career column

Career column from the "Nachrichten aus der Chemie"

Philipp Gramlich and Karin Bodewits are founders of Natural Science Careers - a company for career counseling and soft skills seminars for natural scientists. For the Nachrichten aus der Chemie, both write about observations from their consulting work.

Issue 02/23 Who needs a job advertisement?

In a workshop we will discuss the different ways of applying. Most applicants choose the classic way of responding to a job advertisement. Gabrielle opens the discussion: "I heard that I can also apply on my own initiative." "And I heard that that's nonsense," Theo replies with little diplomacy. Neubauer heard at the panel discussion of the career day? She said not to waste your time and the company's." "For which company does Dr. Neubauer?” I ask. "By a giant drug company, they should know."

Open applications can be difficult to handle for large companies: where should HR send them? If that remains unclear, open applications are usually a waste of time. The situation is different for medium-sized companies and start-ups: They are less visible than the big ones and therefore have to handle far fewer applications.

Writing an open application is more difficult than responding to a job advertisement. You lack the framework with which you can structure the application. You should therefore consider what a plausible job advertisement might look like. You construct their content from advertisements for similar positions of the same company or a competitor. Write your application for this hypothetical scenario and mention at the end of the cover letter what types of positions you would be open for. You should indicate a plausible range of positions: You don't want to be perceived as inflexible or as desperate.

I can see from Theo's forehead that he is looking for arguments to defend his statement. "In many cases there is no chance of getting a job, otherwise it would be advertised," he interjects. Personally, it happened twice to me that I received a tip: Company X wants to fill a position in the near future. In both cases I applied without the positions being advertised and – surprise – received an offer.

"Without a network and the tips from it, open applications are indeed a tough place," I reconcile the statements made by Gabrielle and Theo. When applying to job ads, it can be difficult to stand out. With unsolicited applications, you have to find out who might actually be interested in you.

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 01/23 sample and counter sample

We discuss cover letters in a career workshop. Georg brought his application documents with him, which we will analyze together.

"I'm an enthusiastic and broad-minded chemist..." I read. "I would like to work for your company, which is known to be a leader in responsive polymers." Georg immediately jumps into the rhetorical pause that I leave after the two sentences. “I find it very difficult to praise myself, to praise employers. I feel like I'm just writing generalities."

Georg is right and he is not alone. In most cover letters there is a section that many applicants feel is an obligatory mutual belly brush. It doesn't have to be.

Self-praise is not necessary, as described in the column "Show, don't tell" (Nachr. Chem. 2019, 67(3), 23). Think more along the lines of: What is the connection between me and the employer? What do I have that no one else has? And: What does this employer offer that others hardly offer? If you cannot answer these questions, you should still invest time in self-analysis and research. Otherwise, in the worst case, you will receive an offer from an employer who does not suit you.

"But how do I know," replies Georg, "that I sound like a person with a genuine interest in that very employer?"

To find out, first examine the main statements you use to describe yourself and conduct a thought experiment: Could your lab neighbor write the exact same sentence? This is the case with phrases like, "I'm very organized." Here you only name an inanimate attribute, but give the readers no reason to believe you. But if you write: "During my part in the organizational team for the Online conference XYZ, I learned the pitfalls to be overcome when participants from different time zones and cultures come together." Few others can boast such an experience.
Then do the same test for your employer statements. For example, if several companies describe themselves as “leaders in the field of responsive polymers”, then you need to investigate further what makes this employer unique.

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 12/22 No details

I'm doing interview training with a group of postdocs who are looking for a Career outside of the university. "What is your research about?" I ask Afsheen. After five minutes I interrupt her answer. "You let details overshadow your message," I say. "From what I understand, does your research help us 3D print cars in the future?" Afsheen raises her eyebrows. "Uh, about. But...” I cut her off again, “It's about right, unless it's really wrong. Then you have to adjust the sentence.” “It's very simplified,” she murmurs.

"Simple is good," I reply. “Rather than go into detail, add a sentence why it makes sense to print cars. production speed? Costs? Something like that.” Afsheen remains skeptical. “My research isn't about the whole car, just the body.” “You can always zoom in further into your research if someone is interested. But no recruiter wants you to really go into detail."

It is often difficult for scientists to make something simpler than it is. Every day you work on a tiny piece of the puzzle in a larger whole. Moreover, due to exceptions and frameworks, their results are often very nuanced and their stories about them therefore complicated. scientists have learned for years to show others the last decimal place in order to be considered competent. And when communicating with other scientists , it is important to present the details carefully.

