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Dr. Fiona Watts- Insights into the Importance of Scientific Communication

In March of 2021, AIOG had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Fiona Watts who is a Director for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at Kings College London. She also happens to serve as the Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council in the UK. Dr. Watt’s research focuses on the interplay between internal and external factors in the regulation of stem cell fate.

In the Spring she spoke on the many scenarios that she uses her expertise in scientific communication to increase the accessibility of science to the public. I was particularly drawn to this talk, as I am always looking for ways to improve how I communicate my research to colleagues and friends. In the past, she has helped to communicate scientific goals and ideas through non-profit organizations such as Versus Arthritis, as well as government agencies seeking advice about the use of human embryonic stem cells. She also described her collaborations with artistic communities to present science in new and exciting ways, which I thought was a particularly innovative approach to increase the accessibility of science to all ages.

As the Director for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at Kings College London, Dr. Watts participates in several projects that aim to make basic research fun and inspiring to students of all ages. She promotes public engagement in science through social media avenues (wattlab | home) ,a seminar series called “Stem Cells at Lunch” that encourages colleagues to come together and discuss their work, and she even has a YouTube channel (Watt Lab 1) designed to help scientists improve their communication skills.

In this talk with Beyond the PhD (AIOG), Dr. Watts emphasized the importance of communicating science to the public through networking, which will provide researchers the opportunity to learn new skills and improve how they present their work to the public. She also provides excellent advice on best methods to target your audience including using language that is both collaborative and respectful of audiences without expert level knowledge of science.  Overall, this talk is beneficial for anyone interested in pursuing a career in scientific communication or those seeking better ways to present their research in a broader, more relatable context. 

To listen to the full interview with Dr. Watts search under the “Interviews and Recordings” section of the website for “The Importance of Scientific Communication with Fiona Watts”.  

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A Reflection: Exploring AIOG’s History and Celebrating our Victories

Nearly three years ago, started with their inaugural networking event to help students and postdocs connect with professionals. While some universities have formal programs to showcase the various careers students can pursue in STEM, founders Giulia Vigone and Robert Pijewski thought their colleagues at UConn would also benefit from such a program. With the assistance and mentorship of Dr. Vaibhav Saini and Giulia Vigone, treasurer of the postdoc association, developed a program that could foster career development for graduate and postdoctoral students at UConn and other universities in the Greater Hartford area. This program became what is now known as AIOG. The goal of AIOG is to both inform students of careers beyond just academics as well as careers in STEM that don’t necessarily require a graduate degree. The hope was that if we could get 4 or 5 students to each seminar, then we would be helping educate the student and postdoc population.

Like most things, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way we had to approach networking and educating our audience of young STEM professionals. To rise to the challenge AIOG adopted an online format with Zoom seminars and an online networking event. With the increased flexibility of using Zoom, we were able to host and invite speakers from around the globe, as well as reach students and postdocs around the world from other universities (geographic schematic below). We were also able to grow our team to include scientists at other universities. To date, we’ve had over 400 unique individuals join us from around the globe. 

Over the past 12 months we have also utilized our website more to provide resources for students. The website features scientist interviews, video interviews through our youtube channel, and editorial articles about our events to help educate students about the spectrum of potential careers (see word cloud below of a summary of careers) they can use their transferable skills learned throughout their scientific training. We have also adopted a name-change Beyond the PhD to promote our brand on social media outlets including twitter, facebook, and linkedIn. We hope this re-branding will help AIOG reach more students furthering our impact.  

Compared to our first networking event that featured 12 industry guests and over 35 students and postdocs, our third networking event that was held about a month ago featured 25 professionals and hosted over 70 students. This event was made possible through partnerships with Dimensions Sciences (DS) a nonprofit organization and their science outreach program DS-CAMPUS. Moving forward we plan to continue to collaborate with organizations that share our vision, to share our resources and thus expanding our network of careers and professionals that our student-base may have access to. See below for names of organizations we have hosted or interviewed. In the future, we would like to create a mentoring program that matches students with professionals. 

