4
What Education Do You Need To Reach Your Career Goals?

As mentioned in the preface, this chapter discusses a wide range of educational questions, beginning with those of interest primarily to undergraduates and ending with the transition to full-time employment. For quick reading, you can use the headings to pick out particular topics. However, we feel that most of the themes discussed in this chapter will be of interest to students at all levels, as well as to faculty advisers and administrators.

The Undergraduate Years

Many students start thinking about the possibility of a career when their interest is ignited by a high-school or undergraduate teacher or some other role model. This is the time to start meeting and talking with scientists and engineers in fields that interest you. These early contacts can be crucial in helping you to navigate the terrain of science and engineering as you move through your career.

The undergraduate years are probably your best chance



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--> 4 What Education Do You Need To Reach Your Career Goals? As mentioned in the preface, this chapter discusses a wide range of educational questions, beginning with those of interest primarily to undergraduates and ending with the transition to full-time employment. For quick reading, you can use the headings to pick out particular topics. However, we feel that most of the themes discussed in this chapter will be of interest to students at all levels, as well as to faculty advisers and administrators. The Undergraduate Years Many students start thinking about the possibility of a career when their interest is ignited by a high-school or undergraduate teacher or some other role model. This is the time to start meeting and talking with scientists and engineers in fields that interest you. These early contacts can be crucial in helping you to navigate the terrain of science and engineering as you move through your career. The undergraduate years are probably your best chance

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--> to take a broad variety of classes outside your primary discipline that might be useful later. For example, a mathematics major who takes accounting is better equipped to do actuarial work. An ecology major would gain perspective from classes in environmental engineering or environmental policy that can have lifelong benefits. Classes in economics, sociology, history, philosophy, English (with emphasis on composition), foreign language, and psychology, spread through the undergraduate years, are immensely useful in helping you to acquire understanding, different experiences, and maturity. As science and technology become more central in our society, scientists and engineers become more involved with other, nonresearch domains of human experience. An effective way for students to learn about graduate education is to join (or form) a study group to discuss homework and share concerns. In a university setting, you can meet with graduate students and postdoctoral researchers and gain insights about specific graduate programs, possible careers, and the current job market. You can join student chapters of scientific and engineering disciplinary societies, both general (such as the Society of Women Engineers) and specific (such as the American Chemical Society). These can help you gain leadership and communication skills and can often assist in networking with senior members who can provide advice and possibly employment opportunities once you graduate. Work with your undergraduate adviser not only to plan the science or engineering courses you will need, but also to ensure a well-rounded experience in this, your last general educational experience. Ask your adviser to provide guid-

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--> ance in thinking about what knowledge you will need as you move through your studies and into your career. Remember that you are partly responsible for building a helpful relationship with your undergraduate adviser. Prepare for meetings with your adviser by thinking about where your interests and talents lie; think of four or five points you will make. The more you take the initiative and pose carefully thought-out questions, the more likely it is that your adviser, a busy faculty or staff member with a heavy workload, will take the time and effort necessary to be an effective mentor. He or she cannot divine your concerns; you must express them. If you are considering graduate school, take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) during your junior or senior year. This is a test required for admission to most graduate schools. Discuss with your adviser your potential for advanced study. The results of the GRE, your grade point average, and your adviser's opinion will help you to decide whether you have the potential for graduate school. Decisions About Graduate School As an undergraduate, you might find it hard to get a clear picture of the graduate environment. This is where an effective faculty adviser, as someone who has ''been there," can provide invaluable help. Seek out your adviser (or another mentor) and learn what you can as early as possible. Deciding Whether to Attend Graduate School You do not necessarily need a graduate degree to have a career in science or engineering. For example, engineers with a bachelor's degree can often move upward quickly in

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--> Deciding Whether to Attend Graduate School Chris is a biology major in her junior year. Her faculty adviser thinks that she is capable of doing well in graduate school and urges her to try for a PhD at the university he attended. At the same time, a pharmaceutical firm near her home has offered her a well-paying technician's job. Chris's dilemma: she is interested in going on to graduate school, but she would like to remain near her family. She is also reluctant to lose several years' salary. What are the arguments for following her adviser's counsel? What other steps can Chris take to resolve this dilemma? See Appendix A for a discussion of this scenario. their profession and, with luck and hard work, can even break into top management. However, if your goal is to direct research or to teach at the college or university level, you will probably want a PhD (Bailey and Leavitt 1982). In undergraduate school, you learn what is already known; in a master's program, you build your knowledge to a higher technical level; in a doctoral program, you learn to add to the body of scientific and technical knowledge. At all levels, graduate education is both rigorous and focused. It is not simply a bigger and more-advanced version of undergraduate schooling, where you meet a wide range of subjects and acquire general skills. As a graduate student, you pursue at much greater depth knowledge that

