The Women in Science Career Night on February 13 welcomed seven alumnae who have pursued careers in the sciences. They shared their insight about figuring out a career path, the importance of networking, and applying for jobs.
Alumnae on the panel:
- Kate Drake, BA environmental studies ’10, is an analyst at Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants.
- Meredith Fox, PhD psychology ’03, is a Research Fellow at the Laboratory of Clinical Science at the National Institute of Mental Health.
- Priyanka Komala, MA computer science ’08, is the Technical Lead in the Division on Earth and Life Studies at the National Academies.
- Lindsey Nugent, BS biology ’08 and MS biology ’10, is completing an Intramural Research Training Award Fellowship in the Lab of Immunology in the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
- Amanda Purcell, BS physics and mathematics ’08, is a Senior Program Assistant for the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate and the Polar Research Board at the National Academies.
- Shireen Rishmawi, PhD philosophy ’05, is a Senior Risk Analytics Director for Freddie Mac.
- Brynne Ward, BA communications and Spanish with minor in applied physics ’07, is an analyst for Dynamics Research Corporation.
Recommendations of what to do:
Participate in internships and research to find your niche.
- Nugent got involved in clinical-based research to help her decide whether she wanted to pursue an MD or a PhD.
- Purcell didn’t know what she wanted to do after graduation. She interned at the National Academies while at AU. She is now pursuing a master’s in mathematics.
- Komala interned at IBM while at AU and discovered her interest in web strategy and infrastructure, but realized that business skills would be helpful. She is working on her MBA at the University of Michigan.
- Fox found her niche in psychopharmacology after performing research at NIH for seven years.
- Drake did several internships in the environmental field to find her environmental consulting focus. She is now working as an analyst at an environmental consulting firm.
Be a team player.
- Nugent did the NIH post-baccalaureate program after she graduated. Teamwork and communication were key skills to have when she was working in the lab.
- Ward emphasizes working in the government to learn how to communicate with people of different backgrounds.
Be open to new opportunities.
- Fox notes that volunteering for as many things as possible helped to distinguish herself in the crowd. Doing informational interviews, internships, and volunteering can get you on people’s radars.
- Komala recommends being okay with saying you’re willing to learn a skill—interviewers know that they won’t get a person that fits their entire checklist. Be positive!
- Purcell emphasizes having a desire to learn more about science in general, not just about a particular aspect of it. She learned about a topic that she never would have thought of because she was open to other fields in science.
Make connections on and off campus.
- Purcell says to make as many contacts as possible. Create meaningful relationships with professors—there will be a time when you’ll need letters of recommendation.
- It’s a small world, says Fox, and you can run into people again and again. Anyone could have a job or an opportunity, so always be professional.
- Talk to students who graduated a year or two before you, Komala recommends. You’ll be able to get a sense of the insider language of a profession.
Research and craft purposeful cover letters.
- Use HR buzzwords in your cover letter, says Fox. Tailor the cover letter to the job you’re applying to, and write it to the people you’d want to work with.
- Try to find someone’s name at the company you’re applying to, even if it requires you to jump through hoops. Ward prefers to read cover letters from applicants that she knows were written specifically for her and weren’t sent to ten other people.
- Emphasize why you’re a good fit for the position, suggests Nugent.
Recommendations of what not to do:
Be in a rush to figure out what you want to do.
- You never know what the next step will be, says Fox.
- Many of us fell into their current positions, says Purcell. You’re still young, so take your time and let things happen.
Stick to one track or department.
- Interviewers often ask about other interests, says Fox. They often like people who aren’t cookie-cutter, “boring” scientists. Having interests outside of science makes you a stronger candidate.
- Purcell says that she wishes she’d done more outside of the science box, because a variety of experiences can give you a leg up over other job candidates.
Forget that you’re talking to a real person when you’re doing a phone interview.
- Pretend they’re sitting across from you, says Ward. But you can be less formal because you’re not trying to read their physical cues.
- Don’t worry about dead air, says Fox. Take deep breaths, don’t babble, and make an effort to ask your interviewer questions.
- It’s a human on the other end of the phone, says Komala. Remember that they were in your shoes at one time.
- Drake recommends writing down a couple of thoughts beforehand, but says not to use rehearsed sentences during the interview. You want to come across as excited.