Job Hunting: A Student’s View

By: Josh Billy, The Ohio State University

The 232nd ECS Meeting will be featuring several new events, including the ECS Career Expo. As a PhD candidate moving ever-closer to defending my thesis, I couldn’t be more excited for this new addition.

I have been to three ECS biannual meetings and several local chapter events as a graduate student. I’ve used meetings to share my work, learn about a lot of interesting research from other groups, and perhaps most importantly, network. Meeting fellow electrochemists, especially those working on projects related to mine, is difficult to do anywhere other than ECS meetings. In a similar way, I’ve struggled to come across electrochemistry positions during my job search.

Because it’s always important to think ahead, I used the sponsor exhibits at previous meetings as a makeshift career fair. In Hawaii last year, I made my way around the booths and spoke to exhibitors while trying to get a feel for what types of jobs they might have available. The problem with the sponsor exhibit, however, is that the job types are limited; companies with sponsor exhibits are mostly (this is not always the case) making products that researchers use rather than for general consumers. The truth is that there are many more companies with electrochemistry positions available not previously represented at ECS meetings. The new ECS Career Expo will hopefully change that.

Searching for a job can be difficult, especially if you are looking for one in a niche field. Sometimes I wonder if I chose the right research topic, whether the one I work on will help me build important skills or instead hurt my career opportunities. After all, the carbon dioxide electroreduction industry hasn’t quite taken off yet.

If I want to work in a field slightly different than my graduate work, how can I outcompete other new PhDs who did their graduate work in that field? How can I outcompete older PhDs who have years more experience than I do? Will I even be able to find a job? Do I need to do a postdoc? I’m certainly not the first graduate student to ask these questions and will not be the last.

As a result of years in academia, the most obvious career path is the one that leads toward a professorship. This is probably the case for a number of reasons, most importantly because your PI and other academic mentors took this path. In order to land a faculty position, a postdoc is typically required. But what if your career goals aren’t in academia?

For young scientists, pursuing a career in academia can be stressful and even risky.

“There are many more PhD holders seeking tenure-track faculty jobs than available positions,” a recent Science article stated.

As a result, many PhDs are preferring to pass on faculty positions and look for jobs in industry, or elsewhere. Understanding the types of opportunities that exist beyond the academic campus is where career fairs, like the ECS Career Expo, come in.

Whether it’s in batteries, fuel cells, polymers, or corrosion, electrochemistry jobs are out there. When the 232nd ECS Meeting in the National Harbor comes around, expect to find me at the ECS Career Expo learning about them.

Josh Billy is a PhD candidate at The Ohio State University where he works on carbon dioxide electroreduction in Dr. Anne Co’s research group. He helped organize “ECS Ohio” in 2014 and has presented his work at biannual ECS meetings in Chicago, San Diego, and Hawaii.

Posted in Students

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