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A Portable Career Coach
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Hanaa Hariri

 

Survival in a scientific career is rarely part of a formal graduate training plan. Most scientists are not trained in team management, leadership, effective communication, networking, creating presence, dealing with frustrations and rejections, and much more. For many of us, learning the so called “soft” skills is more difficult than acquiring the “hard” technical skills and may seem like trial by fire.

 

Though we may be surrounded by the brightest scientists and the strongest leaders, finding a good mentor and maintaining a relationship with them can be challenging. When faced with a delicate professional situation, some of us seek advice from a friend, partner, or colleague.

 

For me, a good book has always been my first response strategy when attempting to handle a complicated situation whether at work or in life. As Charles William Eliot once said, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

 

A few months ago, I came across the book Think Like an Entrepreneur, ACT Like a CEO. The author, Beverly E. Jones, is a pioneering business woman and career coach who has been in the consulting business for more than 40 years. In her book, Jones distills her successful professional experience into 50 short chapters, presenting indispensable tips that are meant to guide the reader to get ahead and stay ahead in their careers.

 

If you are looking for strategies to re-energize your career and expand your career survival skills, this is the book to read. Each chapter focuses on how to handle a particular workplace situation. From seemingly simple things, like how to plan your calendar or what to say when your work is praised, to inherently more complicated issues, such as dealing with difficult colleagues, creating mentoring that works both ways, managing stress, and overcoming big project letdowns. Concise and straightforward, this book resembles a pocket coach, a career dictionary that you can put on your bookshelf and return to whenever you need a proven advice to tackle an immediate situation at work.

 

As a postdoc, I find the message of this book to be truly enlightening: To be successful and enjoy your career, you must take charge of every aspect of it. Although her advice is not tailored specifically to scientists, the proposed management skills and career development strategies apply to any work situation. From her experience, Jones writes that the most successful and resilient careerists tend to be entrepreneurial thinkers. She describes them as “curious, open-minded, and skilled at spotting trends and turning them into opportunities.” They keep learning and building their social networks as well as their technical and managerial skills. Over the long haul, the most successful professionals are farsighted, extremely organized, quick to take action, and always planning ahead. In other words, they also have the characteristics of chief executive officers.

 

For a scientist, especially in academia, acquiring these skills is more important now than ever in this increasingly competitive profession. Having a successful career in science requires more than just getting the science right. Even with education, experience, and an impeccable professional “pedigree,” you still need to do more in order to be recognized as a leader in your field. You need to have the “it” factor to attract the right people to work with you, to fund your ideas, and to fuel your success. You need to be a good mentor, leader, and manager. You need to be humble, cooperative, and confident. You need to be flexible, willing, and capable of adapting to your work environment, adjusting your professional expectations to respond quickly to challenges and recognize the opportunities that come your way. In other words, you need to be as creative as an entrepreneur and as grounded and practical as a corporate CEO.

 

Hanaa Hariri, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher in the Cell Biology Department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center studying the interplay between nutritional stress, lipid metabolism, and the physical organization of the cell.

 

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