Summer Reading for Science Graduate Students (and Maybe Postdocs!)

Posted in Career Advice

It is officially summer (July 4 was this past Tuesday) and things have slowed down as most people take their vacations during the summer months. Invariably, recommended summer reading lists have appeared in print, in podcasts and on radio shows.

One book that may be an interesting read for science graduate students (and possibly postdocs) is a novel entitled “Chemistry” by Weike Wang.  I heard about this novel on an NPR radio show during an interview with its author.  While I have not read the book (I’m on the downside of my  career and no longer an academic), a recent review of the novel suggests that it may be helpful for science graduate students who may be struggling with career options and future career choices.  As I mentioned above, it may be a good read for postdocs but they may be too far down the career rabbit hole to benefit from it.

The reviewer, Beryl Lieff Benderly (a professional freelance science writer), offered the following critique:

Though Wang doubtlessly does not intend her debut novel as a treatise on the ills and failings of scientific training at high-powered research universities, she poignantly highlights many of the issues that make that process so trying for so many ambitious and earnest young people. Among them is the “common knowledge … that graduate students make close to nothing and that there are more PhD scientists in this country than there are jobs for them,” Wang writes. In addition, there’s the lab member who “strongly believes that women do not belong in science because [they] lack the balls to actually do science.” And these aren’t even close to the most serious of the protagonist’s challenges.

Further she offers:

Wang clearly wrote this book as a character study, not as an academic analysis of the grad school experience. Still, I suspect that reading it could prove useful to academic officials interested in improving grad students’ often difficult lot. The protagonist appears to receive essentially no meaningful help or guidance in her travails from anyone associated with her university, and officials might do well to consider why this is so and what services could have proved useful.

I’m sure that many of you identify with the premise of the novel and may have even experienced some of the universally-recognized  ”ills” and “failings” of modern scientific training. That said, while reading the novel may bring back bad memories or make you think about your difficult current situation, it is always helpful to read about others who have shared your experiences and are intimately aware of your current plight. If nothing else, it helps to remind you that you are not alone and perhaps, more importantly you are not crazy!

Enjoy the book and your summer!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting.

 

Wanted: Applicants with Problem Solving Skills

Posted in Career Advice

There was a very interesting article in today’s NY Times Business Section  entitled “Want to Work for Jaguar Land Rover: Start Playing Phone Games that caught my eye. The article stated that the carmaker would be recruiting 5,000 people people this year. To be considered for employment, prospective employees must download an app with a series of puzzles that they must solve.  Those who score well on the app will be able to progress to the interview stage.  While this may be somewhat unique to companies that are looking for engineers and computer personnel, I think the point here is that the ability to solve problems or puzzles is the single most important attribute that any employee must possess if they want to be hire.  To that point, companies like Marriott Hotels, Axa Group, Deloitte, Xerox, The BBC and Daimler Trucks all use playing games and virtual reality to identify potentially-qualified job applicants.

Companies once relied on job fairs and advertising to court prospective applicants but they have been forced to become much more creative in order to identify the technical skills and business savvy they need.  I will use my son, who graduated from college last month as a case in point.

He applied for a job with a non-profit venture firm. The first thing they asked him to supply was a picture of himself that encapsulated him as a person. After submitting a picture of him and his Cross Country college team after a big meet (and making it to the next round) he was sent a hypothetical and given several days to respond.  He spent an entire day on the hypothetical, submitted it and was subsequently told he would not be considered for a face-to-face interview.

What does this all mean?  Based on my years as a career development consultant, these exercises suggest that while college graduates and advanced degree professionals may have met their academic requirements, there is no guarantee that those degrees qualified  them for jobs in “real life”. Although unemployment is at historic lows in the US, it does not mean that employers are not being selective about who they hire. That said, starting an app company that uses artificial intelligence and virtual reality to assess a candidate’s problem solving ability may be a great idea!

Until next time… 

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!

The US Job Market: Too Much Technology or Not Enough?

Posted in BioBusiness, Career Advice, Uncategorized

Depending upon your political views, there are two prevailing economic theories on the existing US job market. From a Trumpian standpoint, technology is the bane of the existence of the American manufacturing sector whereas, from a liberal perspective, technological innovation in the US is not growing as much as it needs to sustain the US economy.  Both perspectives are explored in an article by Neil Irwin in the NY TImes Sunday Business section.

