By Scott Rank
Getting noticed in academia is enormously difficult. Scholars compete for attention by having fancy alma maters or getting published in prestigious journals – both of which have acceptance rates in the single digits.
But three PhD students in history were largely able to sidestep this process. Each gained academic clout through unconventional means. They did it in ways that academic publishing or conference presentations would not have made possible.
What do they have in common? All three are history podcasters. They are Chris Gratien from The Ottoman History Podcast, Tamas Kiss from the Medieval Radio Podcast, and me from the History in Five Minutes Podcast. None of them had an exceptional technical knowledge when they started. What they did could be done by just about any academic. In this blog post I will describe how academics can used podcasting to stand out in their fields.
But first I need to describe a behavioral phenomenon that explains why something as simple as podcasting can produce such big results. That phenomenon is called “The Superstar Effect.”
I've written elsewhere about the Superstar Effect in academia. Computer science PhD Cal Newport described it in even greater detail in an extensive post on Tim Ferriss's blog. The Superstar Effect is an economics theory that says in many different fields it pays disproportionally well to be not just very good, but the absolute best. According to a 1981 paper published in the American Economics Review, the top person in any field will get massively more fame, money, and attention than his or her marginally-less-talented competitors.
Understanding the Superstar Effect within academia is simple. According to a recent article in Slate, a new study in Science Advances shows that just a quarter of all universities account for 71 to 86 percent of all tenure-track faculty in the U.S. and Canada in the fields of business, computer science, and history. Eight schools account for half of all history professors.
If a university hiring committee has to choose between two candidates, one a graduate from Harvard and the other from the University of Iowa, all things being equal they will choose the Harvard graduate. That's why tenure-track job openings get hundreds of job applicants with marginal differences between any one of them, but the job in the end goes to the Ivy League graduate.
But there is a way to get all the benefits of the Superstar Effect without going to Harvard or being published in the American Historical Review. It comes by using a process known as The Superstar Corollary. Newport writes that The Superstar Corollary means being the best in a field makes you disproportionally impressive to the outside world. This effect holds even if the field is not crowded, competitive, or well-known.
This is where podcasting comes in. Being the best podcaster in an academic field is far less difficult than writing dozens of peer-reviewed articles. But you can receive far more benefits from the former despite much less competition.
Chris Gratien is one of the hosts of The Ottoman History Podcast. He began the project in April 2011 during his PhD studies to discuss topics in the field with fellow Ottoman scholars. Although Chris has excellent academic and publishing credentials, he has still triggered The Superstar Effect through podcasting. By recording nearly 200 episodes, he has become a well-known name across Ottoman studies.
The Ottoman History Podcast has no funding or institutional affiliation. Each episode is powered by a laptop, a mixer, and a few microphones. It features a discussion among 2-3 historians on one aspect of Ottoman studies, whether environmental history or poetry in the classical age. Sometimes it is Gratien alone giving a monologue. Despite these humble resources, the show has grown into a social media powerhouse.
Gratien wrote last month that the program currently receives 15,000 plays and downloads per week. The site uses a social media approach based on Facebook, with a core following of 18,000 people. Gratien lectures to the equivalent of a large state university each week. Thanks to numerous shares and retweets of new Ottoman History Podcast episodes, they often reach media professionals focused on foreign affairs and the Middle East.
The second example is Tamas Kiss, a doctoral candidate in Ottoman History at Central European University. He started the CEU Medieval Radio Podcast. Tamas conceived of CEU Medieval Radio in 2011 in the first year of his program because he regretted the enormous amount of knowledge that was being accumulated in the field but would never reach the wider public. Even though exciting ideas were traded among medievalists at conferences and public lectures, the average person still thought that everyone in the Middle Ages believed in a flat earth and burned witches.
The first episode aired on April 25, 2012. It is the only medieval themed radio on the Internet which provides its listeners with verbal content along with authentic medieval and renaissance music, from the Iberian Peninsula to the Ottoman Empire. His goal is for the radio program to become the most listened-to online radio associated with medieval and early modern history and music.
Through the program, Tamas has met top medieval and early modern historians. Over 80 guests have been on the show, including Natalie Zemon Davis and Peter Burke. The recording studio itself is located an hour from the university, which gave him a chance to get to know them while in commute. No such opportunity to talk at such length with such prominent scholars could ever be possible at a conference. The rector of Central European University even invited Tamas to his house for dinner because of CEU Medieval Radio.