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--> How does a ELECTRONICS ENGINEER . . . Get to be an SCIENCE JOURNALIST? Four years ago, Shankar Vedantam had mapped out a career in management. He was about to take his final examinations in electronic engineering at Bangalore University, in India, and then enter an MBA program. But at that moment the country's prime minister was assassinated, his examinations were postponed, and he was prevented from entering the management school for another year. To pass the time, he accepted a job as a newspaper reporter with The Times of India—a decision that changed his life. He was quickly hooked on the realism of his new job, and he relished the responsibility of helping people to understand current events. A year later, he earned a master's in journalism at Stanford University and soon moved to a big-city job at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is now a medicine-science reporter for Knight-Ridder's Washington bureau. "There is pleasure in straddling two fields," he says, "of bringing information from one area to another. I moved into science journalism because it seemed like a very neat way to capitalize on knowledge that I already had. In modern culture there is a huge knowledge base, but we haven't spread

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--> that knowledge very well. I feel that spreading it may be as important as generating it or acquiring it. "It's hard to find good jobs in journalism. As with science and research, the market is competitive and may even be shrinking. Still, there will always be a demand for people who have technical skills and who can write about science clearly. Many people feel intimidated by science; they will always welcome someone who can explain it to them. "My training in engineering is an excellent background for science writing. By that I don't mean so much the specific information I learned in school; that's changing all the time. What counts more is familiarity with the language of science. People who are not familiar with that language tend to pull away from something they don't understand. When I find something I don't understand, I just go out there and ask some questions. The same pattern of questions and answers tends to repeat, whether the subject is computers or medicine. Mr. Vedantam advises that the best way to get into science writing is "just to do it. Write stories for a university newspaper, take a course in writing. Like most skills, it's learned by practice. Even if you don't become a science writer, you'll always benefit from having stronger writing skills."

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--> is concentrated in a single field. It requires a love of your subject and a new depth of commitment. Obtaining an advanced degree, especially a PhD, entails sacrifice. It requires delaying your entry, by many years, into a "real" job. Starting a family might also be difficult, and graduate students will probably be unable to buy a house or perhaps even a car. You might at times envy colleagues who went straight from a bachelor's degree into the job market and are already well advanced in their careers. Your love for your subject might be your best guide in deciding whether to go on to graduate school. There is no simple formula to use to decide whether you should attend graduate school; your love for your subject may be your best guide. For a discussion of more of the issues involved, see the scenario "Deciding Whether to Attend Graduate School," and the related discussion in Appendix A. In general, if you are excited by studying, problem-solving, discovering new facts, and exploring new ideas, you are likely to find graduate school a rewarding experience. Or you might have more practical goals: to enhance your job satisfaction, level of responsibility, earning power, and freedom to make your own decisions (CGS 1989). If you feel at home in mathematics and science and want to dig deeper, graduate experience can provide a powerful introduction to a professional life in science or engineering. Deciding When to Attend Graduate School Some students choose to work full-time for a while after receiving a bachelor's or master's degree and then return to school. That might be a good strategy if you are "burned out" by courses and examinations and need a break from

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--> school. You might also learn a great deal and see your field from a new perspective. In some fields, such as engineering, it is common to begin work immediately after college. Later, students might take graduate courses while working; many employers financially support continuing education. That approach can increase your skills and job opportunities and allow you to work at the same time. Moving directly into employment might not suit everyone. But it can be difficult to give up a full salary later to return to school, and it can be a struggle to regain the momentum and intensity of full-time study. Similarly, attending school part-time or at night does not provide the same intense learning experience as joining a group of your peers for concentrated, full-time work in an academic setting (Bailey and Leavitt 1982). Some students might consider part-time graduate study because of family or financial obligations. But graduate work can be very demanding, especially at the doctoral level, where few programs accept part-time students. For a PhD program, it might make better sense to borrow money for living expenses and pay it back later from your increased earnings. Seek guidance from your faculty adviser or another knowledgeable person about how much debt it is reasonable to assume. Remember that the apparent costs of graduate education are usually larger than you have to pay. Few doctoral students have to pay tuition. Instead, programs offer financial assistance in the form of tuition scholarships and stipends in return for teaching assistance or research assistance.

