On My Current Job Search (and Why I’m Leaving Science)

As most people in my life know, I have been trying to switch careers for about a year now. During this past year I have indulged myself in art classes to feed my talents, created relationships with others in more creative fields, gained further insight into the inner-workings of the social media and technology areas, and fashioned an online space to share what I am passionate about.

Note: After spending several hours writing this, I discovered it has challenged me the most out of all my previous entries. Although I have worked diligently to develop the set of skills I possess, writing about them without feeling uncomfortable and narcissistic has been difficult. However, I knew that vocalizing my journey, regardless of whether it was positive or negative, would be beneficial.

First things first, why am I switching careers?  

For those who don’t know, I am currently a neuroscientist at Jefferson University. I am currently a Lab Manager/Research Technician for the neuroscience department. I assist my lab’s principal investigator with completing the unending stream of paperwork, continuously taking inventory, and handling other lab maintenance responsibilities. I am also responsible for running experiments, performing surgeries, maintaining mouse colonies, training new lab members, and supervising students. This is a lot to juggle but fortunately my ADD allows me to easily multi-task. I also have organization systems, such as Kanban, in place to help me keep track of everything.

My core talent (besides being insanely organized) is performing extremely small-scale surgeries, as well as designing new surgical procedures.  Although I wasn’t trained in this specific area, I have a natural surgical ability. I also excel at teaching others to perform surgeries (I once walked a doctor in Italy through a procedure via photos and videos!) Unfortunately, because this is research science surgeries are performed on animals (for the squeamish, do not worry, I don’t go into any other details). This is something that didn’t bother me initially but several years in research have really taken a mental toll on me. I am not ashamed to admit I have cried at work on more than one occasion, and I often have nightmares about working with animals. I was even vegetarian for some time because of my job (and would like to go back to it eventually). While ethics and morality are taken seriously at the lab, I find it really sad and disturbing to work with animals. In addition to this, I have become severely allergic to the animals I work with.

So What Now? 

Heavy soul searching over the past year has led to the realization that anything science-related would not be fulfilling. During this time I have looked at the skills I possess in other areas and the things that I find truly enjoyable. I enjoy art but being a full time artist isn’t a reliable source of income, so I looked at other hobbies. It was obvious to people who know me, but it took a little while to realize I should be working in a social media or tech position. This is going to turn into a book if I go into detail, but the TLDR version is that I discovered the Internet fairly young, and at age 13 I began blogging, doing graphic design, and building websites. Unfortunately, this meant that by the time I got to college I was over it and didn’t want to pursue it as a career (DOH!). I kept blogging as a hobby but stopped doing graphic and web design for a while after high school.

Flash forward to the present. I am a very active (and dare I say highly skilled) social media user. I maintain my own data and statistics so I know when the best times to post are, and what content users are most likely to respond to. I’ve also learned to curate content through trial and error. After some gentle nudging from friends, I realized I enjoy this a lot and should pursue a career in it. I know social media and tech have their differences, but my goal is to work at a company that combines both (i.e., firms that create software to maximize social media activity for companies). I’ve discovered a handful of these companies through friends, Internet research, and I’ve begun to apply their insights.

Cover Letters

The most difficult part of  the job application process is the cover letter. I’ve read a lot of articles on how to write a good cover letter and they have definitely helped, but I still find them to be slightly overwhelming at times. One of the most helpful (yet difficult) tips I’ve received for writing a cover letter came from the article I’ve Read 500 Cover Letters for Entry-Level Jobs on Slate.com. The article is fantastic, but one of the sections in Katherine Goldstein’s book challenges the reader to:

Explain how selecting you will benefit me. This is where candidates often get it totally backward. I frequently read lines like: “I am applying for this paid internship because I think working at Slate would be highly beneficial for me, and would do a lot to help my future job prospects for a career in media for after I graduate from college.” I know how working at Slate would strengthen your résumé. But I am looking to you, candidate X, to solve a problem for me. My problem is that I need good interns. Explain to me how choosing you will solve my problem. Here’s how one candidate convinced me that his skills were pertinent to the role I was hiring for: “ From my editorial experience as managing editor of 34th Street Magazine here at Penn, to my experience in news and culture blogging at LAist.com last summer, I’ve picked up the tools I need to perform as a Slatest intern with excellence.“

Since reading this, reworked my cover letters and have found it somewhat awkward at times to mention certain companies frequently, but I do feel like it is a much better way to let a company know I am right for them.

Cover letters were slightly easier when applying for science positions, because I am very self-aware and good at highlighting my strengths, but they are much harder now that I am switching careers because I really have to communicate why I would be an asset to their company. This is mostly because I don’t have much experience in the job field I am trying to break into. Although I have not had the opportunity to run social media for a big company, I have experience managing my personal social media as well as launching friend’s brands through social media.

