Life post-PhD: Plan it Now! - By : Marc-Olivier Frégeau,

Life post-PhD: Plan it Now!

Marc-Olivier Frégeau
Marc-Olivier Frégeau Author profile
Marc-Olivier holds a PhD in pharmacology from the University of Sherbrooke. In 2017, he launched “La vie après le PhD” (Life post-PhD), a private consulting firm, to assist graduate and postdoc students in the transition to their first job.

Graduates waiting for a job interview

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Passion for research and a desire to innovate are two common traits in most PhD students and postgraduate fellows. This passion and this desire often lead students toward academic careers, a logical outcome of their journey. At first glance, university is also designed along these lines: to prepare students for the day when they become academic researchers. That being said, very few reach the position of university professor. So, what of the others? The “others” need to be open-minded and think “outside the box” because the best job opportunities may not be the most obvious. Preparing for and being open to another type of career is essential in order to leverage the full range of expertise and skills developed during higher education. Too often during our studies, we forget that beyond publications and seminars, our future is at stake; it must be planned, and the sooner the better…

Planning a Transition to the Job Market

Often this professional introspection takes place at the end of the journey, when we consider our options and see the wall coming at us at high speed… for some, it works well: we find an interesting job and flourish. For others, it is not so obvious. We do a postdoc to fill the void or accept a job that not only is not made for us but does not help our professional development. Some of us even come to the point where we consider hiding our degree to avoid scaring off potential employers! What nonsense!

How to avoid hitting that wall? With preparation. In my opinion, we should be thinking about our professional transition and ambitions right from the beginning of our studies. A professional transition is a long process that needs to mature. Opportunities are sometimes random, sometimes not, but in any case, we must be able to see them and seize them. We must know how to create our own luck. It is impossible to know at the start who will be the key people or what factors will influence our development.

Being Open to All Opportunities

First, you should consider the prospects as well as the types of jobs that are available with your degree. Several types of jobs slip under your radar because they are not related to your research expertise. It is a mistake to limit your search to only one job in your subject area, because the very principle of graduate studies is the advancement of science. Very few companies will work in a field as specific as your degree… The important thing is to consider all of the skills you developed in your program. For example, carrying out a research project involves project management! Project management in chemical engineering or in aeronautics is the same thing! You must therefore think of job opportunities based on acquired skills. It is also important to consider different types of potential employers and different positions. Why not consider a job in the public service? This sector is often on the lookout for problem-solving qualities and analytical thinking!

What could be better than taking a few days during our PhD studies to try out some jobs or even complete an internship within a company? This is not common practice, but it can be useful and very revealing to job shadow in workplaces with professionals to determine whether or not we like a particular type of job or type of organization. We can explore this way and discover many different professional communities.

The Professional Network: A Must

The beauty in all of this is that, by the same token, we are building our professional network. Often underestimated, a network is the key to uncovering hidden opportunities. Very often a job is not offered to the candidates who appears best on paper, but rather to the least risky candidate (which often means the candidate we know directly or indirectly). Building a network is done brick by brick and every opportunity must be taken to add people to our network. Building and maintaining a good professional network takes time, but creates major leverage in our transition to the workplace. In addition, a network will provide opportunities throughout our career. Once again, the sooner we start, the more we increase our chances.

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Marc-Olivier Frégeau

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Marc-Olivier holds a PhD in pharmacology from the University of Sherbrooke. In 2017, he launched “La vie après le PhD” (Life post-PhD), a private consulting firm, to assist graduate and postdoc students in the transition to their first job.

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