But when you're speaking to laypeople, it's your job to get to the point quickly and craft a main message in a way that's understandable and relevant to the audience. Of course, there are risks involved. Some listeners love to complain when something isn't 100% right. But grumbling can be avoided if you add, for example, "Broadly speaking, that means..." or "Put simply, I'm working on..." This will reassure the critical listener and at the same time give you a better chance of having a good conversation.

Karin Bodewits,

Issue 11/22 The focus of the presentation

I am working with a group of doctoral students to prepare their presentations for a congress. “Who exactly did you give this lecture to?” I ask Mathieu, who has just finished his presentation. He shot through 38 PowerPoint slides in 14 minutes. "For you," he replies. "Unfortunately, it didn't reach me," I say. The presentation reminded me of someone who recently told me they play audiobooks at 1.5x speed to hear more books in less time. My comment on this was: It's not about the amount of books you read, but what you take away from them. Mathieu was way too quick and way too detailed. "In addition, the audience will be upset that you exceeded your speaking time," I conclude. "What should I do?" he asks.

My answer: "Increase the signal-to-noise ratio." With a short ten-minute speaking time, you can get exactly one main point, no more. So identify what you want your audience to take away. They then support that message with three or four slides. Take only aspects that support this main message. If necessary, you can discuss details in the question and answer session – if someone is interested.

“But it is important that I show all the data. Maybe I can quickly show a few slides without explaining them,” suggests Mathieu. "Like a picture book without text but with boring pictures?" I ask. Mathieu sighs. "And if I shorten the introductory story?"

If the audience doesn't understand the question and the relevance of your research, they will back out within the first minute. It doesn't have to listen to you. You have to convince your audience of that. You do this by finding a catchy beginning for your story: What does your research contribute to this world? "If you take that introduction away, you might as well give your lecture in front of your bathroom mirror."

Mathieu wants to impress with his presentation but ignores the audience's wishes. But the audience is the focus of these ten minutes. "Think of this and not of yourself," I conclude. "Then both sides get more out of it."

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 10/22 The order in the CV

“Do I actually write my application documents chronologically or counter-chronologically?” Valeria asked in an application workshop. "As little as possible," I reply, which obviously does not satisfy the desire for a simple answer. I add: "For the parts where it has to be, i.e. professional experience and education: counter-chronologically, i.e. from the current parts to the older ones." It seems logical to structure the entire application documents in counter-chronological order. However, this demand for temporal order has disadvantages.

In the cover letter, applicants often retell the highlights of their CV in the form of an essay, a soporific diligence exercise for the readership. The cover letter is the text that can be formulated most freely. Therefore, you can concentrate on what connects you with the employer: "From Dr. Sanchez, I learned three years ago at Analytica that your company...” This sentence fragment shows a long-term, proven interest in an employer, a personal connection and good documentation skills. Weaknesses can also be addressed there: "Although I do not yet have the required fluent knowledge of German, I have already learned two foreign languages autodidactically at B2 level: ..." This will prevent you from being prematurely screened out because of a missing criterion.

In your CV, too, you can partially detach yourself from the chronology. Let's assume that five years ago you acquired an additional qualification that fits the employer like a glove. This is easily lost in chronological parts. You can make a highlight visible at the beginning of the CV by listing it with three to five indents.

In the body of the resume, you can do yourself and your readers another favor: Summarize your skills in one section. As a result, the descriptions in the chronological section are shorter and redundancies are eliminated. Boring lists like poster presentations or workshops attended can be condensed into descriptions of skills. Advantage: You can arrange the skills in any way you like, emphasizing aspects that are most interesting for the applicants. They will thank you - hopefully with an invitation.

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 09/22 Where diversity is to be expected

Where is the diversity of your colleagues higher: at the university or in a typical industrial company?” I ask in a career workshop. I can tell from the faces that everyone finds the question too easy. After a break, Xavier takes pity: “In my project I work together with Igor, Pranoti and Ah Lam. My girlfriend works in the industry with Max, Klara and Christian in a team. This is the raw data; I don't know where it's more diverse." If we leave it at the geographical origins, Xavier is right: Except for start-ups from the university and a few large corporations whose teams are actually as international as Marketing promises us, the university offers a more international environment. I dig deeper: “But diversity is a broader concept. What about the other aspects?” There is still interdisciplinarity, level of education or age.

