Corina White: Create your own opportunities
The PhD/Postdoc blog series features scientists at different stages of career development as they explore and plan for their next steps. Over the course of six months, Edward van Opstal, Ruchi Masand, Corina White, and Darcie Cook will give monthly updates on their progress. Check back every Wednesday for new blog posts!
Current position: 5th year PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering
Program start date: 2012
Institution: Rutgers University
In the six months I’ve been blogging, I documented and shared my experiences networking, going to career fairs, having job interviews, negotiating and accepting an offer, and transitioning into an industry role. All of this happened while I was finishing up experiments, revising publications, and putting together my dissertation in its entirety. Let us not forget personal life balance! – an awesome weeklong vacation, weekend road trip visits to friends, attending a friend’s bachelorette party, and moving to a new apartment. It has been an absolute whirlwind, full of fun and challenges, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I am counting down the seconds until I can exhale after my defense on September 14.
Over the past week or so I went back and re-read my blogs. It is fun, and also a little anxiety-producing, to see how much things have changed. As I re-read the blogs, I think the main theme of what I’ve wrote about is that you can create your own opportunities! Through proactive strategies, you can and will find opportunities. I’ve also came up with a list of things that I missed talking about or didn’t elaborate on in my writing. I’ll leave you with this final list of advice.
- Make sure you have an agreed upon timeline with your advisor and committee – I have been very clear with my advisor and my committee for a few years that 2017 was my goal graduation year. Whether it be in May or December was not a concern for me but 2017 was it. As this date approached, we honed in on a summer defense. Luckily, my advisor was on-board with this timeline. I know that is not always the case. If your advisor is not on-board with a specific timeline, try to get a list of experiments or goals that they can agree on. It is so important to outline these things, communicate about them clearly, and make sure they are written down and confirmed from time to time.
- Get your name and face out there at career fairs and networking events sooner than later – If you think you’re graduating in December, you should already be talking to people and applying to jobs. Even if they pass you up for a role because you aren’t available for a few months, they will remember you! I started slowly looking for jobs about 10-11 months ago and then aggressively started networking and applying about 6 months ago. There is no harm in getting out there early. It can only help you! It will make you more comfortable with these types of interactions and could provide you a great opportunity you would otherwise have missed, as in my case. I was able to accept and start my job before my defense, a huge weight has been lifted, and it takes a lot of pressure off of the defense itself.
- Don’t let the fear and anxiety of change hold you back – After working for five years on retinal tissue engineering, accepting a job in enzyme therapy was SO SCARY! But your dissertation, your area of focus, your lab, your advisor does not define you! You are defined by your ability to learn and adapt, by your work ethic, by your persistence. These are your transferable skills! Through obtaining your graduate degree, you have proved that you are capable of learning and applying knowledge. Don’t be scared to leverage that in other fields, outside of your thesis work. And don’t forget that when you make a decision to take a specific job, this is not permanent. There will likely be other jobs, in other fields. Think of every job as a stepping-stone – gain a new foundation of knowledge and keep your head up, looking for your next step.
Thank you all for reading about my journey over the past 6 months. It’s certainly been an exciting time in my life and I hope you all have learned a little bit from my experiences. Please reach out to me on LinkedIn (network!!!) if you have any questions or need any advice. Don’t forget – communicate clearly and be confident in your skills! Good luck with all of your future job hunting!