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[Lakshmi] Hello and welcome to yet another episode of IndiaBiospeaks, a podcast series by IndiaBioscience, where we bring you the latest news, opinion and discussions on life science research and careers in India. I hope that by now, all of you are quite familiar with your skills, interests and values. In our last episode, we had invited a few of our colleagues to understand what role these have played, in determining their career paths. If you haven't listened to it yet, please do go and check that out. This week, let's discuss what comes next. Once you've gone through this process of carefully assessing yourself and gaining a better understanding of your skills, interests and values, how do you then begin to figure out which one of the many available career options are best suited for you? Where can you find the relevant information, which will help you decide whether or not a career path has the attributes that are right for you?
To discuss this, along with me, I have Smita and Shreya, both of whom you've met before in the previous episodes. So let's begin with Smita. Smita, what do you think are the best ways to research career options?
[Smita] Well, before we begin Lakshmi, let us talk about the two major issues that we face when it comes to researching different career options. The first is the problem of information overload. You may have faced this yourself, if you simply enter a job title into Google, like scientist or R & D manager, you get millions of hits, and loads of information that can often be inconsistent, and contradictory. The second problem is that of incomplete information and biased sources, depending on whom you ask, the same career path may seem excellent, or awful or both. And often this is because you're getting only one side of the story.
[Lakshmi] That's very true. So how do you get around these two issues then?
[Smita] So in my opinion, the best strategy is to take a three-pronged approach. First, identify reliable sources of information, both online and offline. And follow these carefully. Second, approach insiders in the profession you are interested in for information that may not be in the public domain. And informational interviews are a great way to achieve this. Third, when you have gathered a reasonable amount of information about a certain area or field, try to see if there's a way you can try it out for yourself through an internship or by volunteering or something similar.
[Lakshmi] Sounds great. Let's talk about the first of those strategies. That is, identifying reliable sources of information. Shreya, what do you think is a good way of going about doing this?
[Shreya] Well, when I was a graduate student, couple of websites that I used to visit very frequently were science careers, and nature.com's career page, a lot of the information there was rather US-centric. But still, these helped me gain a basic understanding of many different fields, and what is required to be successful in some of those fields. Later, when I became more interested in science communication, I found more field-specific websites, like IJnet, Open Notebook, NASW’s Scientists etc, which were good for gaining more in-depth knowledge about the field. See, what's important is to have a point where you can start, nature jobs and science careers served as the starting point for me. Later on, I could look up some of the frequent authors on these websites, or go after some of the differences in these articles, which would again, lead me to different sources. And it's always useful to look up the reputation of a website, and just check if the writer has any personal agenda. Before you rely completely on advice that you find online.
[Lakshmi] That makes sense Shreya. It's also very important to have clarity about what is the information that you're looking for, before you start searching. A broader search to begin with will help you identify leads or get the feel of the ecosystem. But afterwards, this can get confusing and lead to information overload like Smita mentioned in the beginning. So you might want to do a more targeted search as you proceed.
[Shreya] Okay, I'm curious, how would this targeted search approach work?
[Lakshmi] So let me give you an example. Let's suppose I want to find out about a career as a grants advisor. Just googling grants advisor will probably bring up more information than I'd like to deal with. So instead, what I can do is use some criteria to filter these results. I can write down very carefully, what are the specific details that I'm looking for. Some of these could be, which place I want to live in, the qualifications the employer is looking for, a typical salary range for this position, and the scope of growth in the career career trajectory. With these personalized filters, I might then end up with a reasonable amount of options to explore.
[Smita] That's actually a great idea, Lakshmi. And that also brings to my mind, the importance of maintaining careful records. When you're going through this whole process of researching different career options. At the moment, when you're doing these searches, the information may seem fresh in your mind. But as time goes by, the knowledge will fade or worse, it will actually merge together and get entangled with everything else you're researching. So the best way is to write it down carefully.
[Shreya] Exactly. Perhaps you can have a spreadsheet, or even a physical diary, where you can have rows representing different career paths, and columns representing different aspects of that career path, for example, skills required or main responsibilities, who are the most common employers? What's the typical remuneration, etc.
[Smita] Exactly. And you should populate this list with the help of not just online search. But with what you find out from the informational interviews, which we are going to talk a little later, and / or through internships or volunteering.
