Want to spend time on your career planning, and don’t know where to start?

Right now, many PhD students and postdocs are having to step back from lab-work, and work remotely. A number of EMBL sites are closed, and all of EMBL is encouraged to work from home if possible.

“This is a special time; limbo time. Better to come out of this having done and learned something” Cornelius Gross, Deputy Head of EMBL Rome in his EMBL blog post, lab life under lockdown

We encourage you to use some of this time to reflect on your professional future. In case you are not sure where to start, we would suggest one of the following actions:

  1. If you are not sure what career direction you want to take: spend time really thinking about your skills, interests and what you want from your life/career in the long-term (your values); this can be very helpful to find some clarity on your options.
  2. If you have some ideas about what might come next, but don’t have an in-depth knowledge of the career areas: line up at least one Skype call with someone working in a lab or career path that interests you to better assess your fit, requirements and what skills/experience you might still need.
  3. If you know what comes next, and have a good understanding of the career area: brainstorm action items that will help you get your next role.
  4. If you will be applying soon: learn how to write a good application – including how to tailor this for your chosen type of role – and spend time identifying your unique skill selling points and achievements. Then start collecting evidence / information that you might want to use when preparing application materials and later on in the job interview.

Please see our detailed recommendations for these suggestions – and other potential actions – with links to relevant resources, below.

For EMBL predocs and postdocs, the EMBL Fellows’ Career Service continues to offer a wide range of support, with our in-person activities now offered online. If you are an EMBL fellow and would like input on how to implement these recommendations or to discuss any other aspect of your career planning, you can book a career guidance session via Skype, or contact us with specific questions (e.g. if you are looking for specific resources).

Do you have a resource that you’ve found helpful? Share in the comments below……

Stay safe and healthy,

Rachel and Patricia
EMBL Fellows’ Career Service

  1. If you are not sure what career direction you want to take: spend time really thinking about your skills, interests and what you want from your life/career in the long-term (your values); this can be very helpful to find some clarity on your options. Resources that may help:

Other potential actions related to clarifying your career direction:

a. Get a preliminary match to different career paths followed by a PhD based on your skills, interests and values:

b. Find careers inspiration by finding out what other former PhDs have done, and what these different roles involve:

c. Read articles and brochures on specific career areas that interest you

d. If you want to treat yourself to a book, we like the following:

  • A PhD Is Not Enough! A guide to survival in Science. Peter Feibelman. 2011. Basic Books. Great advice covering mainly academia, written by a US-based physics professor.
  • Next Gen PhD – A guide to career paths in Science. Melanie V. Sinche. 2016. Harvard University Press. Written for scientists wanting to explore options outside academia, this book has lots of practical advice on self-assessment, networking, making a career development plan, and applying for jobs.

2. You have some ideas about what comes next, but still have some time before applying:

  • Line up at least one Skype call with someone working in a lab or career path that interests you to better assess your fit, requirements and what skills/experience you might still need. Many people are working from home right now, with limited outside contact – and a short virtual conversation might be a welcome break! Even without these circumstances, we find most people are happy to talk about what their job is really like and advise potential future candidates on what they need to be successful. This can really help you better evaluate your fit to specific roles that interest you, and to prioritize different career development options.  We’d advise speaking to two people if you can, to better assess what is universal for that type of role, and what is organisation specific. You can find our advice article on holding such conversations, often referred to as informational interviews, here.
  • Optional but recommended extra – brainstorm ideas of how to implement what you learnt. Prioritize a couple of career development actions for when you return to the lab, and some you could do now (see point 3 / box 1).
  • Alternative: delve into resources on different career paths. See point b-c of “other potential actions” in section 1 above.

  1. If you know what comes next, and have a good understanding of the career area:

Write down what requirements you will need to meet for a successful application to your desired position. Consider what evidence you can provide for each requirement, then brainstorm ideas of how to fill the most critical gaps.

Your ideas for career development actions may include actions:

  • that directly address a gap (e.g. doing a course to learn a specific programming language; or prioritizing a project that will help you improve your existing knowledge, and could be used later in your CV [e.g. as evidence of your r or python skills]), and/or
  • that indirectly help you achieve a goal (e.g. working on your project management to help you get your paper out quicker, or working on your writing skills to help you when applying for funding in the future).

Prioritize a couple of career development actions for when you return to the lab, and some you could do now (see box 1).

Box 1: some ideas of potential career development actions you can do at home.

  • online courses e.g. from coursera, EdX, specific universities (Stanford), or a specialist training like data carpentry’s  genomics data curriculum
    • EMBL-EBI has a number of bioinformatics online trainings here that are available to all.
    • List of online resources for learning or teaching data science, biostats and bioinformatics from Rafael Irizarry (Professor of Biostatistics,
      Harvard University)
    • For EMBL fellows and staff:
      •  BioIT – a community-based initiative within EMBL – offers consulting and courses on programming and computational biology skills. See their equivalent blog post here, to see how you can access their consulting, materials from previous courses and online courses while you (and they) are working from home.
      • The EMBL Szilárd Library also provides access to the Nature Masterclasses Online Course in Scientific Writing and Publishing.
  • read articles/watch videos on good writing, presentations or posters, and start working on your next abstract, slide deck or poster, really paying attention to the things you’ve learnt from those resources:
    • PloS have a great collection of ten simple rules articles on a variety of topics
    • Uri Alon, a PI at the Weizmann Institute, has also collected a good set of links
  • identify funding opportunities or awards that you might be able to apply for your current or next role. Though don’t forget to discuss with your PI and institute’s grants department before leaping into writing something.
  • broaden your knowledge outside your field – read articles from other fields, watch iBiology talks, and within EMBL check-out the seminars library.
  • for those planning careers as a PI, start thinking about what research directions you’d like to explore in future – research who else is working on related questions, and where you might have a niche.
  1. If you will be applying soon:

Learn how to write a good CV and cover letter, spend time identifying your unique skill selling points and achievements. Then, start collecting the evidence / information that you might want to use to demonstrate your skills and fit to the position in the application or in an interview. Do not forget to set up, or update your professional online presence (e.g. LinkedIn, Research Gate). Please find specific resources for different types of positions below. For EMBL fellows, we continue to offer our weekly job application clinic on Fridays via skype; and if you are considering applying for a non-academic job, we will also be offering a remote “Applying to Industry” workshop (see Complementary Scientific Skills Courses).