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VOL. 129 | NO. 115 | Friday, June 13, 2014

Angela Copeland

Career Transitions for Scientists

By Angela Copeland

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I’ve recently received multiple letters from scientists in the research community with questions about their career transitions. Most likely, this is because of Memphis’ thriving medical research community. After all, Memphians are developing new technologies for things from vaccines to cancer cures.

Researchers struggle with a problem workers in all sectors face: how to change industries. Most get into research with a three- to five-year contract. But this is not before completing a lengthy Ph.D. program. By the time their contract ends, the researcher may be in their 30s or early 40s.

With no experience in corporate America, and with little support about where to begin, many of these brilliant scientists struggle to decide what’s next. The most common choices are to continue in research or to take the corporate route. Often, staying on the same path is easier, but it is not always the most desirable choice.

For those interested to make a transition, one of the first steps is to ask for help. Connect to colleagues you already know, whether they were classmates, professors or co-workers. Expand your network to corporate workers. Ask these connections, new and old, how they made large career transitions. Ask what they like and dislike.

Pay close attention to how you feel when you learn about their experience. Does the idea of sitting in a cubicle all day or being held to strict deadlines make you cringe? Or does working for a big corporation excite you? If you decide that corporate is for you, there are a few places to start.

Begin by cleaning up your resume or CV, and start applying for jobs. Don’t let the minimum requirements stop you. Keep in mind that it’s rare for a company to find the perfect candidate. If you’re confident that you can do a job, apply. Let the company decide whether or not to hire you.

Make sure you have at least one nice suit for interviews. Corporate is more formal than what you may be used to. Do your best to show you can fit into the new environment.

Practice your pitch. You need to be comfortable explaining why you want to make a career change. You are your own marketer and must help others understand your desire to make a switch. Not everyone you speak with will understand your industry jargon. Try explaining your job and career goals to an aging loved one to ensure you’re communicating in a clear manner.

Interview for as many positions as you can, at least in the short term. Remember that every interview is practice for the next one. If you don’t get this job, you’ll be more prepared for the next interview. Multiple interviews will also give you a better idea of what is available in the market, differences in companies, and your overall market value.

Being persistent with these simple steps will help you to take your career in a new direction, whether it’s from research to corporate or between other industries.

Angela Copeland is CEO/founder of Copeland Coaching, www.CopelandCoaching.com, and author of “Breaking The Rules & Getting The Job.” You can follow Copeland Coaching on Twitter (@CopelandCoach) and Facebook (Facebook.com/CopelandCoaching).

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