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Do what you are: A recipe for your dream job

My mind went daydreaming today and I got this crazy idea I want to share. 

I want everyone reading this blog post, particularly those trying to figure out what to do with their lives, to just take ten minutes to forget about the failing economy, the saturation of the chemistry job market, and all the worries that arise when you wonder how you will support yourself and pay off your loans after you graduate. 

Take the next ten minutes to dream— I’m going to guide you through it. 

Take a few minutes to dream-- What are you passionate about? Could you find a way to get paid to do that? Photo credit: Flickr user Alaska Young

Before you navigate away from this page thinking I’m some kind of nut, please let me explain. I’m going to give you the recipe for figuring out what job you were made for. 

In other words, I’m going to help you figure out what kind of job will let you do what you are

Take a piece of paper and draw lines to create four sections. Or type it out, whatever works. 

  1. Causes I am passionate about
  2. Activities that get me excited
  3. Work environments I thrive in
  4. My dream job(s)

For sections a through c, write out anything that comes to mind. Be honest and just let it flow. 

Now, here is the recipe for your dream job: Think of ways you can work for the causes you’re passionate about by doing the activities you love in a work environment you thrive in. 

What’s the idea behind all of this? As you learn more about who you are, you can start figuring out what you were made to do. 

Here’s the awesome part: You are free to add and remove items from your list as you go through life and learn new things about yourself. Your dream job may change many times as you yourself change and grow. That’s okay, that’s all part of it. 

Now, what does this all have to do with alternative careers in science

A lot, in fact. For example, you might think you’re passion is research because you’re in grad school and that’s what you do and, for the most part, you enjoy it. But as you dig deeper to figure out what drives you, you may find that your root passion is problem solving, or perhaps project management, mentoring, or on a broader scale, working for a noble cause. While you once thought you were limited to a research career, you might find that you could be happy doing anything that allows you to fulfill that inner longing. 

So be creative and don’t be afraid to think outside the box. As you open yourself up to careers off the beaten path, you might find that you have more options than you ever knew. Peruse previous blog posts for ideas.

This is all, of course, contingent on finding a job that allows you to do what you want and get paid for it, preferably well. Here’s the thing: People tend to work hard at things they care deeply about. If you have a passion and you work to develop the skill set you need to do it well, there’s almost certainly a market out there for it. Your job is to find out where and how. 

Easier said than done, for certain. And in today’s economy, not everyone has the luxury of finding a job that let’s them do what they love. There are bills to pay and mouths to feed. But I feel that people should never let the reality of a non-ideal situation squelch their passions and dreams for what they want to get out of life and what they want to give back to the world. Continue reading →

Show me the money: How a Ph.D. chemist is helping corporate America team up with K-12 STEM education programs

We hope this blog is making it abundantly clear that a chemistry degree qualifies you for a lot more than you might think. I mean, who knew a chemist could land a job at a Disney theme park where he could use his chemical knowledge to help make, for example, a more corrosion-resistant artificial skin?

It seems, therefore, that a reasonable approach to discovering your chemistry dream job is this: Figure out what you’re passionate about and what gets you out of bed in the morning. Then find a job that lets you do that. (Word of caution: Not every job you can dream up will be able to pay the rent, so that’s something important to keep in mind).

Zakiah Pierre, Ph.D. chemist, is a research associate for "Change the Equation", an organization whose goal is to improve the state of K-12 STEM teaching in the U.S. Courtesy photo.

This seems to be the approach Zakiah Pierre is taking in pursuing her career. Although she started grad school thinking she’d go into forensic science, along the way she discovered she was really passionate about “mentoring and paving the way for our future engineers and scientists.”

The more she got more involved in mentoring students, the more she became convinced that a science career that allowed her to have an immediate impact on students was the right path for her.

That line of thinking has led her to where she is today with Change the Equation, an organization focused on improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for every child, with a particular focus on girls and students of color.

One of the ways CTEq strives to accomplish its goals is by identifying innovative programs to advance STEM literary in the United States, measuring the success of these programs through research and analysis and replicating them in communities that need them most.

This is where Zakiah comes in. As a research associate, she gathers data regarding the condition of STEM learning state-by-state and nationwide and assesses the impact of STEM learning programs that receive corporate support.

By evaluating the success of various programs, she helps CTEq make a solid case for why companies should continue funding them—and expanding them to new, underserved sites.

She also writes reports that let their partners know about the needs in STEM learning, with the hope that changes in policy will be made to address those needs.