For Fall 2021, we are organizing an Ambassador program for students on their campuses across the United States. This program will provide a platform for college upperclassmen and graduate students to lead discussion, help organize events, and disseminate information about AIOG hosted events that aim to educate their peers about careers in STEM. Stay-tuned for more information on how you can become an Ambassador on your campus this coming Fall. 

The success of AIOG’s events has demonstrated a prominent interest in learning and networking with scientific professionals in and outside of academia among the upcoming generation of STEM professionals. Looking back, we at AIOG are beyond excited to have hosted a myriad of career topics. It is hard to think back to all the advice these guests have given, but many themes remain prominent (themes represented above). Some themes that have been referenced in all of our seminars is being a team player, being a critical thinker, and being able to adapt. 

Written by Rob Pijewski and Britt Knight

Special thanks to the entirety of the AIOG Team for organizing and making the schematics and graphs for this article.

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Interviewing Kerry Silva: Creator of Bolded Science

Have you ever gotten tongue-tied trying to explain your research project to your parents? Or heard a scientific talk that was more acronyms than explanations? Well you’re not alone- we all have! Scientists have a way of talking to each other with each field having its own specific jargon, and that’s great because we need that when we’re in scientific spaces, but it’s not very helpful when grandma asks what we do every day. That’s where SciComm comes in. SciComm, which is short for Science Communication is an emerging field that gives spaces for scientists to explain their work in a way that is understandable to everyone, regardless of their prior knowledge on the subject. SciComm is unique and serves a major role in society because it encourages open communication between scientists and the rest of the world so everybody can understand the science that affects our lives and drives our scientific advancements.  

To get an insider perspective, we interviewed Kerry Silva McPherson, a PhD candidate studying molecular biology and biochemistry and an active member of the SciComm community on how she got into SciComm and what she hopes to gain from it. Last year Kerry created Bolded Science, a collaborative blog that gives scientists of all career stages a voice and a chance to practice writing for a non-scientific audience. On Bolded Science grad students, research technicians, or undergrads can write about their research, a scientific topic of interest to them, or even about life as a scientist to get published on the site. What a great way to get your writing out there! Plus, it can help other researchers and non-researchers better understand your topic. SciComm is an all- around win-win! Bolded Science has published several blog posts on topics like what a porosome is, the Covid-19 pandemic, and racism in science.  

SciComm can become its own career by monetizing blogs, vlogs, or working for a company or it can provide skills heavily emphasized in other roles such as in science policy or medical affairs. It can also be a fun hobby that lets people outside of science see into our little world. SciComm can take any form of communication: from podcasts and video to blogging and art. Anything that turns science from heavy with jargon to light and enjoyable is SciComm. The SciComm mission is simply to make science more accessible to all and show that science isn’t scary. So if you’re currently a scientist, ditch the alphabet soup sometime and try your hand at writing for a general audience. If you’re not a scientist- check out some science blogs and who knows what you may find. Just remember, behind every brilliant scientific discovery there’s the dumb questions we had to ask to reach it. There’s no shame in not knowing and we all have to start somewhere.

So here’s an idea- start with checking out Bolded Science! If you’re interested in writing for Bolded Science or just super into science, head to www.BoldedScience.com and check it out! 

Watch the full interview on our ‘Recorded events and interviews’ page.

Written by Christina R Miles Graduate Assistant

Biomedical Sciences PhD Program| UConn Health 

Featured

45th Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering meeting

Recently, the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) held their 45th annual meeting online. CASE is a non-profit institution that is patterned after the National Academy of Sciences. The institution identifies and studies issues and technological advancements that are of concern to the state of Connecticut. Since the founding of CASE in 1976, the academy has fostered an environment that promotes collegial collaboration and support through the   encouragement of scientific and technological creativity. The theme of meeting was innovation. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed a lot of scientific research, CASE has been involved with the state providing vital research and guidance to promoting Connecticut’s success through the pandemic.

