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Career tip: Career development is not just for students October 25, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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One of the things that I continually see is that people who are past their grad school and post-doc days think that they are also past having to be involved in career development. It seems that the further into a career that people go, the less they think that they need to pay attention to their careers.

If career development is defined as planning the future steps in your career, maximizing your performance in the current phase you are in, and learning the skills needed to do well in those future roles, and then career development must be a constant throughout your career.

When you are early in a career, you stress learning the tools of the science you do – the techniques, instrumentation, the literature, and you learn how to use them well. But you also learn how to speak, how to write technical papers, how to network. You plan for the next phase of being a newly-minted scientist by getting better at these tasks.

As a newly-minted scientist, you hone these skills. You network more widely and start to diversify your scientific interests. You learn the rudiments of other fields in order to branch out and to collaborate. You start learning organizational skills by becoming involved in your local scientific societies and symposia. You are building to be seen as an established scientist.

As an established scientist, your role has grown bigger. In industry, you are now supervising others. In academia, your group is larger and works on more than one or two projects. You also cannot afford to spend as much time in the lab in either venue. You are learning to delegate and to assess others work to do your ideas. You are now being asked to write review articles and book chapters and to chair and assemble sessions at conferences.

The growth curve leads to the next phase of being a recognized scientist, one who not only is looked upon as a part of the research community in her or his field, but is relied upon to be a leader both scientifically and in the workings of science. You might be writing or editing a book, or be sitting on the organizing committee of a conference or on a journal’s board. People seek your opinions. You become more of a manager than a scientist, yet you manage both the science and the scientists in your organization. You are often asked to be an invited speaker.

In each of these phases, either stronger skills or new ones are needed in order to perform well. Your abilities to speak and write, to connect with people, to organize and manage are all stretched more and more. You learn to do these things better and more efficiently. Your time in each is always in short supply. In some cases, your skills get better through experience. Speaking becomes second nature. Reading and assessing the literature or internal reporting from your group becomes easier and quicker. You no longer worry about every minute detail in planning since you delegate and rely on the work of others. You become more effective as a trainer and teacher so that some tasks can be performed by others.

If you do not do these, you will learn that the Peter Principle is real; of leveling out at the point your incompetencies limit your capabilities.

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