Monday, September 23, 2013

LinkedIn for Career Success: 7 tips to stand out from the crowd

This past Wednesday, The University of Calgary Career Services hosted Steve Watt, the Canadian Marketing Manager for LinkedIn. He spoke to a packed lecture hall of undergrad and grad students alike, eager to learn how to optimize the use of LinkedIn for building your professional brand and finding long term career success.

As per usual, I took notes... here are the highlights!

The current standards for hiring are incredibly inefficient, both for the companies doing the hiring and for you, the applicants. Steve Watt boasts that he is proudly a disruptive force, trying to shake things up in the traditional game of job seeking. Teaching companies and talking to students about what the changing world, including of course LinkedIn, means to you and how not to get left behind. What it all comes down to in a nutshell?

Don't think in terms of your Resume and CV any more, think about Building your Professional Brand.

And what better social media service for building your professional brand is there than Linkedin? It's all about getting out of the stack of hundreds of similar resumes and into real, human connections with the people making the hiring decisions.

Steve offered up 7 tips to stand out from the crowd. (as to why 7? Lanny McDonald wore 7 when he played for the Leafs! yeessh not another Leafs fan!)

7 Tips to Stand Out from the Crowd

1. Start with a Photo and Headline: simple facts, profiles with photos get 7 times the clicks as those that don't have them. But remember, go with something professional. As for your headline, it should be a true statement about who you are. Steve's best advice, ask yourself, would anyone say the opposite... and if no one would then how does it make you stand out?

2. Write a Compelling Summary: if your headline was the bait, here's where you get to real them in. Stay tight and concise, no one wants to read forever, and don't forget to update it as you grow and change.

3. Recommendations and Skills Endorsements: Nothing goes farther than an authentic recommendation, I mean if I wouldn't buy a camera on Amazon without reading some good reviews, I probably wouldn't hire you without seeing what people have to say. Go for quality over quantity here. Skills Endorsements, relatively new to LinkedIn, however develop a picture of you in the aggregate, if 50plus people say you have great salesmanship skills, it must be true.

4. Every Employee is an Ambassador: What if you aren't actively looking for a job? Your LinkedIn profile should still best represent the organization you work for. A robust, well connected profile makes your company look least that's what you can tell your boss when he catches you updating it on company time.

5. Engage Your Network: this is digital networking. How can you drive traffic to your profile? establish yourself as a leader in your field, share articles, join groups, and get involved in conversations.

6. Did I Mention Join Groups?: There are over 2 million groups on LinkedIn, and some of them are amazingly robust communities. Seek those which are big and vibrant in your field. Join in and think of it like a cocktail party, take a couple laps around the room to get the mood, and then ramp up your engagement, Make sure you leave the impression on people that you want.

7. Take advantage of LinkedIn Today and Influencers: LinkedIn Today is a newsfeed you can tailor to your interests, and may be full of important news that sets you aside from your peers at an interview. Influencers are established, successful individuals, who you can follow (similar to a blog or twitter) and try to absorb their knowledge.

How have you successfully used LinkedIn along your career path? Which of these tips are you going to make use of ASAP?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Should You Go to Grad School?

You're facing the end of your undergraduate degree, and the thought of leaving the cozy bosom of the academic life behind terrifies you. Lets be honest, college was probably the best 3-5 (or more) years of your life, and you're not ready to give that up yet. Or maybe you just don't have some other plan.

If you weren't like me (already set up with a graduate supervisor long before I crossed the stage to grab my diploma) you might be wondering if graduate school is right for you. How do you make that decision? Well that is one of the topics I'll be addressing in the Prospective Grad Students section of this blog. But in the mean time, why not try out this choose your own ending adventure, brought to you by the people at .

Its a bit of fun, and includes helpful tools like a prospective salary calculator for your life 20 years down the road, with and without gradschool. And if you don't like your ending, you can easily back track and take a different path!


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why Scientists Curse the Name Eugene Garfield: Impact Factor

Eugene Garfield seems like a likable enough name, if one that brings to mind images of a fat cat eating lasagna. However at a recent departmental retreat during a science trivia game, his name came up as one to curse. This is of course because he is credited for subjecting us to the terror of the Impact Factor.

A much better method for calculating impact factor, in my humble opinion.
The further you advance into the wonderful world of academia and science, the more aware you become of the hefty weight of the impact factor. For those of you unfamiliar with it, impact factor is a numerical rank applied to journals based on the number of citations they receive in a year (not unlike google's page rank, calculated based on links back to your page). Top journals, Science, Nature, NEJM etc have high impact factors, and it is therefor more desirable to publish in them, as they increase the likelihood your own work will be cited and deemed influential.