Nick Donofrio , the former vice president of innovation and technology for IBM, and David Ferruci of Elemental Cognition co-presented the keynote address. Nick Donofrio gave great insight on what is needed to be an innovator. Many scientists and engineers seek the answer and find the problem that the answer can be used for, however, Donofrio advised against this. Instead, he suggested that the individual or team must be intimate with the problem; to be a successful innovator, you must know the problem. It is better to start with a problem, rather than an answer for the problem. Ask questions, engage, and most importantly, listen. His words on innovation are not only applicable to the Covid-19 pandemic, but in Donofrio’s words, “the second pandemic of racism in this country”. To truly be collaborative, the team must be inclusive and diverse. No one person will have the answers to everything, and the more perspective you have the better understanding you will gain of the problem and how best to solve the problem. David Ferruci, followed with a presentation about his journey as an innovator. David Ferruci has worked in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for over 25 years. He was the lead on IBM’s Watson project and now, he has his own company Elemental Cognition. David first got interested in AI during a computer programming class where he learned the power of programming and executing commands. He envisioned that this computational control would benefit the world. Starting with a simple command, could he program a computer to answer open-domain questions (i.e. Jeoprady). To create AI that could succeed in open-domain questions had a massive impact potential. Yet, accomplishing this goal could also have substantial risk. Ferruci felt that even though this monumental task had risk, stagnation would feel far worse. Long story short, his AI became the best question-answering AI in history. IBM’s Watson defeated all human contestants on the show Jeopardy. Ferruci said that the Watson project led to 1000s of additional research projects and papers came out of this AI milestone, hundreds of invited talks, billions of impressions, and it led to large scale commercialization efforts at IBM and elsewhere. More importantly, this AI project helped reimagine the art of the possible in AI. Thirty plus years later, David is still inspired from his original work on Watson, and has created a company that is trying to solve the problem in making robots understand things ( I need a better word). Dave was additionally one of the 36 newly inducted members into the academy that evening. 

To learn more about the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, visit their website at www.ctcase.org. To learn more about IBM’s Watson project, view the full story here https://www.aaai.org/Magazine/Watson/watson.php

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Smart Tribe: A New Way to Network

This July, I interviewed Beatrice Zatorska, the co-founder and CEO of Smart Tribe. Beatrice is based in London, but Smart Tribe is a global platform that has users from multiple countries.  Smart Tribe is a new online platform that helps connect individuals in academia and industry professionals. The goal of Smart Tribe is to unleash science by matching talent and technology. By making connections between different individuals, Smart Tribe can help with networking, problem solving, job hunting, academic and industry partnerships, launching new technologies, and more. 

Can you tell me about yourself and why you started Smart Tribe? 

Beatrice co-founded Smart Tribe with Kris Jack. Although they have different backgrounds, they represent both the academics and industry professionals that are using their new platform. Beatrice has 20 years in industry working as a management consultant. She specialized in working with emerging technologies which often came from scientific research. Kris represents the academic side and holds a PhD in computer science. He previously worked as the chief data scientist for Mendeley and Elsevier. 

Beatrice and Kris started Smart Tribe to bring together people from different backgrounds and ultimately offer a way to find unique solutions to new problems. Original and outside perspectives from either academia or industry can be extremely beneficial when launching a new project, networking, or developing novel tech. Smart Tribe connects users from across the globe using a specifically designed AI that matches people based on their goals and interests. 

Together, Beatrice and Kris developed Smart Tribe to foster communication and collaboration between those in academia and people working in different industry sectors. Their goal is to unleash science, solve problems, and better the world by making meaningful connections.

What is Smart Tribe and how does Smart Tribe work?

Smart Tribe is an online platform which makes smart introductions between academics and industry personnel. People from either sector can join and create a free profile at https://smarttribe.io/. As a user, you can create a bio and share your goals and needs. Each month you can elect to be connected with another user, and Smart Tribe uses an innovative AI to match you with a new connection. Smart Tribe allows you to connect with other users based off your interests. It can be used for networking, learning about different industries, problem solving, consulting, and more. 