The last of the three podcasters is me. I am the host of the History in Five Minutes Podcast. After nearly two years and 114 episodes, the show has over 1 million downloads. My podcast is less academic than Chris's or Tamas's but still contains a historical bent. The topics range from common knowledge about the Middle Ages that is incorrect to a five-part series on the mafia.
Doing the podcast has created a whole side career for me as an author of popular history books. I have built up enough of an audience that I knew I could sell a book if I published it on Amazon. Since 2013 I have published 12 short history books online. Some of the more popular titles include “Lost Civilizations: 10 Societies That Vanished Without a Trace” and “Off the Edge of the Map: Marco Polo, Captain Cook, and 9 Travelers and Explorers that Pushed the Boundaries of the Known World.”
The podcast has also led to other unexpected opportunities. A few months ago Amberley Publishing approached me with an offer to write a book about the history of explorers and adventurers. I would have never appeared on their radar if only for my academic writing. It was podcasting and popular history books that made this opportunity possible.
In sum, neither Chris, Tamas, or I had any special experience when we started podcasting. We simply got in front of the microphone and talked about what we knew. It turned into something much larger than any of us could have ever imagined. Podcasting offers huge opportunities for academics who simply reach out and take it.
Scott Rank is a PhD candidate in history at Central European University. He writes at www.thescholarpreneur.com and hosts The Scholarpreneur Podcast
By Dr. Samuel Dyer
I often get asked the question “Is it possible to break into the Medical Science Liaison role without experience?”
Yes it is clearly possible because it's important to realize that everyone started as an MSL for the first time without prior experience (myself included). The question is- HOW did they do it? There are a number of things you can do to improve your chances of landing your first MSL role including:
1) Start educating yourself on the MSL role by reading articles on the role, interview techniques, what to expect on the job etc. You will find a number of free articles at http://careercenter.themsls.org.
2) Start to build contacts within the Medical Science Liaison community and with MSL recruiters. One easy way to begin building your contacts is with LinkedIn. Recruiters are an invaluable resource to learn about the role.
3) Join MSL related LinkedIn groups. The largest group for MSLs and Medical Affairs is “Medical Science Liaison and Medical Affairs Networkers”. Contribute to LinkedIn discussions on groups. This will help with networking.
4) Review multiple job descriptions to familiarize yourself with the role and the verbiage used for the role. Learn the language of the role.
5) In terms of reviewing and applying for roles, focus on roles that are within your Therapeutic Area or Disease specialty ONLY! This will increase your chances greatly and you will be able to position yourself as an expert. Applying for roles in other TA’s is almost a complete waste of time as your application/CV will almost always be immediately discarded.
6) Join the Medical Science Liaison Society. (www.themsls.org) Anyone truly interested in the MSL career should join and get involved with the MSL Society. As a non-profit, the organization is focused on educating and helping people advance in their careers including landing your first MSL role. It is a great way to network and also be able to have the search term “Medical Science Liaison” on your CV and LinkedIn profiles. This results in your profile getting noticed and found.
7) Read “The Medical Science Liaison Career Guide: How to Break Into Your First Role”. (www.themslbook.com) This is the first and only book ever published on how to break into the role. It will show you, step by step, how to search for, apply, and interview for your first MSL role. The book reveals strategies for standing apart from the competition, what hiring managers look for when considering candidates, and what you will need to do to get hired.
Best of Luck to all and if I can help-please reach out to me at http://www.linkedin.com/in/samueldyer
By Karen Imgrund Deak, PhD; Director of Notre Dame’s MS in Patent Law and Registered Patent Agent
It’s no secret that the academic job market is tight – there simply aren’t enough faculty positions to absorb all of the newly-minted PhDs. Of course, many folks who hold degrees in science and engineering fields have the option of an “alternative” career at the bench in a R&D firm. Another popular option, and one growing in visibility, is for individuals with technical degrees to enter the field of patent law.
There are a couple of options for folks entering the patent law field; the fundamental distinction is whether or not someone has a law degree (JD). Subsequent posts and podcasts in this series will address the role of patent attorneys in the legal world. This post specifically focuses on the impact that PhD-holders can make without spending three more years in law school.