If you describe your research project at the university as interdisciplinary, then you work as a chemist with a biologist or a physicist, for example. In industry, this is suddenly becoming broader. Imagine the intellectual challenge of discussing your findings with a boss who has a law or business degree.

In terms of educational level, the university is probably the least diverse work environment. Most of the people you work with during your PhD and postdoc have a PhD or will have one in the foreseeable future. In industry you have contacts with people with different levels of education. This also challenges your ability to communicate.

Finally, age: Apart from your supervisor, you mainly deal with people in their thirties at the university. Here, too, the industry covers a broader spectrum. The classic: the university graduate who has to manage employees who have 30 years of professional experience.
Finally, I come back to Xavier's statement: "It sounded like you see the international environment as a plus point for the university." Looking for companies that work internationally. If you are generally looking for a diverse work environment with intellectual challenges, then a treasure trove could be waiting for you in the industry.

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 07-08/22 Add, don't subtract

"Wow Benjamin, you gave us some hard work there," groans Sven as he scans his colleague's application documents. While Benjamin adhered to the rule that a non-academic resume should be no more than two pages long, he needed some layout tweaks to achieve that: 10-point font, no line spacing, and narrow margins. "How did you go about writing it?" I ask. "Years ago, I created a resume that I keep adding to as soon as something changes in my professional life. Then I cut it to the desired length.” We can see from Benjamin's pained expression that this is not a pleasant process.

Eileen jumps to his side: "I find it difficult too. I didn't have enough space to mention my research internship in Professor Gilg's group.” “Is that bad?” I ask. "Why, surely. Anyone who goes to him can fight their way through,” she explains almost defiantly.

Why is it so difficult for us to omit details? Do we really think the whole world knows what's going on in Professor Gilg's lab? Hardly likely. The behavior and thought patterns from academic studies and research work are deep-seated. That's good for doing research. However, an application is something different than a publication. Your readership does not have unlimited time and capacity for your application. You don't provide any proof. So don't think "How can I fit as many points as possible?" but rather "How can I optimize the signal-to-noise ratio?" The two or at most three main aspects that you can get across are your signal. Your target group hardly absorbs more. Anything that supports this signal, such as an experience that makes this positive attribute more tangible, can be included in your CV. Everything else is noise in the perception of your readership and can safely be left out.

"Another little psychological trick to make this process more palatable for you," I close this part of the workshop. It hurts to delete parts of our life (course) that we have come to love. Reverse the process: Start with a blank document and add up the key points. This feels better than subtracting.

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 06/22 No scientists, please

We are invited to talks between the Ministry of Agriculture and lobby organizations. Because a year ago we founded an NGO with the aim of reducing the use of peat in the Netherlands. We have now co-authored a parliamentary motion, a member of parliament submitted it and it was accepted. There is a lot involved in this topic that we read up on and seek advice on: soil science, climate balancing, horticulture, to name just a few. And now Gerrit, who advises us on all questions relating to political processes, says emphatically: "You have to make sure that no scientists are sitting at the table during the talks." That fits. what does he mean with that?

He adds: ?Scientific and economic facts are the basis for such discussions. But if scientists sit directly at the table, then that won't work. They don't get to the point."

scientists are only welcome in indirect roles and rarely strive for a more active role. The result: Although there are tons of scientists in the Netherlands who deal with bogs and peat substitutes, the topic has not been communicated to the public for years. "I'm a scientist and not an activist" or "I can't add enough quotes to this newspaper" are typical justifications.

We see such patterns again and again in the majority of scientists. Try it yourself ? attend a conference and ask a poster, ?Can you explain the content to me?? In most cases, you will be showered with a monologue without your interlocutor asking about your background and interests. Characterized by years of intellectually demanding work in a competitive environment, a culture of wanting to be smart is establishing itself for many of us: We don't understand that there are people for whom none of this is a matter of course.

Clear communication about your work is not a luxury task, but essential. The higher up the corporate ladder you get, the more you have to talk to people who don't understand your job. If you want to make an impact on the world outside of your direct work, then you should communicate in a way that will make people want you at the table.

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 05/22 Your role in the team

I start a career seminar with the parallels between teamwork and team sports. ?Please think a few years into the future. You work in a position and with an employer of your choice. Please use the functions in a sports club as an analogy: What position do you hold?? ?Midfielder?, Ingrid begins. "I like to bring people together and then look for the connections between work areas." Oleg calls defender because "I like to analyze a situation in order to develop a strategy." Anke comes up with center forward because she "would like to work with the customers work? and compares the shot on goal with a sales success.