What can Smart Tribe offer users? 

One of the benefits of Smart Tribe is that is has global reach. Currently, many academics and industry professionals work in silos, and their network is usually limited to others in their field. Additionally, their network is often geographically limited to those in their workplace or surrounding area. With Smart Tribe, people from across countries and continents can connect with each other and find a way to tap into the exciting science coming out of different sectors. 

One thing Smart Tribe can be used for is networking and job hunting. Currently, there are not enough academic jobs for the amount of PhDs academia produces. Smart Tribe is a useful tool for those PhDs looking to transition into industry. Most people find jobs through their network, so Smart Tribe can help academics increase their professional network. It is also a great tool for academics who want to learn more about different industry positions and roles. 

Smart Tribe can be useful for industry professionals looking for expert consultants or academic scientists. Industry personnel can find academic experts in specific topics, hire them as consultants, and build partnerships. Expert consultants can provide valuable skills and assist with different projects. With this platform, consultants can come from all over the globe from different fields. Academics can offer unique insight and guidance to different problems. Additionally, using Smart Tribe is a great way to tap into the exciting and novel science coming out of academia. People are no longer bound to their local networks, and can discover new science coming out of different parts of the world. 

On the other hand, academics may be able to find industry partners. This can help academics looking to find outside funding, commercialize tech, or launch new products. Scientists within the university setting may not have access to proper resources or have their own business or become entrepreneurs. They can use Smart Tribe to find industry professionals to assist them with things such as finding investors, launching new technology, management, and more. 

What are the goals of the company going forward?

Since Smart Tribe is a relatively new platform, it is still expanding. Each month, the platform grows by thousands of users from the Unites States, United Kingdom, Europe, and more. There will also be new features coming out in the near future. Going forward, the company wants to understand more about the interactions and connections taking place on Smart Tribe and what users are getting out of these. Additionally, Smart Tribe is putting out some free webinars on different topics such as the importance of social skills in industry and entrepreneurship. 

Smart Tribe is already a great resource for keeping on top of the latest research and can allow you to meet experts in different fields. The global reach of the platform also enables you to expand your network and meet people from across the globe. Despite being relatively new, people are already making connections and transforming the way we talk about science with Smart Tribe. By using an innovative approach to connect individuals, Smart Tribe is not just an algorithm, but instead a passionate and innovative community.

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Finding a job during COVID-19

Written by Yuezhe (Li)

On June 30, the midpoint of 2020, I interviewed Dr. Spencer Keilich, a UConn Health alumni, about his transition from academia into industry during COVID-19 and any advice he may have for those going through a similar transition. 

Spencer studied immunology at the UConn Health Center. His research focused on influenza-induced muscle atrophy. Spencer graduated from UConn Health in 2020, and now he is a research scientist at QCDx. His company develops a liquid biopsy system that helps to provide personalized medicine for breast cancer patients. QCDx is a biotech startup located in Farmington, CT and is part of the UConn Technology Incubator Program (TIP). Spencer says he applied for this job because he wants to work on an interesting project in the biotech industry.

Spencer says he was lucky that he started to search for jobs before the COVID shutdown reached Connecticut. He found his current position through a UConn job forum that shares job postings from BioCT, a bioscience industry voice for the state of Connecticut. He cold-mailed QCDx’s CEO for his current job and was interviewed immediately: he emailed the CEO on Friday and was interviewed on the next Monday. He was hired immediately and was able to finish all the paperwork before the COVID shutdown. He mentioned that had he looked for jobs later, finding a job could be much more difficult. 

Spencer thinks the training he received during his Ph.D. is helpful for him to transition into his new job. He was able to use his bench skills developed during his Ph.D. training, such as running different assays and literature searching, in his new role. Unlike academic research, there is more regulatory compliance in the industry. This means more paperwork. The lab is also more organized: there is more experimental documentation, notes, and annotation, as well as a better reagent tracking system. 

