Making the most of your time at BU

by Lauren Mangano

As graduate students and post-docs, we tend to think that our only skills are lab techniques. We soon realize that all future careers, whether we want to stay in research or not, require skills that we seem to lack. How can we possibly develop these skills, when we need to be laser-focused on research so that we can complete our projects and fulfill the expectations of advisors and collaborators?

Lauren Celano’s seminar titled “Making the most of your time at BU” showed me that developing skills for your next step doesn’t have to be at odds with being a good researcher right now. In fact, many of the skills that are valued outside of academia are integral to being a good researcher, including communication, organization, analytical skills, and teamwork. She recommended identifying the skills valued for the career paths you find interesting and taking steps to develop those skills.

This definitely put my time as a graduate student in perspective. I thought about the research activities where I felt most energized and excited and decided I would take steps to build those skills. As I thought, I realized that I love communicating my science, managing people and projects, planning experiments, and maintaining a broad, rather than narrow, base of knowledge.

My next step is to seek out opportunities to build my target skills, using some of the mechanisms that Lauren shared.

  1. Tell your advisor and ask for opportunities to build skills

I spoke with my advisor recently and let her know that I was interested in Science Writing, but was concerned that I didn’t have a portfolio of technical writing. She told me that she sometimes gets request to write perspective articles and that might be a good opportunity for me. It is likely that your advisor has more work than they can do, and might have an opportunity that is a match for your target skill. Since I enjoy managing people and projects (and because I had too much work for one human to do), I also requested undergraduates to work on clearly defined projects. My advisor identified students for each of the projects, and its been challenging, but also rewarding, to work with all of them.

  1. Look for opportunities to build skills at BU

Another of my interests is in intellectual property, so I applied to work as a student analyst in the Office of Technology Development alongside my research. At the seminar, Lauren mentioned that there may be additional intern opportunities that are more compatible with PhD student and post-doc schedules (several hours a week, rather than full-time for several months). In addition, I talked to Chelsea Epler about writing for the BU’s BEST blog, since I am not quite ambitious enough to start my own blog.

  1. Get involved in student organizations

I had been following this directive long before I attended this talk. I was president of GWISE in 2013-2014, which was a great way to gain teamwork and leadership skills, while expanding my network. Now, I am working with other in my departmental Graduate Student Committee to initiate a Student Seminar Series so that students have the opportunity to present to their peers.

  1. Build skills during your research

Since I enjoy communicating my work, I am never satisfied with a boring bullet-point presentation. I take each lab presentation as an opportunity to experiment with how I explain my research. To develop my inner project manager, I started taking greater ownership of one of my collaborative projects by creating spreadsheets and timelines to make sure we are more coordinated going forward.

This new realization that I can take action while in graduate school to build the skills I need for the next stage of my career has been very satisfying for me, and I challenge you to find ways to build the skills you need for the career you want.