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 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,

Issue 02/22 What do you really need for a job?

"I would like to discuss two questions with you," I say in a career seminar. ?What does it take to become a good quality manager? And what does it take to become an excellent quality manager?? Paul grimaces before answering, ?Obviously that's a trick question, but I can't think of a better one: First, a love of bean counting. Second, great love of nitpicking.? ?Caught,? I admit, mock-offended. "That was a trick question. I agree with the first part.? In order to become a reasonably useful quality manager, it would be enough to enjoy working precisely and with a passion for detail. But what makes an excellent quality manager? Where does the wheat separate from the chaff?

The everyday life of quality managers looks a little different than many think. Audits are the core of their work. In hour-long meetings, together with those responsible from the respective departments, they examine whether there are weaknesses in the documentation and work infrastructure and how these can be eliminated. Such audits are classic examples of "important, not urgent": Those responsible are usually sitting on red hot coals so that they can devote themselves to day-to-day business again.

?You need a thick skin for an audit like this,? interjects Geraldine. This puts the discussion on the right track. The core skills for developing from good to excellent in quality management are: negotiating skills, friendliness, an understanding and at the same time emphatic manner, the ability to develop pragmatic and compliant solutions with the specialists. To do this, quality managers must be able to think about different areas of work. The requirements of just functioning in this field are different from those of becoming really good at it.

You should carry out such an analysis of the success criteria with a number of job profiles before you decide in which direction you want to develop. This allows you to predict much better whether you could fit into this environment. And when you apply, you will not only present yourself with generalities or copied formulations from the job advertisement. You can then paint the picture of a successful employee who knows what she's getting into.

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 01/22 The internet never forgets

In a Career workshop, I would like to shed light on the traces we leave behind on the Internet. I'm sharing an article about an applicant whose application phase was overshadowed by his dazzling Facebook profile: drugs, corona parties and rapidly changing non-platonic acquaintances. After a fit of laughter, Sabine takes a breath: "It's always funny to read something like that, but nobody's that stupid, right?" "I know enough cases of educated people who have acted similarly naively," I reply. A former colleague, for example, called in sick, went to a music festival and posted it on Instagram. This breach of trust was acknowledged with immediate termination.

The virtual world influences our real life. ?What less obvious pitfalls are there, even for cautious internet users?? I ask the group. It takes a little while, but then Eduardo remembers a former colleague who really wanted to work in science journalism. In the second year of her PhD, she attended a conference for which she only had to submit a pro forma abstract. Since she didn't have much time, she frantically copied a few sentences together. In her first interview, she was shocked to see a printout of this very abstract on the table. Such an abstract can serve as a work sample for a whole range of professions.

Outdated profiles on social media or job seeker databases not only look bad, they can also lead to you being perceived as inconsistent. Statements in the cover letter such as: "I would like nothing better than to start my training as a patent attorney with you" do not match the "love for field research" that the same applicant had expressed a year earlier.
It can be just as unfavorable if you cannot be found on the Internet at all - for example if you are applying for a position in a PR or Marketing department. As a result, their ?high intrinsic interest in modern forms of communication? loses credibility.

Modern communication and self-marketing methods are neither good nor bad, they should be used with common sense.

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 12/21 Am I a loser?

After a workshop, a participant tries to talk to me. "I feel like I'm a loser," she confides. Is that an exaggerated understatement or the imposter syndrome that is particularly widespread in higher education? In any case, she struck me as the brightest participant in the whole course. "What makes you think that?" I ask. "Well, all my acquaintances of the same age have permanent jobs, get loans to buy a house, while I'm treading water in my project work," she explains. She has already taught herself six languages, but she is only fluent in English and her mother tongue. She always has ideas, but as is well known, there are only 24 hours in the day, which is why she suffers from the nagging feeling of being overwhelmed.

