By Anjie Cai, contributor
As a Chinese student, “being a scientist” has always been at the pinnacle of the professional pyramid. Pursing a scientific career is an indicator of one’s intelligence, ability and devotion. There is also the stereotype that scientists are shy, isolated and absorbed into their own world. When it comes to the playground of job hunting, being unsociable doesn’t sound like a competitive trait. Therefore, I am very interested in knowing more about how sociable scientists are in their job hunt and how it affects where they get their career information from.
For the last two years, I’ve been running my own small scale investigation, by carrying out a survey at the Naturejobs Career Expo. Things haven’t changed much over the two years – except for the fancier freebies (Naturejobs jelly beans, for starters). Science students are friendly and helpful as always, and 59 participants filled out my questionnaire.
Far from home
In terms of demographic, more than half of the students who responded were international. International students were particularly worried about promotion opportunity, salary, and work permits. They felt that friends, supervisors, and colleagues offer the most helpful advice in dealing with those concerns, whilst they felt that the information provided by careers services – although useful – is quite general and doesn’t necessarily apply to them. All in all, it is clear that international students preferred to draw on their own networks for the most useful advice.
When asked to rate how important different sources were in their job search, participants chose web searches, supervisors and people they met at scientific events as the top three. More than half of the participants received career advice from people they met at scientific event, and from speakers.
The findings reflect the fact that most scientists love to discuss their own research and that they are willing to give advice to people who show the same interest and passion. Our participants felt that it was rewarding to have a chat with speakers and fellow attendants and that due to the technical nature of scientific subjects, career information from science community is more helpful than that from family members. They felt that being sociable and proactive gives scientists a head start in the competitive job market, and many science students were aware of the importance of good communication in their career.
All that networking clearly pays off too – nearly half of respondents said they have been offered a job, placement or internship by a contact.
But despite this networking success, it seems many of the scientists we spoke to didn’t appreciate their own talents. When asked about the “areas you are most concerned about in job your search,” networking skills was the top of the list. How to make contacts in the science community and how to make the most of science events were both areas the scientists wanted to improve upon. And one third of participants wanted to improve their salary negotiation skills. It seems that scientists find communication a challenge, but are perhaps better at it than they think, or don’t realise that even finding opportunities through casual contacts falls under the banner of the dreaded ‘networking’.
How does this tally with your own experiences? What’s your most reliable source when it comes to looking for a job? And which parts of the job hunt are you most concerned about?