I am very fortunate to be part of an institution which offers a multitude of career development seminars and workshops, and I attend as many of them as I can. I am typically one of the youngest attendees, but I go to listen, ask questions, and, let’s be honest, eat free food. Presentations at these events can range from alumni returning to discuss their myriad career paths, to international representatives attempting to recruit skilled researchers to their country.
I admit, my enjoyment of these productions is highly dependent on the speaker’s ability to hold my attention and present useful/relevant information. Some have felt like a waste of time, but others have offered insights into career paths I had never considered and maybe didn’t even know existed.
I view these seminars, workshops, and symposia as a shotgun approach to figuring out what I want to do with my life. I have no idea what careers are going to interest me in 4 years, when I’m [hopefully] finishing up my doctorate, but I want to be aware of as many options as possible leading up to that point. We all ask ourselves questions when deciding on a next step in our lives: What do I want to be doing day-to-day? Where do I want to be living? Who do I want to be working with? Do I want to work as part of the group or lead the group? How long do I see myself there? Is it a permanent placement or a step to something better? How do I get there? Do I know someone who can help me?
I know that when I’m ready to find answers to these questions, I will be so distracted and busy with finishing up my research/degree that I won’t have the time/energy to get an accurate assessment of my options. I am creating a Rolodex in my head of career paths I find interesting, while also recognizing which ones will be unlikely to make me happy. Additionally, the people giving these presentations are often a resource to entering their field, which can be utilized when you’re ready to transition out of graduate school.
This past week, I attended the TMC Annual Postdoctoral Career Symposium. This all-day event features panels about many of the career paths now available to individuals with a PhD. Each panel is made up of people in those fields who spend an hour discussing their jobs and answering questions from the audience. The panels I attended included consulting, entrepreneurship, pharma, and women in leadership, as well as a presentation from the Director of TMCx, the innovation hub at TMC started a few years ago for researchers/entrepreneurs interested in bringing their technologies to the clinic. Panels I did not attend (merely for lack of time) included non-profit organizations, intellectual property, academia, and governmental research, as well as a few others. This event is unique in its efforts to expose students and trainees to as many career paths as possible in a single day.
In unrelated activities, but still following the theme of seeking out career opportunities, this past week I also participated in Science Night (pictured above), a free annual event hosted by MD Anderson Cancer Center which introduces community children (aged 4-17, though most are 9-11 years old) to basic scientific concepts, many of which are the fundamentals to the biomedical research being performed at MD Anderson and throughout the medical center.
The event offers activities ranging from DNA isolation to wave formation with gummy bear ladders, to get children interested in science. I helped at the table organized by the Biochemistry & Cell Biology PhD program. We explained what stem cells were and how they were unique because they could turn into almost any cell in the body, showing images of cardiac, muscle, neural, and other cell types. Children were then given balls of playdough, symbolizing stem cells, and were challenged to make the different cell types shown. Some kids made the simplest-shaped cell (typically a muscle cell) and left, but others stuck around to meticulously shape every cell type shown.
I don’t think that every child in attendance will grow up to be a scientist, but at least they now know about all the amazing things they could do if they did.