How To Plan Your Career Path Outside The Lab

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If you are thinking about carving a career path outside the lab, you may either have an undergraduate degree in a science subject and know you don’t want to work in a lab, or you have been working in a lab and want to transition out. Either way, planning your move is essential to making the best decision for your career path moving forward. The question is, how do you go about career planning? What things do you need to think about? Where do you even start? These questions can be overwhelming, and often lead people to jump into sending out hundreds of job applications in a panic. You may not even know what you want to do, but just feel that anything other than wearing a lab coat is good enough! The problem with this approach is that it can lead to poor decision-making which forces you into a career path you didn’t want in the first place. You could end up stuck in a job you hate, but feel like you need to stay there because there is no alternative. With just a little bit more reflection and planning beforehand, you can minimise the chances of this happening. Here are our 3 steps to planning your career path outside the lab:

  1. Understand Yourself

The initial stage of career planning should be full of self-reflection. Do you know what your top skills, strengths, values and motivations are? You may think you know, but try articulating these to someone else or writing them down on paper. If you haven’t done this type of reflection before, you may find that you get stuck. Ask yourself the following questions as prompts:

  • What type of work did you enjoy doing during your degree or work experience?
  • What kinds of activities do you enjoy outside of work?
  • What feedback have other people given you on your work?
  • How do you friends and family describe you? What do they think are your top strengths?
  • What is important to you in life?

Collecting feedback is a valuable part of this exercise as it feeds other people’s perceptions into your self-reflection. You can also use tools such as the Strengthsfinder to help you identify what your key strengths are. See our article on transferable skills to start to understand how your science degree has equipped you too. You might be surprised at what comes out of this exercise and the resulting thoughts about your career. For example, you might realise that although you don’t want to work in a lab, you still enjoy academia. Maybe you want to stay in academia but work in the field, or do a research-based role at a Pharmaceutical company. The activities in the next stage will help you determine whether this is right for you.

  1. Research

Once you understand your skills and motivations, now is the time to start looking for opportunities that might match these. List the roles, industries, types of work and companies you would like to work in. Then start researching each one. There are various ways you can do this. A few are outlined below:

  • Online: Job sites like Indeed, Glassdoor and LinkedIn are great ways to get an initial insight into companies. Data here can include average salaries, benefits and employee feedback on culture and career progression.
  • Networking: Did you know that most job opportunities are found through networking? There is so much value in gaining knowledge and trust through relationships, which can often lead to offers of information, experiences and even jobs. See our tips on networking for introverts if you are new to networking and find it scary.
  • Informational Interviews: You could see these as a type of networking but they are very specific and intentional. The aim of these are to find out more about a particular role or industry you are interested in. You become the interviewer and are prepared with questions you want to ask. This way, you will have an insight into roles before you even start applying for job. These interviews could even lead to job offers themselves!

Of course there are the obvious routes available to you in addition to those above especially if you are at university. Careers talks and fairs and internships are great ways to network and ask questions. Start to match what you find out during this stage with your reflections during stage 1.

  1. Apply

The painful work of the CV and cover letter is about to come in here…but wait! Even before this, use all the information you have already gathered to create a vision for your future career path. Narrow down and map out the roles and industries you would like to work in based on what you found out. Remember that this can change over time, but it’s good to have a starting point. Once you have done this, you can start targeting the roles and industries on your list. Update your CV and write a cover letter tailored to these roles. Start completing online job applications and continue networking as you do this.   The steps above give an overview of the stages you should go through when trying to plan your career path. Remember to go through the initial stages before sporadically applying for jobs that sound like they might be ok. Create a plan but keep in mind that this can change and that’s completely fine.  

If you are ready to take your career outside the lab and want to know how to start, watch our webinar on How Science Graduates Can Get a High Paying Job Outside the Lab Even if You Have Little to No Work Experience.  

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