When I asked Spencer what advice he could offer for graduate students, for example, how to talk to their PIs about graduation, he laughed. He says the key is managing expectations and to know where to cut [your dissertation research] off. He says students should pitch their complete story to their PIs to essentially argue that their PhD training is complete and that it’s time for them to move on. Spencer also mentioned that he thinks that training successors to take over the current [unfinished] projects could help with this transition out of the lab. In this way, the projects do not die when students graduate. I recall hearing similar advice on the Harvard Business Review podcast. If people want their supervisors to help them to move to their next career position, they should train their successors. 

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Introduce Yourself: Meet Rob: co-founder of AIOG

My name is Robert Pijewski and I am the co-founder of the Academia-Industry Opportunities Group (AIOG). Read more about me below!

Hey all, I’m Rob. I’ve never written a blog post before so let’s give this a try. I am currently a 4th year PhD candidate in Biomedical Science in the Department of Neuroscience at UConn Health in Farmington, CT. My research is on the role of cellular aging in neurodegenerative disease and healthy aging. However, my research is not the reason why I am here. During my studies, I found that there was a lack of education regarding careers beyond the traditional academic setting, i.e. becoming a tenure-track professor at a research institution. I’ve also heard dozens of PhD candidates just sayin “I think I am more of an industry person”, but my question to them is “what kind of industry?”. With that question in mind, I started a group…I did a thing. The sole purpose of the group is to provide education to students about the vast number and types of careers outside of academia. As a group, we are breaking the phrase “alternative careers” because in fact, these are the majority of careers and academia is the minority.

When I am not in the lab or writing blog posts (see what I did there), I find myself exploring new recipes in the kitchen as well as working out (have to stay healthy if I am preaching about cellular aging and disease!). As I continue to grow as a person, I will hopefully continue to update my introduction section. I hope you all read the content that we post!

Career Spotlight: Clinical Research Associate

Recently, Beyond the PhD had the opportunity to sit down with Jason Torres, a Clinical Research Associate (CRA) at Roche, where he shared his background and experiences working in this industry position. Jason discussed his role as a CRA and covered the responsibilities this job entails. CRAs act as a main line of communication between sponsor, in his case Roche, and investigator. They also visit and work with clinical sites on behalf of the sponsor. The CRA performs a variety of clinical operations and monitoring activities to help studies run smoothly and be successful. Other common names for this role are clinical monitor or study monitor. Some additional responsibilities of a CRA include assessing the feasibility of a trial, recruiting investigators, pre-study visits, site initiation visits, routine monitoring visits, and site close out visits. 

Jason went into further detail about day to day responsibilities as a CRA. He discussed how the work load comes in waves, with kicking off a study being the most intensive. There is a large amount of prerequisite work involved including designing the protocol and everything else needed to initiate a large scale study. Day to day he is involved in communicating with the sites that he oversees, having team meetings, and dealing with regulatory documents. It’s a collaborative environment and he learns something new from each trial. He is also involved in contracting with the site, budget negotiation, and working with the warehouse team to provide supplies to the sites. He is currently working with six sites, but this number depends on the scale and magnitude of the trial.  

Jason also described his path to becoming a CRA. He mentioned that he interned at Roche during college and enjoyed the company environment and internship program. He maintained connections at Roche while completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees and later applied to work at the company. The fundamental lab experience that he gained as an undergraduate researcher and master’s student helped him transition into this role and provided a solid foundation for running a trial. Jason started as a contractor for Roche in 2017 and later was brought on full time as a CRA 1. He moved up the ladder and is now a senior CRA. The next step in this career path is becoming a study manager. In this position, you are more involved in managing junior CRA’s, mentoring, and teaching. 