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--> How does a MOLECULAR BIOLOGIST . . . Get to be a SCIENCE POLICY ADVISER? Early in her career, Patricia Hoben had no doubt that she wanted to be a scientist, but she also wanted to make her work broadly useful. Except for brief stints teaching in a college and a high school, her early trajectory pointed toward a traditional (and distinguished) academic position: a BA in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at the University of Colorado followed by a PhD in molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale and postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Francisco. "In the early and middle 70s," says Dr. Hoben, "academe was the only respectable track for a PhD biologist. But when I was at San Francisco, one of my friends heard that scientists could get fellowships to do some exciting work in Washington. This was brand new to me; no one at the institution mentioned any opportunities outside the laboratory." She not only went to Washington; she flourished there. Delighted to find that her analytic skills and scientific knowledge were valued in the public-policy arena, she worked at the US Congress's Office of Technology Assessment and for the assistant secretary of health, providing scientific advice that helped decision-makers to draft regulations, write legis

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--> lation, and make other decisions about biotechnology and health issues. "In both these positions I needed the analytical skills I learned from my PhD work, but I also needed a variety of people skills I didn't learn in school. In policy work, I bring in experts who know all the details, but often they don't know how to present themselves to the nontechnical people who will make the political decisions. There's just a tremendous need for people who can bridge these two cultures. "My PhD was absolutely necessary to my career. There's no other way to get that intensity of training, and no one would take me seriously if I didn't have one. But I equally needed the people skills and patience. In the 'real' world, outside academe, you may be working with people who don't know as much as you do, but they have something to contribute that is needed by the project, and you have to value them for their contribution. You can't be arrogant and expect to bring about change." The hectic pace of work ("seven days and seven nights a week") and the arrival of children eventually led to a change. After several years of pursuing a long-held interest in public science education as a grant-program director at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Dr. Hoben and her family moved to Minneapolis, where she now holds two half-time positions. In one, funded partly by Hughes, she is working with the National Research Council's RISE (Regional Initiatives in Science Education) project to stimulate reform in science education. In the other, she directs a research program for the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to in

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--> vestigate claims by farmers that electromagnetic radiation affects the milk production and health of dairy cows. "Public-policy work isn't for everyone, and it isn't easy to find. A more important question for students is, 'Are you preparing to make yourself useful?' For example, on the dairy-cow project, I have a physicist, an electrical engineer, an epidemiologist, an animal physiologist, and a veterinarian all looking at the possibility that electricity affects dairy cows. This is the kind of thing students could be doing to explore career options and serve their community—find an interesting problem, team up with students from other disciplines that bear on the problem, and go out and solve it. We're moving into a time when scientists need to be more collaborative and responsive to public interests. I can tell you that the people on this dairy team have never had more fun in their lives than working together and studying this problem."

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--> Dr. Garcia-Prichard has worked hard to reform science policy and education, serving on the Clinton-Gore transition team, the National Science Foundation Education and Human Resources Directorate, an American Chemical Society editorial board, and the board of a local community college. "I want students today to be better informed than I was about careers. For example, they need to know what kinds of grants there are, and who can get them. Also, there's a huge gap between what students learn in universities and what's needed in an industry workplace. Here I work in physical chemistry, but I also have to be able to collaborate with materials scientists, engineers, and chemists. "And they should know that the corporate environment is changing today. Shareholders are forcing corporations to downsize staff, but the work still has to get done. "Choosing the right adviser can help—someone who not only is a good scientist, but is savvy about careers and understands what you need. If you pick a famous scientist who is not a good caregiver, you end up staying in school too long and doing a lot of their work. I was done in 4.5 years, and part of the reason was that I stood up to my adviser. I told him, if you want someone to do your lab work, you'll have to find someone else. I'm here for a chemistry degree, not a degree in plumbing." That bold approach will not always be successful. The best advice in dealing with an adviser is to be honest, persistent, and communicative. Because your goals and those of your faculty adviser are not usually the same, a good relationship requires continued effort, good judgment, and good will—on both sides.

