Success all Around

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

Success all Around: Peers helping peers reach success

Caitlin Suire, Ph.D.
Student & GPS-BIOMED program member at UC Irvine

Graduate school seems to inherently be an isolating structure. Even if you work side-by-side with other graduate students or post-doctoral fellows, everyone eventually ends up absorbed in their own work. Particularly when it comes to developing your career, most people look up rather than to the side. I think the most common advice given out to anyone that is trying to find a job is that networking is the most vital component. That you should do informational interviews, find those in power and make sure you fit what they are looking for. I don’t think anyone can argue against the benefit of having a heavy hitter in your lineup when you go to an interview, but I do think that only networking with the idea of finding those at the top of the ladder misses a vital component of networking: lateral networking. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, lateral networking involves you getting to know your peers and colleagues to understand the steps they have taken to get where they are, as well as what has worked and failed in the training process.

An amazing NIH-BEST funded program at the University of California-Irvine (UCI), Graduate Professional Success in the Biomedical Sciences (GPS-BIOMED), is focused on helping graduate students and post-doctoral fellows explore the variety of careers emanating out of Ph.D. or post-doctoral training. One of the many events organized by GPS-BIOMED included a Peer-to-Peer panel. In this event, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows that have held internships or pedagogical fellowships came in and gave a general description of what their experience was like. With the overwhelming amount of emails that we get and the previously mentioned isolation, it’s easy to miss opportunities that are right in front of you!

This event was great to find out the vast variety of career options available to junior researchers (Ph.D. students & Postdocs). Personally, I think it’s hard to know what job will suit your working and personality style unless you try it first. Learning from your peers about their internship experiences in R&D, Science Communication, Science Policy, and Medical Affairs was impactful. A lot of applications seem to have lists of qualifications that go on forever, typically including some level of experience in a similar field. However, hearing from your peers who were at the same level as you or higher up in training about the hiring process, made the industry and internship world, less intimidating and achievable. One of the main focus of the event was to discuss the application process and many difficulties faced by junior researchers. While it is becoming more common for graduate students (that want a career in industry) to participate in an internship during their degree, there is all variety of applicants, from graduate students to technicians to post-docs, making it incredibly competitive. It is comforting on some level to know that my university is creating applicants competitive enough to be accepted into these amazing positions.

Through this amazing event, I had the chance to talk to two peers that actually had internships on UCI’s campus, with our patent office called Applied Innovation. As I had never heard of the opportunity, we took time to discuss what the weekly requirements were, and the fact that it didn’t matter at all that I wasn’t experienced or particularly knowledgeable about patent law. They gave me a run-down of what types of assignments they were given, all of which helped me be much more prepared when I actually applied for the internship. I was able to state that yes, I know what is involved in the internship, and here are all the skills I bring to the table that will make me successful.

In the end, I completely credit this panel with the fact that I have now held this internship with Applied Innovation for a full year. I have attended several peer-to-peer panels of my own, encouraging other students to reach out and apply to internships like my own. Though a university can do a lot to help with the success of students and postdocs, creating an open and safe space for junior researchers to share their experiences can be an invaluable contribution to trainees at many different levels.

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