My experience certainly helps. For example, data collection and statistical analysis I’ve determined the best times to post images/blog posts/etc. for maximum views and audience engagement. I’ve figured this out by using Google AnalyticsIconosquare, and other methods of trial and error. For instance, I thought about when I am most likely to be engaging with social media sites such as Instagram. Usually, I am checking these sites during my commute to work, during lunch, just before the end of work, or on my way home. I used my own habits as a baseline for my study and have found that the majority of 9-5ers have the same routine. Not everyone works a 9-5 schedule, however, so I’ve also tested prime times to post  for those who work a second shift or a nighttime shift (I also keep in mind users who live in different countries and different time zones). This is easy to write about in a platform like this, but I’ve found it a little more awkward to put in a cover letter. This is something I am still working out.

CV / Resume

This is pretty self-explanatory. My CV is actually pretty good… for a science career. I have more publications than many members of my lab currently 8, soon to be 12). Note: I have not created authorships because I am manager, and thus don’t have a project of my own, but instead assist in everyone else’s projects). These projects have appeared in prominent science journals, but this doesn’t help me in the social media/tech industry. I’ve had to cut huge chunks out of my CV and make sure to highlight specific job tasks which best fit each job application. This can be fairly time consuming, but it allows me to articulate my transferable skillset regardless of the career change. I recently had a CEO tell me that my background made me a rare but interesting candidate for their company which he attributed to my unique outlook and way of thinking. There’s hope yet!

So what are the skills I bring to this field?

Researching companies I aspire to work for has led me to discover the types of skills and requirements they look for in prospective candidates. Although I have many talents, there are certain ones that I desire to vocalize because they are directly applicable to this field.

Project Management. Managing the lab has increased my project management abilities. In the lab we work on projects that later become papers, and we always have multiple projects running simultaneously. This means keeping track of the work I am doing for different parties and delegating tasks to other lab members according to their skillsets to ensure all necessary parts of the paper are completed and easily accessible by my boss or whoever is running/authoring the experiment/paper. My management skills are ones that are transferable between fields.

Social Media Analytics. The previously mentioned analytical skills are definitely something I bring to the table, for any social media position, that not every candidate possesses. I aim to further expand these skills when I am brought on at a tech company.

Content Curation. I’ve always had a natural eye for composition and have applied this to content curation on various social media sites. I wasn’t always the best at this (my former Instagram was horrendous), but over time I learned how to edit down material, edit photos for quality, shoot aesthetically pleasing photos (online users love a good bird’s eye view on a white background), and have dedicated a lot of my time to making my Pinterest boards appealing and a resource that others can go to.

Communication Skills. I previously held a technician position at ExcelleRX (now Enclara), where we provided medication management for hospice patients. One aspect of my job was to communicate with health professionals and sometimes (very stressed) family members. We would discuss which medications our company found medically relevant (our goal was to keep end-of-life patients comfortable while minimizing unnecessary medications). Many of the individuals we worked with were on a regimen that required them to take over 40 pills a day, multiple times a day. Working with all different kinds of issues and personalities has led me to acquire strong communication skills. At times I assisted medical professionals who were learning how to use our web services as well as troubleshoot issues. Because of this role, my personality is well suited for client-facing positions where I may be working with people of varying skillsets and personalities.

Basic HTML Knowledge. From my past experience building websites, I have been exposed to coding. I am currently working on building upon this to increase my HTML skills, as well as teach myself CSS.

Photoshop Knowledge. I won’t lie and pretend to be a Photoshop pro here, but I do have some experience in Photoshop attributed to graphic design courses and photo editing. I excel at teaching myself through trial and error and using web resources to learn things I may not already know. Along with HTML/CSS,  Photoshop is another area I am actively working to improve.

Positive Attitude and Upbeat Personality. Ok I’ll be the first to admit it feels really weird and a little cheesy typing that, but it’s true. I’ve worked with really negative people and it is so infectious, not to mention exhausting to be around. Part of the reason I started this blog was to write about how I’m constantly working on maintaining a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA), and I’ll admit it isn’t always easy but the more you work on it the easier it becomes. Because of the efforts I’ve made to be positive (reading books/articles, listening to podcasts, etc.) I have learned to take shortcomings and failures in stride and am usually able to maintain a positive attitude during negative experiences or use it as a learning experience. This isn’t to say that I love failing, but I’ve learned to use my failures to my advantage and I think this is a really valuable characteristic to have in any field. Not only do I make the best of any situation, I always aim to be upbeat. People who work with me know that I am always laughing and enjoying what I do.

Next Steps

For now, I am reaching out to contacts around the city and applying to companies with products I use (Skillshare, Oyster, Fitbit, Rescuetime, etc). I am focusing on positions I really want, at companies I admire, rather than just pumping out applications en masse. I am taking this time to improve upon the skills I have, develop those I desire to have, and express myself through the art I am continually creating, which can be found in my portfolio.

If you have any leads, or work for a company and would like to meet about potential positions, please feel free to email me.

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About tamarahala

Tamara is currently living in Petaluma, CA as an intern at Green String Institute! She is a mixed media artist, student aerialist, and former neuroscientist.

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