The Science Training & Research to Inform Decisions (STRIDE) program hosted a panel on the “Many Paths to Science” on Oct. 25 to introduce graduate students to industry research in science and technology.
The panelists, who were all professionals in various STEM fields, answered questions from the audience. Many of them tried to emphasize the importance of clearly communicating one’s research.
According to the panelists, industry researchers need to explain complex scientific concepts in layman’s terms in order to attract funding or obtain employment. “I think the most important skill you have is how you communicate, in terms of the way you go about interfacing with [others],” Tomasz Bakowski, who earned his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Stony Brook University, said. He currently works at the consulting firm Acsel Health and will be starting work at Bristol-Myers Squibb next year.
Deb Aronson, who earned her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences, Cell Biology, and Quantitative Imaging from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and currently works at the marketing firm Intouch Solutions, used an anecdote to further prove Bakowski’s point. “When I’m interviewing people, tell me what your Ph.D. is in two to three sentences without using any jargon in complete layterms,” she said. “Can’t do it, see ya. The more intimately you know your project and can explain it in lay terms, the better you’re gonna be perceived by everyone else without a Ph.D.”
The panelists said that researchers applying for private-sector jobs should define themselves by their personalities and skills rather than limiting themselves to their degrees.
“You’re doing your Ph.D. thesis, you’re working on this big project, you just think that’s your skill, that that’s all you have, and you forget to mention to people your most important qualities,” Mehdi Namazi, a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale Quantum Institute and CEO of Qunnect, a quantum-computing research firm, said. “It’s not just that you can design things, that you can do cool things, and that becomes all your CV. The most important thing is that you are all capable of learning things very fast.”
Bakowski even offered advice for students who lack specialized skills. “Try to make a list or inventory of what you’ve done; try to identify the specific skills in there; try to figure out any specific way that you spin it,” he said. “It’s not about you being an expert right now but what are you capable of learning and what you have shown to be curiosity and your openness to new ideas. A company knows that whenever they’re hiring people, you haven’t done that specific thing in that specific area. They hire you because they know that you can think critically and that you can learn on the job, that you can communicate effectively with the other people at the company.”
Much of the discussion was focused on applying for jobs. The panelists suggested that students form as many connections as possible with people working in their field to help open up more doors for employment opportunities.
“Get your butt on LinkedIn,” Aronson said. “You should all be connected with each other on LinkedIn because then you’re connected to each other’s network.”
Aronson also advised students to stay informed of industry developments. “Google search the companies you find interesting in the news and see what they’re doing,” she said.
Erez Zadok, a professor in the department of computer science at Stony Brook University, provided detailed tips on how students could increase their chances for employment, such as rotating through internships and gathering information about companies before applying for their jobs.
“I advise my Ph.D. students that if they’re gonna go on summer internships that every year they have to go to a different company,” Zadok said. “They have to try something different. It’s very comfortable, you get your internship at this company. Next year of course they’ll want you back again. I said ‘No, try something different. You won’t be sorry, you’ll learn something different, it’s only 3 months, no harm done.’”
Zadok explained the value of this approach. “You might be pleasantly surprised,” he said. “You’ll learn something new and make connections that are very valuable. You want to be in a position where people want you coming back and saying ‘I wanna hire you’ or ‘I know you declined our offer a few years ago, are you graduating soon?’ Those connections are invaluable going down into the future.”
Zadok also advised students to learn about each company to which they apply, and adapt their applications accordingly.
“Adapt your resume a little bit to highlight the things that are more appropriate for the job that you are applying,” he said. “Perhaps [you’re] applying for a group within a company, which has a specific focus. Don’t go to an interview cold; study [the company] harder than you have ever studied: What is this company? What are their products or technologies, what are the key things that they would care about? And at the end, you might actually have questions yourself to ask them that might sound very intelligent if you’ve studied their technology, their people. You really have to research the people that you’re applying for because your interview will go much better, and you will have a much better chance at getting an offer.”
Bakowski expanded Zadok’s point.
“Ask the good questions, ask multiple good questions. You can use that to flip the script a little bit. Instead of them grilling you, you’re grilling them: Why do I want to work for you?” he said.
The panel enjoyed a positive reception from the students who attended, including fifth-year Ph.D. student Megan Hahn.
“My main takeaway was more that you need to build yourself up and you need to be able to market yourself seriously to get the job you want of the position you want as opposed to just putting forth what you’ve done,” she said.
Hahn also said that she was surprised by the panel’s diversity, and how far they diverged from academia.
“I guess I’m so stuck in academia at the moment that I didn’t really visualize how much of a separation there is once you get a job outside academia or in industry, or how different of a job you can get from research, such as consulting,” she said. “Even though [the panelists] were using their Ph.D. backgrounds, it’s not directly related to research.”
Hahn praised the panel as a source of inspiration in her future job searches.