By Jiye Son
Many professionals in the STEM field are great with technical skills, but often we lack the soft skills to communicate and express our talents to draw attention to ourselves. We work endlessly in labs to produce more results, and yet when it comes to flaunting those hard-earned accomplishments, we can sometimes feel bashful and uncomfortable.
As such, when it comes time to look for a job after successfully completing a Ph.D., we struggle to sell ourselves as well-rounded and attractive employee candidates. Likewise, many startups with innovative technologies still struggle to represent themselves as groundbreaking and profitable companies to attract future investors. So how can we build our communication and soft skills to get noticed and liked by employers, and persuade companies to invest in us?
In collaboration with NYC SciComm, CUNY ASRC NanoFab, and NYC Futureworks, we had the pleasure of hosting a workshop featuring Dandan Zhu, the founding CEO of Dandan Global. As a seasoned headhunter, Dandan worked with life sciences venture capital firms, Fortune 500, and startups to connect talented employers with future employees. In this workshop, Dandan taught us her methodology on how to self-promote using personable sales skills and shared her perspective as a headhunter on the job search process.
Dandan’s energy and charisma are positively contagious, and definitely inspired me to bring out my confidence to promote myself as an intelligent and charismatic scientist!
Here are some tips that I personally enjoyed:
1.Use all possible outlets to highlight your accomplishments and don’t be humble about them. When describing your previous or current position, say what your achievements are in those roles instead of listing your duties or responsibilities. This applies to your social media, resume, and intro email. Social media, especially LinkedIn, is a great place to make yourself accessible to prospective employers, investors, or even headhunters that want to tell you about open positions. Tune into Dandan’s Daily DANDAN podcast on more about selling yourself here.
2. Put yourself forward and network with everyone. Don’t limit yourself to people you have been introduced to or with whom you have common affiliations. Reach out and introduce yourself to strangers in your field. However, when expanding your network in person or online, don’t ask the person for a job or to invest in you. Not only will you make them feel awkward and pressured, they most likely can’t offer you anything. Instead, just open up a dialogue to discuss mutual technical interests and leave a positive impression so that if an opportunity does arise they could refer you or even recommend you for a position.
3. Memorize your introduction statement word by word. This will free up your brain space so you can pay attention to the other person’s body language rather than trying to come up with what you want to say. Dandan suggests an average of 1-minute introduction or less depending on your audience.
An introductory statement should be short, eloquent, and prepared. At your interview craft the following statement in advance, and practice speaking it out loud in the mirror to a point where you won’t need your notes! Here is a helpful article on how you can structure your intro statement, which may go something like this: “My name is ROCKSTAR. I am currently TITLE at FIRM. In my current (or last) role I’m working on... As someone who’s passionate about (relevance), I’m interested in learning more about (relevant role context). Thank you for having me here.”
4. Be likable. If you have been called in for an interview/meeting, chances are you’re technically qualified and/or your product is of real interest to the investors. So don’t spend your time reciting your resume or the product profile. Instead, show that you’re a great team player who can get along in the new work environment, or that you have the leadership skills to manage a team or a company. No one wants to work together with a jerk or invest in a company led by poor management. Some tips on how to increase your likeability:
- Ask open questions: Don’t make assumptions or ask closed questions that can be replied in a yes or no format. The more a person replies “no” back to you, the less they will end up liking you. Asking open questions will engage the other person to open up to you.
- Down-speak: End all your phrases in a lower tone, even when asking a question. This will make you seem more assertive and mature, especially if you’re a young female professional. Here’s another Daily DANDAN episode specifically on this topic.
- Sell yourself confidently: Highlight your strengths and passions, and don’t be humble about your accomplishments.
5. Lastly, it’s still a numbers game. The more people you connect with, the more you will increase your chances of being wanted. When you are an attractive candidate or a company, you have more leverage to negotiate your terms. Dandan recommends skipping out on Netflix and instead, create a spreadsheet of all the people you want to reach out to, and don’t be shy to cold call or email them.
The earlier we realize that technical skills are not enough to stand out from the competition, the sooner we can act to self-promote our technical and soft skills. While this can seem like a lot of work (because it is), being proactive early on in our job and investment search will lift the burden of stressing out last minute and create more opportunities.
About the author: Jiye Son is a PhD student studying nanotechnology and materials science at the City University of New York.