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--> laboration with industry. Internships with industry or government laboratories take time away from campus-based research or classes. But they can lead to broader perspectives, new contacts, and better jobs. They can also help you to mature and develop confidence in your ability to succeed in the nonacademic world. Taken together, these effects might paradoxically shorten the total time spent in school. You can also benefit from extending your breadth of career skills, such as those discussed in Chapter 3. For example, students with good communication ability—who can describe their work to nonspecialists—might prove adept at working in teams of people from industry or other disciplines. Ensuring Steady Progress How long does it take to finish graduate school? A nonthesis master's degree usually requires 1–2 years, a thesis master's 2–3 years (it is common to take extra time if you also hold a job). The time between receipt of the bachelors' degree and receipt of the PhD varies widely according to field. Check the latest date at the NRC's Career Planning Center For Beginning Scientists and Engineers and ask recent graduates at your institution how long it has taken them. For a PhD candidate, working expeditiously is important. Increases in degree times are generally undesirable and often imply that students are not making the best use of their time. Slow progress might mean that someone has become too comfortable in the educational environment, isn't properly motivated to find answers, or has bogged down in techniques. Some corporations, postdoctoral-fellowship boards, and university faculty-search committees use time to degree as an indicator of a student's initiative and drive, and it in-

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--> fluences their decision about whether to invite a student for interviews. Check the average time to degree at the program you are considering. Try to choose an adviser with a reputation for moving students along. Set a schedule to meet regularly with your adviser and dissertation committee. Even if your finish date is hard for you to predict, keep your committee up to date and solicit its advice. If your thesis work does not involve you with others, join or form a dissertation support group. Giving talks and exchanging critiques with trusted peers—say, once a week or once a month—can help to keep you moving, extend your contacts, and moderate the intensity of solitary scholarship. Reach out to other students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty. The presence and empathy of others can make your graduate years both more gratifying and more productive. Also, do not forget that most universities have counseling centers that can offer a sympathetic ear. They can work with you and perhaps your adviser to develop a less-stressful environment for you. Postdoctoral Study In some fields, such as biology and chemistry, postdoctoral appointments are virtually required for an academic career. In other fields, such as engineering, they are uncommon. Postdoctoral appointments are short-term appointments (usually 1 or more years) with universities, research institutions, government, or industry in which you have the opportunity to gain in-depth research skills. They are more commonly used to prepare for a career in academe than for a career in industry, although the latter is becoming

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--> more common. When you take a postdoctoral appointment in a field different from that of your dissertation, it can provide increased breadth and improve employment prospects. Many postdoctoral openings are advertised in the scientific journals, but many are not. As soon as you know that you want to try for one, put out feelers among your contacts and alert your faculty allies that you need help in finding the right position. Remember that although many positions are in academe, you can also find them in national laboratories, in industry, in research laboratories, in the federal government, and elsewhere. For example, a government agency might have a major postdoctoral-fellowship program that can constitute a good mechanism for you to move from a general background in chemistry to one in environmental chemistry. If you are interested in nonacademic employment, such a position can broaden your possibilities and ease your transition into a nonacademic culture. There are also nonresearch postdoctoral positions, offered primarily by disciplinary societies, in which you can gain experience in public policy and other fields. When academic jobs are scarce, students might find themselves taking successive postdoctoral positions—as many as three or four—while they wait for a permanent position. The danger of extending postdoctoral study is that you might become stuck in a series of temporary appointments. Getting yet another postdoctoral appointment at an institution does not mean that that institution will offer you a job. It might be better to accept a job with less prestige than you had hoped for so that your "real" career can begin. If there is no job offer, you might be able to use—or decide to add—new skills to find a position in a related field.