Jason concluded by discussing the education and experience that would make someone well suited for a job as a CRA. He mentioned that many people transition from working on a clinical trial as a study coordinator to working as a CRA. The majority of CRA’s only have bachelor’s degrees. However, at the more senior level, many employees have master’s degrees or PhDs. However, Jason said that getting his master’s allowed him to get a better understanding of scientific experimental design and a solid scientific foundation before transitioning into his role as a CRA.

Career as Manager of Field Application Scientists

Beyond the PhD welcomes Todd Jensen, a Manager of Field Application Scientists at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Come hear about his career path on Thursday January 20th at 2pm ET.

Todd Jensen is current a Manager of Field Application Scientists in the Northeast and MidAtlantic for Thermo Fisher Scientific. These scientists provide training and support for our qPCR instruments and assays including all EUA approved COVID testing kits.

Todd began his research career at Yale University in 2007 as a Research Technician studying transplant rejection in humanized mouse models. He then joined the Finck Laboratory at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in 2010. He studied tissue engineering and regenerative medicine approaches to pediatric lung disease and esophageal defects. Todd progressed to the role of Research Associate 2 and Laboratory Manager as well as a surgical research advisor for surgical disciplines at CT Children’s.

Shortly after he began his research career, he began to teach as adjunct faculty at private colleges and then the states community college system. This year will be 14 years as an adjunct instructor where he continues to teach human biology lecture courses online.

He is originally from Farmington, CT and attended Sacred Heart University where he graduated with his bachelor’s in biology & Chemistry. Todd then went on to receive a master’s in health science from Quinnipiac University in Medical Laboratory Sciences. He is currently completing his master’s in business administration with an anticipated graduation date of June 2022.

Join us on Thursday Jan. 20th to learn more about Todd’s career path.

Save the Date! Spring 2022 Networking Event

This spring we will host our Annual Networking Event on March 17th from 5:30-7:30pm ET using the Gather.Town platform.

The goal of our networking event is to provide a platform for graduate level trainees and upper level college students to network with a diverse panel of STEM professionals in both academia and outside of academia.

“Building your brand.”

The theme for Beyond the PhD’s 2022 Networking Event

We chose this theme in order to help students and trainees learn best practices for identifying and promoting their personal brand to be effective during the job search process. To achieve this goal (1) we will host a variety of STEM professionals with diverse career paths and (2) invited Amy Aines to give a Keynote presentation on how to effectively communicate.

Amy Aines Found of Talking STEM- Building Vital Communication Skills to Launch Successful Career. Title of presentation TBD.

Amy Aines is the Founder of Talking STEM- Building Vital Communication Skills to Launch Successful Career. She is a communications strategist, coach and trainer. She creates workshops and curriculum to teach STEM graduates and early career professionals vital communication methods for effectively championing their ideas and building support for their work. She also teaches essential success skills for the workplace that most scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians didn’t learn in graduate school.

Additional information about the event including registration link and list of professionals will be released closer to the event date.

If you are a STEM professional interested in participating in this event please click the button below to fill out a brief form.

-Beyond the PhD Networking Event Planning Committee

Happy New Year!

Everyone at Beyond the PhD wishes you all a happy new year. We hope you had a safe and enjoyable holiday among family and friends. Check out some of our upcoming events!

14
January2022
Deadline to apply to be a campus Beyond the PhD Ambassador for Spring 2022 Undergraduate upperclassman or
graduate students in a STEM field interested in taking
leadership roles at their college or university. Apply here
20
January2022
Todd Jensen from Thermofisher Scientifichttps://www.linkedin.com/in/todd-jensen/. Eventbrite sign-up coming soon.
3pm ETZoom

Navigating Science Conversations with Non-Scientists: Holiday Edition

By Natalie Sandlin and Rachel Gilmore

For many of us, the winter season, and the various holidays throughout, mean spending extra time with family. With this time comes the sometimes-dreaded questions: “What do you do?” or “What are you researching?” This may afford us the opportunity of discussing science-related topics with individuals who may not be so familiar with science, and rather than approaching these conversations with resistance or fear, we’ll give you some helpful tips for the best way to navigate science conversations with non-scientists. Let’s chat about it…

  1. Know your audience.

A good question to ask yourself going into the conversation is, “How likely is it that this person has encountered this information before?” If you honestly have no idea what level of understanding the other individual has, just ask! It’s as simple as saying, “Have you ever heard of [blank]?” or maybe, “How much do you know about [blank]?” This can save time and confusion for everyone.

