Graduate students and recent Ph.D.s in a wide range of sciences recently crowded into a large lecture room at the American Geophysical Union's meeting in San Francisco to get some advice on a topic of increasing concern: what are my career options? The person they had come to hear was Peter S. Fiske, author of the just published Put Your Science to Work: The Take-Charge Career Guide for Scientists (2001 AGU).
"Career development remains a primary issue for young scientists," says Fiske. "In one survey we conducted of young AGU members, we found that concern about the job market was the number one most cited reason why some students had considered leaving graduate school. It's an important issue not only for young scientists but for the health of the discipline as a whole."
Fiske, a research scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is something of a guru for young science graduates seeking interesting careers, thanks to a previous career guide, To Boldly Go (1996 AGU). He says the situation is vastly better than it was just five years ago, in that there are many other good options for scientists than conducting research in a university laboratory. But, he adds, "universities and Ph.D. programs are still not providing the sort of information and guidance newly-minted Ph.D.s need to hit the ground running."
Science graduates are now in demand in a variety of fields, including business, industry, journalism, government, and Congressional staffs, Fiske notes in his new book. But many students believe that their advisors consider inquiries in such directions as tantamount to treason. The question arose at his Fall Meeting session.
"I respond that students need to understand that they are in charge of their training and their professional development," says Fiske. "While an advisor can provide a stimulating and nurturing environment in which to do research, the student ultimately must chart his or her own direction. Most often, students are overly nervous about discussing career issues with their advisor. Just because advisors are unfamiliar with other career paths does not mean that they are hostile."
In Fiske's view, the best approach for a young scientist is to explore all career options by devoting a small portion of every work week to exploring new areas and by building an active professional network. That is what Put Your Science to Work is intended to facilitate. It provides advice from potential role models in a variety of scientific fields and professions, along with suggestions for learning about good job openings in unexpected places, writing winning resumes, successful interview techniques, and many other elements of the job search.
Further information about the book and an order form are available at http://www.agu.org/careerguide/
Notes for reporters:
A review copy of Put Your Science to Work is available from AGU, while supplies last. Address your request to Harvey Leifert email@example.com, stating your name, title, name of publication, postal address, phone, fax, and email address.
Peter Fiske may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 925-422-7489.