However impact factor wasn't intended as a tool for scientists per say, but rather for libraries to determine which journals to purchase. It bears in mind to remember that while impact factor means something about the rank of a journal, it does directly reflect the quality of all the science published within.

And scientists, in of themselves, do not have impact factors.

Except wait, I was at a meeting in Toronto this past week and the way people were talking, it seemed like we did.

In the increasingly competitive realm of academia (only 15% of PhDs will attain the coveted tenure track position one day) a numerical ranking of job applicants may seem like a great idea. Much like a GPA for those of us who are no longer taking classes, our CVs are being read like transcripts. You may be asked to include the impact factor (quoted to up to 3 decimal pts!) of the journal of each of your publications, add or average them up and your potential employers have a simple way to rank all their applicants.

While the value of publishing peer reviewed papers in high impact journals should not be understated (and anyone of us may be willing to sell our souls for a Nature paper) should a scientist's value really be quantified this way? Increasingly the science community has called for better understanding of the true meaning of impact factor and rallied against its prominence as an evaluative tool of science and scientists. Recently, a multidisciplinary group of scientists, editors and publishers met in San Francisco to outline suggestions for moving away from the impact factor.

The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)

And this past month, the editor-in-chief of Science wrote an excellent editorial on the topic.

Impact Factor Distortions

At the end of the day, science is rapidly becoming more multi-disciplinary and expansive than ever, and the research scientist, an individual who's value far exceeds only his/her publication record. So while the impact factor may not be all bad, it is important to remember it is certainly not all good either.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Writing that Research Proposal 005

This past week I finally wrapped on my research proposal, a labour of love, hate, and 8months of carrying stacks of papers around. While completing it and having my supervisory committee sign off on it marks the countdown towards my candidacy exam next month, having it finally finished couldn't feel any better.

The research proposal is a critical endeavour of the graduate career, whether it be a master's or PhD program. Typically undertaken after a year of preliminary experiments and background reading, it may be simply a necessity of your program or, in my case, provide the materials around which you will be tested for candidacy. In either case it may represent the first time you, as a student, are asked to think creatively and critically, independent of your supervisor, proposing a hypothesis and the experiments suitable to test it.

I began my own efforts on my proposal at the end of last summer, throwing a blank poster board up on the wall of my living room, and brain storming a concept map around the data I had collected so far. From that map I tried to arrive at a clear hypothesis, and a set of three major research aims.

From September to December, I wrote, scrapped it, and rewrote my draft a number of times. Without deadlines enforced by anyone other than myself, I struggled to prioritize this project over numerous others that sprung up with harder deadlines (applying for funding, submitting abstracts for meetings etc). And that is nothing to say for balancing effective reading and writing with the experiments necessary to move the project along.

Then came the rounds of edits from my supervisor, the flip-flopping back and forth between styles of presenting my aims, and going through things with a fine tooth comb (I am a notoriously bad speller, and incredibly fond of typos). The finished product, 20 full single spaced pages of text, 9 additional figures and some 60 or so references....oh and literal blood sweat and tears put into the effort. (Who ever said there's no crying in science?)

Along the way, here are some things I've learned that would make it go smoother next time around (only there had better not be a next time).

  1. When you read papers, take notes! Detailed notes that you can write from. And organize, organize, organize. You'll want to be able to find the reference easily when your train of writing needs it.
  2. When you get fed up with writing, take a break. Burning yourself out on one go will only make it harder to get back to it later.
  3. Practice writing and reading often. The major pitfall of many proposals is that unclear writing leads to mis-communications leading your committee wondering what you are trying to say (or if you know what you're talking about). Reading other peoples proposals, papers etc. will help  you develop your own writing skills. In particular, if you can read bad examples, you'll learn in a hurry what to avoid. If you're are ESL, take advantage of a friend to read through and give comments on the writing.
  4. Say exactly what you mean. Avoid unnecessarily flowery text, or ambiguous statements. This is your proposal, so be confident enough to make clear statements, and be ready and willing to defend them.
  5. Remember it's just a proposal, you may never do half of what is in it. Science is often a study of opportunity, a novel or unexpected result may take your project in a directly you could have never predicted. So avoid the sense of anxiety that if you can't complete everything you propose you've somehow failed. Take this as an opportunity to write you ideal project proposal based on what you know now.
  6. At the end of the day, sometimes you just have to leave good enough alone. Remember this is a document that only a handful of people will ever read, and is intended more as an exercise in developing the knowledge and skills you will need to apply for grants and run your own group one day. So maybe after that 5th or 6th round of revisions, just call it done.
  7. That being said, take it seriously, the skills you have the potential to develop, through preparing an excellent document, will help you enormously through the rest of your career.
I hope some of this advice will help you when you undertake your the writing of your own research proposal. Although I may have hated it at many points along the way (and am dearly looking forward to burning a copy in a bonfire when I finish my candidacy) I managed to produce a document which I am immensely proud of.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

10 things to do when grad school is stressing you out

This post was inspired by one I saw on a great mommy blog - The complete guide to imperfect homemaking. I recommend you go read it, especially, I can imagine, if you have kids.

