Job Search Series III: Pay It Forward (and Pay it Back)

Silvia Di Blasio

“For it is in giving that we receive.”
~
St. Francis of Assisi

I believe in the power of giving, the power of volunteering, of giving until you have nothing left, giving until it hurts (as Mother Theresa said)…by giving, I feel true joy and connection. I lose myself into another soul, into whatever is we are made of, into the interconnectedness of it all. I feel fulfilled.

It is incredible how much comes back when you give: doors open everywhere, you meet extraordinary people and things start happening all around you…

Giving also means erasing your own loneliness, your own need for connection and meaning in life.

To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.”
~ Abraham Lincoln

Not just when you are looking for a job, but especially if you are a newcomer (to a country, town, career path, social group, etc.), giving is the…

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Job Search/Path Search ~ Not Rocket Science ~ But How It Hurts!

Silvia Di Blasio

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” ~ Carl Jung

The only journey is the journey within.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

I dedicate this posts-series to all the job seekers I have coached or I am currently coaching, to those looking for a new career path or to free themselves from job-slavery, to those tired of boring or unfulfilling jobs, to those concerned about the state of the world and willing to do something about it, to those who have touched my heart and to a young friend currently struggling to find his own path, because you have given me the gift of re-visiting my purpose in life and for that, I will forever be grateful.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get

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Life Inside a Bubble ~ Unequal Relationships of Power

Absolutely amazing and pure true article about one of the bisggest problems societies around the world are facing nowadays. Sad on a side, though optimistic on the other, Silvia’s approach to the problem as both, Employment Counsellor as well as a lover of nature and Permaculturist (among many other things) make it a priceless piece of thought and information. Even more for those who have or are experiencing it currently…

Silvia Di Blasio

We’ve been living life
Inside a bubble
We’ve been living life
Inside a bubble
” ~ Coldplay “High Speed”

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
― Aldous Huxley

I used to think of myself as a lone wolf, apolitical and agnostic. I am aware that many people think of themselves those ways: tired and frustrated of organized political parties that lead nowhere and sell themselves for anything; disillusioned and skeptical of organized religions which impose human-made rules and interpretations for the convenience of abusive leaders and regimes; and experiencing loneliness and rejection from other human beings who use prejudice and finger pointing to relate to others who they perceive as “different”.

No more…

If we don’t do anything about the things that we perceive as wrong, who will?

Today, I would like to talk about some unequal relationships I have observed in my…

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A butterfly flaps its wings on Twitter, and a vaccine map goes viral

Skeptical Software Tools

CFR vaccine preventable diseases mapIf you follow the problem of vaccine denialism (like most skeptics do) and are on social media, you probably saw a cool interactive global map of disease outbreaks this week. It was created by the Council on Foreign Relations – there’s a picture of it here and a link below the fold.  

Just in the last week it was posted by many major websites including Kottke.org, Mother Jones, L.A. Times, The Verge, Wired, The Atlantic Wire and even Forbes. And of course all those posts – and the direct link to the map – were being wildly passed around on social media.

Whenever I see something like this going viral, I dig a little bit before I retweet or repost it.  Sometimes there’s a better version of the post to link, or the one you saw didn’t attribute it to the original author correctly. I like to make sure…

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What’s happening with new grads opportunities?

It’s not nice to start a blog post stating that one feels sad or concerned about something, though it’s worse to say that one feels disappointment! This is the ending of a storm of feelings that have crossed my mind and my heart after I read this article about the rising trend in youth unemployment, particularly among recent graduates. Nothing could deviate my ever-present smile and positive attitude toward life than such an unfair situation like this one.

Sure enough we live in a very unjust world, no surprises there. However, it comes to a sad realization when the main character involved in the story is oneself. To this point, we must all admit that we are a bit detached to someone else’s problems as far as those problems don’t get to close to us. In this case, I am not only close to this subject matter – qualified youth unemployment – I am well within it. By saying this I am still focusing on whatever is affecting me at the moment, and leaving so much -that affects others – outside. My understanding of this seemingly selfish approach is that by writing these articles I may be helping other fellows in my same situation, and in doing such I serve a purpose. In my reasoning, that’s a better way to start to do something rather than complaining and criticizing.

