Workshops in Preparing Future Professionals: A Model in Postdoc Career Development

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We were joined by Nathan Vanderford from the University of Kentucky on the second part of his seminar series, this time demonstrating valuable tools and lessons to develop a course or workshop on professional development for PhDs!

Realities of today’s workforce with PhD degrees

2% unemployment

52% within academic
48% outside academia

26% for profit
9% non-profit
8% federal employment
3% self-employed
2% state employment

Graduate students interest in moving into the tenure track declines over time:
41.7% First Year
21%Third Year
(Fuhmann et al CBE Life Sci Ed 2011)

But, there is no concerted training for alternative careers!

Goals of the course:
– Understand the realities of the job market
– Realise what skills are required to transition
– Identify resources
– Take action to prepare for their chosen career

Five Major Didactic Requirements:

Career Exploration
– Explore the career paths that are of interest to them
– Written paper on necessary skills

Transferrable Skills
– Perform a self assessment and create action plans for improving identified weaknesses

Informational Interviews
– Students contact an individual in their ideal career and conduct an informational interview to develop networking skills
– How did the interviewee obtain their workplace skills?
– How did graduate skill prepare you for this career?
– Expand student’s network by asking for additional points of contact

Career Development
– Students obtain experiences in critical components of the job search process including résumé and cover letter writing
– Practice interviewing and job search execution

Student Engagement
– Students interact with guest speakers as well as present their finding from each assignment to promote student-driven discussions

6% Postdocs
55% PhD trainees
32% Master’s students
6% Other (undergraduates, non-degree seekers)

Course Strengths:
– Safe environment to explore their career options and work through options in a positive way
– Self-assessment
– Identification of career options
– Student engagement
– Student-driven discussion
– Diversity of disciplines
– Development of work readiness skills

Course Challenges:
– Diversity of disciplines (which guest speakers, from which disciplines)
– Tuition (who pays?)
– Permission to attend (scheduling of the class versus time spend for research)
– Course versus workshop format

Course versus Workshop Format

– Sustained engagement
– Incentives (grade) to participate
– Effective platform for exercises

– Costly
– Limited reach
– PI resistance

– Free
– Reach a larger audience

– Interrupted engagement
– No incentive to participate in exercises
– Non-effective platform for exercises

Future Plans:
Certificate Program:
– Work hours component (4 hours)
– Course hours (2 hours)

Tips for trainees:

Goal setting tips:
– Write out goals and map out a strategy
– Post your goals where you can easily see them

Career Exploration and Networking:
– LinkedIn
– Alumni network
– Informational interviews
– Work Experience

Transferrable skills:
– Functional skills
– Knowledge-based skills
– Personal traits and attitudes

– A realistic assessment helps with your placement and career success

Tools to assess transferrable skills:
– Science Careers myIDP
– Gallup StrengthsFinder
– SkillScan
– MN Career Pathways
– Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Postdoc Appreciation Week: Financial Planning with Fidelity Investments

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We were joined by Dan Shea from Fidelity Investments to learn more about budgeting and financial planning!

Financial planning with Fidelity Investments

Topics to be discussed:

  • Track your expenses.
  • Know what is a discretionary vs essential spending.
  • Monitor your spending behavior.
  • Tough to save if you don’t know what you’re saving for!!
Essential expenses:
  • Mortgage
  • Food
  • Health care
Examples of discretionary expenses:
  • Travel
  • Cable TV
Make paying high-interest credit cards a priority:
  • If you have credit cards with an 8-9% interest rate it’s bad, so try to pay them as soon as possible.
  • Create a budget.
  • Avoid getting a high interest now because it compounds – you end up paying more in the future.
  • If you have more than one credit card with a high-interest rate, you can consolidate them but then make sure they get paid during the timeline that was determined for it.
  • Example: if you have a credit card with a 10% interest rate versus a card with a 15% interest rate then pay the one with the 15% interest rate first!
  • Key to your credit report is how long you’ve had your credit cards.
How much to use the credit card?
  • Doesn’t matter how much you use the credit card, as long as you pay them. Try to pay them off each month.
  • Use only 16% of what’s available of your credit. For example: if you have a $10,000 dollar credit you don’t want to have more than $1,600 in balance.
  • Too many cards could hurt your credit.
  • Monitor your savings!
  • “Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket” – particularly important with investments.
    • Good tools:
      •  In the Fidelity Investments website to keep track of your accounts (free to set up!) – you can buy stocks through that tool.
      • Google Wallet
      • Some other tools charge $20/month to use.
How to create and manage your budget:
  • Money for essentials, unplanned emergencies and goals.
  • 50% of your take home income should go to essential spending.
Essential spending:
  • ~50% of take-home pay.
Essential savings:
  • Save 15% of pre-tax (not take-home) income.
  • Lowers your taxable income. The younger you are and the lower your bracket is, the more sense it makes to have a Roth-IRA.
Short-term savings:
  • Save 5% of your income.
Emergency funds:
  • “Because the unexpected happens”.
  • Should save 3-6 months of essential expenses!
  • Maybe start a separate bank of money account and put in a certain amount every month ($20 or so) after you’ve paid your bad debt and covered your essential expenses.
  • Start saving for retirement as soon as possible! Up to 8% pre-tax income every month.
  • You don’t want to compromise your retirement savings. Compounding is key!
  • 403(b) retirement plan – can you merge your 403(b) from your old institution into a new one like Tufts? Yes (Rollover)!
  • If you take out a loan on your retirement plan, you have to pay taxes on it.
Mutual funds versus stocks
  • Fidelity Investments is in campus twice a month on campus.
    • October is booked, but for after October is cool – financial advice for free!!
**Pay off high debt first!**
  • Paying debt in full saves you a lot of interest.
  • The benefit of paying your debt:
    • The higher your FICO score the lower your APR is.
Credit score:
  • Student loans can actually help your score, but whether you’re good at making payments to your loan every month is what influences your standing.
Know what you’re spending on and distinguish between good debt versus bad debt.
  • Good debt: i.e. mortgage
  • Bad debt: credit cards
If making $65,000 or less, we can write down the student loan debt for tax breaks?
  • Housing payment should be no more than 28% of your gross income.
  • The City of Boston offers a class on home owning for $25.
The order on how to use your money:
  1. Saving for emergency expenses
  2. Saving for retirement
  3. Pay/pay-off high-interest cards
  4. Pay student loans


