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Informational Interviews Help UCSF Post-Docs Consider Alternative Careers

Contributing article: Mayya Shveygert, Ph.D., MIND Program, UCSF

Academics sometimes joke that their training resembles the Ponzi pyramid scheme.  This joke may ring too close to truth for many postdoctoral fellows and graduate students.

Even at UCSF only about 25 percent of postdoctoral fellows land tenure-track positions. The rest move to industry or take on careers in other science-related fields. Despite these stark numbers, academic institutions still train graduate students and postdocs as if a tenure-track faculty position was their one and only career choice.

To address this problem, the National Institutes of Health created a grant aimed at revamping graduate and postdoctoral training. UCSF was one of only 17 universities that received this grant, which led to the creation of Motivating INformed Decisions (MIND) program. UCSF is partnering with the California Life Sciences Institute (CLSI) on the grant to help provide informational interviews for post-docs with life science career professionals.

The program begins with a three-day course that covers the theory behind the process of landing your dream job: networking, informational interviews and even job shadowing. Although this course provides relevant information, the true benefit of the MIND program lies in the programming that follows—career exploration in Peer Teams.

Gathering relevant information from people in the workforce

Research training does not allow trainees to meet a lot of people outside of academia. The bench often becomes scientists’ second home, and their pipettes their best friends. As a result, a typical postdoc knows very little about careers outside of academia.

CLSI is helping the MIND project build its “MIND bank” of career professionals who are willing to speak with post-docs about their careers and career path. Post-docs want to speak with PhD professionals  who can answer their questions about an anticipated future career: Will the job be challenging enough? Does it develop into exciting future perspectives? What about the pay and the work–life balance? What makes for an attractive candidate?

MIND participants share what they learn with their Peer Teams, leveraging the power of collective knowledge.

The cumulative knowledge of the group is very powerful. As participants start discussing their dream jobs and what they’ve learned, the knowledge and network exponentially grows. It might turn out that someone in the group has a friend with whom they can chat. Or someone may have heard of this amazing course or book that would really help someone else get a foot in the door. Essentially, MIND dramatically expands each participant’s network of contacts. Best of all, they are surrounded by supportive peers who share their eagerness to secure an exciting job. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm.

MIND helps participants with the nuts and bolts of navigating a career change. Building a career is a dynamic process that requires flexibility, endurance and a great deal of creativity.  I learned that you can’t follow someone’s steps; you have to be resourceful and pro-active. This is actually not that different than leading a research project and can be a lot of fun. You just need to get to the fun part.

The MIND Program is looking for more PhD professionals who would be willing to share their experiences with UCSF students and postdocs. To learn more about becoming a MIND program partner, click here.