So here are the true facts: 13.2% of youth unemployment in BC -largest of all four western provinces – with a very subtle increase from previous years. Seen that way it doesn’t look like a huge problem, and the government finds refuge in those -they say- good figures, obviously always comparing to a even worse government administration of the past. No surprises about them both: statistics and politicians. Neither of them are absolutely genuine in reflecting what really happens at the ground level. I don’t mean to blame anyone for anything, and I am not trying to show any sympathy or rejection to any political party at all. I am simply expressing my point of view on a subject that affects a group of people in this province  – and to a similar extent to the rest of the Nation – a group that is the economic foundation and living future of citizens in this area.

So how do we reconcile the political discourse with the reality we need to face everyday when we courageously jump onto job search engines and positively keep looking for new opportunities? Is it realistic a government program says “there are so many new opportunities around the corner” when they mainly advertise and promote jobs related to the construction and oil-related industries? I am not against these industries, but we have to realize that this cannot be the only venues through which all job vacancies are expected to be created. First of all because it would result in a “discrimination” for so many other disciplines, and second because the whole economy cannot rely only on two or three activities. What would happen when the growing boom of these fields start to decline in years or decades? Where would all the workers turn to? Can the BC Jobs Plan be considered successful up to this point? I leave it up to you…

Reading about the comments of the article I came across some really wise pieces of realism and pure logical analysis. It all revolves around youth discern to choose the right program with a future career projection. However, this is not always the case. Here’s where the first main flaw in the system comes into play: it’s general belief that it is important to have a degree, but no one ever mentions that depending on what that degree is about will firmly and undoubtedly impact our chances to land a good career path after graduation. The second great flaw is part of the orchestrated platform through and from which educational institutions try to recruit students at any cost. As someone mentions, the educational system has become an outstanding business machine. It sounds harsh to the ears of some, but it is the raw reality. Today, universities and colleges are all about having more students to pay more tuition fees, and quality of education, content, prospective advancements, and successful career planning are overlooked. This brings along the major of problems: it is all focused on having as many students as possible, and not on carefully planning a strategy that will help them succeed in their careers once out of the academic system. A very shortsighted and economically-driven policy. Evidently true though.

How are we going to deal with the number of unemployed young professionals who are struggling to land a respectable job where they get paid fairly for the large investment they made when pursuing a university degree? What are the answers to this talented youth who feels that is wasting their time underemployed in survival jobs? What will be a new approach to current difficulties faced by this group? Do politicians have actual believable and applicable initiatives?

Employers on the other side don’t make things much smoother either. Even when I can’t generalize about all fields, when it comes to science and particularly biological sciences, it looks like employers have become pickier than ever in the last few years. The number of requirements asked in a job ad seem to far exceed any realistic reach for recent grads. The more certifications and experience they require, the more it becomes evident that there’s a need for further education, at least short specialization courses offered by numerous institutions. However, this also turns into a vicious cycle where one degree has already left students in debt, and having to further their qualifications will increase that debt even more, but without those certifications there’s no real chance to land the job. It is a sticky situation where most are forced to enter the labor market in underestimated conditions, where their degrees and effort to obtain them are worth nothing by no one.

In my very humble opinion, I think there is one thing that the government can do: pass laws that regulate the percentage of entry level/recent graduates who are hired by companies. The recruiting department of companies will be responsible to inform how many of the recent hires were given to entry-level young professionals, and so gave them the chance to start building a path into future to those ones. I know of a Provincial Program aimed at youth with post-secondary degrees, helping  them connect to employers, where the government offers economic incentive to the employer if they recruit and keep a young professional at a certain position. BC’s representative of this program, Douglas College, has benefited with a great deal of subsidies to strengthen the program. Too bad former students with “Post-Graduate work permits” are forbidden to apply. This is a paradox that I will devote a whole blog post to very soon.

The task for new grads is not easy, and while some insist in blaming the students themselves for making bad and uninformed choices, I’d be more inclined to think it is a shared responsibility of three main actors: students, educational institutions and the government (we could well include employers here too, although that’s a bit more controversial and accepts further discussion). Until there is no agreement in a coordinated and articulated functioning of these three parts there will be no conciliation, and very hardly any change. My ideal change would be the government taking its part in accepting the Jobs Plan has not come to its full success, and needs to be readdressed: give true answers to a broader spectrum of young grads.  Am I being too idealistic? I hope not.

Finding the right path… but which?

signpost
I think I will get a bit out of track in this post since this is not completely “scientific career-oriented”, but it definitely has to do with the whole picture of how and why we ended up where we are now, and more importantly how we’re going to look at the future with optimism, wisdom and commitment.

