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Reflections on my career - career development, job after graduation, different paths

I've wanted to post this for a long time but I thought maybe I could “de-stuck” myself from this career bottleneck. It hasn't happened yet since I joined PU. So here it is.

I‘m doing a social sciences PhD in the healthcare/medical field and this is going to be my 8th year. I won't talk about the problems I had in my PhD program, as I detailed in a previous post. Anyway, it has been difficult to position myself in this job market the longer I'm stuck in graduate school. I'm biting my teeth for the last couple months - if I don't graduate before the spring I will definitely quit. Further prolonging this would damage my mental health to a point that wouldn't be sustainable.

I've struggled to find jobs that would help me feel that I got a solid base to start my career. Because of the crappy management of my PhD program, I haven't thought much about an academic career after my first year. I was a student assistant in the school of pharmacy and I was interested in data analytics. I've done a few internships and part-time jobs in the past in the pharma/healthcare data field, but when I applied for full-time jobs I got rejections from everywhere. I was also perplexed as why there wasn't even consideration for a full-time job for me since I was already working at those places.

A couple years ago I was recruited by a placement company as a contractor for pharma, it was more on the statistics side than the research side. I thought I was doing fine, but I was laid off 6 months after. The skip manager said I wasn't “doing any project”, which was totally false, since I had a few projects under my belt and going. I suspect that it was restructuring (everybody was leaving or changed team) as well as my lack of initiative to schoomze over management (I talked to some other contractor who got promoted right before I left, and it didn't seem to me that he was doing exceptional work, but he definitely went out of his way to establish his visibility to the managers). This was partly my bad as not getting the hang of office politics straight out of school. I also got another opportunity from this placement company, where the new boss is a total disaster to deal with. She constantly asked me to turn around tasks in extremely tight deadlines (deliverables she had to present to her collaborators). When I didn't meet her expectations she would criticize me with no constructive feedback as to how I could improve, saying that she "has not time to hold my hands".

I also felt that the data analytics field in the country I'm in (I'm also an immigrant and that adds up the difficulty substantially) has saturated quite a bit in the past few years. It has been become quite difficult for new grads to land a job, if not impossible. I applied for a bootcamp that was reputable in my area, but they turned me down (a friend who did get in got a job there and had a successful career in the field for 4 years now). I went for another bootcamp but it didn't help me get jobs, I feel pretty disappointed that despite my effort this is not going anywhere.

I also thought about entrepreneurship. I have been involved in a couple startups through my connections. However, I have been feeling more and more jaded because 1) I don't know what I can help to make things move forward 2) They seem to be pretty disorganized 3) They are not even pushing out the first prototype, let alone making revenue.

I would like to find something that is 1) paying relatively well (it's hard when I apply for jobs that a high school graduate could qualify for and pays peanuts and they still don't want me); 2) Meaningful - that I feel it aligns with my values and mission 3) The team is more collaborative than highly political - had enough of that in the past few years and would like something different, it wasn't a good fit.

I feel entrepreneurship might be a good fit for me as I know from a few startup founders and my local area is pretty vibrant and accommodating for starting a business. I feel if I find a path down the line this would be the most rewarding route for me.

At the present, I'm not sure what I can do to establish myself - start somewhere, feel competent, and continue to grow and develop. Would appreciate thoughts/feedback from friends here in the PU community.

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John FreemanKavalierleaderoffun

In PU Lucio recommends working in the business rather than for - e.g. in IT or as a consultant.  I agree.  Business teams are busy which means less politics on the daily.

I work in IT and just about every IT project has a reporting component to it.  And just about every large department in a company or government has a reporting analyst so you can still be inside the business team and do your data work if that is interesting for you.

I m a contractor.  And when it comes to job hunting lesson I learnt again and again is why you get the job or why you don't get the job often has very little to do with you.  I try and take every interview as a learning experience and just keep chaingunning the resume.

Registering with a bunch of temp agencies for admin work might be a way to get some exposure to  different departments.  Which would build a bit of business experience gather some cash and maybe give you some ideas about which direction you would like to go in.

I know a lady who did that and ended up with a job she likes in member services in an insurance company.