[Lakshmi] Yes, so let's discuss that next, informational interviews. Now that is a term that some of you may have heard, or come across, while others may be new to this idea. So quickly, Smita, what are informational interviews?
[Smita] Well, Lakshmi in very simple words, you can think of it as gathering information straight from the horse's mouth. (Lakshmi) Alright. [Smita] So an informational interview is basically an informal conversation you have with someone who works in the field you are interested in. And the main purpose is to understand things like, what is their job profile? What a typical day looks like in that job? What are the rewarding aspects? And what are the challenging aspects of the job? And what is the job market, opportunities like that, and so on. So basically, this is the information that will be hard to find in the public domain, but that an industry insider should be able to tell you about it in much more detail.
[Shreya] So let me bring up a point here. I'm a natural introvert. And the first thing I think about when I consider approaching a complete stranger for an informational interview is, why should anyone talk to me, what if I write to them a new one replies what if everyone is too busy,
[Lakshmi] Well Shreya, that is a very common concern. But you will find out that most people are quite okay with, and in fact, quite enjoy talking about their work and about themselves. And most people, even if they're busy actually do like taking time to speak to someone fresh and to interact with new blood.
[Smita] Exactly. And also do not approach an inflammation interview like you would a job interview, it may very well happen in the future that you may end up applying to the same person for a job. But that is not the purpose of the interaction in the beginning. Here, you're just trying to collect information, plain simple, and perhaps building your network along the way, which is an added bonus.
[Lakshmi] I would like to add that if you're nervous initially, you can begin the process with someone who may not be a complete stranger.
For example, perhaps one of your seniors from college or Institute who's working in the same field as you are. Maybe you can approach them, look for connections, talk to friends of friends, former colleagues, employers, or even family. And this can help you get going initially. Once you've conducted a few interviews, then you will eventually warm up the process and perhaps you feel more confident about approaching a stranger.
[Smita] So what is the actual process of information interview?
[Smita] The best is to do a little homework before approaching the person and have a list of questions ready, be professional, both in the way you approach the person initially, and your interactions with them. You should respect their time and thank them for giving you this opportunity to find more about the field. Afterwards, do remember to send a thank you message and try to stay in touch with the person.
[Lakshmi] In fact, you can learn a lot more about informational interviews in our next set of episodes, where we have a number of informational interviews lined up with science professionals from different fields. With that, let's come to the third way to research career options, which is internships.
[Smita] Yes, Lakshmi. So internships are very useful when you're trying to find out whether you are the right fit for a career path or an organisation. Internships are basically temporary positions where you work for an organisation for a short period of time, with or without pay. And your focus is on learning more about that industry, that organisation or that job role.
[Shreya] Internships are also a great way to build work experience for your CV. For example, in my case, I did a one year long internship at the science journal while I was still completing my PhD. And this experience helped immensely in making a switch into a full time communications career, once I completed my thesis.
[Smita] And also please don't forget, internships also help you build connections and expand your professional network, which can really help you going forward.
[Lakshmi] Absolutely. So how does one find suitable internships to take, especially when they might be still a full time student?
[Smita] Well, the simplest way is to go to the sites with online listing of jobs and look for advertised internship positions. Even if you don't find any in the field you are interested in. You can try and identify some organisations and people working in that field. Approach them directly by writing an email and asking if they have any internship opportunities available. These may even be the same set of people you may have had an informational interview with.
[Lakshmi] That's a great suggestion. Smita. So we've discussed three ways of researching career options, 1 - focused online research, 2 - informational interviews and 3 - internships. A combination of these three will help you gather enough information on whether or not a particular career path is worth taking the plunge. So that brings us to the end of today's discussion. Thanks, Smita. And thanks Shreya for joining us. To all our listeners. Thank you for listening. And I hope you enjoyed this episode of crafting your career in science. In our next set of episodes, we will be conducting informational interviews with science professionals from various fields. We hope this will help you understand these fields better, and will also be helpful in narrowing down your choices. As you know, we love to hear from you to reach out to us with your stories, feedback and suggestions on what you would like us to cover in this series. You can use the comments section below contact us through social media channels and write to us directly at hello[at]indiabioscience[dot]org. So until next time, thank you for joining us and do subscribe to future episodes on crafting your career in science.
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