Postdoc Appreciation Week: Speed Networking & Career Panel

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Learn about PhDs and Tufts alum that have successfully transitioned into careers in Industry!


In attendance: 
Antoine Boudot – in vitro Cancer Biologist at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals (former postdoc at Tufts)
April Blodgett – Sales and bioconsulting at PerkinElmer
Anh Hoang – Co-founder / CSO at Sofregen Medical
Michael Mattoni – Senior patent agent at Mintz Levin
Travis D’Cruz – Licensing associate at Tufts University
Michael Doire – Department manager – Biology at Tufts University
Angela Kaczmarczyk – Scientist / Founder of BosLabs
Nina Dudnik – Scientist / Founder and CEO of Seeding Labs
What drove your career path away from academia?
April: A lot of work and little pay.
Antoine: Too many postdocs in the Boston/Cambridge area that also want to do the same as you do.
Travis: Going through the motions and seeing his PIs on their offices for so long, writing grants and not doing actual science.
Nina: Never wanted to be an academic. What she cared most about was not about the details of the experiment but to explain/communicate to others why the science matters.
What do you do to step away from the academic path? What research did you do to prepare yourself to move out of academia?
  • He works at the bench everyday as he used to do as a postdoc, but he enjoys not having to worry about funding and getting materials/reagents.
  • Set up a LinkedIn account and realized it was about building connections. He also went to networking events and started making connections within Merrimack. So start making connections now!
  • Make connections now. Do not expect to connect with people now and then ask for help or a job the following day. Having a vaccine background helped her (microbiologist by training).
  • She loves the speed/demands of her job. She felt like making a change after several years and she likes doing sales, so she made the move and started thinking about previous experiences that translate to sales so that she could use them to get the job.
  • After publishing in a high impact journal paper, nothing happens. What was conflicting for her was that all that work led to a high impact journal paper would not progress much beyond that. Thus, she wanted to do something about it and started a company.
  • She came from a large, well-funded research group, so she says she had resources. She also did studies toward a MBA. Postdoc’d at day and hustled at night.
  • Her postdoc did not prepare her for any of this! The learning curve was very steep. When starting a company you do wear 5 hats 40 hours a week. The postdoc prepared her for the science part (to sell the idea to investors), but not the business side of it. She didn’t know how to incorporate a company, how to pay her employees, how to provide them with benefits… People management is a whole different subject to deal with when setting up a company.
Michael M.:
  • Realized didn’t want to do research 3 or so years into the PhD, but he pushed through. He went to the tech transfer office and asked if they had an intern position. He now wears 3 hats at his job.
  • No need to be an attorney to become a patent agent.
  • Soft skills from the postdoc to apply for a job: the dealing with people, wearing twelve different hats.
  • Sought out what other options are there. He found other postdocs who started a small consulting group and he joined them. That helped him stand out among a pool of job applicants when he finished his postdoc. Think outside the box!
Skills that you gained during your postdoc?
Michael D.
  • Took a different path: he did graduate school in molecular biology but as he progressed through grad school he realized that he didn’t want to necessarily do that.
  • Skills: Learning does not often solely happen in the class room. You learn valuable skills at your work place. Rarely the person who knows more in the lab is not the PI (not in terms of the everyday requirements). It’s usually the lab manager/technician.
  • He looks for people with passion and knowledge. Doesn’t care about people coming from top schools alone.
Michael M.:
  • A major skill is to ask the right questions! In his case: what does a specific sector need? How can he become an asset to their organization? Utility-centered approach. Take initiative. Know where you want to go. Be honest to yourself about not knowing. Get it out of your system.
Michael D.:
  • Much easier to teach PhDs about management than management people learning how to do science!
What to do when you already know what you want?
  • Started by writing for the student magazine at Berkeley. Went to a bio-hacking talk and was intrigued by it. Moved to Boston and acquired teaching experience at Harvard, then found out about space open to do science at Somerville. Science classes open to all backgrounds (a lot of them are engineers interested in learning biotechnology!)
  • Events during the weekends and a forum this Monday 9/26/16 at LabCentral.
  • She is also a visiting scientist at the Broad Institute.
  • In the future she wants to do the community lab (BosLabs) full-time.
  • She thinks the biggest problems in the world can be addressed by science. Knew she wanted to be a geneticist when she was 13 (wanted to feed the world).
  • Incredible compulsion to solve problems. 
  • When in Harvard she realized that many labs had a surplus of or were wasting equipment that could be used further, so she started Seeding Labs 5 years even before she officially started Seeding Labs.
  • Got funding for Seeding Labs even before she started writing her thesis.
  • Started doing networking events and met people that helped her learn about finances and management.
  • She had to learn about 7 different languages she would not have learned when in academia to run the labs.
Michael M.:
  • You will never be prepared for the next step! You make it as you go along.

