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Using Your Total Research Experiences to Make You Business-Ready
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Christopher Smith


According to SciPhD CEO and co-founder Randall Ribaudo, PhD, we all have three identities: our scientific, business, and social ones. Most postdoctoral scholars have a pretty good grasp of the first. They have conducted research for at least six to ten years, completed a dissertation, presented scientific talks, and written up their findings for publication in scientific journals. However, postdocs need to develop the other two identities—business and social—in order to be successful in the “real world.” In a concurrent session at the 15th NPA Annual Meeting, Ribaudo, with SciPhD co-founder Larry Petcovic, talked about how postdocs can prepare application materials for job postings to highlight all identities.


Postdocs need to have a sense of how they get work done (business identity) as well as how they interact with others (social identity). The thought that scientific skills are enough is the fatal flaw of most PhD applicants to industry positions. Often words or phrases like “team-oriented,” “effective communicator,” and “strong leadership skills” appear in job advertisements. These are not just filler words. Industry values these skills and abilities. The good news is that most postdocs have them. Petcovic says, “Scientists are leaders, they just don’t know it.” SciPhD developed as a resource to educate and train postdocs on the key competencies of business (project management, communication, strategic planning, etc.) and how to frame their past experiences to demonstrate application of these competencies to formulate and execute a plan, achieve results, and solve problems.


To ace the job application and interview process, you need to be able to explain and demonstrate your accomplishments in the language the company wants to hear. You need to be a good scientist to even be considered for most industry jobs, but it is your ability to demonstrate that you can produce results and constantly improve that will make you stand out. Postdocs should demonstrate their abilities with concrete descriptions that describe the Situation, Task, Action, and Result (STAR). So, when asked to “tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership,” you should talk about: the situation; how your task was to understand that different members of your team needed specific types of support from you; how you acted to communicate specific project goals and offered individualized encouragement to motivate team members in a manner that suited their personality; and, ultimately, how you tracked the result, the milestones and successes on the project. Your response to interview questions should speak to the keywords in the job advertisement and demonstrate to the interviewer that you possess the abilities they are looking for, which often include good people skills, time management, and organization.


At the end of the workshop, the SciPhD team offered a final piece of advice: Use peer coaching. Practice answering behavioral interview questions with fellow postdocs. There is much to be learned from each other. It is critical that you have several detailed examples of your problem solving and leadership skills that you can effectively use to demonstrate your abilities to fit in to the team- and results-based culture of business. Happy job hunting!


Christopher Smith, PhD, is a postdoctoral trainee in the Department of Psychology at Vanderbilt University. He serves as treasurer of the Vanderbilt Postdoctoral Association.