Being open-minded and entrepreneurial in a personal analysis can help scientists understand their value propositions.
Contributor Alaina G. Levine
Allow me to get right to the point: as a STEM-educated professional, you have seemingly infinite career opportunities. Organisations beyond academia recognise your value and they covet you for it. They see you as a strategic and necessary element of advancing the mission of their company, and as such they heavily recruit you and pay you well for your talent.
Most STEM professionals erroneously believe that the entire composition of their value is only related to their discipline. But your scientific prowess is only one piece of the intricate tapestry that is your value. The rest of what you have to offer comes from a number of different sources, but they all share one thing in common: you gained these abilities in the process of becoming a scientist or engineer.
So let’s discuss what your value is. First of all, you are a problem solver. This is not something to be taken lightly, because the purpose of every job in every organisation is to solve problems. So whether you work in big data, entertainment, or biotech, you will always be solving problems. And since scientists and engineers are the ultimate problem solvers, you have a competitive advantage in this arena. You have been trained to find solutions where others see only a brick wall. You know how to ask why and you don’t stop until you find an answer.
Beyond solving problems, you possess a number of distinct attributes which are prized by industry. You are adaptive and flexible, and your experiences of working effectively in groups and managing projects across nations and cultures have given you crucial skills in teambuilding, leadership, and communication. You also have crafted connections with professionals in myriad fields, who ultimately can aid you in whatever problems you are endeavoring to solve, thus solidifying your resourcefulness in the eyes of your potential employers. Furthermore, as a scientist, you have picked up a number of business-related skills, such as risk management, conflict resolution, and even accounting and finance, especially if you have ever been on or written a grant proposal.
So now that you know that the core of your value expands well beyond science, you need to determine what your unique value proposition is. This involves private reflectiveness, extensive research and being open-minded and entrepreneurial in your personal analysis. This is not an easy task but if you follow the suggestions below, not only will you realize how much more you have to offer employers, you will start to see opportunities for creating careers in new sectors that you didn’t even realise were accessible, let alone existed.
Be honest with yourself. The extent of your value is more than just your problem solving abilities and the skills and experiences that they accompany. Your value also encompasses your passion. Do an inventory of what you tasks you have completed and skills you have used in your different experiences. Which of those brought you the most pleasure? Look for patterns so you start to recognise and actually identify moments of bliss, where time seemed to stand still as you engaged in this activity. These experiences are your passion. And if you enjoyed them so much, look for more opportunities where you can explore them. Communicate this passion as part of your value statement – let people know that not only are you talented in X, but you absolutely love doing X.
Network. Networking is not me trying to extract something from you. Rather, networking is an honorable enterprise in which we build a win-win partnership that delivers value to both of us over time. You need to network to have a constant influx of new sources of inspiration and ideas, to learn about new career paths and ecosystems, and to discover the vocabulary to describe your unique value in those new sectors. So reach out to people at conferences and through your professional societies, leverage LinkedIn and other social media sites, and read articles (not just journal papers) to seek out new people with whom to have “informal conversations”. The goal is for you to learn what problems they are tackling and how you might be able to help them solve them. And in the process, you will begin to discover what they value and how valuable your background might be considered in their ecosystem.
Think entrepreneurially. The jobs that you want and the careers in which you will thrive may not exist yet. While in certain circumstances that might be because the technological advances have not yet caught up to your ambitions, it is more likely because YOU haven’t invented the job itself yet. Think about Bill Gates. He dropped out of Harvard and launched Microsoft. He created his own company and his own career. He followed his passion and looked for opportunities where you could apply his singular value proposition in novel ways. As a result, not only did he have a job for life, but he created a revolution. Why shouldn’t that be you? Seek to be innovative and entrepreneurial in exploring how your skills, expertise and abilities can solve diverse problems. In doing so, you should endeavor to pioneer opportunities for yourself, ultimately giving you the chance to not only do something that you enjoy, but to examine new avenues in which your value can make a difference. And along the way, more aspects of your value will be revealed, thus leading you towards even more extraordinary and blissful career opportunities. Just keep your eyes open! The next revolution is waiting…for you.
Parts of this article were taken from “Physical scientists can do anything: Here’s how you start your career planning,” Physics Today, March 2013.
Alaina G. Levine is a science and engineering writer, career consultant, and professional speaker and comedian. Networking for Nerds, her new book on networking strategies for scientists and engineers, will be published by Wiley later this year. She can be reached through her website or on Twitter at @AlainaGLevine.