Ania’s guide to moving to the U S of A!

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Feel free to use this document to guide your way around the USA. Currently this document is curated from experiences that I have had, and will hopefully help you when you come to explore the great United States of America! Given my background, it is more tailored to Australian visitors, but all of the advice is applicable to other nationalities as well. 

Note: links are subject to change and may not work and this information may become dated.  
Updated: July 2016

I would highly recommend opening up a bank that is global which exists in both your home country and the USA. A good example for Aussies is a Citibank account. Their everyday account let you take out cash from any Citibank ATM in the world with no surcharge or fee and their exchange rates are very reasonable (some of the best I have seen… and I spent months looking and comparing! See here. You can also easily transfer money almost instantaneously between AUS and USA citi accounts using their inter-citi system online for free (much cheaper then using a currency broker). 
Credit Rating:
Your credit rating in the USA is extremely important and may be used to determine whether you can rent an apartment, buy a car or take out a loan of any sort. Unfortunately, when you move to the USA, you cannot transfer your credit rate and start at zero. Luckily, you also don’t move any of your debt to the USA so often can build a good credit rating within a few years. The best way to start to do so, is to open a credit card, use it often and pay back the total sum within the due time-frame. 
Other things that matter is:
(From Consumer
  • Pay your bills on time, every time. One way to make sure your payments are on time is to set up automatic payments, or set up electronic reminders. If you’ve missed payments, get current and stay current.
  • Don’t get close to your credit limit. Credit scoring models look at how close you are to being “maxed out,” so try to keep your balances low in proportion to your overall credit limit. Experts advise keeping your use of credit at no more than 30 percent of your total credit limit.
    Note: You don’t need to revolve on credit cards to get a good score. Paying off the balance each month helps get you the best scores.
  • A long credit history will help your score. Credit scores are based on experience over time. The more experience you have with getting credit and paying your bills on time, the more information there is to determine whether you are a good credit risk. Ania’s note: This tends to hurt international scholars the most, as you need a few years of good credit for it to be usable, even if you have a great score.
  • Only apply for credit that you need. Credit scores look at your recent credit activity as an indicator of your need for credit. If you apply for a lot of credit over a short period of time, it may appear to lenders that your economic circumstances have changed negatively.
 Don’t forget to check your credit score regularly to ensure nothing has been falsely reported against you. You are eligible to check your score for free, once a year.

Mobile Phones:
The USA is a bit weird with mobile phones and doesn’t seem to have as much competition and therefore worse prices in Australia (apart from decent coffee and mobile phone services, everything else is cheaper!). If you have an iPhone, the problem is compounded because Apple controls all of the vendors to some degree so you won’t be able to get internet with any prepaid plan with AT&T or Verizon. The only place you can get internet prepaid is at t-mobile (which I recommend). If you are going to be staying about a month, I would suggest their prepaid deals, some of which gives you unlimited internet, phone and texts and for $10 extra you can call international landlines and text internationally as much as you want (which includes many countries). You just charge as you go and is much much cheaper than getting an international sim card. As a comparison – this is actually cheaper than going on a 24 month contract with a company – you would be paying about twice that for the same thing. Weird huh?

Goods and Services Taxes
In many states the taxes DO NOT need to be included in the displayed price on the item. To make it even more confusing, each state taxes at different rates and for different things (e.g. clothes and shoes less then $175 are not taxes in Massachusetts, otherwise its 6.25%). So just be aware that the price on the tag or shelf may not reflect the actual price at the counter!

I admit, I had very little clue about tipping but when you realise wait staff make as little as $5 (or less) an hour, you can appreciate why you need to tip! TripAdvisor has a good guide, but here is a quick reference (all is calculated prior to taxes):

– Sit down food (anywhere; diner or formal dinner): 15% minimum, if very good, 20%
– Taxis: 15%
– Bars (drinks): $1-2 per drink or 10-15% of bill. A lot easier to set up a tab.
– Concierge/Bell boys/Cleaning staff at hotels: $1-2
– Any personal services (makeup/hair/massage): 15-20%
Postdoc Scholar – Kuperwasser Lab, 2012-2016