 

 

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John FreemanBelEmily
Hello Emily,
Thanks for trusting our community led by Lucio for input on your career. It takes courage. It shows you have quite a growth mindset.
Quote from Emily on September 16, 2022, 4:57 pm

I've wanted to post this for a long time but I thought maybe I could “de-stuck” myself from this career bottleneck. It hasn't happened yet since I joined PU. So here it is.

I‘m doing a social sciences PhD in the healthcare/medical field and this is going to be my 8th year. I won't talk about the problems I had in my PhD program, as I detailed in a previous post. Anyway, it has been difficult to position myself in this job market the longer I'm stuck in graduate school. I'm biting my teeth for the last couple months - if I don't graduate before the spring I will definitely quit. Further prolonging this would damage my mental health to a point that wouldn't be sustainable.

I would not recommend quitting. For 2 reasons:

  1. Self-esteem and self-confidence: the most important one
  2. Your CV: you can recover from this

My message is: don't let negative people hurt your life. You are definitely in control, don't believe them.

I've struggled to find jobs that would help me feel that I got a solid base to start my career. Because of the crappy management of my PhD program, I haven't thought much about an academic career after my first year. I was a student assistant in the school of pharmacy and I was interested in data analytics. I've done a few internships and part-time jobs in the past in the pharma/healthcare data field, but when I applied for full-time jobs I got rejections from everywhere. I was also perplexed as why there wasn't even consideration for a full-time job for me since I was already working at those places.

I think feed-back on your application (cover letter, CV) and from your interview performances would be good, by order of priority:

  1. From companies/organization who rejected you
  2. From your mentors/allies
  3. From your local career centre at university
  4. From your friends
  5. From this community

Do it all until you have a solid killer application and interview process. I would recommend to go all out.

A couple years ago I was recruited by a placement company as a contractor for pharma, it was more on the statistics side than the research side. I thought I was doing fine, but I was laid off 6 months after. The skip manager said I wasn't “doing any project”, which was totally false, since I had a few projects under my belt and going. I suspect that it was restructuring (everybody was leaving or changed team) as well as my lack of initiative to schoomze over management (I talked to some other contractor who got promoted right before I left, and it didn't seem to me that he was doing exceptional work, but he definitely went out of his way to establish his visibility to the managers). This was partly my bad as not getting the hang of office politics straight out of school. I also got another opportunity from this placement company, where the new boss is a total disaster to deal with. She constantly asked me to turn around tasks in extremely tight deadlines (deliverables she had to present to her collaborators). When I didn't meet her expectations she would criticize me with no constructive feedback as to how I could improve, saying that she "has not time to hold my hands".

I would diagnose this as skills in power/social dynamics. I would recommend to finish PU if you haven't. To read Lucio's posts in the career section of the TPM blog and ask for feed-back here each time you encounter a challenging social situation. You will grow very fast like you would not believe. You can also read/listen to books in the career section of "Best books" by Lucio. I read books that he put there before learning about this list. I agree with him on the couples of books we both read. So solid recommendations overall. Start with the best and go down the list.

I also felt that the data analytics field in the country I'm in (I'm also an immigrant and that adds up the difficulty substantially) has saturated quite a bit in the past few years. It has been become quite difficult for new grads to land a job, if not impossible. I applied for a bootcamp that was reputable in my area, but they turned me down (a friend who did get in got a job there and had a successful career in the field for 4 years now). I went for another bootcamp but it didn't help me get jobs, I feel pretty disappointed that despite my effort this is not going anywhere.

For me to give better advice, I need more context. Social situations are very context-based. Could you please answer:

  1. What country are we talking about?
  2. What country are you an immigrant from?
  3. At what age did you arrive in the country?

This helps also to adapt the speech/way you present yourself to local people and adapt to the culture if relevant (often is).

I also thought about entrepreneurship. I have been involved in a couple startups through my connections. However, I have been feeling more and more jaded because 1) I don't know what I can help to make things move forward 2) They seem to be pretty disorganized 3) They are not even pushing out the first prototype, let alone making revenue.