Many law firms will hire people who have PhDs (or sometimes even folks who have a technical background but not a PhD) to work on patent applications for their clients. If the person has passed the USPTO’s Patent Bar examination (formally, the Examination for Registration to Practice in Patent Cases), but is not an attorney, they can call themselves a Patent Agent. Even if someone has not passed the exam, they may still be able to get a job at a law firm as a technical specialist, patent scientist, or some similar title. Patent law is a very specialized subpart of the law – hence its own separate exam with different requirements than state bar exams – and one that is not well-understood by either clients or non-specialist attorneys.
Patent agents, technical specialists, patent scientists, etc. are all tasked with helping the firm’s clients get patents. Getting a patent requires a series of discrete steps: understanding the invention, writing and filing a patent application, and then negotiating with the Patent Office to convince the Office that the inventor actually deserves a patent. Additional layers of complexity can come from managing patent applications for the same invention in multiple countries around the world; and also from managing multiple, closely-related patent applications from the same inventor.
Once someone has passed the Patent Bar and become a patent agent, they are qualified to participate in all of these steps. Patent attorneys can do all of these things as well as additional work: writing contracts, or performing due diligence for a company, to name only two. In practice, however, a good patent agent or patent scientist often does these types of work, too – the work is just reviewed and signed off on by an attorney before it goes to the client.
Patent agents work both in law firms and in R&D-based companies. Patent agents at firms do very similar types of work at any firm – they help clients get patents. Patent agents who work in companies may help the company get patents; or they may alternatively oversee the company’s patent portfolio by “harvesting” inventions from the company’s researchers and then managing an outside law firm as the firm does the actual work of getting the patents.
If a person is considering a job as a patent agent, the competition is getting more and more intense. On the bright side, however, good, qualified patent agents are always in demand. So, what can one do to increase their chances of getting hired? Have a killer resume, cover letter and elevator pitch, of course; show some engagement with the patent system, if possible. There are also a series of post-PhD programs coming online to help with the transition – the MS in Patent Law and related offerings at Notre Dame, and a MLS of Patent Practice at Arizona State, among others. In general, these are programs of short duration and high intensity, which prepare their students by teaching the skills that a Patent Agent will use on a daily basis. Notre Dame’s program has seen high demand for our graduates.
Law firms especially have, in my experience, been very enthusiastic about hiring trained, competent Patent Agents. The salary for a Patent Agent is generally lower than for a patent attorney (but still completely liveable, and generally a multiple of what a post-doc position would pay); and they specialize in a niche field of law which is growing in importance.
I welcome any inquiries about a career as a Patent Agent, even if you’re just starting to explore and don’t have anyone else to talk to. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Seán Mac Fhearraigh, PhD
Overcoming the scepticism of a scientist is one of the hardest jobs in sales. Even though your product might be the best on the market and selling at the lowest price, it might not necessarily result in the scientist becoming convinced of its quality and a switch from the product they have been using over the past few years.
The same can the said in many instances with CVs, although you may have the drive and know-how of the technical side of the scientific market, competing with someone that already has experience within the field can affect your chances of securing a position in sales and any job for that matter.
However, although you may not have experience in managing accounts or following what is standard business protocol (something that all scientists can learn in an afternoon) tailoring your CV to focus on some key areas of strength can separate you from the crowd and give you the opportunity to interview for positions.
Tailoring your cover letter
Your cover letter will more than likely will be the first place you can make an impression on your future employer and therefore it is essential that you DO NOT USE a generic set of paragraphs to describe your experience.
Roles and responsibilities
The roles and responsibilities section in your CV will be a determining factor if you have a skillset to get the job. Therefore putting a lot of effort into this part of the CV is essential.
Further training and outreach
This can be one of the most important sections of your CV as it demonstrates how diverse you can be as an employee. After multiple years in the lab you will be branded as purely a scientist, however, listing training that was not purely science based can demonstrate how you can take other concepts on board. Further training will also give your employer some information on where your future career ambitions may lie.
Nothing screams success like winning awards. As we all know winning awards tells us that you were better than your peers and had the drive to succeed at a certain task. No matter what the award is, as long as it shows that you have a competitive edge, place it in your CV. If you have space take it one step further and explain why you won the award and how that success helped your achieve more.