I will be giving my own personal view, feelings and experience so far in my life about every aspect covered in this discussion/description. This is my own story, which may -and for the most part must- be different from so many others. However, I know I still might share a sense of belonging with people who struggle to define what their right path in life is.

To be honest I wish I had been born one of those gifted guys with some outstanding talent no one could ever miss just by looking at me and set that as the driver of my career, success and economic prosperity. Unfortunately, that has never been the case. I was born pretty regular, the usual-type of person with certain abilities -often more limited that what I would have enjoyed- but nothing too extraordinary. Regardless of this, life has had no mercy on me, and still threw tons of challenges in my way that I had to dodge the best I could, on the run. While this sounds like a bit childish and oversimplified it portrays the cornerstones of what it has truly happened. Having life urging you to take decisions on what path to choose for your future is not the problem… problem is: what is the path? Pretty simply answer I have heard so far: I, you, we, they don’t know! Pretty predictable answer as well, eh? But if no one knows, how is it that everyone looks so settled and successful? Am I being denied access to some information I can’t see by myself? Let’s talk about this.

I am positive that most of us have plans and projects for the years to come. I am certain that more than half the people I know and work along daily would simply die if they didn’t know what they’d do the day after tomorrow. It’s a human act, almost a habit to plan what comes next. It makes us feel we are in control of the situation -even when we are talking about giving direction to the course of our own existence- and know exactly what our next move will be. True enough though, when having to make an election of a career path things can turn a bit thicker -and stickier?- for some. I am among this “some” group.

For someone who sees my professional career -from an educational point of view- probably won’t have many doubts about what my expectations for a career are: scientific research, laboratories, papers, conferences, symposiums, grant applications, etc etc… understandable after all, for someone who has spent the last 9 years of his life studying science. Here’s the inflection point though: I am not totally convinced that research -for the sake of it- will make me happy and content the rest of my life. I have already said this in a previous post so moving on: finding a job and putting myself into the working force looks like the next big option. Well, let me tell you that for a recent grad student with the “deadly” specialization so carefully developed at university for years is simply NOT that easy. And as if this wasn’t enough, I have one more “detail” to add to the drama, I am not sure if working in this field is either what I want. I am getting tired of myself already writing all this. Why do you have to be such a complicated person buddy? -my inner self asks, frustrated-.

So this is me, a profusely curious person who has been fascinated by nature above all else, the complexity of life and the way science allowed us to understand some of that. However, in my passion for discovering and unveiling, I have found that I don’t seem to fit into any of the already existing systems: academic -from my own desire- or the biotechnological/pharmaceutical private fields -for lack of experience, lack of merit, incompetence, ignorance, lack of opportunity, fierce competition, you name it-. So question still remains and stalks me: what is my path? what am I gonna do with my life?

As I have been discussing with a wise friend lately, I define myself as someone who is all over the place. I love science and discovering, finding the answers to so many questions. It’s a driving force in my life, seen as a career path or not. That same curiosity though, has taken me to always be interested in other venues such as journalism and languages. My eager for knowing is so strong that I feel the need to learn a different language just to understand how others express their needs and how they see the world from their own perspective. To the same extent my passion for travelling fits the purpose here. If I were to choose something to do with limitless amounts of money, that would undoubtedly be travelling. Be a connoisseur of people and their customs, learning from their cultures, I find just as much passion in that as I do when I do cloning and expression of recombinant plant acid phosphatases in E. coli. My passion for communication and writing also fuses in this whole picture. I have developed a strong interest in social networks and social media communication in the past few years. I possess an account in almost every single social networking platform that exists. Complex combo, isn’t it?

To this point it all looks mixed up and hard to separate. However, something that I am sure about is that my main drive in life and what has taken me to pursue the majority of things I’ve done so far is: the need for knowledge, the hunger for getting to know more things better, the necessity of understanding systems and people deeper. So although I haven’t decided yet what the direction of my future will be like, I am sure that it will once more be led by some more exploring of the unknown to make it known.

Bottom line: a dilemma at the moment. Should I insist in pursuing a careers in science beyond the consistent rejection I have been facing from companies and organizations for landing a humble position within their teams? Or should I abandon my stubborn determination and explore these new corners?
What is your opinion? What are your stories? Have you ever met a scientist with interest in becoming a journalist with passion for travelling and social media communication? Do I stand any chance in pursuing such a transition move? I would appreciate hearing about your own experiences.