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--> Before accepting a postdoctoral appointment, ask your contacts how effective the supervisors at the postdoctoral site are in developing the skills and promoting the careers of its scientists. Ask former postdoctoral researchers of that site what ideas they were allowed to take with them to use in starting their own independent research projects. For postdoctoral fellows, career guidance is a pressing issue. Too often they exist in a state of "peerlessness," sometimes not even knowing whether there are other postdoctoral appointees in their program. When possible, seek out and interact with other postdoctoral appointees and establish a committee of several faculty members or other established scientists who are willing to play a role in your training. The issue of guidance becomes critical when the time comes to search for a permanent position. Many postdoctoral researchers describe a dismaying inability to locate job openings and connect with potential employers. Because so many jobs at the postdoctoral level are arranged by word of mouth, the network of contacts that you have built through your school years becomes more important than ever. If you are fortunate enough to have to choose between a postdoctoral appointment and a job, ask yourself several questions. Will the appointment allow you to complete important research that you probably would not have time to do on the job? Can you take the postdoctoral appointment before moving to the job, or is the job likely to disappear before you finish it? Learn as much as you can about your prospects of securing other available positions in light of anticipated market conditions.

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--> Some Tips for Foreign Students If you are coming to a graduate school in the United States from another country, careful planning can help you to avoid some common frustrations. For example, living expenses are almost always higher than you expect. No matter how your fellowship is described, expect it not to cover all your expenses. Understand the conditions of your visa. Whether or not you decide to stay in the United States after your studies, find out how long you would be allowed to stay for practical training. If you are here for a PhD, you might want to complete the master's, take a year off for practical training in industry, and then return to complete the PhD. Find out beforehand how much credit you will receive for courses already taken. Misunderstandings are common, so get agreements in writing. For example, will the master's degree from your home-country university be recognized, or will you have to do it over? Each university has its own standards. Select your research topic, and especially your adviser, with care. This is the person who will have the biggest direct influence on your life as a graduate student. Check out the reputation of potential advisers with fellow students. If you need special coursework or assistance in adjusting to a different culture, does the adviser seem ready to help? Network early and continually. It is easy to become isolated in a single department, especially if you are a foreign student with perhaps limited communication skills. Make an effort to integrate with American students. Whether or not you decide to stay in the United States after your studies, participate in professional organizations and make con-

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--> nections that will be beneficial to you here or at home. Join other university or community activities, such as foreign-student associations. Be aware that your choice of courses is probably greater than you think. It is easy to become buried in your specialty and lose out on a wide selection of topics—such as management, law, business, and music—that might help you to understand the context of your work or simply enrich you as a person. Learn to use the library and other research aids as early as possible. You can work much more efficiently when you know where and how to get quickly to sources of good information. After School, What Next? Don't wait until the last minute to start making final decisions about your future. These might include choosing a postdoctoral position, seeking yet more education, or looking for employment in either academic or nonacademic sectors. A good rule of thumb is to start thinking and searching in earnest about a year before your likely graduation date. A good deal of time might have passed since you began graduate school. Think again about some of the items discussed in Chapter 2. You are more mature now, and you certainly know a great deal more about what it would be like to be a professor. Look honestly at the employment market for different fields, using information provided by the NRC in its Internet Career Planning Center For Beginning Scientists and Engineers, your disciplinary society, and government agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Reflect on what you

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--> want in your work life and your personal life. Will you need additional education (such as an MBA, MD, or JD) to be successful in a given occupation? Are you willing to spend still more time in school? Are you willing to take a low-paying postdoctoral position if that is the norm for your field? Talk to other recent graduates and postdoctoral appointees to learn about their experience in the job market. Do not hesitate to let everyone know that you are looking for work. Fruitful connections are often made where least expected.

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--> Action Points As an undergraduate, work with your faculty adviser to plan a well-rounded education. Talk with faculty and students in potential graduate and professional programs. Discuss potential programs with students and faculty and via Internet bulletin boards. At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, take courses outside your major and primary field that you think will be useful in your career. Develop a network of contacts, both inside and outside your discipline and both on and off-campus, to help you to understand the full range of opportunities available to you. Seek advice from people outside your field as well as inside it.

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--> When evaluating a possible dissertation topic, think of a title, summary, and possible conclusions. Look for classes and internships that will increase your breadth and experience. When evaluating possible faculty advisers, look for a person who not only is professionally competent, but also cares about the quality of your educational experience. To gain perspective on your work, look at other people's projects and invite them to look at yours. Plan ways to complete your degree expeditiously. At your university or via the Internet, join or form an interdisciplinary dissertation support group or a journal club (in which students and faculty meet to discuss the latest journal articles).

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