Make the most of quarantine. Build your career!
Developing in your career is difficult. Being quarantined and trying to develop your career feels impossible. Back in 2018, I realized just how challenging this is. During senior year of my undergraduate program, our town Camerino was hit by major earthquakes. The center of the city was destroyed and in-person classes were canceled for the remainder of the semester. Trying to finish my degree, apply for graduate school, and complete an internship felt impossible. At the time I had no idea where to start or how to build my career while being limited to meeting others over Skype and Zoom. Through lots of trial and error, I found what worked for me, and maybe these tips can help you too!
Tip #1: Start Networking:
As an introvert and procrastinator (terrible combination) I always found a million excuses not to reach out. "Well deadlines to apply for grad school are still so far away!", "What if I'm bothering these professors?", "I can just do it later". These kinds of thoughts made me delay reaching out to graduate labs, and I almost missed out! Luckily for me, there was still one spot in the lab I applied to, but the longer you wait, the more likely your luck will run out....
Right now, everyone is locked to their computers and that presents a unique opportunity. Normally, you might find that professors or other professionals are too busy to set up an in-person meeting, or maybe your schedule and their schedules just don’t line up. With zoom meetings, it becomes easier to find 20 minutes where you can sit down and ask the questions you have.
Even if you are not actively applying for your next graduate program or job, it is never too early to start reaching out! Find researchers/professionals who are doing what you want to do and ask them some questions. A great place to start is by reading articles on work you are interested in, then contact the authors and see what advice they have. Send them an email letting them know: 1) who you are, 2) why you are interested in their work, and 3) ask your questions or see if they would be willing to zoom with you.
Whether you are applying for a job or searching for the perfect lab for your PhD, getting to know the researchers can help you see if that lab is a good fit for you. Even if you are not actively looking to change labs, you never know when you will need advice or a helping hand, so start to develop those connections! Sending an introductory email showing your interest is a great way to begin forming important professional relationships that you can call on down the road.
Tip #2: Sharpen your skills:
What skills are you going to need to get into that program or land that job? Make yourself a list! If you don’t know what skills you will need, then maybe it's time to start looking that up. Do a quick google search, “5 skills every (*insert your professional title here*) needs”. Once you have identified what skills you will need to succeed, pick one and set aside some time to work on it.
If you don't know what skills you can work on from home, programming skills can be helpful for any field. This "COVID-summer", I took a biology-based programming course from Coursera. This was a huge challenge as I had never done so much as open the terminal on my computer, but after pushing past the initial "I am never going to get this" phase, I slowly became more comfortable. Now I can write basic code and I have a new skill for my resume!
Look into resources to help you learn new skills. There are many online courses out there and many of them are completely free! Coursera has a wide variety of courses that will help build concrete skills. If you are willing to pay for their courses, you can even earn certificates demonstrating your knowledge. Some universities, like MIT and Harvard, have free courses online complete with online materials.
If you are working, going to school full time, and taking care of your family, you may not feel like you have time to breathe, let alone work on a new skill. Your first reaction to this may be “What? Learn a new skill? I don’t have time for that!”, but trust me, you can do it! The trick is to start small.
A good starting goal is to work for 20 minutes a day on your new skill. 20 minutes may not seem like much time, and it really isn’t, but working a little everyday will make learning the skill more manageable. If the words “every day” make your heart pound and your hands start to sweat, an alternate approach could be working for 1-2 hours a week. As you become comfortable, you may find yourself motivated to spend more time perfecting your new skill!
Tip #3: Believe in yourself!:
*Cue the inspirational wall art and motivational posters with kittens*
You are still learning and growing in your career and that’s ok! Even if you are not where you hoped you would be at this stage in your life, there is always time to make changes to help you reach your goals. Building a career is a marathon, not a sprint. If you are dedicated to building a career, you will watch it grow. When you find yourself looking at others and feeling like you are so far from the point they are, just remember, we all start somewhere. If you don’t believe in yourself then who will? Be your biggest supporter and believe you can do it!
Being stuck at home can have you feeling like your life is on hold, but it doesn’t have to be! You can still make great use of your time by building your career. So hop on your computer, start building your network, learning those skills, and most importantly, believe that you can do it!