  • Keep it relatable.

Give people a reason as to why others should find what you do interesting. People tend to be more invested in the conversation if they feel like the topic is something directly relevant to them. Consider using stories or analogies that are easy to relate to.

  • Think big picture.

Too many details can be overwhelming for anyone. I like to follow the format: issue being addressed, how we can address it, and what my contribution to the solution is. This gives enough information about the science without going overboard on the details.

  • Avoid jargon.

Always remember, keeping things simple is not “dumbing down” your science. You don’t have to over-inflate your vocabulary or get into technical jargon to appear smarter. Chances are, the people you’re talking with already think you’re brilliant anyway.

  • Listen to understand, not to respond.

When the person you’re talking to asks a question or makes a comment, be sure to take a second to understand what they’re actually saying before blurting out a response. A tip for doing this is to repeat the question back to the person in your own words. For example, “So if I’m understanding correctly, you’re asking [blank]?” This will not only force you to listen to what they’re saying but also to ensure you’ll answer the question they’re actually asking and not just one you think they’re asking. Also, tone is very important when responding. Some family members may have different views, opinions, or educational level than your own, so it’s important not to come off as judgmental or condescending. You want them to continue to engage in science after your conversation, not shy away from it!

  • Let your passion shine through.

A super easy way to get other people invested in the conversation is to show them how much you care about what you do. They likely will not remember all of the details of what you talked about, but something they may remember is your expressions or how you made them feel during the conversation. There is a reason you are invested in your project, and people want to know why you care about what you research.

  • Keep it short.

Regardless of how interesting or relevant something is, it’s best to keep your conversation short, sweet, and to the point. Let the other person lead the conversation deeper, if that’s what they want, but don’t impose a lengthy monologue of your research where it isn’t needed or wanted. Think of this as a time to practice the elevator pitch of your project, benefiting both you and the other person in this conversation. Most of all, enjoy this time you have, take a break, and relax. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Career Planning – Is now the right time?

Thinking about the future can be daunting, especially as PhD student who has multiple years before graduating and entering the workforce. As a student, you often hear of two tracks, academia or industry. Although this may seem pretty clear cut, there are a variety of roles and jobs within both of these sectors. Early on in my PhD, I realized I did not want to stay in academia. However, I had no clue what I wanted to do, and honestly I still don’t have it fully figured out. Despite this, I started doing some career exploration during my PhD that put me on a path I am excited about and narrowed down my options. I still have a few years before I complete my PhD, but I am looking forward to the future and a career outside academia. Starting down the path of career exploration during a PhD is not easy, but I hope to share some tips that make it manageable andexciting.

Take advantage of resources at your school and online 

Many universities and foundations offer career development tools and seminars amongst other helpful items. When I first started my PhD, I joined Beyond the PhD, a group focused on exploring careers outside of academia. Now I help manage content and events for the group. Along the way, I have learned about many professions and have been able to connect with professionals in fields I am interested in. Getting involved or attending career events is a great first step when you are in the early stages of career exploration.

Make a list of things you like and don’t like doing 

One of the best pieces of advice I got early on in my PhD was to keep a list of things I like doing and things I don’t like doing. As I’ve developed my skill set as a PhD student, I quickly realized that there are things I love to do, things I can tolerate, and things I never want to do again. For example, I love writing and science communication, and these are skills I have continuously worked on. One the flip side, early on in my PhD I developed a severe mouse allergy and decided that a career at the bench working with rodent models wasn’t for me. Knowing what you enjoy working on and what you do not can really help narrow down options when looking for jobs later on. 