?Interesting, thank you,? I conclude, ?I said sports club, not sports team. Doesn't anyone want to be a coach or even president of the club?? ?I think you just become a manager at some point in your professional life,? says Manfred. I can see from the looks of the others that they don't quite share his statement. "In fact, leadership responsibility often grows incrementally," I say. However, it is a conscious choice whether to develop into a manager or an expert, for example in research.

Whether as a team member or as a Head: You should be clear about what role you currently hold and what you want. When desire and reality diverge too far, working together becomes difficult. We all know the crown princes who, without a position of leadership, try to seize the reins. I ask the group: "Is there also a counterpart to the crown prince?" "A manager who doesn't want to be one?" Ingrid asks. I nod. "Sometimes I have the feeling that my doctoral supervisor is a micromanager who would prefer to initiate every reaction himself." She describes how demotivating that is and how much he neglects his actual tasks as a result. "It feels like he doesn't trust us."

Reflect on your own experiences and observations. What role would you like to take on, where do you see your strengths best deployed? If you are then unsure whether a certain amount of managerial responsibility suits you, that is not a problem. Outside of college, it is possible to switch between Management and expert roles.

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 04/22 We're talking about the same thing

In a career workshop we look at job advertisements from the industry. "This ad really isn't written for young professionals," Sam says, sharing her screen. She points to a line that particularly offends her: experience in matrix project management is a requirement. "How could I have gained such typical industry experience during my university days?" At this point I would like to take a closer look at the terms. Perhaps it is the industry jargon that is causing the uncertainty.

"Who of you could draw an organizational chart of your own department?" I ask the group. Partly shocked, partly amused looks. In a typical university department, only a few of the responsibilities are visible in a hierarchical structure. The rest arises from the interactions between members of different groups and individuals. And that is the definition of the matrix structure: projects are worked on by time-limited teams from different branches of the structure. "So you all already have experience working in a matrix, you just call it something else."

I show a graphic by Nick Reddiford, This is based on thousands of questionnaires and interviews with doctoral students and scientists from industry. ?On the left you can see the top 10 skills that academic scientists use to describe themselves. On the right are the skills that the industry desires. Project management is in position two on the right.? I expand the table on the left, academic side. Project management can also be found here, but only in 35th place.

If you are doing a scientific master?s thesis or a doctorate, you are working on a complex project. This includes project management, whether it comes from your gut feeling or a professional infrastructure. Fresh graduates are reluctant to describe their skills in terms such as project management because they associate them with the world of industry. It's more helpful if you look at the substance of what you've been doing over the last few years; then describe it in terms that the other party is familiar with. This is not bragging, but translation work.

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 03/22 Navigating in the gray area

In a workshop we deal with job interviews. Isolde speaks up: "How do I react to questions about children?" "Or to questions about health?" asks Pavel, who had previously spoken openly about his diabetes.

A rule of thumb: Questions are allowed if the employer can use them to assess whether you can normally perform the duties of the job. In this sense, a future bus driver may be asked about her eyesight. scientists often work in laboratories or offices, which is why most health restrictions are not an exclusion criterion. What about people who can do their job but have an increased risk of absenteeism - for example due to a chronic illness like the diabetic Pavel or the parents of small children? This is considered a "general risk of life", so it is a normal part of life. As a rule, these applicants can fill in their position; questions about it are not permitted. ?What do I do if such questions are asked anyway?? Elisa asks.

In the interview, your private life is protected from prying questions. Most of the time, however, these questions are not asked as such. Rather ambiguous statements are made: "I hope you are aware that such a demanding position can hardly be reconciled with extensive private obligations." In this case, the simplest answer is to confirm the statement without anything about yourself to reveal: "Yes, I am aware of that." If such questions are formulated as questions, the employer is breaking the law. You can remain silent, lie or sue in court. Unfortunately, all three options have weaknesses. Employers would interpret into a silence what they want. Lying is also difficult: can you handle it in a stressful situation, and would it even be possible to work together positively afterwards? And who wants to go to court against their future employer?

There is at least one semi-workable solution. You can fire a warning shot and bring the conversation back to basics: "If you can explain how my family plans relate to my work in this position, I'll be happy to answer the question." but don't immediately make threats.

Philipp Gramlich,

GDCh career calendar
Experience job profiles on site!

Dates and information here

back to the main Career and profession

This page has been machine translated. If you have any feedback or comments please feel free to contact us.

last modified: 01.02.2023 10:59 H from N/A