Three Data Points: Two Cold Calls and One Connection, Plus a Hat Trick
Career Story Blog Post By Tracey Baas, PhD, URBEST Executive Director
I wanted to be included in the Career Story Q&A Seminar lineup to let URBEST trainees know that I accomplished getting one research job and one research-related job without having any personal connections. I wanted to represent one of the outliers. I used science-focused job boards and sent my resumes as online applications. While I do agree this method isn’t ideal, and I’m strong believer in networking, it is not impossible to make it work.
My first job, with vacation days and a 401K retirement plan, was at the University of Washington in Seattle as a Research Scientist. Even more challenging than using a cold method for connection was attempting to move from an organic chemistry laboratory to a virology laboratory. Had I ever worked with viruses before? No. But as a postdoc, I had chemically modified the surfaces of microarrays, and this virology laboratory wanted to use microarrays to study virus–host interactions, studying the biology. Also during my postdoc, I had spent a large portion of my time working with someone in Laboratory Medicine and Pathology to use my microarrays to test patient samples. My time away from the chemistry lab helped convince my future employer that as an organic chemist, I was interested in studying biology not just synthesis.
I was called in to the University of Washington for an interview, which involved talking to everyone in the lab and giving a presentation. Just to make sure the lab knew I was really interested in the job, I sent a physical thank you note. I also sent three pages of ideas I had for future projects, based on what others in the lab had told me they were working on. I got the job and loved working in the virology lab. This was data point one, cold call. I became a group leader (SARS virus, influenza virus, and herpes virus) and spent most of my time analyzing microarray data, coordinating experiments, and writing manuscripts and portions of grants. Years later, my boss told me that no one had wanted to hire me because I wasn’t a virologist. He ignored them and hired me anyway. He also told me I was the best hire he had ever selected. He might have said that to all his lab employees, but importantly, he said it to my future employer when I was looking for my next job.
Again, I looked on job boards, this time focusing on an editing job at Nature Publishing Group. While I waited for a job to pop up with Nature Biotechnology, I took a science writing class with permission from my virology boss and wrote some example News & Views to practice. A job did appear on the job board over holiday break, and I shortened my Christmas visit in Spain so that I could polish my job application package and put together a current News & Views. Importantly, my resume listed not only my science publications but also examples of freelance editing I had done throughout graduate school, postdoctoral work and my time as a Research Scientist. I looked like someone that wanted to be an editor. I was called in for an interview, not for Nature Biotechnology but a new publication called Science-Business Exchange (SciBX). I took the dreaded “manuscript test,” talked with a ton of people and went to lunch with my future boss. The thing I remembered most vividly about the process is that my future boss was stuck in the Holland Tunnel on a bus for the beginning of my interview. When he arrived, he took me to lunch at a restaurant that only accepted cash. I waited while he dashed to an ATM, and then on the way out, I picked up the hat he had forgotten in the restaurant booth. I like to think the hat trick is what synched the job for me. Attention to detail and all that. I also sent a physical thank you note to my future boss and thank you emails to all the other people I chatted with. After three months of waiting, I was offered the job and took it immediately. Again, I fell in love with my job. This was data point two, cold call. I worked for two blissful years, not counting commuting time and cockroach sightings, in New York City.
I even managed to avoid the two-body problem when my partner (now husband) received an offer from University of Rochester for a tenure-track faculty position in microbiology and immunology. I worked for an additional six years with Nature Publishing Group out of my Rochester home office and also a small office at University of Rochester. The Chair of Microbiology, Dr. Barbara Iglewski, offered me the small University of Rochester office with the suggestion that I help graduate students with their writing for qualifying exams, theses or manuscripts. Not very many people found me, but I did manage to help a few individuals, and the tradition continued when Dr. Steve Dewhurst was appointed Chair. So when I learned SciBX was going to be discontinued, renamed, and edited by others, I contacted Steve to let him know I was interested in continuing to work with and perhaps offer guidance to graduate students. This was data point three, connection. He told me about the URBEST grant that might be funded. I’d like to say the rest is history, but in reality, there was another job board!
I’ll tell you more about the University of Rochester job board, and you can ask me any other questions you’d like at the next Career Story Q&A Seminar that will take place Thursday, August 27th, 2015.