From the Northeastern Section of the ACS, focusing on career management and development

August 2011
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Interview Question. Different field for post-doc
Filed under: Interviewing, Position Searching, Public Relations docs, Mentoring, Post-docs
Posted by: site admin @ 7:58 am

We sat at a table in Starbucks and first talked
about what we were currently doing, after we
did some small talk about the Red Sox and
Yankees and the NFL.  This is a common way
for career consulting conversations to start.

Then he asked a question that troubled him:
How should I respond to the question:  What
motivated you to take a post-doc at [name
institution] in a field and area completely different
[biology at a med school] from your doctoral
and course [chemistry- biochemistry and
analytical chemistry] work?

He went on to say that he had been advised
when he was finishing up to seek post-docs
in fields related to his research area.  As previous
posts have mentioned
, when someone accepts
a post-doc in a completely different field, one’s
‘expertise clock’ resets to zero.  It may be less
of an attribute, at least for obtaining grants and
working at academic institutions.

He later described that he was in the process of
beginning to write up at least two papers and
that they were reluctant to present for fear of
being ’scooped’ by competitors.
He was pleased that we structured his resume
to reflect this status.

The experience, he continued, was a great challenge
but he felt he grew from the experience and although
not fully an expert he was clearly competent in
setting and reaching meaningful goals with new
techniques in an important field.

We even spoke about the possibility of being
invited to return to his doctoral institution to
offer a seminar on his recent research.  It is a
great audience, provides an opportunity to
reconnect and helps build confidence in the new

Well, when one works in industry time is an
incredibly important resource that cannot be
wasted.  Your time must be purposefully used.
Point out that you set out specific goals and
benchmarks, as B. Blazer as outlined.

Point out that that you have in depth experience
in entering new fields and being able to come
up to speed and contribute at a high level.  That
you worked in different environments with different
people and learned new and important things.
Seeing different approaches has taught you how
to value attributes of people — management skills,
leadership abilities, how to motivate and integrate
knowledge workers.  It is not enough to be smart
and hardworking;  in many cases having different
backgrounds, skills and approaches to solving
problems is of high value.

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