Megan Cooley, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Department of Cancer Biology.
My then-fiancé and I were both getting ready to graduate with Ph.D.’s in analytical chemistry about two years ago. With the job market as tight as it was, we had our work cut out for us! We were keeping our options open and applying to positions throughout the U.S. On a whim, my husband applied for a position in the Kansas City area and ended up getting it! All of a sudden, my search went from nationwide to the Kansas City metropolitan area in a matter of a day. Drastic, I know, but when you are starting out you jump at opportunities and gain as much experience as you can. So, what to do now?
The Midwest, at least within the Kansas City area, is not necessarily a booming industry for science. There are a few large corporations, but for the most part the industry around here consists of contract research organizations and a few small start-up companies. Many of these companies are looking for graduates with a bachelor’s, maybe a master’s, degree and experience. I was graduating with a Ph.D. and, while I applied to these positions, I do not really think the companies took me seriously. Thinking of ways to be industrious about job searching, I took to social media and started to try and learn more about what opportunities were in the area—at companies, research institutions, and government facilities—and most importantly, who was in the area. Where is this all going? You guessed it, networking!
Do yourself a favor right now: Create an online profile and start using it. When you are in a limited market, you need to see who else is in the area you might know or, more importantly, have a connection to. If your graduate advisor is willing, use her or his name to introduce yourself to someone that your mentor is connected to. People are generally more than willing to help, and if they cannot help you directly, they are usually quick to give advice and point you to someone or something else that can help you. Social media sites such as LinkedIn, amongst the scads of others, are also great for finding local professional groups to become involved in. These groups, for example your local AAPS discussion groups, are a great way to meet people and establish face-to-face connections. Recruiters are another option to consider in a limited market, but be cautious about using them without fully understanding the terms of their service; you might end up owing money when that first paycheck rolls in. Finally, remain flexible and be open to things that might be a little outside of your ideal position. Perhaps the best thing that happened to me was taking that last piece of advice. I ended up accepting a postdoctoral fellowship position in which the skills I had acquired during my Ph.D. were desired, and in turn I am gaining an entirely new skill set that will be highly applicable to the ever-changing pharmaceutical industry.
In summary, be industrious, be flexible, and get out there and meet people!
What strategies have worked for you when seeking a job within a limited geographic area?