Motivational Tips to Help You Advance in Your Career

Aug. 28, 2019

Whether you are starting your second year of graduate school, final year of postdoc, or a new/recurring job, you might be feeling stuck. That’s okay, ASM is here to help! We enlisted three ASM members, Dr. Victor DiRita, Dr. Eleanor Jennings, & Dr. Wade Bell, to provide their advice and motivational tips for getting out of a rut and succeeding in the microbial sciences. 

Be Noticed & Ask for What You Want  

When you don't speak up, you often lose opportunities, miss time-specific events, or even worse, get overlooked. If you want to attend a conference or get a promotion, then you need to ask. There is a chance that you might hear a “No,” but you might hear a “Yes!” Or alternatively, work towards a compromise that fits both you and your supervisor’s wants. If you are a naturally shy person and quietly do your own thing, then it’s very important to learn how to assert yourself. 

Some People are Just Difficult (or Unkind, or Unfair) 

More than likely you will enjoy working with your coworkers. However, there will always be a few that you have a difficult time with. Don't be afraid to embrace this and learn how to work with them. You might find that the person isn't as bad as you initially thought. However, sometimes they turn out to be even worse, and thus you have to figure out a way to co-exist with unpleasant people. 

Learn How to Manage Type-B Personalities 

Frustratingly, not everyone in the world is a classic, Type-A personality who attacks an assigned problem with the gusto of a religious zealot. Some people need prodding, and some need flat-out babysitting. Part of managing a team is figuring out how to get these people to do an on-time, quality job.

There is a Time to Walk Away 

You've been taught to never leave a job unfinished, and sometimes you do need to stick out a difficult situation in order to reap the rewards. However, sometimes it's time to bolt. It's one thing to be asked to work hard and “pay your dues”, but it's an entirely different thing to be in a no-win situation that has no end. If you find yourself in the latter, calmly develop a realistic exit strategy and start implementing it immediately.

Consider Taking a Year Off Between Undergrad & Graduate School 

If you are deciding on whether to go to graduate school or not, get a job as a technician or laboratory manager at a university or research institute for a year or two. This will provide an enormous advantage once you start graduate school: you'll be older, possibly more mature, more focused, and ready to hit the ground running when you do start. Testing your independence and learning some lab skills when there aren't milestones like coursework, exams and thesis chapters will be a bonus.

Go in Deep with the Literature 

The best way to become a good writer is to be an enthusiastic reader. Your career will be based on producing new knowledge and publishing papers that describe your research findings to the field. Learn what's out there, what new findings might influence your own work. Even reading research that is loosely connected to yours is worth it because you can find out some cool stuff about biology and learn new experimental approaches. Make it a goal to read at least one paper every day.

Publish Your Work Early 

Academic search committee members will look at your publications first. You should always think about how your experiments are going to fit into a paper. Avoid carrying out experiments that are going to give you orphan data that you'll never publish. The best way to not fall into the trap is to constantly outline your work in a manuscript format. By doing this, you will see the gaps in what you are working on and be able to focus your efforts on filling those.

Bring Commitment to Your Passion 

Passion gets you through the honeymoon phase of your current job, however, commitment will get you to the golden anniversary. You definitely need to have a passion for your field and to getting answers in your research/job, but commitment brings you into the lab to process 50 samples on a Saturday afternoon. First, decide what key things you want to commit to (and why), and then don't waver. 
With these tips, we hope that you find the motivation to kick-start your career goals!
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Contributors: Victor J. DiRita is President-Elect for ASM and the Rudolph Hugh Professor & Chair for the Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University. Eleanor M. Jennings is a Principal Microbiologist at Parsons Corporation. She is also the Chair of the ASM Career Development Committee and is on the ASM Membership Board. Wade E. Bell is a Professor of Biology at Virginia Military Institute.

Author: ASM Careers

ASM Careers
How can you make the challenges of a microbiology career just a bit less stressful? One way: Reach out to colleagues for advice, support and inspiration. ASM Careers helps you do just that - virtually!