Are you starting to think about your career path? Does the prospect of applying for jobs scare you?
If so, please follow the instructions listed below before you read the rest of this blog post.
1. Stand up.
2. Place your right hand over your heart.
3. Recite the following sentence: “I will find an awesome job!”
This little exercise may be corny, but you must convince yourself that you will find an exciting career before the job search begins. Graduate students and postdocs are constantly bombarded by adverse stimuli. Failed experiments, low pay, and lack of support can be overwhelming.
This negativity is further exacerbated by decreasing research budgets and an increasingly competitive job market. A wise postdoc from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories once told me that he believes that graduate students and postdocs suffer from learned helplessness. This is a psychological state in which individuals who are forced to bear adverse stimuli, become unable to endure future encounters with these stimuli even if escape opportunities are available.
PhDs may recognize that they are not happy with their situation, but a consistent negative atmosphere has convinced them that they have no control over their career path.
Applying for jobs and conducting scientific research are very similar in that they both require persistence and positive thinking. When I was a graduate student and postdoc, I conducted my best science when I possessed an optimistic viewpoint.
Positive thinking allowed me to approach difficult problems with vigor and a unique perspective. With a positive outlook, I also considered new and interesting careers. If you surrender to occasional rejection while applying for jobs, you may fail to recognize career opportunities when they present themselves.
In addition to a positive perspective, surround yourself with other optimistic people. While it may be reassuring to commiserate with fellow students and postdocs about a frightening job market, too many of these venting sessions can be counterproductive. Be sure to speak with professionals who have found exciting careers after graduate school and/or a postdoc. They will provide perspective and hope for the future.
Now, I must confess, I am not a perpetual optimist. I succumb to pessimistic thinking more than I care to admit. However, optimism allowed me to land my current job. I hope that positive thinking will help propel you into a career that you enjoy.