I would not recommend entrepreneurship at this stage of your career. You need relevant, visible and valuable work experience I think. You were in the trenches of the academic World. I'm afraid there's no way around going into the trenches of the Business World. Lucio might correct me on that (power skills?).

You need an environment that supports your learning. I think what the person said about holding hands showed that she considered you not to be pro-active enough (her opinion). It also showed that your learning style (needing some coaching) did not fit your current work environment. So I would consider this as a priority: finding positive people who believe in you and want to pull you up. People you get along at work and outside of it. People who share your values. It does not have to be explicitly stated. It's about the vibe and the connection: do you feel at ease and trust these people? Yes? You probably belong to the same "tribe".

Talking about tribes, this might be controversial and once again Lucio might have something to correct and/or add here. In my experience, I was much more happy when I found what my tribeS were. I'm a physician, traveller, musician, nature lover, love to party, board games, children, animals, philosophy, etc. So I belong to groups of people who share the same interests/values.

What you want is to find people in your private and professional who share your interests/values. You can find out by sharing your interests/values and ask what they think or they might reciprocate naturally.

I would like to find something that is 1) paying relatively well (it's hard when I apply for jobs that a high school graduate could qualify for and pays peanuts and they still don't want me); 2) Meaningful - that I feel it aligns with my values and mission 3) The team is more collaborative than highly political - had enough of that in the past few years and would like something different, it wasn't a good fit.

I feel entrepreneurship might be a good fit for me as I know from a few startup founders and my local area is pretty vibrant and accommodating for starting a business. I feel if I find a path down the line this would be the most rewarding route for me.

At this stage, I would focus on:

  1. Finish your PhD. Whatever it takes (see above). My opinion, not the only solution.
  2. Find a "good enough" entry level job.
    1. By entry level, I'm not talking about income but hierarchy (what I call the trenches). Start at the bottom. This will allow you to sharpen your power/social skills as you climb the ladder.
    2. Based on your feed-back, I would look for a job in a small to medium size company/organization (could be state-based/public, does not really matter). It seems that belonging is an important value for you. In large organisations such as your university it's a challenge to find this sense
    3. I would focus on the skills you want to acquire and your final goal (your vision/mission). The lack of clarity that you experience comes from missing a clear vision/goal/mission. You can find resources on the internet for starters or look on the forum. I'm sure I have a thread somewhere about this. If need be I can create a new one, just let me know. So here the process is introspection. It's not everything but it's a necessary step in my experience.
    4. I would not bother too much about finding a meaningful job as I would put it in 3rd position. You will find meaning when you know what you value in life and where you want to go (see 3.). From there it will be much easier to find people/environment who match this.
  3. When you will have worked for a few years as an employee, you will have built a confidence that will help you go places, should you choose the entrepreneurship route.
Quote from Transitioned on September 17, 2022, 6:24 am

I m a contractor.  And when it comes to job hunting lesson I learnt again and again is why you get the job or why you don't get the job often has very little to do with you.  I try and take every interview as a learning experience and just keep chaingunning the resume.

What transitioned said. Polish your application and interview skills. Ask for feed-back. Rinse and repeat. Establish the goal that you want to master applying to a job and interviewing.

Registering with a bunch of temp agencies for admin work might be a way to get some exposure to  different departments.  Which would build a bit of business experience gather some cash and maybe give you some ideas about which direction you would like to go in.

Kevin's feed-back makes total sense. I would add a slight modification about the timing. I feel that now you need to build confidence, skills, stability and network to feel better about yourself. The exploration he proposes is a great way to finding what you want/like. However, you will have to be ok with some volatility and I think that you had enough of it at the moment. So I would say: I agree with him IF you feel you're ok to change jobs, apply, etc. quite frequently after your Ph.D.

As he says, you can also have the luck (not in a derogatory sense, it's just how it is) to find something you like in the process and stay. So it's definitely a great strategy that he proposes. I would say it's up to you how much uncertainty you can tolerate at this stage.

Let me know if that makes sense to you and/or if you need clarification. Don't hesitate to give me a feed-back on my feed-back as well if you feel there is misunderstanding or a matter of tone/wording.