Hopefully most of this makes sense and although not all will apply, writing a well-structured CV will separate you out from most candidates and hopefully secure you that interview.
For those of you who will be in the NYC area on October 2nd, this is a great opportunity to learn more about the process of getting a startup funded. Registration is free and refreshments will be served.
By Adam Ruben
I never wanted to do a post-doctoral fellowship. Despite the title of my book, Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School, there was a lot I liked about grad school. And a post-doc just sounded like everything I hated about grad school (long hours, low pay, no respect, no defined end date) and none of the parts I liked (classes, teaching opportunities, camaraderie with classmates, beer).
But in my field, Molecular Biology, it’s practically a given that you’ll either (a) do a post-doc or (b) abandon the field entirely and live on an art commune in Montana. Granted, there are different kinds of post-docs—academic post-docs, industrial post-docs—but every research job seemed to require an additional 2-6 years beyond the Ph.D., toiling at the bench 12 hours a day, the only reward being an annual salary of $30,000 instead of $26,000.
I started asking everyone I knew: “Is there a way to...skip the post-doc?” It was like asking whether I could skip brushing my teeth. Yes, um, technically, I could do it—but I’d only be hurting myself.
As graduation neared, I found a job at a small biotech company, where I’ve now worked for more than five years. The company was small enough, they told me, that they couldn’t really hire me as a post-doc because I’d be the only post-doc at the company. So they’d hire me under the ambiguous but not-a-post-doc title “Scientist,” and hey presto, I skipped the post-doc.
Don’t get me wrong; I can certainly see the value of a post-doctoral fellowship. It’s a transitional time to develop the necessary skills you’ll need as a scientist—overseeing your own project, learning important research techniques, writing grants, and, most importantly, familiarizing yourself enough with an entire field to identify the next problems that need to be solved.
But I’m still secretly glad I didn’t do one.
By Kristen Wishon
The job search today is more competitive than ever, even for graduate students. And as a grad student, learning how to stay competitive during your job search can be last on your list – especially with theses and dissertations on your minds. Fortunately this is where social media can come into play and help you leverage your brand, skills, and research expertise during a job search.
Recruiters and hiring managers are looking toward social media to source job candidates. In fact, 92% use or plan to use social recruiting this year, with this number consistently increasing. But this isn’t the only group infiltrating the social space – other job seekers are there too. If you’re not there, someone else may be there to replace you.
Here are a few tips, tricks, and suggestions for optimizing your social media presence in your post-grad or post-doctorate job search:
1. Optimize your social profiles for your job search.
In the world of social media, your bio section is prime real estate for reaching interested audiences. By creating an intriguing, professional, and short bio on Twitter or LinkedIn, you’re letting people know your specialties and interests right off the bat. You don’t want to confuse employers though, so be consistent with your branding across social media platforms. Include keywords that an employer is likely to search for when looking for job candidates.
2. Use past classmates and colleagues as job connections.
While you’re in school, you’re constantly meeting new people in your courses, during assistantships, at conferences and presentations, and sometimes while you conduct your research. Consider connecting with this large group of students, professionals, and professors on spaces like LinkedIn and Twitter.
You can even use free tools like Jackalope Jobs to magnify these connections into possible job connections. Simply log in with your Facebook or LinkedIn profile and begin searching for jobs. What’s great with this tool is that you can instantly see whom you’re connected to at each job posting and potentially reach out to connections if you’re interested in applying.
3. Join the world of Twitter chats.
Twitter chats are interactive conversations on a specific topics hosted at a specific time on Twitter, typically surrounding a hashtag. You’d be surprised how many weekly or monthly Twitter chats exist, and some may be in your field. You can find full, but not always all-inclusive, lists of Twitter chats here and here. Never underestimate the power of networking on Twitter!
4. Make your resume pop on the web.
Figuring out how to translate research experience to your resume or cover letter can be frustrating. But have you ever considered visualizing this for employers? Consider using Vizify, Prezi, or Storify to showcase your accomplishments and resume visually, while linking this on your other social media platforms.
If you’re more interested in visualizing your research data specifically, but don’t have the creative chops, there are some great free resources you can use to showcase your work. Websites like Visualize.me, or Easel.ly help you create infographics for free with the click of a button. These tools are also great for non-designers and include premade templates to help get you started.
