Newly Minted Ph.D. Enters Industry
News Article by Chris Farrar, Research Scientist I at Vertex Pharmaceuticals
I was fortunate enough to be offered a scientist position in industry before I finished my Ph.D. Looking back on my experiences in graduate school, I think that a major reason that I was able to take advantage of the career opportunities presented to me was because of the preparation that I received as a member of the URBEST program. I have had a number beginning graduate students ask me what the URBEST program is and how it works. Many of them seemed hopeful that it would be an opportunity to put their name out there, meet a recruiter for industry positions and get a job. I have had to break it to them that that is not how it works; no one was just going to hand them a job or even an interview. What the URBEST program did for me was to prepare me for the non-technical aspects of transitioning to industry by helping me to understand my interests and career goals as well as where my skill set was strong and where it needed improvement; by providing me with opportunities to expand my skill set where it was necessary; and by teaching me to identify career opportunities, get my resume in the hands of the right people and how to target my job application to those specific industry positions.
I joined the URBEST program during my fourth year of graduate school. At this point I knew that I wanted an industry position, but I could not be much more specific than that. One of the first exercises I completed for the URBEST program was a self-evaluation. This process was essentially an organized way of thinking about my interests, what I do and do not like about working in science, and what my strengths and weaknesses are. The goal of this self-evaluation was to identify the types of careers that would interest me and for which I would be well-suited. This process was an excellent starting point in identifying my career objectives, but through the URBEST program I was able to take this career exploration a step further. Outside speakers and former students who were now working in the positions I was considering were brought in to discuss their positions, what their day-to-day job was like, what their own goals were and how and why they transitioned from graduate school to industry. Through seminars and round table discussions with people working in the positions I was considering, I was able to re-affirm my interest in my chosen path, and more importantly, I began to understand what I had to do to make my own transition from academia to industry.
URBEST next helped me to understand what I needed to do to take the next step toward my newly identified career goals by helping me to construct an Individual Development Plan. During this process, I identified the skill sets that were necessary and valued in my chosen career path and determined which of those skills that I already possessed, those that I was already developing in my graduate work and those in which I needed to find some other way to improve. From my self-evaluation and career exploration I knew that I was interested in an R&D position in industry, eventually working towards the business and management side of product development. As a Ph.D. student in Biomedical Engineering, I was already receiving training in the technical, writing and presenting skills necessary for this career path. I therefore identified business and management as the skill sets in which I would need to seek supplemental training. URBEST again helped me by paying for me to take some business classes through the Simon School, as well as attend a training course in project management through the Project Management Institute. These opportunities were extraordinarily helpful for a number of reasons. These courses introduced me to the basic concepts of these fields, taught me that I was interested in them. Furthermore, these courses enabled me to begin to speak the language of business and management and to identify how my graduate training actually had helped me to prepare for some of the non-technical aspects of my chosen career path. Importantly, taking these courses telegraphed to potential future employers that a position in industry was my first choice out of graduate school and that I understood, and was preparing for, the non-technical requirements of an industry position.
Finally, the URBEST program helped me to secure my first position. As I alluded to previously, the URBEST program was not actively shopping my resume or sending recruiters my way, but they prepared me to take advantage of the job opportunities that were presented to me. Through URBEST workshops and seminars I learned effective strategies for things like leveraging my network, reading between the lines of a job advertisement so that I could target my resume for a particular position and speaking to the non-technical aspects of a position, which most job candidates tend to neglect. On an even more concrete level, the URBEST program provided me with people who could look over my resume and cover letter and practice for my interviews. This preparation enabled me to identify a suitable job opportunity when one came along and to take advantage of the opportunity through leveraging my network, using a targeted resume and understanding the skill sets to speak to and how to sell myself during an interview.
In summation, my active participation in the URBEST program was instrumental in my successful job search prior to graduation. Through URBEST I identified what I wanted in a career, what sorts of careers I would be interested in and excel at and what skill sets I needed to improve upon so that I could be successful on my chosen career path. The URBEST program then provided me with opportunities outside of my traditional graduate studies through which I could develop those essential skills that I was lacking. Finally, the URBEST program helped me to understand and prepare for the job search and application process; so that I was ready to take advantage of the opportunities presented to me and land my first position in industry.
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