On one hand, many Trumpians believe that the US economy has become too volatile and uncertain. According to Mr. Irwin

The economy has become too volatile and uncertain. Perhaps the dissatisfaction is driven by globalization, automation and the decline of employers’ implicit promises to offer workers jobs through thick and thin. These factors have made it harder for people to get good-paying jobs and to hold onto them for decades. High levels of inequality mean many of the benefits of growth don’t accrue for people at the middle and bottom of the pay scale.

All of this has hammered people without an advanced education and left them feeling unmoored and without opportunity, even if by narrow measurements jobs are plentiful and compensation is rising.….In short, one could summarize this set of complaints as the economy’s having become too dynamic for its own good.

On the other hand, the counter argument goes like this:

 A new report from the Economic Innovation Group, a research outfit funded largely by technology executives, suggests that the real problem isn’t too much dynamism but too little.

They cite federal data showing that in 1977, more than 16 percent of firms in the United States were less than a year old, a figure that had fallen to half that by 2014. New businesses have similarly done less to power new jobs than they once did, while the biggest, oldest firms account for a rising share of economic activity. Market concentration increased for two-thirds of industries between 1997 and 2012, the report found. That coincided with a steady rise in corporate profits as a share of gross domestic product, and in a decline in the share going to workers’ wages.

The job market has become less fluid. The proportion of workers who change jobs in a given year has fallen from 12 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2015….

Most startlingly, the creation of new companies has been concentrated in a small number of metropolitan areas: Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New York. From 2010 to 2014, those five regions created as many net new businesses as the rest of the country combined. If you didn’t live in them, or were unwilling to move to them, you were out of luck.

Put simply, the US economy and job market is not dynamic enough.

Irwin offers two different remedies to address either idea:

If you look at globalization as the main problem, you might see some Trumpian renegotiation of trade deals and arm-twisting to get companies to keep jobs at home as being in order. But you could also argue for a more generous social safety net and government funding for retraining.

If you believe that increased market concentration is a central problem, you might consider tougher antitrust enforcement, a favorite of liberals, but also explore conservative arguments that complex regulation creates an unfair advantage for big companies that can employ scores of lawyers.

Finally, Irwin concludes:

Of course, the too much versus too little dynamism diagnoses aren’t mutually exclusive; there are probably elements of truth in both. Maybe the economy really isn’t working for many Americans because globalization, automation and changing labor practices have thrown them to the wolves. But maybe there are also deep-seated structural shifts preventing communities and individuals from tapping the great opportunities the modern economy offers.

The point here is, that the American economy/ job market change rapidly and jobseekers must learn to quickly adapt to remain employed.  Further, contrary to Trump’s simple minded rhetoric, there is no quick fix for the US job market. To that point, saving a few corporate jobs here and there and threatening companies who move manufacturing outside of the US may sound good, but in the end, it is no substitute to a coherent well-thought-out job strategy to help displaced workers get the jobs that they so desperately want and need.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!

Publish or Perish: Dealing With the Pressure

Posted in BioBusiness, BioEducation, Career Advice

The “publish or perish” principle of academia is certainly not a new one and is likely as old as scientific research itself. And, while persons who choose scientific research as a career are often motivated by curiosity and the desire to improve the human condition, they soon find out that academic research is highly competitive and oftentimes dominated by overly ambitious and egocentric individuals. I’m sure that most of you have been told that in order to excel your research must be published in the highest impact journal possible.  This, coupled with diminishing research funding can place enormous pressure on individual researchers to gain a competitive edge via less than ethical (and possibly illegal) behavior.

To that point, there was an article in this Sunday’s NY Times that described a postdoc who intentionally sabotaged the efforts of a rising star in a cancer research laboratory at the University of Michigan. While this is only one incident, I do not think that it is the only example of intentional sabotage taking place in academic research laboratories. In fact, this recent incident brings to mind a candid discussion that I had with a prominent academic researcher many years ago.  He confided to me and a colleague that he intentionally sabotaged a fellow postdoc’s work because he did not like his competitor and did not want him to get recognition for a discovery (BTW, this discovery led to a patent that made the researcher a very wealthy person).

There is no doubt that in present times, working in an academic lab can feel like working in a pressure cooker that is about to explode. That said, it is important to realize that you are not alone and that learning coping skills can be helpful in relieving stress and anxiety about future career opportunities and employment.  However, there is never an instance, when cheating, fabricating data or intentionally sabotaging a competitor’s experiments is acceptable.  In fact, any researcher who behaves in this manner ought to be called out, censored and disciplined for their actions.

