Congratulations! You are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and are ready to take on challenges of the real world. Many before you have successfully done this, and many to come will go through this, so don’t stress, but prepare early to move forward with a ‘go-getter’ attitude. Whether you choose a scientific research based career, or a more commercial role, here are some tips to help you navigate your next career move.
Roles in Industrial Research and Development
1. Be a deep expert in your area of research. Do not assume that the scientific rigor expected in industry is any less than in academia.
2. Build a broad set of technical skills while in graduate school. This is possibly the final technical training you will receive and you will be viewed as a technical expert hereafter.
3. Show independent thought in your work. Don’t just ‘follow a script’ provided by your advisor. Take your work in novel directions, perhaps outside of your comfort zone.
4. Actively seek collaborations. Don’t wait for your advisor to build these for you. Industrial projects are highly collaborative. Be ready to prove that you are a team player.
5. Use every possible opportunity to present your work in scientific forums and use the manuscript and proposal writing/publishing process as an opportunity to improve your writing skills. Remember, finesse and quality matters and good communication skills play a vital role in industry. Use your graduate school years to improve your written and oral communication skills.
6. If working in a lab setting, actively advocate for safety in the lab environment. Industry places immense importance on safety.
7. Lead. If you seek a career in industry, you will be looked upon not just to serve the role of a technical expert, but also to lead teams towards project goals. Take initiative to lead your graduate school research projects, participate in extracurricular programs that help improve your leadership skills.
Roles with a Business or Commercial Focus
1. Develop the skill of balancing technical curiosity with business needs. Be ready to prioritize business needs over research questions that may seem more interesting but do not directly translate to increased business. Keep in mind that your efforts will be a waste of money and time if there is no commercial value behind them.
2. Think about how you view work-life balance and its importance to you, but be prepared to work long hours on occasion depending on the need. Have an open mind about putting in extra hours at the start of your career or a new role, until you gain more familiarity and experience.
3. Take initiative and volunteer for tasks when projects are being discussed. Don’t wait to be assigned work by your superiors and managers.
4. Keep both written and spoken communication on business matters concise. Avoid additional details and background stories that do not add value to the point you are trying to make.
5. Speak up. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion especially if you have a contrarian view. Most businesses appreciate disruptive thinking, especially when brainstorming ideas. Conduct yourself with confidence and authority when speaking at meetings.
6. Be a team player. Companies often place emphasis on collaborations over individual performance.
7. Be resilient and comfortable with handling criticism of your work from colleagues. And in turn, be direct in your communication and avoid criticizing others’ work when they are not around. Remember it’s only work and not personal.
Some general tips to keep in mind
1. Whenever possible, take additional classes outside your main coursework in areas such as management, leadership, business writing, basic statistical analysis etc. These will come in handy in the corporate world. You may be able to audit these classes, so that lower grades won’t adversely impact your GPA.
2. Companies value honesty, confidentiality and the general need to maintain high ethical standards. Develop these traits as you progress through your graduate school years.
3. Develop important skills of time management, cooperation, conflict resolution and respect for differing opinions.
4. Improve email communication habits. Double checking recipients before sending, not responding under emotional stress are some good habits that will come in handy.
5. While in grad school, make use of networking events to make new connections. In addition to technical gatherings, take advantage of forums which bring people together in more casual settings such as University Alumni, Ethnic and Cultural networking groups. Consider getting a business card containing your graduate school details and make it a point to carry this when attending such events. Most university printing services undertake student business card printing for a nominal fee.
6. Actively seek out opportunities for internships and one-on-one meetings with industry contacts.
7. Ensure your jokes or casual conversations among colleagues do not affect any racial, gender or political sensitivities.
As always, we at CUFSAA are glad to help if you have questions or need help with any situation. We can connect you with professionals in our membership who can answer your industry-specific questions or help you find a mentor who will guide you through the general process of preparation. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.