (i.e. phone, meet for lunch, etc.) I know some people who are very hesitant to contact people for interviews, especially people that they do not know. Thus, I have gathered some examples of typical emails that I have sent to people requesting an interview in case it might help you with developing an email template.

A typical informational interview will last from 30 minutes to one hour so consider setting aside at least one lunch a week for informational interviews on a regular basis. Before the interview, be sure to look up the background of the interviewee and take some notes on questions that you would like to ask. To help you through the process, I have designed an Informational Interview Template. It can serve as a guide with the type of questions that are useful to ask and arranged in a naturally progressive order. One of the most important questions is the last one in regards to recommendations for other people with whom to speak so you can expand your list of potential interviewees. Finally, it is important to follow-up with the person after the interview with a thank you note and I will expand upon this format in a later post.