Starting your STEM Career No.2: Diversification
In the first post, we covered the importance of being adequately prepared when seeking employment. We also looked at some of the lesser known career avenues available within Biomedical Science.
In this second piece, we take this a step further and look at diversification and the benefits of acquiring additional skills to help your career prospects.
Our practical piece this month offers some tips around these topics.
Diversification after graduation can involve job hunting outside of the typical scientific roles you envisaged for yourself. It will require you to look past job titles and instead focus more on your transferable skills, the skills you acquired as part of your qualifications as well as your soft skills, the interpersonal skills you bring to a role. It can also encompass job roles that combine your scientific foundation, your passions and life experiences.
Diversification can also involve branching out within an existing role to open up new opportunities and rewards in the workplace.
It should add to your skills and experience and may expose you to cross functional teams, different mind sets and areas of an organisation. Again, improving on skill gaps while in this process will help your career progression and provide you with invaluable experience.
It is important to note that whether you are diversifying to be more employable or diversifying within a role, generally opening yourself up to diversification is a positive thing. Addressing some skill gaps may be necessary but will add to your offering as an employee overall.
Diversification and skill gaps
Having graduated with your qualification and started the job-hunting process, the prospect of upskilling or addressing skill gaps may seem like something for down the line. This may not be the case. Often unexplored scientific roles are available.
Being flexible and diversifying into other areas related to your scientific qualification can open up prospects to you.
The more work-ready you are and the more skills you have, generally leads to you being more employable. In the preparation stage we suggested identifying key roles you would like and mapping out skills you may need.
Now it is time to look at what additional skills would broaden your prospects and make you more suited to your desired role. If possible, it is worth trying to identify where you would like to be, address any necessary skill gaps and map out stepping stones to get there to help you reach your career aspirations.
In addition, if you are already in a role, the opportunity to diversify and branch out into other areas of an organisation can be a very natural progression for scientists. This change can often occur as an evolution of a current role. You or the organisation may identify an area of strength or interest and wish to incorporate that more into your role. It may involve upskilling in that area but the fundamental skills are there to begin a transition.
An example of this is in diagnostic and pharmaceutical laboratories where scientists move into the area of quality assurance. It is a natural progression for some scientists who enjoy the area of quality. After all, we use our scientific skills of validation, attention to detail and submission of paperwork in our courses and job roles. These are the fundamental, transferable skills that can be utilised in QA. Generally, then further skill gaps can then be addressed to enable a successful career in this area.
Addressing skills gaps
There are many options when addressing skill gaps or learning about new areas that will help you to diversify and learn. My personal favourite is to read and listen to podcasts. There are endless books, articles on platforms such as LinkedIn and advice via subject matter experts on podcasts on every subject. These are inexpensive, accessible and fit into a busy lifestyle. Short courses and online courses offer a great way to add to your CV skills.
With availability of online courses and shorter courses you can use this time to add additional skills to your repertoire.
These can often be done in your own timeframe and at a flexible time to suit a busy lifestyle. Often, they provide feedback and online chat for further explanation and advice on certain areas.
Alternatively, you could volunteer with an organisation, try to get an internship or indeed reach out to the work place e.g. laboratories and ask for holiday work or to shadow a person to get a better idea of what the job would entail. Volunteering to work for even a short period of time will allow you better understand the workings of a role and better prepare you for interview. Volunteering also opens up the opportunity to meet people working the roles you want and gain invaluable advice and mentorship. Although rare, it may also lead to an employable opportunity.
Ultimately, if you are having difficulty breaking into the roles you want, do your research and consider more diverse roles as possible stepping stones. These could be roles with less requirements but that allow you gain more skills, contacts and knowledge of the role you want. Finally, remember there is always support in the wider community via your college, WITS or LinkedIn career advice hub where scientists will be happy to help you on your journey.
For more information and advice, the third in this employment series will be posted next month and please look out for our spring 2019 WITS careers event.
Written by: Susan Treacy