As I recently read in the famous Richard Nelson Bolles’s “What color is your parachute?”, in this convulsive world we live nowadays people are expected to change their career paths on average once every 10 years. This sounds kind of scary at the beginning, since a conservative side of our minds thinks of the stability and seniority. What about freedom though? Knowing that we count on the chance of reinventing our own reality once every decade tells us of the so many chances we have to get to know our likings so much better and finally decide what really interests and excites us. After all, this whole conundrum relies on the same old mistakenly-cliched “pursue of happiness”.

The need to not be alone: a learning experience.

alone for blog

It wasn’t long ago, I can still recall the excitement of knowing I was successfully concluding a period within one of the most important parts of my life: education. I was –again– going through the final stage of writing a thesis, wrapping up some last-minute experiments, having to deal with writing conclusions and discussions, gathering data and justifying how everything made sense. Nothing new to all science grads. However, at the back of my mind I was twice as happier for realizing that a new time in my life had finally come. After almost 8 years in academia and a diploma in each hand I felt –and still feel, with some differences brought about by reality– I was ready to start living out the dream. Once more life has shown me things don’t always go according to plan.

Looking for jobs, doing interviews, reading dozens of books about resume writing and cover letter mastering, learning the thousands tricks they recommend  to be savvy about, etc. I knew it! I knew I’d have to go through all this. Let’s be clear, I was not a complete naive dreamer expecting things to happen magically over completing a degree. I followed the situation very closely, I was aware of the great difficulties in landing a first job after graduation and I had examples of colleagues and friends having to go through such process too. However, it’s hard to realize how serious it is until one is actually experiencing it. How do we cope with the hundreds of applications sent and the almost non-existent responses? How to deal with the embarrassment of saying “none” when a hiring manager asks “how many years of experience do you have in the industry?”? We’re recent grads, we will have very little chance to gain any experience at all if we’re systematical and repeatedly denied the chance to start – from the very deep bottom maybe, but at least take the first step. I am not in possession of national statistics –for Canada– about employment rate among youth, though it would be very interesting for everyone to realize the high percentages of recent grads who struggle so hard to land a position. Sometimes not even in the exact area of their expertise but something close enough to let them at least be in the field.

Not long ago I read two stories which I felt entirely and sadly identified with. One was from a grad student from University of Victoria, BC and also a columnist for the Canadian job hunting engine Workopolis. In her article she described the enormous frustration her friends felt for not being able to land any other jobs that working at bars and restaurants with the majority of them holding Bachelors as well as Masters degrees. She mentioned the embarrassment of these young people when asked what they do for living, and ended her article with a pledge to all employers: “Grad students are out there waiting for you, hire them!” I could not agree more. The second story was from a Spanish student who’s currently living in London. He holds two undergraduate degrees and a Masters and is cleaning toilets in a famous and luxurious coffee shop. The level of disappointment he expressed in his writing was such that the story became viral in a few days spreading to most Spanish-speaking media.

Both are extremely touching testimonies for all those who are in this situation. We know what it feels like to devoting such huge amount of varied resources to a career that seems to only leave us with minimal-wage jobs. I won’t say there are people to be blamed about this, what I know though is that we live this reality and it’s ruining young people’s dreams and life expectations from the get go. I may be an idealist, but I would like to find the way to help people like the ones in these posts have real possibilities of pursuing better and more consistent careers, doing what they’re good at. This is because I believe in the need of not being alone, of counting on colleagues and mentors who boost our will and make us aim high, no matter what the challenge might be. Even when the economy is tough, and even if the system fails to include everyone, I am down for looking beyond and overcome these problems. There is a need to support each other, and it is a need that implies learning. I ask myself, are we ready for this?

So, my final conclusion will be a sort of a question. Do you know of other young professionals in other disciplines who are facing the same problems? Is it just as hard to land an entry-level job as an accountant or a graphic designer or an IT person? From personal experience with acquaintances and friends I don’t think so. It’s far more difficult in the science field. If others are living in the same world and still finding it less hard to get similar things, shouldn’t we learn something from that? What do you think? I would love to hear your opinions and perspectives on the subject. I hope this discussion helps us understand what we need to do from now on in order to change our reality. Not sure up to what extent, but something is better than nothing.