You are kickin' ass for real! It just happens that you are not getting yet the fruits of all your work. It's in the future, keep going! It's going to be worth it I am very confident about it.

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Sorry Emily I clean missed the decision point on your PhD.  Agree with John.  Hang in there. For your own self esteem this is a story of you overcoming to achieve.  That is a story you can share at interview.  I feel if you quit you would not get closure on this chapter of your life.  This is a huge effort.   It needs focus.  Think about what comes next after.

And as one of my GFs said don't should on yourself.  Work and careers are more fluid these days and some people have portfolio careers.  The old rules aren't the roadblocks they used to be   I find nowadays as long as you are ready to tell your story and overcome some of the negative frames and tests people lay on you there will be plenty of opportunities.   I m old.  Every time in my life it looked like I was road blocked some opportunity turned up.  If you put yourself out there when you are ready it will happen.

BTW the warning John gave about temping is real.  You need a thick skin and be willing to be given all the crap jobs.  And the dirty secret of contracting is not every contract works out.  If you decide to go down that path once you ve finished your doctorate happy to kick in to the discussion on how to make it work for you.

 

 

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John FreemanBelEmily

Appreciate your kind words and thoughtful suggestions, John and Transitioned.

I agree that part of it is to "reset" - i.e. it's easy to fall into the trap that "I spent so many years on my PhD working hard, now I am only going to work on a job that a college graduate can do and pays slightly over minimum wage"? It's the feeling of loss of time, energy and immense opportunity cost when you decide to leave academia because of the factors you can't control at that time and place.

It's also easy to compare, my friend/colleague/office mate X in the PhD program so and so has a cushy job now that pays Y, and is set on a path for success. But when I think of it, since I have a need to feel valued and aligned with the organization, at this stage I probably should be focusing on that - fit and learning rather than the money. It has caught up on me because I am getting older, and still starting out just like some 20 year olds. For example, I had an interview with some recruiter who was recruiting recent college graduates - who would have no specialized knowledge, and in the end that job was cancelled. It is a huge blow on your confidence when coming out of academia and feeling that you belong nowhere.

Anyway, I have switched gears and looking at non-profit orgs. I know they don't pay nearly as much as the industry jobs I had, but I will see if the job content and engagement make me feel the "vibe" that John mentioned. I agree that it's the style of working that should fit in the organization, otherwise it would show in my work. It is a path of finding what works for me, and I know that in the past highly competitive cut-throat environment (academia, pharma) doesn't work for me. Right now the priority is 1) Finding a suitable entry level job that fits my values and learning style 2) Continuing to hone "career intelligence" and power awareness to climb the ladder.

Anyway, thanks for the food for thought! I will report back about what I find.

It's your party Emily share what you feel comfortable with.  You re obviously smart and self aware.  You will choose the path that's right for you.  What I do see often is people don't get all the value from advice they could because they don't think it's relevant or they have already made a decision based on what they know.  And they don't give the all important details. I think it's because they re keen to get on with the doing so they cut down the options.  And if there's a no brainer move that is the best way.  Advice is just a buffet and sounding board.   Those were good questions John asked.  And I m curious why completing the PhD is off the table. Is there a roadblock there?  Or do you need to start earning?

 

Quote from Transitioned on September 18, 2022, 11:30 pm

It's your party Emily share what you feel comfortable with.  You re obviously smart and self aware.  You will choose the path that's right for you.  What I do see often is people don't get all the value from advice they could because they don't think it's relevant or they have already made a decision based on what they know.  And they don't give the all important details. I think it's because they re keen to get on with the doing so they cut down the options.  And if there's a no brainer move that is the best way.  Advice is just a buffet and sounding board.   Those were good questions John asked.  And I m curious why completing the PhD is off the table. Is there a roadblock there?  Or do you need to start earning?

 

Hi Transitioned,

Yes I guess it's a bit of both. I'm getting older and have been in this program for way too long. I got delayed mainly because one of my advisors was away and during that time I made some progress with my other advisor, but the absent advisor came back and totally reversed what I did before, then there was also been job and visa challenges.

