Career Development The Petri Dish

The Petri Dish featuring Dr. Thi Nguyen

Thi Nguyen, PhD is a neuroscientist, virtual learning consultant, and career coach. She creates supportive and inclusive learning environments for students. She teaches about strategic career planning, storytelling, and presenting your professional self authentically. She has worked with professionals across corporate and non-profit spaces in the Bay Area, Boston, and now St. Louis. She has worked as associate dean for a graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, program director at a career center at UCSF, visiting scientist with an academic research group, and grant writer. She also is creator and editor of a job exploration website, volunteer at refugee and international centers, and mom. She has a doctoral degree in neuroscience from UT Southwestern Medical Center and completed a postdoc at the Gladstone Institutes.

You can listen to the full interview just below, or the quick write up beneath that! Enjoy!

Q: What’s a skillset that scientists have that they should amplify when applying for jobs, especially those not in academia?

A: An undervalued skill that you obtain in a PhD is the ability to digest a lot of information from different sources and then convey it in a concise way. Other skills that are important include critical thinking and working a in a high-pressure environment. Scientists know how to work hard, meet deadlines, and deal with different personalities. If we want to connect this to skills listed on your LinkedIn profile, you would want to think about the skills that are valued in the industry you’re interested in.

Q: How should scientists best utilize LinkedIn for their job search and what are some best practices?

A: If you’re going into an industry that uses LinkedIn as a method for networking, use it as an insight into the order of procedures. This includes looking at the trajectory of the people who have the jobs you are looking into. For example, you could check whether they did an internship or received extra certifications. Other PhDs’ profiles will also inform you on how to edit your LinkedIn profile. There are many layers to your profile. You can work on your summary, ensure your profile fits the industry you want to transition into, and use it as a way to connect with other people. Another important tip is to add your LinkedIn profile ID to your resume/CV so that you can be contacted through it.

Q: How can we use LinkedIn or online virtual events to network as genuinely as possible?

A: To engage with people in structured ways, you can look into professional groups online and engaging with posts or posting yourself. A more organic way for a DBBS student is looking for DBBS alumni for example, connecting with them, and asking them about their current career. If you have simple rules to follow, it can be easier to connect with people, too. These rules can include: being brief, making the connection clear (clarify why you’re connecting with the person), asking yourself if the recipient can read and respond to your message in two minutes.

Q: How do you best leverage your network on LinkedIn to connect with others (using second/third connections)?

A: Always give people an out before asking to be connected to one of their contacts. People have different philosophies on how they use LinkedIn, and some only connect with people with whom they have a common link. Others may connect with as many people as possible. An example ask could be, “I saw that you are connected to this person, would you be willing to introduce us because I am interested in asking them about their company?” – Make sure to clarify that you will not be asking them for a job. When you’re asking, you also have to accept that you are open to rejection, so that’s why offering an out is best (example: if you’re not comfortable making the connection, it’s okay. Thanks for your time.)

Q: How do you best represent yourself online?

A: Don’t try to reach perfection. It’s not permanent. Your profile is fluid and you can always update your profile and the words that describe you. If you are trying out different profiles and summaries, set your privacy a little higher so others don’t see every update you make. To do this in Privacy Settings: change the ‘who can see my updates’. Revisit ‘who can see your published posts’ depending on your goals.

Q: How do you describe being a graduate student on LinkedIn, do you add it both to the education section and experience section?

A: Working in your lab absolutely counts as experience and skills gained. Add to your experience section, for example add ‘Neuroscience Lab Researcher’ for your title. If you’re early in your graduate school journey, you can add advisor or PI. If you’re looking for non-tenured track positions, remove your advisor’s name because it signals academia and instead include the platform/disease/technique you are expert in. For example, “Immunology Group”. For the education section, adding graduate school is important. In addition to highlighting lab expertise, add other skills like writing, policy work, and any other unique pursuits.

Q: How do you think about engaging with the LinkedIn platform?

A: Decide on your goal for being on LinkedIn. Sometimes you may just be looking for information. After gathering information, you may want to transition into engaging more with contacts. To engage more with your professional community, share others’ articles, consider writing some of your own, and set reminders to check out group posts. Stay up to date can help with connecting with others. Another way to engage is through skill endorsement, especially if you’d like to highlight skills in a new sector. Ask your connections to endorse you for the skills needed for your next career, and offer to do the same for them!

Q: Is LinkedIn premium worth it?

A: Premium is most useful for people actively applying to jobs. In thinking about levels of access needed to people’s contact info, you may find other ways to email people through your common connections. Premium also recommends jobs, and that feature may not be accurate all the time. As with everything, be cautious and also update your settings and keywords to help recruiters find you.

Q: Could you describe your transition out of academia?

A: In my transition out of academia, it’s helped to clarify what work I want to keep doing. There’s always a balance between doing work that you enjoy and doing work that allows you to live your best life. Personally, I am very people-oriented and enjoy hearing people’s stories. Another value that is important to me is being results-oriented. I also enjoyed teaching. At that time, it felt better to move on to a job where I worked with scientists on career planning which satisfied my need to work with people, and it also offered me a more balanced workday.

Q: How do you know if you are making the right decision at career cross-roads?

A: If you’re choosing a next career, ask yourself how this career will help you acquire a skillset that will open more doors for you in the future. For example, an internship in industry can offer up a unique insight into a field and may allow you to move up quickly even if “intern” feels like a downgrade in terms of the job title. Career transitions should also align with your values and should not be seen as closing doors. If you find yourself needing financial stability or job flexibility to allow you to be a caregiver, taking a job that meets you and your family’s needs does not necessarily stall you. Keep doing good work and maintaining connections. When you maintain your connections, you can always reach back out to them to get back into a certain industry.

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