We are living in uncertain times in which hypocrisy, lies and alternate facts are acceptable to large numbers of people. As scientists, we are responsible for facts and  ”the truth.” Any deviation from this obligation is unacceptable. In the end, people always look to scientists and researchers for answers, solutions and hints of the truth. It is important that we do not succumb to today’s economic and political pressures and continue to be the purveyors of facts and “the truth.”

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!

Resume Writing Made Simple?

Posted in BioBusiness, BioJobBuzz, Career Advice

The first step in any job search is to ensure that your resume or curriculum vitae (CV) is ready for submission to prospective employers. For those of you who may still be struggling with the difference between a resume and a CV, a resume is usually a 1-2 page synopsis of who you are, where you have been and what you have done. In contrast, a CV is a much longer document that does the same thing as a resume but in much greater and granular detail. For most scientific positions a CV is the preferred document style. However, in some cases, employers may request a resume so pay attention before you submit your application.

While most people believe that a resume or CV is simply a list of your education, skillsets and experience, there is a preferred style, format and way to write a resume/CV that will enhance the possibility of securing a interview for the position. That said, it takes many years of resume/CV writing to perfect the process–something that many of you may not have time to do.  If you are unsure about how to write a resume/CV or have not updated your “paper” in many years, the quickest way to being applying for jobs is to hire a professional resume/CV writer to do it for you.  Generally speaking, this will cost anywhere from $200-$500.  Sadly, many graduate students and postdocs don’t have the money to invest in resume writing and in many cases are unable to craft a job winning resume/CV.

If you are unable to hire a resume writing professional, I came across a DIY solution called Scientific Resumes. Apparently this service company exclusively caters to graduate students and postdocs looking for resume/CV writing help.  In addition to their automated self-help products, they offer resume proofreading services and I suspect customized resume/CV writing too.  I have not used or carefully evaluated their products but it may be worth a visit to their website.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!

How to Find a Job in the Legal Cannabis Industry

Posted in BioBusiness, Career Advice

According to a recent report by the Cannabis website Leafly, America’s legal cannabis industry now supports more than 122,000 full-time jobs in 29 States and Washington DC. I

A recent article by Bruce Barcott entitled “How to Find a Job in the Cannabis Industry” offers some insights on the types of jobs that are available and how to land one.

He offered, like most industries the best way to land a job in the Cannabis industry is to network yourself into one. Also, working with a recruiting firm can be helpful.  Interestingly, recruiting firms and staffing companies that specialize in Cannabis jobs are popping up daily in many states where medical and recreational Cannabis are legal. However, before you take the plunge it is important to educate yourself to determine what is out there and whether or not you are a good fit for a Cannabis career.

So what do we know?  Most of the open jobs are in the Western states, California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona with a growing presence in Minnesota and Massachusetts. There are a smattering of jobs emerging in New York, Connecticut, Maryland  and Washington DC.  While 40 percent of open positions are specific to the Cannabis industry, roughly 60 are jobs that exist in other industries such as executive assistants, human resources specialists retail operations directors bookkeepers and staff accountants.That said, there are a number of Cannabis business operators who are looking for pharmaceutical sales representatives, or in horticulturalists from large commercial plant growing operations.

So question is: are there are any jobs in the Cannabis for the average Bio Job Blog reader?  The answer is YES!!!!!!  Here are a few examples: Laboratory chemist, operations manager, analytical chemist/production manager, software developer, food productions manager, and my favorite professional joint roller.  Of course there will be many more opportunities as the industry continues to grow (pun intended). That said, relocation is likely required but then again if you are qualified and possess the skills the company may offer a relocation package.  There is a ton of money being made in the industry!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

 

Researchers Beware of Fake Journal and Conference Companies

Posted in BioBusiness, BioJobBuzz, Career Advice

Fake news seems to be de rigueur these days and apparently academia is not immune. In fact, increased competition for grants, publications and exposure may make academic researchers more susceptible to fake journals and dishonest conference organizers.  This is according to an article in today’s New York Times entitled ‘Fake Academe, Looking Much Like the Real Thing’

One of the leading fake purveyors of fake journals and bogus conferences is a Hyderabad, India -based company called OMICS International. I’m sure may BioJobBlog readers have been contacted or solicited by the company to attend a conference or submit a paper to one of its journals. This year, the Federal Trade Commission formally charged OMICs with “deceiving academics and researchers about the nature of its publications and hiding publication fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.”

