Get Ahead Mini-Series
Some people get hired for a specific role, but it seems a lot of people (including myself) enter this field to do the lagniappe – Cajun for “leftovers”, or the miscellaneous jobs. Most biologists have a specialty due to their grad school thesis and field/lab experience, which is great when the agency is looking for exactly that person, but sometimes you have to look beyond your specialty and be willing to work your way there. I think this is one reason it may seem intimidating when looking for a biologist job. This is how my story began. I’m going to write a mini-series on how to take advantage of this situation and get where you want to be! I don’t claim to know all, but I will share my observations and real-life experiences with you and I hope it will help you in your journey.
Part 1. “Networking”. Get to know people.
So many jobs are landed through word of mouth. I know social media is key these days… but don’t ignore actual, real, face-to-face relationships! Other than being plain old good for the soul, developing relationships broaden your world. You meet people who know other people, who know other people, see where I’m going? For me, my husband’s boss knew someone who worked at a research lab and put me in touch with that person. I just went for a tour but ended up finding out they were hiring, and Bam. I wasn’t just words on a page, I was a person with a face to my name, and a personality with recommendations from those close to them. One thing is key- you can’t just stop at saying hello. Get to know people and take it a step further… attend events, volunteer, get out of your comfort zone. If I had never taken a tour of the lab, I probably would have never gotten hired. I had little experience at the time, fresh out of college. Why would they hire me?
This is something I continue in my everyday work life that helps me and helps me help others. I meet people from all over the country, and befriending people leads to other professionals in the field. We all have something to share. Example… grad student working with his professor needs Atlantic Sharpnose shark DNA samples. His professor happens to know a shark researcher in Mississippi who knows me, and the student gets his samples :). See what I mean? Make sure you give back more than you get.
I do want to mention that some people are better than others at socializing, but life is full of all kinds of personalities. Just do your best to get out there, and it’s hard to resist anyone who wears a smile (cheezy, I know, but it’s true!). Plus, the more you get out there, the easier it gets. You’ll see!
Now, getting to know people comes from MEETING people. So how do you meet people? I can only speak for where I’ve lived, but being in both busy city/college towns to small country towns, the core principles seem the same. You have to get out of your house and do things. For most places, try local colleges. If you are interested in meeting people in your field, most schools often have “talks” by professionals who present their research and results. There will also be plenty of volunteer opportunities you could join, or if you are going to school there, ask to be involved in professor’s projects. You could also ask other grad students if they need a hand sampling or working on their projects. That’s a great way to get field experience. If you are out of school, try joining local organizations or clubs. I loved being part of the Sea Turtle Patrol… where else would I get so much hands on experience with sea turtle nests and hatchings! You will have to get creative. I’ll talk a little more about volunteering in my next mini-series post.