BSc (Nutrition) graduate, Bridget Kelly, now works as a nutrition project officer at Cancer Council NSW. She says, "Look for jobs outside of the traditional box if they will give you the opportunity to move into an area of interest. I started as a data entry assistant on a nutrition project and through making contacts in the field became a research dietitian with the NSW Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Research Group." Bridget is also completing a PhD in public health. "Further education, like a postgraduate degree, is an excellent opportunity to further career opportunities and develop skills."
Career preparation advice from our scientists
Professor David Day Plant biologist
Don’t just respond to advertisements; contact people/firms that you want to work with directly, and ask if there are opportunities.
Make the most of opportunities at university to improve your communication skills (oral and written); presentation is everything.
If you have an interview, do your homework; research the people on the panel and have a practise interview.
When applying for jobs, stress your generic skills as well your specific training.
Be confident and enthusiastic about what you have done and what you would like to so – without being a pain.
Dr Adele Pile Marine biologist
Volunteer on a variety of projects. You may get a free trip to a really fun place.
Even if the projects are not in your field of interest you will learn something new. It also helps in organizing people to give you references.
Take classes outside of your discipline for your electives. Employers are interested in well rounded people and you never know when that class in Greek mythology will come in handy.
Go to class, work hard and get good grades so you can take advanced classes. Advanced classes really provide you with an opportunity to explore a variety of fields so you can decide what you like. You should go through life with a short list of things you will never do again, rather than a long list of things you want to try.
Write, write and write.
Develop a career plan so you can plan your academic career. It's a plan not a contract.
You can always change your mind if what you are doing is not making you happy. I've never really figured out if I'm good at something because I like it or I like it because I'm good at it. Then again, while I do like playing tennis, I really am pretty bad at it so go figure.
Talk to your lecturers. Go to their office and find out about what they do and why they do it. We usually do not lecture on what we do for research or what we are interested in. People love talking about themselves and they might offer you a cup of tea. Plus, this is how you find out about projects to volunteer on.
Attend seminars that are on offer around the university. They are frequently at lunch time (bring your lunch, everyone else will) and it's very different from a lecture. You'll learn heaps of new things.
Put your hand up to do things. Offer your assistance. Lecturers can't read your mind and if you are just dying to go out to the Simpson desert you have to tell someone. They are not going to ask you if you do not give them any indication of your interest.
Did I mention that you should work on your writing?
Professor Merlin Crossley Biochemist
When seeking references for positions it is likely that University staff who know you will be happy to act as referees. It is important that you ask them beforehand, send them a copy of the job advertisement, and a copy of your application. In this way they will be best able to provide the most relevant and up to date reference.
As well as asking staff who know you well to act as referees, also consider including someone senior, whose status can easily be officially judged (the Head of the Teaching Committee or the Head of School where you did your most senior studies perhaps).
Make your application neat and brief. Be sure to highlight evidence that you can be successful. You need not be good at everything but employers will look for evidence that people can achieve at the things they enjoy.
Look for opportunities for advancement rather than the perfect job to start with. It is sometimes easier to secure an interesting job or move up once you have demonstrated success in the workforce.
Remember that social skills and energy are amongst the most important attributes of successful workers. If you are blessed with these qualities be confident in the interview. Have some examples of projects, work, activities and other achievements which you have accomplished and enjoyed. Do not worry if you cannot answer all questions, not all questions are easy.
On becoming a research scientist
Recognise that before you, yourself, are judged you will probably be prejudged on your written record of achievement, your grades, the Universities, and laboratories you have attended. Be sure to choose institutions and mentors that are widely respected.
If you are choosing a lab in which to conduct a PhD or to work as a research assistant always talk to staff and students in the lab. The lab head will invariably say that the lab is good but workers in the lab are generally only too willing to discuss the good and the bad and give a balanced picture.
When choosing a lab be sure to investigate the fate of past employees and students who went to that lab. See if they have gone on to successful positions elsewhere, have published well, or have left science altogether.
Have a careful look at the publication record and grant record of the lab. Do not interview your prospective employer about this but find out by looking on the web.
Choose a large field that is competitive and is expanding rather than a small field where you can become the world expert overnight. Although competition will be greater in the hot fields the pool of opportunity will be greater.
Plan to move every few years while you are young. This is not essential and it can be hard and heart wrenching but it is often the best strategy in the long run.
Identify a mentor whom you respect and do not hesitate to ask for advice.
Identify a scientific problem that is well defined and be prepared to focus and dedicate yourself to this even if it is not rewarding at once. The most common mistake made by brilliant young scientists is chasing too many butterflies at once, better to stick to one moth and pin it securely.
Dr Rachel Ankeny Bioethicist
Keep an open mind: you may find that your career goals and interests change over time so don't narrow your options too early.
Develop a range of skills: though for many jobs you will need particular expertise, you also need those all-important skills of written and verbal communication, critical thinking, and working in teams.
Expect to change jobs or even careers a number of times in your life: although your grandparents were likely in the same job for a lifetime, statistics show that change will be the norm for you, so seize the opportunities that present themselves to you.
Get experience in an area before committing to pursuing it as a career-track: even volunteer work or a short research project may be enough to convince you that your interests indeed lie in a particular area, that you are especially good at something, or perhaps more importantly, that you need to rethink and investigate other options.
Don't take everything your parents, friends, or partners say as 'gospel': consider your goals, interests, and skills when choosing your course of study, particularly when thinking about a career you (and not they!) will need to live with.
Professor Mike Thompson Reptile specialist
What I look for as an employer
Good (and consistent) grades
Extra curricular activities (shows get up and go)
Tips for students going on to Honours or Postgraduate study
Make as many contacts as you can (definitely talk to your lecturers, as well as your peers).
Make yourself as well known as possible (many opportunities arise from who you know as much as what you know).
Be involved as a volunteer, especially in field work if that reflects your interests.
Get involved in relevant societies outside of the university.
The contacts that you make at University during your postgraduate study will be important to you throughout your career, so 'network' at University.