10 things to do when grad school is stressing you out.

  1. Sit in on an undergrad class, and take pleasure in how little they know. It may have only been a few years ago, but it's amazing the amount of knowledge we take for granted as grad students. (Caution, this only works for subjects in your immediate field, as a first year physics class would floor me right now.)
  2. Attend a talk with free food, and get seconds. Need more be said?
  3. Make a powerpoint slide or two of your recent progress. Somehow it's easier to see how things come together when you put them into finalized figures or slides.
  4. Go read a paper somewhere with natural lighting. If you can get outside, even better. Sometimes we forget what the sun feels like when we spend all our days in the lab.
  5. Cry over your project. Preferably not where your supervisor will catch you.
  6. Tackle something easy on your to do list. Sometimes sending that email you've been meaning to send only takes two minutes, but crossing it off your list will leave you feeling good all day.
  7. Remind yourself that your supervisor didn't have it all together when he was in your shoes, either, and somehow he still has a tenture track position.
  8. Resolve not to multitask when over stressed. Chances are more things won't work than will.
  9. Turn off your computer. Sometimes a day away from the constant emails can be the most satisfying and productive.
  10. Plan a break. Having even a short vacation/long weekend to look forward to can keep you motivated. If you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, than light lots of candles along the way (so to speak).


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ponderings of a PhD Student: Grad School Blues

Lately it seems every time I open my inbox, check twitter or flip through the pages of a science community publication, I come across an article that makes me pause to question my graduate studies. For instance, the winter edition of Health Solutions features an article with the sub-heading "A Ph.D. is no guarantee of a university position". The March University Affairs? An article "the PhD is in need of revision", which while lamenting about long times to completion and high drop out rates, also draws attention to the fact that in many fields, 'we may be producing more PhD students than we need.' Says the vice-president academic of UBC, Dr. David Farrar, who goes on to say "They need to know when they get into this where it's going to take them."

Even on my own blog, I've often draw attention to the shockingly low success rate for PhD's eventually finding faculty positions at universities (only 20-35%). The suggested solution? apart from revamping the system to be more selective of graduate student admissions (read as: train fewer of us). Is to provide extra funding (usual only one year) after completion for you to train for another field entirely. Many people opt to head towards public policy, law or business.

As it stands for me, I still can't imagine myself anywhere outside of an academic institution. So what I'd like to see, fewer articles focusing on the negative, suggesting we opt out of academia early; and more good advice on how to develop my self over the next 3 years into becoming a part of that lucky 20%.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Value of Mentorship Part 1 - 004

Who do you consider to be your mentor? Your supervisor? A helpful Post-Doc? Your parents? The key to academic and career success can often be to find the right mentors early on.

Whether formed organically, intentionally sought after or implemented in a mandatory fashion; there is much to be gained from a good mentoring relationship. A quick qoogle search on 'Mentorship in Academia' gives some 14 million results, interestingly many of the top hits specifically aimed at women. Invited speakers at past Young Women of Influence events have all commented on the importance of strong mentors in their own career success. In fact one piece of advice which stands out came from Evelyn Ackah, who told her own boss "Hello Liz, I want your job" and began a series of mentoring conversations which eventually lead to her running her own law firm.

While most graduate students have a primary mentor in the role of their supervisor, the development of broader mentoring networks is becoming increasingly necessary for success. In fact applications for provincial support in Alberta now require the development of a Mentorship Committee consisting of three or more members (independent from your typical advisory committee). One member of which is specifically intended to be a career mentor. Perhaps this trend is reflective of the increasing numbers of graduate trainees, no longer do Tenured professors take on graduate student protoge's who will replace them one day. Increasing numbers of graduates and shockingly low hiring into tenure track positions, makes it clear than effective career mentorship, early on, is needed to ensure you have a career after graduation.

That being said, seeking out mentors outside your immediate laboratory or research group environment can be intimidating, confusing or forgotten about. As such I'll be focusing the next couple of posts on my own efforts to develop a better mentorship network. My first step? Tonight I'll be attending a Young Women Of Influence Evening Series featuring former biotech CEO and current professional mentor Cynthia Roney, who will talk about The Power Networking and Mentorship.

Have you begun to develop a mentorship network? How have mentors played important roles in your own academic or career success?
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