For John's questions:

I'm in the U.S. and from one of the Asian countries. I arrived here 10 years ago, did my master's then PhD here. For data analytics specifically, I've observed a shift of the industry and since I'm not a hard science/engineering major, it is going to be exceptionally hard to redirect since there is no shortage of talent for those jobs (also paid pretty well). Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's one of those things that everybody was jumping on board at its peak and then it got over itself pretty soon (like investing trends etc.).

Yes part of the reason for redirecting to data was the money, but I also felt I enjoyed the analytical process in my research a lot. It really doesn't hold much value to me now if I struggle to find an entry level job. I'm already looking elsewhere because I've been held up for a couple years now.

Hello Emily,

Lots of good advice already, and I agree with most of it.

I think that if you're around or past the 70-80% mark with your PhD, and you probably are if finishing by spring is possible, then I'd think twice before quitting it.

Doesn't mean to say "don't", but... Think about it.

From what I experienced, more people quit out of frustration, than because it "makes sense".

Some day you may talk about how much it sucked, what were the issues with it, or even work to change it.
But you'll have a lot more credibility if you can say "I went through it, and it sucked" then "it sucked so I quit" (albeit of course, whatever you decide is no death knell and there are good ways to spin it, such as "it sucked so bad and I was so much more effective with my own directed learning that I decided to quit it even though I was 80% through).

Life isn't a sprint, and if the PhD is taking a toll... F*ck the PhD, you're in control, not the institution or the people in it.
You can put it on ice, detach from it, tell management you need some time for yourself, and resume whenever you're good to go.

I finished uni late, and was totally cool with it.

About what you want to find, I'd prioritize in this order:

  1. Meaningful
  2. Pays well
  3. ...
  4. ...
  5. ... Little politics, a distant 3rd because those places are very rare, including the ones that say they are, and it's not easy to assess it from the outside

As for entrepreneurship, I agree with John that some experience first will be highly beneficial if you're thinking of founding.
But as for startups, I think you can definitely jump into one.
Just be prepared that if it's an early one, it may be highly disorganized -and see if you can get some equity shares, a good way to frame it might be that their salary offer is a bit low for you, but they can make it with a monthly shares plan -.

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I agree with Lucio.

What I would add is about mindset: it seems that you think that it's either you get good money or have a meaningful job. It's not true in my experience. There is a compromise of course.

The advantage of prioritising meaning as Lucio proposed is that once you find meaning you can always earn more money. The opposite is not so true I think. So it's a matter of timing. Focus first on Meaning, then you can focus on increasing your income in your meaningful job (does not have to be public organization, but most of the time it is due its nature of serving people: police, firemen, etc.).

Have you heard of Tom Bilyeu?

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Quote from John Freeman on September 21, 2022, 6:37 pm

I agree with Lucio.

What I would add is about mindset: it seems that you think that it's either you get good money or have a meaningful job. It's not true in my experience. There is a compromise of course.

The advantage of prioritising meaning as Lucio proposed is that once you find meaning you can always earn more money. The opposite is not so true I think. So it's a matter of timing. Focus first on Meaning, then you can focus on increasing your income in your meaningful job (does not have to be public organization, but most of the time it is due its nature of serving people: police, firemen, etc.).

Have you heard of Tom Bilyeu?

Thank you Lucio and John for your thoughtful input!

For meaning vs. money, it is only to my own observation that it's one or the other. For example, if I find something that's akin to my own background (feels meaningful to me, likely non-profit), I get paid really not great, and it makes me feel frustrated with the PhD even more - if a high school graduate or a college graduate with some experience can do it, why would I apply for it? What did I do with my years of life?

Some research roles pay a bit better, but then I am not sure if I want to continue to do research. Also, applying for jobs and figuring out career while I am fighting my unhelpful committee is a depressing experience. For my contractor role in industry, it paid well but I find it incredibly dull (also with complete shock events like being laid off and toxic boss).

Anyway, thinking out loud - I am still determined to go to tech industry but aiming for a more technical role than data focused role (as it's still more business than tech). That would provide an easier entry (albeit more demanding in upfront effort to get up to speed with hard technical skills).

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