I am a senior grad student thinking about the next step in a career that will engage my brain and use my great set of tools and ideas, my passion for science, and my desire for a full life. So far, I have been lucky to find excellent scientific mentors and financial support for my training, so I am well positioned for the next step(s) I think.
When I look back, I realize that my thesis advisor has been great in giving me the opportunities to grow scientifically but his perspective is that of a White cis-male in academia, whereas my perspective is different as I am a non-White woman scientist and I’m not sure that academia is my next step.
So where do I find role models, people who can mentor me and also give me information about alternative paths, since my only experience so far in science has been in academia?
I’m at a crossroads and in need of directions. Many thanks.
Dear Almost PhD,
DEAR Almost PhD: Congratulations on getting to this point in your scientific career and also recognizing that academically based, traditional research-intensive positions are not the only careers in which PhD graduates can meaningfully contribute to the biomedical research enterprise. Your question of where to turn for career guidance is critical now and will arise again at multiple points in your career.
It’s likely that in graduate school you had a mentoring committee in addition to your thesis advisor. Labby recommends that you adopt this model, and recruit thoughtfully a Circle of Advisors as you go forward. By turning to multiple people for advice, you’ll benefit from their very different perspectives and expertise: scientific advisors, peer mentors, career coaches—all are valuable advisors. They don’t have to know each other or meet as a group; you are the person who will interact with each. You can target your questions for each and welcome their suggestions for the names of other people for your network.
Where to find these people for your Circle of Advisors? Mentors come in all forms. Maybe none will “look” like you, yet they can still be very helpful. Labby’s friend Prof. MariaElena Zavala has said, “If I had waited to be mentored by someone who looked like me or who had a similar background, I would have waited, ‘til nearly 10 years after I earned my PhD. The most important thing is to acknowledge that you have things in common AND differences.”
And because personal interactions that might come from networking at an in-person scientific meeting are still limited by the pandemic, Labby has turned to connections that are available virtually and will continue to exist even when “normal” times return.
Furthermore, the Internet can help you find a great variety of scientists and potential careers. Web groups have been formed by people who have faced some of the challenges you face (and that, as you clearly understand, have not been experienced by your thesis advisor). For example, websites like WomenInBio.org, oSTEM.org, and womeninscience.com, or Twitter accounts/hashtags like @500womensci, #WICB50, and #BLACKandSTEM have tweets and postings that can provide information, role models, and sounding boards from people of diverse ethnicities and genders. And other online communities like Grad Student Slack (https://gradstudentslack.wordpress.com) can be a wonderful source of peer mentors to help you build a network of other scientists with diverse backgrounds and experiences.
ASCB is also an excellent resource. For example when you need advice that is really targeted, like from an expert who can read your CV or resume, cover letter, or statement of teaching philosophy, look at other documents for the next step in your career, or provide interview tips, you can find them through www.ascb.org/career-development/cv-review.
Finally, one of Labby’s favorite Internet resources comes from the University of California, San Francisco, MIND program, a “career exploration road map designed to alleviate the stress and overwhelm of career exploration by breaking down the process into manageable and actionable steps shown in a gameboard-style schematic”: https://career.ucsf.edu/sites/g/files/tkssra2771/f/wysiwyg/MINDRoadMap.jpg.
There is also a guide for how to use it: https://career.ucsf.edu/sites/g/files/tkssra2771/f/wysiwyg/MIND%20Career%20Exploration%20Road%20Map%20Activities.pdf. It’s a fun yet structured way to tackle your career decisions.
So full steam ahead—you are not alone!