According to the Times article, fake journals and bogus conference schemes;

…exploit a fundamental weakness of modern higher education: Academics need to publish in order to advance professionally, get better jobs or secure tenure. Even within the halls of respectable academia, the difference between legitimate and fake publications and conferences is far blurrier than scholars would like to admit

Another fake or close to fake organization is a British company called Infonomics Society which publishes 17 journals and organizes conferences. Interestingly, all 17 journals and conference organized by the company are run and managed by a single individual from a modest home in one of London’s outer suburbs. Other companies and several universities that have been scammed by these companies are also mentioned in the article.  

It is becoming increasingly important in the digital age to carefully vet websites and organization you do business with.  While the pressure for grant monies and publication in high impact journals continue to grow, it is important to remember that there are no shortcuts that can be taken to expedite a successful academic career.  The only things that will ensure success are commitment, hard work and some blood sweat and tears.

Until next time…..

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting

Trump, Once Again, Falsely Takes Credit for New US Job Creation

Posted in BioBusiness, Career Advice

As  you may recall, one of Trumps major campaign messages to his followers was to”force corporate America to focus on job creation at home rather than abroad.”  In my opinion, Trump’s possible success as President is and will continue to be inextricably linked to fulfilling his promise to create new jobs for out-of-work or underemployed Americans. That said, Trump will do or say anything, including taking false credit, to show his supporters that he can indeed create US jobs.

Yesterday, Trump announced:

I was just called by the head people at Sprint, and they are going to be bringing 5,000 jobs back to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. “They have taken them from other countries. They are bringing them back to the United States.”

Later in the day, Sprint said that the jobs were part of a previously announced commitment by Japan’s Soft Bank, which owns a controlling interest in Sprint, to invest $50 billion in the US and create 50,000 new jobs. As you may recall, shortly after electoral college win, Trump met with Masayoshi Sun, the CEO of Softbank who made the announcement and quickly took credit for the announced investment. Interestingly, the investment and job creation plans predated the election. Put simply, the deal was forged long before Trump got involved.

Not withstanding Trump’s penchant for mendacity, it is important to note that since the election, Sprint stock price has risen by 40%, partly on the hopes that it will be acquired by its rival cellphone carrier T-Mobile. While the Obama administration frowned upon telecom mergers because of anti-trust concerns, Sun and his investors believe that the Trump administration may look more favorably on any potential deals with T-mobile or other players in this sector.

Moreover, last January, as part of a restructuring effort, Sprint cut 2,500 jobs in call centers throughout the US and its corporate headquarters. This means that there will be a net gain of only 2,500 new Sprint jobs in the US if the announced positions are ever created or filled (supposedly by the end of fiscal year 2017). In any event, if a merger ultimately does take place between Sprint and T-Mobile, there are likely to be massive job cuts which typically occur after most mergers to reduce duplication of effort at both the technical and administrative levels.

Sadly, it is becoming increasingly evident that Trump is willing to lie or take credit for deals that have little or nothing to do with him when it comes to job creation (or anything else for that matter).  To that point, be wary of anything Trump says or does when it comes to job creation during his administration.  When the smoke clears and mirrors are removed, any announced job “deals”are likely to be in the best interests of corporate America; not hard-working or job-seeking Americans.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!

Want to Keep Your Job and Get a PhD in the Trump Era? Unionize!!!!!!

Posted in BioBusiness, BioEducation, BioJobBuzz, Career Advice

It should come as no surprise that Donald Trump is anti-union and his recent cabinet pick for Secretary of Labor is clearly not a friend of working people.  Put simply, Trump is on the side of big business and employers. And if he and his billionaire friends can squeeze more work out of employees for lesser pay, then he and his administration gladly propose legislation to accomplish those goals. Also, don’t be shocked when Trump cuts the budgets of federal agencies that offer research grants, fellowships and teaching assistantships to American colleges and Universities.

It’s no secret that graduate students and postdocs are overworked and underpaid and long term career prospects continue to dwindle.  Further, during the course of my career advising graduate students and postdocs about job opportunities, I have heard too many horror stories about PIs who refuse to let their students or postdoc do anything outside of their laboratories to enhance careers or job opportunities.