"You're not a loser, you're a starter," I reassure her. Starters are impulsive, creative people who are always dreaming up ideas but have little interest in completing something. "Boring, nothing new" seems to be shouted at them by an inner tormentor. Starters are by no means losers, they just need the right environment that they move into - or that they often enough create themselves because of their personality. Important for starters is the interaction with their counterparts, the finishers. They like nothing better than the submit button when a work package is complete. They are people who create and work in a structured way. Starters cannot do without finishers and vice versa.

What does that mean in individual cases? Only apply to positions where you can express yourself as a starter or finisher. You can still learn a technical skill later in professional practice, but you can hardly change your personality, you have to consider that when choosing the position.
Do you select applicants or put together a team? Then pay attention to the balance between different types, which will always look a little different depending on the task. In a start-up you need different qualities than for a quality management department.

In some situations we have to do what the task demands, for example when the starter has to finish her thesis. As much as possible, you should settle into roles that fit your personality type.

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 11/21 What distinguishes the first from the second step

?Jana has real guts,? I hear Bartosz tell during the coffee break at a career seminar. I join the conversation curiously. ?She did her doctorate in our working group two years ago and immediately got a job in industry. Now she has thrown it - without having a new job. ?? Is she brave! ?? Or stupid? ?? Wow, ?whispers through the group.

After the break, I use the case for a spontaneous excursus: ?Is Jana stupid or brave?? I ask the group. ?Raffael from our group could paper his booth with his applied papers, and yet it took him more than half a year to find a job. I am voting for stupid, ?stated Hedwig.

The GDCh statistics show us every year that even highly qualified chemists have to show good nerves when starting their careers. In July, the Blauer Blätter reported that in the first year after graduation, a fifth parked on domestic postdocs, and ten percent were even unemployed. We have seen high enrollments in chemistry courses for more than a decade, while the job market is barely growing. So competition can be tough.

?The unemployment rate among chemists is below three percent, the GDCh numbers seem too high to me,? protests Esther.

It's a common phenomenon: after a difficult career start, moving from job to job usually seems like child's play. In terms of professional life, unemployment is then low. So what changes between the first and the second job search? I see the following factors: Once we have started our career, we have better access to industry-specific networks and learn new skills. And we are getting to know more career options so that it is easier for us to find a niche in the job market. So I suspect Jana is confident about her market value.

Developing such networks from the university and discovering niches in the job market is more difficult, but by no means impossible. Further training, for example through graduate schools, can help. In addition, you can learn something about your options in targeted discussions and make contacts outside of the university.

Philipp Gramlich,

Issue 10/21 Who will read your application?

We discuss applications in a seminar. ?Here you can see a map of your city. Where is the price per square meter particularly high? ?I ask the group. ?Where a lot of bubbly is drunk and little is going on,? calls Ralf, who knows the city like the back of his hand. Just like in a city, there are also particularly expensive areas in your application documents, namely the places that naturally attract the attention of the readership. The most relevant information should therefore be found there.

?Who will read your application?? I ask further. ?My future supervisor, probably someone with a scientific background, and someone from the HR department,? says Sofia. "And sometimes some kind of algorithm filters the documents for keywords," adds Burcu. So you are dealing with up to three groups of readers. In the case of small companies, only the boss, who is presumably a scientist or engineer, will read the application. In the case of larger companies, this is also done by the HR department, and in the case of the very large, an algorithm. However, the order is as follows: first the algorithm checks, then the HR department and finally the specialist department. The voice of future supervisors only comes into play if the HR department forwards your application at all.

The parts of your application that the human readership first looks at are particularly valuable: The application photo attracts looks, then everything that is high up or highlighted. Only post information there that is of particular interest to this employer. You have leeway, for example by writing a short summary of your profile in three bullet points under the photo or by moving up the most important for this employer under ?Skills?. HR managers pay more attention to motivation and personality, which you should work out for this group of readers. In any case, you should be sparing with jargon and scientific details - none of your readers will understand them. Finally, the algorithm gets its keywords from the cheap parts of your application, for example by listing trivial criteria from the job posting such as "MS Office" in the lower part of skills.

Philipp Gramlich,

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last modified: 15.09.2022 11:29 H from N/A