What have we done to deserve this? It was about a good cause after all…

hi-job-hunt-7028623-852-8col

No need to be redundant about the serious trouble the world’s economy is going through nowadays. We have heard thousands of times how bad things have become, and how much tougher they might turn into if we follow our current path. If we look around, it shows itself: statistics being the cruelest proof of such reality. However, what are we supposed to do? Are we expected to resign to our future arguing this depression responsible for not being successful? Are we encouraged to blame our parents for having been born in the “wrong” time in history? Do we really want to fall that short and condemn ourselves to such a simplistic, conformist and mediocre thought and/or behaviour?  I cannot content myself with such empty attitude. Happily enough though, I can see many others around me who can’t either.

Speaking of bad times and reality, as a recent graduate of a science program I have been faced with the responsibility of managing my life into the direction of a so-called “career”. Let’s just stop right there! What am I talking about? In a traditional way, starting a career means job hunting for a position that suits your education and experience, applying for as many jobs as possible and begging you get lucky enough to get hired. Sounds about easy, doesn’t it? Now here’s where the two biggest problems of a science soon-to-be worker begin. First and foremost, where are all the good positions? Wait, where are actually any positions? I know many of you might be thinking “wha’s this guy talking about?” Well of course I am conscious about the postings that are up in some of Canada’s most famous job hunting engines –you name them- but have you noticed the frequency with which they’re posted? Compare that to ads being uploaded by hundreds asking for marketing/sales related positions, food and beverage industry, general labourers, etc… We must face that the number one problem in landing your dream job in science is the limited abundance of positions offered. That combined with the overcrowded convocation events at Universities and Colleges across the country makes it an aggressive fight of a myriad of applicants over very few available opportunities. But it’s not only that what’s causing recent science grads so much of a painful experience is the workforce market, there is also an intrinsic problem to science itself. I would like to be very clear about this being true particularly for life-related disciplines as well as those which are “research-prone” such as Biology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Ecology… hand raised over here! The intrinsic problem is “specificity and degree of expertise”. Yeah, something as simple as that can rule you out of an application simply because you do not have enough knowledge and/or experience in one technique or such other system. While other fields can be seen as more general and where knowledge acquired during university is enough for working for many different employers and positions. Science comes with a higher degree of exclusivity. It is not our fault as recent former students that our theses focused –logically- on a certain number of techniques and approaches. Should we be supermen and superwomen we could learn it all, but so far that dream has not come true. So I crave a “why?” to all employers out there listing so many and so different requirements as part of the experience… are you seriously looking to find someone who knows it all and is able to carry out all you ask successfully? If your answer is yes, look into my eye and tell me that person can be a recent graduate… I doubt it!

hire me please

Possibilities reduced to the limit, picky employers with strict requirements, tons of competence, lack of enough experience, education underestimated… this all looks like we’re paying the price for a capital sin! So I ask myself everyday: is this what I must suffer for choosing to do what I like to do and what I know how to do? I hold no grudges to those who find passion for research and go from bachelor to masters, masters to PhD, PhD to post-doc, post-doc to next post-doc, next post-doc to next next pos-doc and from there to being a Prof/Researcher for the rest of life. That’s totally fine, and I have so many respected close friends and acquaintances in such situation. I believe in the usefulness of basic research and I am convinced people who are passionate about that and want to dedicate all their energy to such activity must do it! However, I refuse to believe we must all follow such way, because that brings along problems like oversaturated educational institutions which are rejecting post-doc fellowships and faculty applications at an alarming rate. So I must rely in the belief that there’s still a chance for us all who want to contribute to applied research either in the public or private sector, but with the clear objective of having our actions produce a short-term impact on society. Isn’t it thrilling to work on some “life-changing” project and see it working “in vivo” and “in situ”? It thrills me!

All this said then, I am here today writing these words just as the beginning of a widespread message for all recent science graduates who would love to land a job in the industry world and make a change in others’ lives.  After all this has always been my drive when I first ever thought I would be involved in science: being able to help my fellows with my knowledge, my discoveries, my initiatives, my passion, my integrity, my wish to improve this world of ours. Would you like to be part of this project? What if we all get together and stand up for ourselves, whatever situation we are in currently, and help each other spread the word about new opportunities, successful strategies, positive networking connections, webinars and hangouts for sharing experiences and perspectives. Let’s work together to make it happen, I am sure this is possible. I believe in the generosity and willingness of people for a good cause. Nothing will stop us guys! Let’s show the world what young scientists can get!