Top 10 Tips from Science Alumni

Top 10 Tips from Science Alumni

By: Leah Harrison
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Curious to see what science looks like outside of the classroom, I recently attended two science career nights –“Inspiring Careers Panel: Innovation in Industry and in Your Own Career” and “Chemistry Career Night.” Not only were these events helpful to give more context to what I was learning in class, the speakers gave great advice for current students about how to get the most out of their science degrees. Here are some of the suggestions I found most helpful.

  1. A science degree prepares you for anything. As one speaker put nicely, a science degree teaches you to collect, analyze, and understand challenging data, and communicate it back to a professor on a deadline. The skills and knowledge that you gain won’t just prepare you for a career in science; but also for jobs such as inspectors, policy writers, or journalists.
  2. Working in a lab is much less hectic than taking a lab course.  There is often less report writing; and when there are reports, they are not as frustrating.
  3. Work on your soft skills. A science degree gives you many technical skills, which are important, but many of these can be learned on the job as well. Even for technical positions, employers will look for well-rounded people. Developing soft-skills like communication, judgment, and team work (and showing where you have learned them) can help your application to stand out.
  4. Know your industry and your employer. For some industries, like in pharmaceuticals, a MSc or a PhD is almost always necessary. For other jobs, even with a higher education it can be difficult to get into industry without experience. For certain employers, such as government, experience is essential.
  5. Gain experience. This was one of the most repeated pieces of advice. While there are a number of different ways to do this, co-op is a great program to participate in, and not only for experience. For the alumni who completed co-op, it gave them the opportunity to find out where they would- or wouldn’t- like to end up after graduation.
  6. Take advantage of opportunities. Though it might be hard, you may need to start in a position that seems lower than your level of education; or you may have to consider finding contract jobs to begin with. Regardless, you will gain wisdom, maturity, and skills from all of your positions that will be helpful when you work on progressing to the next phase of your career.
  7. Network. My initial thoughts when I first heard this piece of advice was that this must be for the business side of science. It’s not for someone interested in research or in government, right? But even for those positions, networking can be a great tool to help you find a position you love. Try informational interviews, build a LinkedIn profile, or join a professional association.  Especially in your fourth year, one of the best ways to ensure success in job search out of graduation is to get yourself known.
  8. Take initiative and show a willingness to learn. The number one thing that I noticed that led the speakers to their success was that they took initiative. Whether this was joining co-op, learning the science of the job independently, or letting others know of an interest in taking on more responsibility, all of the science alumni at the events showed their passion for the work they do by going one step further, and were successful because of it.
  9. Science is easy; it’s the people that are hard. While partly joking, this statement does bring up a good reminder that while learning science can sometimes feel like abstract and independent work, especially in the first few years of university, most of science involves working with people to solve very human problems.
  10. Be up for the challenge. Having a strong work ethic is important, but even people with university degrees will lose it. While it can be difficult while you’re job searching or trying to figure out the rules in a new position, remember that people prefer to work with driven, passionate people. Wherever you end up, a science degree makes anything achievable.

Hearing the stories of previous alumni can be a great way to start exploring your own possibilities. Keep an eye out for other science related career events in future semesters, and in the meantime check out some of the other events offered by career services such as the upcoming Backpack to Briefcase conference on March 15th, 2015.


Beyond the Article:

Lead Image: sonson on flickr

Leah is completing a joint major degree in Chemistry and Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, as well as a Certificate in Environmental Literacy. She currently volunteers as a Career Peer Educator with SFU’s Career Services.

Posted on March 09, 2015