How not to entirely screw-up in your early-career stage? An ABC’s for undergraduates and budding professionals in Biological Sciences

Seat back and relax. If you’re already a graduate or about finish your Biological Sciences degree, then this is for you. After four years (if you’re lucky) of ups and downs, burned eyebrows, and fun experiences. Finally, you’re a graduate. There’s diverse of career waiting for a for Biology graduate. But, a very common question among graduates is ‘where to go next?’ It sounds like a vacation to some beautiful tropical beaches –But, no. After finishing a degree many are confused about which career they will take. Many might have identified their plans ahead of time, perhaps before enrolling to the degree (as it is a common question during the admission interview: ‘how do you see yourself 10 years from now?’). The majority of biological sciences students foresee their selves to become a successful medical doctor. Way back in 2009, I enrolled to Biology, determined to proceed to medical school after finishing my undergraduates. But plans are dynamic and suddenly my long-term goals have changed. I ended up majoring in Ecology and focused my direction to working on Conservation. This decision was made after a year-long experience working as a research assistant on a project led by mentors in the field. I almost failed my anatomy course, which led to a concrete decision to back-off on my dreams in medical school. This decision was certain without remorse.

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I am writing this for all the students out there. You don’t need to be on the top of the class or on Dean’s list to start-up your career and become successful in the future. It is essential that you learned a lot from your field but what you need is a right attitude and direction. Additionally, always remember that being young in your field is very challenging but fulfilling. The challenges you will encounter should strengthen and equip you better and never let it change you negatively. Most importantly your attitude both personal and professional should be your foundation and stepping stones to becoming what you want in your field and career. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but a good combination is just right.

Academia is tough (and rough!), you will be judged inadequately, envied irrationally, underestimated, and challenged but you are and will never alone.

On this piece, I will be sharing few of my insights on how not to at least screw-up your early years of a career in the field of Biological Sciences.

  1. Focus on what you aim for but be flexible. Identify and divide your goals. The short-term goals are goals achievable in at least 6 months to a year or two, and long-term goals are for at least 3 years or probably after you graduate from your degree. It is good to write down your short-term goals. Hypothetically, I noticed that goals (deadlines, meetings, reports, etc.) written and posted has a higher chance of being accomplished than those goals only written in the air. Long-term don’t need to be posted as they’re too complex, it should better stay in your mind and chunk piece by piece as short-term goals. Your short-term goals should be a tributary of your long-term goals. Focus but be open to other opportunities and make sure it worth the detour.
  2. Know yourself. Assess yourself at least every day or every month. Ask yourself on how productive you are for a certain period of time if you are doing well in your goals and plans. Asked your peers regarding your performance and capacity. If you feel confused, go back to #1. Question yourself but never doubt it.
  3. Know thy mother and thy father –your mentors. It is very important that you know the right person to work with as they will guide you to your journey. They are an essential factor in your career success. It is preferred to work with s mentor whom you feel like your mother, father or a friend –but don’t too close and make reservations. Your potential mentor should be working and knows your chosen field. It is difficult to work on something if you don’t agree on matters. Share your plans and goals with your mentor. Listen to their advice and wisdom, discuss challenges and problems ahead, argue when necessary but keep polite.
  4. Be passionate. Showing your true interest in your field is important, and you proving this by getting involved in other activities aside from just studying and attending the class. Get involved in volunteering, writing or giving talks, sports, and other experience. During the first encounter with experts or potential boss your being passionate is always a dominant edge –of course, you need this equation: passion + skills + knowledge* attitude =a perfect career!
  5. Your attitude is your master key. Yes, it is not the number one thing you should possess to successfully build-up your career. In career perspective, an attitude without direction is like a car with flat tires. It is not the first but it is your best asset and should never be compromised. Be polite when dealing with peers and colleagues especially during correspondence and personal discussion. Adjust according to your environment, respect the authority and only resist if you are clear and factual.
  6. Get involved. The best way to learn firsthand information, training, and skills in your field are by working hand in hand with the experts. Aside from the knowledge they partake, you can also develop your professional attitude towards work and people. Apply for internships, assistantship, or mentee to hone your skills. This can be a great way to find out about opportunities and can open doors for you. It can also help boost your CV and add future references in your list.
  7. Talk and discuss with your peers. Your peers –it might be your classmate, a student of the same degree from other schools, and anyone you consider as peers could be the best person to talk with about your plans, work progress, and the challenges you are facing. Yes, your peers will clearly understand what you are going through and will give you a bunch of insights. Also, you can learn new ideas and opportunities from your peers.
  8. Write about your work. The capacity to do research and write about your findings are essential to getting a good career in Biological Sciences. That’s why during undergraduate years, students must perform group or individual research to be trained in different scientific skills and methods. Writing about your work and getting published is a one way of building your name in your field and a plus factor to your potential employers. For those in their undergraduates, you can start-up blogs, student forum, essays, or short scientific communications.
  9. Try and choose carefully. Deciding which career to choose can be very difficult. Thus, it is important to test some of it first. But be strategic about what you choose to do to make sure you don’t waste your time and miss other long-term opportunities –and you don’t waste other people’s time.
  10. Join scientific societies. There are a lot of scientific societies for Biological Sciences. These societies are a great way to know more about the work of your peers, future colleagues, and experts in your field. Scientific societies also organize a yearly conference where you can learn new advances and trends, opportunities, and free access to academic literature and books (sometimes, autographed by your favorite authors). Some societies also offer travel and research grants, especially for early-career scientists –the best way to travel for free while learning.
  11. Socialize in social media. Your social media accounts aren’t just for your social life, selfies, and frustrations but also for your scientific career. Learn about opportunities and get connected with people that may not necessarily interact every day. There are a lot of Facebook groups and page where you can find a bunch of scientists and peers sharing and discussing their work. You can also interact with them but remember to be polite and make sure your correspondence is private (never post your online correspondence!). Be responsible for what you post in social media as they may judge you based on what they see. Some potential employers and colleagues also use your social media account for background check –so, once again be responsible. There are also scientific social media platforms where you can professionally involve. Try https://www.researchgate.net or Academia.edu, where you can message and freely access the work of your colleagues within your field.
  12. Expand your thinking and keep on learning. For some jobs in Biological Sciences, you may be required to take some additional training. Essential training, short-courses adds to your qualifications. In some institutions such as Academia, Masters or D. degree are a big plus. Make sure you do your graduate studies which are in line with your field or what is needed.
  13. Work hard, party harder. While building your career don’t forget other aspects of your life. Biological Science requires a lot of time but never forget you’re still a human. You will be paid according to your work not according on how much you forget your family, friends, and other things that brought you happiness. Working hard is out, working efficiently is in! Passion and perseverance are different from a workaholic. Again, divide your work and achieve one goal at a time. Take a coffee break, breath, and eat well. Travel sometime –go to beaches, go hiking. After a long day, everyone deserves a pint of beer!

Biological Science is diverse, as well as the people taking this course. There might be a difference in how we deal with the challenges and become successful. But one thing is common to all, getting a good career in biological sciences can be extremely challenging, diverse, and rewarding. There are a lot of different jobs or career paths waiting that you can get involved. Looking for a career in biological sciences can be so tricky and competitive. But never ever quit!

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