In addition to research and writing reports, Zakiah also blogs about science education news and programs and occasionally represents the organization at meetings around D.C. on a variety of STEM education topics.

In the future, Zakiah hopes to expand her role to writing short briefs for peer-reviewed journals on current issues in K-12 STEM learning.

It may be apparent by now that Zakiah has had to expand her knowledge base and skill set. The beauty of it all is that the diverse skill set she acquired through grad school provides her with a good foundation for taking on this job.

So while a Ph.D. is not necessarily required for the job she has now, Zakiah said there are so many skills that one acquires in the process that are transferrable to other jobs.

“You also learn how to network, learn all those ways of communication, time management, things to learn that you wouldn’t get working somewhere,” Zakiah said.

Ahh, the beauty of transferable skills…

A little more about CTEq, in case you’re interested:

The 110 companies that are part of CTEq have pledged “to connect and align their work to transform STEM learning in the United States by shining a light on progress and problems; advocating and influencing; leading by example; and acting as catalysts for change.” Continue reading →

Money, it’s a gas

Grab that cash with both hands
And make a stash

So sayeth both Pink Floyd and Chemjobber. The latter put a couple of interesting posts up this week about money tips for grad students and contributing to an IRA. Worth a read.

I’m visiting a collaborator’s lab to make some measurements this week (read: working 16 hour days and getting very little sleep), but will be back next week with a profile of Jake Yeston, Senior Editor at Science.

Have a great weekend.

Profile: Patent Attorney

ask the lawyer by santheo

You too could be a sought-after legal adviser. Image by flickr user santheo.

Want people trying to get your expert advice for free all the time? Like rules and details? Then a patent attorney may be the job for you.

So, yay! But what is it? According to wisegeek, “A patent attorney is a specialist attorney with the qualifications to represent clients seeking patents and to carry out other procedures related to securing and protecting patents. A patent is protection that the government grants an inventor in the form of a guarantee of having the sole right to make and sell the invention for a designated period of time. We can speak of the patent attorney in terms of the steps she or he has taken to be so designated as well as in terms of the services and jobs he or she performs.”

And if you can get through that definition without your eyes glazing over, then this career is maybe something you should look into.

Eyal Barash definitely could whiz right through that paragraph. He’s the chief intellectual property counsel for Endocyte, a biopharmaceutical company based in West Lafayette, Indiana “in the area of folate-targeted therapies and diagnostics.” He also has his own law firm, working mainly in the pharmaceutical area. And he really loves his job.

“Patent law is a great career where you combine the best of science with the excitement of commerce and the law. In the area of pharmaceuticals it is especially important since the barrier to competition is generally low,” he said.

Continue reading →

2009 ACS salary survey

So, the results are in from the 2009 ACS salary survey, and they can be summarized in one word: ouch. Median salaries for all chemists fell 3.2%, and the unemployment rate jumped to 3.9%, the highest rate for chemists in 20 years.

Image by flickr user sea turtle

Hemlock, anyone?

Okay, so things aren’t that bad. The overall unemployment rate for the same time was 8.6%, according to the report and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So at least chemists had it better than the general population. But keep in mind that the numbers in the salary survey are from March 2009, and things may have gotten better (unlikely) or worse (probably) since then. For June 2010, the national unemployment rate was 9.5%. So use that to normalize your thinking as you read it. Also note that this survey focuses on the Big Three* types of employers: academia, industry, and government. But even if you don’t want to go into one of those areas, I do suggest you go read it, as well as C&EN editor-in-chief Rudy Baum’s take on it. I’m just talking highs and lows here.

Continue reading →

Nature Jobs International Salary Survey

Nature jobs has published their first ever International Salary Survey, tracking things like salary level, job satisfaction, happiness, and gender bias for over 10,500 scientists over 16 countries, including those working in non-traditional jobs, although the article did not elaborate on that point. The goal of this survey was “to track contentment with one’s job by region or by job attributes such as health care, the degree of independence or mentoring potential,” says Gene Russo in the analysis, something hard to come by previously.

The results are pretty interesting. In short, if you want to be a happy scientist, live in Denmark. Avoid Japan. Also, expect to take a pay cut for having ovaries in every country they charted. Surprisingly enough, the gender salary difference was the lowest in India. But overall salaries are also the lowest in India, which may explain the smaller difference. (Although it IS possible that they really are less sexist in India. Right? A girl can dream.)

In other news, I got turned down for another science writing internship yesterday. I’ve honestly lost count, so I don’t know if it’s my 11th or 12th rejection. What did I say before about persistence and not giving up? I think I need to go read that again.