While the public and private union movement is dying in the US, unions still offer exploited workers to negotiate their fates, working conditions, pay and benefits with employers.  Sadly, we in the academic community have been taught to be anti-union because of the high costs associated with union labor. Ironically, that is the point….why  should graduate students and postdocs not be fairly compensated for the long hours that they work?  Sure, you can say that graduate students will get a degree and postdocs need the experience to get a job but, while a degree and a postdoc in the past meant a good paying job in the end, no such guarantees exist today.  Basically, you are on your own!

Last week, graduate students at Columbia University overwhelmingly voted to unionize. According to a newspaper article in the NY Times:

The union will be the first to represent graduate students since the National Labor Relations Board ruled in August that students who work as teaching and research assistants have a federal right to unionize.

 

The vote to unionize was 1,602 to 623, according to the United Automobile Workers, which will now represent some 3,500 Columbia graduate students.

While the vote to unionize will undoubtedly upsets PIs, Deans and University Presidents, it is in the best career interests and lifestyles of graduate students and research assistants. For example, unions typically negotiate the salaries for 40 hour work weeks. We all know that postdocs and graduate students work more than 40 hours weekly. Therefore, any time over 40 hours ought to be overtime pay, or to avoid overtime hourly pay, base salaries have to be set a certain levels (according to Federal salary guidelines ) which are substantially more than what graduate students and postdocs are currently paid. Also, unions negotiate with employers about vacation times, benefits (health and life insurance,401K plans etc) and establish guidelines that protect employees from being abused by employers and create rules that guide whether or not an employee can be fired “for cause” (not simply because your employer does not like you).

As I previously mentioned, research budgets and public unions will likely be under constant attack during the Trump regime.  Because of this, it is time that everyone begins to think about ways in which they can protect their jobs and keep their career aspirations alive. I know it won’t be easy but as someone once said “desperate times require desperate measures” (or something like that).

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Unionizing!!!!!!

Life Scientists:Looking for a Job? Consider the Cannabis Industry

Posted in BioBusiness, Career Advice

According to a recent article, the 2013 to 2014 US market for legal Cannabis (medical and recreational) grew 74% from $1.3 billion to $2.7 billion. Industry analysts predict that the legal marijuana industry is (and will continue to be) the fastest-growing industry in the US over the next 5 years with annual revenues topping $11 billion by 2020.  And, as the industry grows so will employment opportunities. At present, salaries associated with various job functions in the Cannabis industry range from $50,000 to $90,000. As many businesses that support the Cannabis industry continue to grow, the competition for qualified employed will intensify and salaries will concomitantly rise. Currently,, there aren’t enough trained job candidates to fill the many job openings at Cannabis companies. I am sure that many of you who hold graduate degrees in the life sciences are wondering why I am pitching jobs in the Cannabis industry.

First, traditional jobs for PhD-trained life scientist are getting scarcer and the election of Donald Trump suggests that this trend will not be reversed anytime soon.

Second, consider that growing and cultivating marijuana and extracting cannabinoids (the pharmaceutically active molecules in Cannabis buds) require a background in laboratory methods, chemistry, biology and in some cases plant science. For those of you who may not know, the medical Cannabis market is focusing almost exclusively on cannabis extracts and vaporization of these extracts (rather than smoking) is the preferred delivery methods. This suggests that those of you with backgrounds in biomedical engineering and medical devices  can leverage your expertise and skills to obtain jobs in the delivery side of the cannabis industry.  

Third, the expansive growth and sheer economic size of the Cannabis industry suggests that other jobs that require a life science background are likely to emerge. These include quality control/assurance jobs for strain identification, diagnostic jobs to determine THC levels/intoxication, molecular biology and bioinformatic jobs to continue to explore and unlike therapeutically relevant molecules from the Cannabis genome and synthetic biology jobs to increase cannabinoid yields and reduce production costs. Finally, there is currently a dearth of qualified job candidates with scientific backgrounds to fill entry level grow and extraction jobs in the Cannabis industry.

At present, the industry is mainly dominated by long time Cannabis growers, people who use marijuana on a regular basis and some moxy business people/investors who see an an enormous upside for the Cannabis industry. Put simply, now is the time to get in on the ground floor of an industry that is exploding and will ultimately become a legal multibillion dollar a year industry. While I’m sure that neither you nor your parents/family envisioned a career in Cannabis, the jobs are there and ripe for the picking (pun intended).

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!!