Keep track of titles and roles you could see yourself in

Another great piece of advice I received was to keep track of titles and roles I could see myself doing after I graduate. Now, when I come across a career that resonates or seems interesting, I write it down to consider later. Sometimes, I will look up job postings for that role and the skills required for that opportunity. I currently have a running list of roles that I can now refer and add to as I continue to grow and learn during my PhD journey. 

Network

Networking and talking to people is one of the best ways to explore your options. You can learn about different roles, companies, and professions just by having a conversation or sending an introductory email. It is a great way to learn about new opportunities and make connections that may be beneficial when you are job hunting later on. Many schools and professional organizations offer various events or seminars to grow your network. Additionally, you can use your current network to connect you with other individuals who are working in fields that you may interested in. 

Track your skills 

It’s important to recognize the skills you have and ones that still need development. It’s also good to track this as you are continuing on your PhD or academic journey. Some skills might be obvious such as proficiency at certain techniques, assays, or programs. However, make sure to also record and develop soft skills that are arguably just as important as your ability to run an experiment. Soft skills are often translatable to many roles and can include things such as writing, presenting, communication, leadership, and the ability to work with a team. By understanding your skill set and areas where you excel or need development, you can then easily share this with potential employers or mentors. 

Make an IDP

An IDP or Individual Development Plan, is a resource available to students and researchers. The IDP concept is commonly used in industry to help employees define and pursue their career goals, but it is also great for those doing a PhD or post-doc.  The IDP provides exercises to help you examine your skills, interests, and values. It is a great and informational tool that can help with setting strategic goals for the future and understanding your strengths and weaknesses. More about IDP’s can be found here https://myidp.sciencecareers.org/.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Besides talking to your PI or mentor, feel free to reach out to us at Beyond the PhD (2phdandbeyond@gmail.com) or find us on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/academia-industry-opportunities-group/?viewAsMember=true) or Twitter (@aiog_ct) for answers to career questions, career seminars, blog posts, and more!

To celebrate two years of Bolded Science, here is a throw back to our interview with the creator

Have you ever gotten tongue-tied trying to explain your research project to your parents? Or heard a scientific talk that was more acronyms than …

Interviewing Kerry Silva: Creator of Bolded Science

Perspective of a Mom and 1st year PhD student

My path to Graduate school is probably not as straightforward as the typical student. Six years ago I never would have conceived that obtaining my PhD was even a remote possibility. At that point in my life, I had just graduated from the University of Connecticut with a Masters in Immunology and was content to pursue a career as a Research Associate either in Academia or Industry. However, I first wanted to start a family so over the course of just four years, I had my wonderful three little boys and embraced my new role as “Mom”. During this time, I obtained a position as a Research Assistant here at the University of Connecticut Health Center and for three years I was able to contribute to projects in the lab where I gained valuable experience in cell culture, grant writing and manuscript preparation. As a result of my accomplishments and enthusiasm for research, my Principle Investigator suggested I continue my Graduate career as a PhD student and recommended that I enroll in the Biomedical Sciences program here at UCHC. For the first time I actually considered the possibility of obtaining my PhD as something tangible and within my reach. The three years of experience I obtained while working in the lab helped significantly with my confidence and made me realize that this was the career choice I wanted to pursue. Not only had I fostered a passion for research, but I’d also found a wonderful lab to work in that made me realize how important this field was and how what I did could have real implications in the medical/scientific field. So even though my pathway to this point in life has not been straightforward, I am happy that all my previous experiences have brought me to this point in my career. There have been many twists and turns along the way, filled with doubts and questions, but so far I am happy to be part of a program that challenges me daily and helps me be the best version of myself. Now, not only am I a Mom, but I also get this awesome opportunity to be a Graduate student as well. Some days may be difficult or down right challenging, but I’m excited for the path this journey will take me. 

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