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Preparing for a Life Sciences STEM Career? Here Are 5 Ways to Set Yourself Up for Success

1/3/2017 2:26:31 PM

Preparing for a Life Sciences STEM Career? Here Are 5 Ways to Set Yourself Up for Success January 5, 2017
By Renee Morad, Breaking News Staff

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations hold great potential for future opportunity. Several years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasted that STEM jobs will grow by more than nine million between 2012 and 2022.

However, that’s not to say that securing a STEM career isn’t very competitive, and once in the door, life science professionals are bound to encounter challenging situations and an ongoing demand for knowledge.

“Anyone going into a STEM career is entering a job where tremendous knowledge and skills are required, new knowledge is constantly pouring in and data is the king,” says Jelena Kovacevic, chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps recent grads can take early on in their STEM careers to better position themselves for long-term success.

1. Always Be Prepared and Professional

Recent grads can boost their chances of finding a STEM job by giving their job search the attention and thoroughness that it deserves. Kovacevic’s tip: be polite to everyone you meet throughout the process. Whether you’re applying for an academic or industry role, it’s important to prepare for job interviews by putting your most professional self forward, beginning with the first emailed reply and then each step along the way.

Kovacevic suggests that applicants, upon receipt of a job interview invitation, send a courteous email thanking the department head or whoever arranged the interview, and then asking for any pertinent details about the job presentation or interview to help prepare. If you’re communicating with an administrative assistant during the process, be sure to be polite and present yourself well, as these assistants are often asked about their opinions on candidates, she notes.

And if recent grads know anyone in the department they’re applying to, it’s also smart to reach out to them for pointers or advice. Of course, thorough research and preparation can also significantly boost your success during the interview process.

Always follow up with a professional thank you note post-interview to each person who played a role in your application process, Kovacevic suggests.

2. Anticipate a Steep Learning Curve

The key element of starting any new job is that you’re going to face a steep learning curve, and this can be particularly true for STEM positions. Kovacevic suggests new hires spend their first week talking to as many people as possible for advice and to better understand employee expectations and culture.

Of course, students and recent grads can also prepare for a STEM career by getting an early start when it comes to on-the-job experience. “Any opportunities students can find to gain industry-relevant experience through internships and academic programs that include industry collaborations will help them explore the field and build their resumes and experience,” says Sara Radcliffe, president and CEO of California Life Sciences Association.

3. Understand the Vision of Your Company

It’s equally important to have a firm understanding of the company, as well as its mission and objectives. This includes “the vision of the company and specific goals that your more immediate unit is trying to achieve,” Kovacevic says.

You can help align your personal interests and passions with specific companies by researching organizations and companies that interest you. Radcliffe explains that information interviews are “a tremendous way to explore career pathways and build one’s network.”

4. Seek Out a Support Group

“Finding a mentor, one who is really close to you and interested in you, is key,” Radcliffe says, adding that in order to achieve something, recent grads will need support.

Kovacevic notes that for underrepresented groups, in particular, STEM jobs can be challenging because of a lack of peer support due to low numbers in the field in general. “My advice is read a lot, talk to as many people as possible to learn, and find a support system both at work and outside,” Radcliffe says.

5. Remember to Look Back and Reflect

“There are intrinsic rewards of doing the job you love, and one that clearly has a huge societal impact,” Kovacevic says.

She encourages all recent grads to enter the workplace with an understanding that it will be challenging, but not to sweat the short-term setbacks. “Look back every once in awhile and reflect on the progress over longer periods of time,” Kovacevic says.

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