Start your career in biology

We asked 10 people, all with a career in biology, for their top tips for developing your career. Take a look and see what they suggest – you may be surprised.

 

Choosing the right career

  • Try to understand the different aspects of what it is you enjoy doing and why. For example, you might enjoy organising an event, working at the lab bench, or helping other people develop their skills. Write it down, and review it periodically, as your opinions may well change over time. Work out the common themes, and talk to your careers service about what jobs might use these skills.
  • Think not just about the job, but the lifestyle that goes with the job. If you have a particular hobby, activity or commitment, you may prefer a job that has fixed working hours. Other people will prefer a job where the hours are unpredictable but can be flexible.

Develop your skills at University

  • Keep reading widely and keep your expertise and enthusiasms broad. Not only is it interesting, but it will also help you realise what it is exactly that you are interested in and how many obvious things no one knows yet.
  • Talk to people who aren’t scientists about what you do – explaining something complex simply and quickly is a really useful skill.
  • Make the most of opportunities to build up different experiences and meet new people.  For example, volunteering at a University Science Festival is a great way to gain experience, network and find out about different career opportunities.
  • Try to get some experience in team working and in management, whether that’s through a summer vacation placement, running a student society or event, or volunteering with a local organisation.
  • Use social media to build your brand. It may sound cheesy, but these days everyone is their own brand manager. One of the first things a prospective employer will do is a Google search on your name. You need to know what your online presence is, and you need to shape it so is appropriate for the sort of job/career you are applying for. If you have one, put your twitter name or blog URL on your CV.

Vacation placements and work experience

  • If you’re thinking about a career in research, or doing a PhD, make sure you take the opportunity to do a project as an undergraduate to see if you like lab work and research. If you hate the day-to-day work then a PhD is probably not for you.
  • Don’t be afraid of academics. They are generally flattered to receive an email from someone who likes their research and who would like to do a summer vacation placement with them. They are also great sources of information.
  • Never be afraid to ask or admit you don’t know something; nor to make a mistake – usually the best way to learn actually, provided that it’s not too catastrophic!
  • Remember that it’s is a small world, and that people tend to talk to each other,  so try to always be professional and on good terms with colleagues.
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