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I’ve got the STEM degree. Now, what’s next? How do I prepare for an interview? How do I land a leadership role? What do I do if I don’t want to work in a laboratory?
These are common thoughts that many people in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields face as they are deciding what steps to take to get to their ideal career. While navigating through school or the early stages of a STEM career, emphasis is typically placed on the technical aspects needed within the field. Countless hours are spent learning how to master a hands-on technique to exhibit expertise in a subject or discipline. However, advancing a STEM career and moving up the leadership ladder requires additional skills outside of the technical expertise needed for the laboratory.
Transitioning into a successful career demands skills outside of the knowledge, expertise, and research acquired through attending an academic institution. It requires gaining awareness about what is needed to be fulfilled at work and investing time in developing soft skills—interpersonal skills, behavioral traits, and personal competencies that go beyond technical and analytical skills. Soft skills help to facilitate effective engagement with others, drive employee satisfaction, and ultimately complement any technical requirements needed for a job. Managers often seek individuals who can harmonize technical and soft skills. Common soft skills include those related to:
Because these skills are so valuable, it is beneficial to think of them as “career assets” rather than a simple set of skills. Why is that? By definition, an asset is a useful or valuable thing, person, or quality—much like monetary assets. You should acquire a broad portfolio of these professional assets for your career to flourish.
As you navigate your career, keep a few of these suggestions in mind:
Overall, the best thing to remember about your career is that you are in charge of determining the direction that it will head. Don’t be afraid to revisit your plans, and pivot as needed to make sure that you are being fulfilled. Along the way, make sure that you find ways to acknowledge and celebrate your “wins” to help you stay motivated. Set goals, and be intentional about your actions to achieve success on your own terms.
The “Beyond the Beaker” workshop that was originally scheduled for SciX 2021 had to be cancelled, but the SciX organizers look forward to offering this workshop at future SciX conferences. Dr. Pritchett’s article speaks to SciX’s strong support of students and early career professionals.