These are only a few tips and resources to help you successfully stand out from the crowd during your post-grad job search. While social media can certainly expand your reach, don’t forgo your traditional efforts such as phone calls, handwritten thank you notes, and meetings over coffee.
What unique strategies have you used to optimize your social job search?
Kristen Wishon received her Master of Science in Journalism from West Virginia University, focusing her research on health communication. She is currently the Digital and Community Coordinator at Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for organizations with products that target job seekers and/or employers. You can find Kristen on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.
The fourth episode of the PhD Career Guide PODCAST is now up and available for download from iTunes, Stitcher, and many other podcast directories. You may also listen to the episode directly on the PODCAST page!
In this episode I speak with Dr. Kristin Halfpenny, research imaging sales representative at Olympus. We discuss her process of narrowing down career options and finding the best fit for her personality and career goals. This episode is chock-full of useful insights and resources for career exploration, so you definitely don't want to miss out.
As always, please consider helping out by leaving a positive iTunes review and spreading the word by telling your friends and colleagues.
The third episode of the PhD Career Guide PODCAST is now up and available for download from iTunes, Stitcher, and many other podcast directories. You may also listen to the episode directly on the PODCAST page!
This episode features Dr. Brian Gallagher, partner at the venture capital firm SR One, which is the independent corporate venture capital arm of GlaxoSmithKline. Given his varied background that spans multiple fields within pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, his insights are especially valuable to anyone who might be considering a career on the business side of either big pharmaceutical or small biotechnology companies.
As always, please consider helping out by leaving a positive iTunes review and spreading the word by telling your friends and colleagues.
By Dora Farkas, PhD
I have been working in industry for a few years now, and students ask me the same question that I was struggling with during my job search: “How can I get a job in industry if I don’t have industry experience?” Like many other students, I had my heart set on an academic career path when I was in college. I spent my undergraduate summers working in the labs of a Nobel Laureate, and I went straight to graduate school after my Bachelors. As an enthusiastic first-year student I set out to learn everything I could about my field to prepare myself for a faculty position. Within a few years, however, it became clear that the academic job market was, to put it mildly, saturated. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies were springing up in my area looking to hire bright young minds. There was only one problem: all job descriptions required prior industry experience.
The reality is that employers prefer that you have industry experience, but if you have the right skills for the job, you have a good chance of getting an interview, and maybe even an offer. I was a postdoc for three and a half years. I did not have any industry experience, but towards the end of my postdoc I received several phone calls from recruiters. I was also active in professional societies, and I followed up over email with potential employers a few times a year. My networking efforts paid off and I got calls from my industry contacts for recent job openings. When there is an opening in industry, employers need someone fast. Timelines and budgets are tight, and the sooner they can hire someone the faster they can meet their goals. Even more important, they need the right person. The right person does not only know science well, but he or she has leadership qualities. If you are a PhD in industry, there is a good chance you will have direct reports, so employers will screen for candidates who have demonstrated that they can lead research projects. If you have not held leadership positions in research, be sure to emphasize in your application how you contributed intellectually to the development of your thesis, any mentoring experience (e.g. teaching assistant, training younger graduate students) as well as any officer positions in student organizations.
Whether you are just out of academia, or you have been out of the workforce for some time, here are some ways you can set yourself apart from other candidates:
Yes, getting a job is a full-time job. If you have the right skills, by all means apply to jobs even if you do not have industry experience. Most importantly, tailor your CV and cover letters to the employer, and emphasize what value you are bringing to the company. Why are you the solution to their problem? Think like the hiring manager: if you had 30 seconds to look over the CV, what would you want to see? Important information has to be easily visible. Applications can take days to put together. If you cookie-cut them, they will end up in the recycling bin. In your cover letter (and any email correspondence you have with potential employers and networking contacts), focus on what the company needs and how you can help them.
The following excellent books have even more ideas for landing a job in this tough market:
Dora Farkas received her Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering and her Ph.D. in Toxicology from MIT. She is currently a Senior Scientist in AbbVie Bioresearch Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. Dora is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of Grad School Net, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, Q&A columns and blogs on her site, www.gradschoolnet.org
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