Editor: Tristan Fehr
By Justine Calise, PhD Candidate, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine
Speakers: Dr. Jesse Roth, MD, FACP, and Dr. Bettie Steinberg, PhD
By Leo Bear-McGuinness
With the announcement of an Isaac Newton action/adventure film, Hollywood’s tradition of misrepresenting scientists has now become as fixed as a Newtonian Law When you picture the one of the greatest scientists and ‘father of physics’ Sir Isaac Newton, what
By Julija Hmeljak
Summer is my favorite season. I always feel that great things happen when it’s warm and light outside, unlike in gloomy February. Why am I talking about this? Because it was in the glorious summer of 2015 that Sir Tim Hunt, Nobel Laureate, made a clumsy “joke” at a conference dinner that caused an uproar amongst the scientific community and effectively truncated his career. He made a distasteful comment about female scientists not being emotionally stable, apparently in jest, and young female scientists lost their marbles. Later on, he was largely forgiven, since he “clearly didn’t mean it” and “it was a joke”. Apparently, many of the largely female audience bought the joke. It was made at a scientific journalism conference, not at a real scientific conference, so the pundits felt the need to stress that—obviously—women are better at talking science, rather than doing science, and the joke was thus benign.
I do not buy his joke, though. Mainly because my sense of humor is not wired towards blatant gender bias and misogyny, especially in academia. I’m not saying all men are programmed to partake in “locker room talk” behavior. That would be an unfair generalization, and it is not my belief. What, exactly, does this have to do with science? Surprisingly, a whole lot…
Women make up roughly 50% of the general population. Thank you, Captain Obvious. However, a casual perusal shows that more women than men enroll in higher education, perform better and achieve graduation in the US, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But somehow, in the transition from graduate student through postdoc and onwards to independence and finally to tenure, more women than men disappear off the map. And then there’s the good old gender pay gap.
These differences are difficult to explain in so few sentences, but they absolutely cannot be attributed to mere chance. They likely stem from longstanding systemic bias, which is far too complex and, frankly, too depressing, to be analyzed here. Moreover, some people (particularly some male people) are quick to dismiss them as gross generalizations perpetuated by disgruntled females that failed in the sink-or-swim world of high-profile science.
There is no logical reason why women shouldn’t be just as well-represented as men in any professional area, science included. The problem arises when a scientific career is on the line. In certain disciplines, top male faculty employ more male than female trainees. Female first authors are judged more harshly than men during peer review, hence their work is less likely to be accepted for publication. In the publish-or-perish shark tank, brilliant female scientists lose to brilliant male scientists for no identifiable reason aside from gender bias. If a female postdoc even manages to break into a high-profile (male) mentor’s laboratory, she is less likely to receive a glowing reference letter.
On a day-to-day basis, female scientists are also more likely to be judged based on parameters that have absolutely nothing to do with their skill, intelligence or “stamina”, whatever that means. Apparently, my lipstick habits or the fact that I choose to groom my eyebrows preclude my job-performing capabilities. Sadly, those deeply prejudiced notions didn’t die in the 20th century, when Rosalind Franklin, Barbara McClintock and many others had to fight very hard for fair acknowledgement of their scientific merit.
Roughly a year ago, Eric Lander, president of the Broad Institute, published a perspective with the title The Heroes of CRISPR. Neither he nor the Cell editorial team fact-checked the accuracy of his assessment of Emmanuelle Charpentier’s and Jennifer Doudna’s contributions. His writing was likely fueled by the undisclosed conflict of interest, since the Broad is an interested party in the infamous CRISPR patent dispute. However, it is hard to ignore the the fact that Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna are women.
I started this piece by talking about the culture of misogyny, even tying it into the current political discourse. However, the aim of this piece is not to preach. I do believe that progress can only be made once an issue is identified, so it can be acted upon. If you have made it this far, you’ve completed the first step in building your awareness that gender bias in the sciences is alive and well. The issue is obviously not new; many have discussed the subject extensively. Listed below are a sampling of additional readings to further expand your awareness.
There is much more one can do beyond reading:
- speak up
- support organizations that speak up about gender equality in science - Discov/Her has a great article listing these organizations;
- take the 500 Women Scientist Pledge;
- attend seminars and lectures given by female scientists and engage in the post-seminar Q&A;
- go see the movie Hidden Figures.
Now you know that gender, and other bias, is alive and well in the hallowed world of science, and every single one of us can do something to fight it.
- Astronomer Meg Urry reflects on a turbulent year for women in science.
- Laura Bates of The Guardian understands why there are so few female scientists...
- … Ted Boscia disagrees.
- Jenny Pickerill reflects on how to overcome sexism and stereotypes in higher education
- Emma Sayer discusses bias in peer review
- Danica Savonick and Cathy N. Davidson compile an annotated bibliography of recent studies on the subject
- Katherine L. Milkman, Modupe Akinola and Dolly Chugh accept the challenge (What Happens Before? A Field Experiment Exploring How Pay and Representation Differentially Shape Bias on the Pathway into Organizations)
- Everything at Scitable’s Women in Science forum
- Everything at Tenure, She Wrote
Julija Hmeljak is a postdoctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Editors: Tristan Fehr