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Panel of Professionals Advises Students on ‘Navigating the Real World After Graduate School’

Published: 02/19/2019

By: Carla Nelson

Video by: Jarrett Rogers

A room full of graduate students recently gathered to receive real world advice from a group of professionals during a “Navigating the Real World After Graduate School” panel. The panel, hosted by the Auburn University chapter of the Younger Chemists Committee on Jan. 31, addressed students in a casual setting in the College of Sciences and Mathematics’ Sciences Center Classroom building offering insight and advice on the many career options available to those with a higher degree in chemistry.

This was the second career panel the committee has hosted, the first was in fall of 2017. Host Jessica Krewall, professional development chair for the Younger Chemists Committee (YCC), said the first panel consisted of only Auburn faculty and they were excited to host faculty and staff from additional institutions this year.

This year’s panel consisted of Guillermo Sanchez, who is currently conducting a fellowship to become a member of the Epidemic Intelligence Service of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Jacque Sanchez, a health communications specialist for CDC; Dr. Jessica Davis, coordinator for General Chemistry Teaching Labs at Auburn University; Dr. Colin Abernethy, chemistry professor at Sarah Lawrence College in New York; and Dr. Brad Merner, assistant professor in the Auburn University Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“The idea for our career panel events came from a collaboration of a small group of graduate students from our department discussing the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding possible careers available to chemists after graduate school, searching and applying for jobs, and really anything related to industry jobs,” Krewall said. “We realized that we could help relieve some of this stress if we were to offer some answers from people who have actually experienced these situations first hand.”

The event was funded by a grant to the local section of the American Chemical Society to support the initiative to promote and foster mental well-being for graduate students. 

The panel discussed pathways to finding jobs in chemistry, the value of web portfolios, interview etiquette and more.

Dr. Davis advised the students to make as many connections in their career-fields as possible, and Guillermo Sanchez agreed.

“Who you know plays a big role in how you may or may not rank with the other job candidates,” Sanchez said.

Dr. Abernethy also agreed, adding that he has been asked to apply for most jobs that he has had.

“The way you get into that position is make contacts in your field,” he said. “Always reply positively to emails. Volunteer for things and put yourself out there. Have a presence and get a reputation as someone who’s always willing to do things and is always happy to help.”

The panel also advised the students to make and maintain strong relationships with their Auburn University professors and advisors.

“It really helps if your advisor has a good opinion of you when you’re applying for jobs, especially if they’re connected and can put in a good word for you,” Dr. Merner said.

Dr. Abernethy added that the professors are there to help the students succeed. 

“This might sound really strange to you now, but your professors are on your side,” he said with a laugh. “Most of us are involved in teaching because we love the subject, but we also like people. One of the ways that we can give back to our discipline is to train the next generation.”

Krewall said that she believes the event went well and the YCC plans to continue to host similar events, some focused specifically on the job application process and interviews. 

“We had a lot of graduate students attend, and even some of our post-doctoral scientists,” she said of the Jan. 31 event. “I have heard very positive feedback from students since the event, which is greatly encouraging!”

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