5 Physics Lessons They Don’t Teach You In Grad School

By: Alicia Rades 09/07/2016 10:42PM
Category: Citizen Science

If you’re an aspiring scientist finishing up grad school, you many not realize the realities of the job marketing and funding situation until you come out of school. Luckily, we’re here to save you the surprise. Instead of learning it all first-hand after graduation, begin preparing now to put yourself at an advantage when seeking jobs and research funding. Here are five things you’ll encounter once you graduate.

Your Network Is Important; Start Building It Now

Whether you’re looking for a new job or trying to secure physics research funding, a strong network is important. The right relationships can lead to better opportunities. However, it takes time to build these relationships. If you wait to start networking until you’re already seeking funding, you won’t have enough time to build the relationships that will help you during that time.

That’s why you should start networking now. It’s not about attending conferences and gathering business cards. Instead, build relationships with your classmates and professors. Attend guest lectures, or join school clubs. If you’re already working, build relationships with your co-workers so that you have a network in place when you’re seeking your next job. Keep in touch online if you can, such as by connecting with classmates through LinkedIn or industry groups.

There are numerous ways that building relationships can pay off after graduation. For example, an acquaintance might recommend you at their place of work to help you get a job. If you’re connected with people on funding committees, it increases your chances of securing funding from that organization. If you decide to run a physics crowdfunding campaign, your network can help get the word out to raise money for your research.

The potential benefits are vast, but one thing is for sure: Failing to build a network early can mean missed opportunities down the road.

Communication Is a Vital Skill

As a scientist, communication should be a top priority. Just some areas where communication is vital include:

  • In job interviews
  • In the lab when working in groups
  • When writing grant proposals
  • When running a science crowdfunding campaign
  • When presenting your research findings (both in writing and speaking)
  • The reality is that it doesn’t matter how smart you are if nobody can understand you. And if you don’t work well in groups, conducting research and securing funding will be incredibly difficult.

Communication skills are bigger than talking with other scientists. If your research is of interest to the general public, you should know how to talk to them, such as if your research leads to new general use technologies. If your research findings are big enough, you’ll get calls from the press asking for comments. If you want the press time (and you should), it’s in your best interest to know how to effectively communicate with the public.

Other times you’ll need to communicate with the public includes if you’re involved in public policy or if you’re running a physics fundraising campaign where the public is involved.

Luckily, your school should offer writing and public speaking classes. For example, the University of Washington offers science-specific communications courses like “Presenting Research Effectively,” “Scientific Manuscript Writing,” and “Climate Change Communication.” Make it a point to enroll in courses like these. You can also seek out your school’s writing center, where you can get tutoring and writing advice.

There Are Worthwhile Ways to Apply Science in Non-Technical Ways

As you approach graduation and start the job hunt, remember that there are non-technical job opportunities where your scientific knowledge may come in handy. You don’t have to be sitting in a lab crunching numbers all day. Instead, you might take a job as a science journalist or science communicator.

Other great job options may not involve science at all, but you can use your training to your advantage. As a scientist, you’re good at breaking down problems into smaller sub-problems, testing hypotheses, and working with numbers and equations. These are all great skills you can apply to a wide range of non-science or non-technical jobs.

Science fundraising is another non-technical task that requires a scientific background. Writing out equations won’t impress donors. What will impress them is being able to articulate how the science or technology will affect them.

If You Have Technical Knowledge, It’s Valuable for Companies

Being able to apply science in non-technical ways is an important skill. However, the opposite is also true. If you’re better with the technical side of things, many companies will value your skills. This will help you land a job, whether it’s in research or academics or with government agencies or private agencies.

Begin looking for opportunities now while in school that will demonstrate your technical knowledge on your resume. For example, you might assist a professor with research or become a tutor.

People Are Fascinated By What You Do and Are Hungry For More

Although the general public may not understand certain scientific concepts on a deep level, they’re still interested in them. They may not be rocket scientists, but they’re certainly interested in sending a man to the moon--and beyond.

The good news is that you can leverage this public interest. For example, doing interviews with journalists will help get your name out there and build your authority as a well-known scientist. You could also establish a citizen science project, which can lead to better research and faster data collection.

Another way to utilize public interest is in science fundraising on crowdfunding sites for science. For example, you can get started fundraising on Fiat Physica by setting up your campaign and gathering public donations. Science Partnership Fund is another option that can help connect you with corporate sponsors to fund your research.

The lesson to learn here is that scientific research should not be behind-the-scenes. Connecting to and appealing to the public can push your research and career to the next level.

With these five points in mind, it’s important that you start preparing for your future now. Build relationships, take communications classes, and connect with the public to give yourself an advantage after graduation.


Posted on: 09/07/16 10:42PM
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Alicia Rades View profile

Alicia Rades is a professional blog writer who specializes in writing about content marketing topics.

#MakePhysicsHappen @fiatphysica

“Fiat Physica shall hand the steering wheel of scientific innovation to the public, allowing them to contribute to science, communication, and discovery directly.”

Szabolcs Marka

Chair of the Education and Public Outreach Committee, LIGO and Associate Professor of Physics, Columbia University
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