FrankenFood for thought! How lunch can help you find a career.

Dr. Joseph Barber

If you are interested in the way that animals are treated in captivity, then when it comes to mealtimes you probably fall into one of these three categories:

  1. You are a vegan/vegetarian and don’t eat meat;
  2. You try to be a humane carnivore by selecting some of the welfare-friendly farming options (e.g., free-range chickens, outdoor-reared pork);
  3. You really try hard not to think about the delicious meat that you are eating, where it came from, or whether animals were poorly treated to get it (a very wise idea when eating ‘mystery meat’ pies and hotdogs).

I recently had my Hunter College (CUNY) masters students discuss the idea of ‘cultured meat’ (Hopkins & Dacey 2008) – meat that doesn’t come from whole animals, but that is grown from cell cultures (for more information click here and see this recent news article). If we believe that animals can suffer from physical or psychological ill-treatment, and there are many intensive farming practices that may potentially lead to suffering (e.g., confinement without social companions, overcrowding, early weaning, beak trimming), then the idea of cultured meat actually sounds very attractive. From an environmental perspective, cultured meat would also probably need less space, fewer resources (e.g., water, food), and be less polluting than whole animals as well.

On the whole, my students were supportive of cultured meat (and it was generally meat-eaters who tended not to like it), but all of them identified some very relevant obstacles that this future technology would have to overcome to be a viable alternative to whole animal farming. Growing cell cultures is a current technology, but turning these cultures into tasty steak and kidney pie or pulled pork is going to require more research. And then you have to think about marketing it to the potential consumers of the product. All you would need is for the press to refer to cultured meat as “FrankenMeat”, or as another author put it “mindless chicken tumours” (Warkentin 2009), and you will probably lose a significant number of customers!

So what does this have to do with careers? Well, first of all, I like the idea of cultured meat, and so I thought it might be good to encourage any of you looking for PhD or Postdoc research opportunities to consider this as a potential topic. I think this could be a break-out product within the next 10-20 years, and the more of you who are working on it, the faster this might happen. If the vegans in my groups of students said that they would be willing to try cultured meat, then there is likely to be a huge portion of the population who might buy this. Secondly, the idea that mis-marketing of cultured meat as “mindless chicken tumours” might turn people away from this potentially great idea is a good reminder that how you talk about your research, especially to people who are not experts in your field, is very important. Cultured meat probably does have a lot in common with tumor growth at some biochemical level, and scientists in the field may know this, but talking about tumours and food in the same sentence to non-scientists isn’t going to get you very far when extolling the virtues of this idea. Whether you are looking for postdocs or jobs, networking, or even just trying to apply the results of your research, you will need to talk about your research to people from many different backgrounds, and you will need to do this in a way that makes your research interesting, relevant, and completely not gross or retch-inducing. An easy litmus test to use: if people ask you more questions about your research after you give them a 1-2 minute, tailored introduction to it, then you have done a good job. If people start dry-heaving and then run off in the other direction, looking over their shoulder at you to make sure you are not following them, then you may need to practice your 1-2 minute research talk a little more. We have a Career Services’ workshop that deals with talking about your research (Thursday 4th February), and so keep an eye out for this on our schedule.

Finally, if you are interested in the application of your research within industry or the business world, it might help if you have some understanding of marketing, economics, and business methods. These may be very transferable skills when it comes time for your job hunting. The wealth of student-based organizations here at Penn offers you an enormous choice in terms of skills that you can acquire or practice (e.g., Penn Biotech Group).

As always, visit us at Career Services for more information on your job search strategies, and I promise I won’t talk about a future filled with “mindless chicken tumour” nuggets.

Do blogs have a reference section? They do now!

Hopkins PD, Dacey A. 2008.  Vegetarian meat: could technology save animals and satisfy meat eaters? J Agric Environ Ethics 21: 579-596. http://www.springerlink.com/content/46441473rw8306l2/fulltext.pdf

Warkentin T. 2009. Dis/integrating animals: ethical dimensions of the genetic engineering of animals for human consumption. In: Gigliotti C. (ed.), Leonardo’s Choice: Genetic Technologies and Animals. Springer, Netherlands. Pp.151-171. http://www.springerlink.com/content/r48678gk21815643/fulltext.pdf

5 Similarities between your PennCard and Job Hunting

by Dr. Joseph Barber

1) PennCards can take a while to find in your bag, but they are in there somewhere. Job searching can take a while too, but persistency does pay off.

2) Over the course of a day your PennCard exchanges information with lots of different entities. Expanding your own contacts through effective networking will also maximize your chances of finding a job.

3) Dirty, old, crinkled PennCards usually don’t swipe successfully. Poorly formatted and unorganized resumes and CVs don’t impress much either.

4) Eating and drinking on the run whilst trying to use your PennCard often results in sticky cards. The information that you get from Career Services’ workshops and seminars, and from individual appointments with Career Services’ advisors, will stick with you too. Bring your card along and come and see us!

5) Your PennCard opens doors for you. Your Penn academic credentials and the stellar resume/CV that we can help you put together will also open doors – doors to career opportunities.

Pregnancy. Never to be described as the elephant in the room, for obvious reasons.

Dr. Joseph Barber

My wife is having a baby. Well…, not right now obviously. I’m not one to “tweet” about the immediate goings-on in my life, as it is hard enough for me to keep track of them, let alone update other people. So…, my wife is going to have a baby in early spring. This is a fact that is now obvious if you see her, but was not, until recently, apparent to my colleagues at Career Services who had not seen her, and did not know her.  It was a fact that I had not shared, for no other reason than it had not really come up in conversation.

“Yes, we have three speakers confirmed for the “Expanded Career Opportunities for Science and Engineering PhDs” panel discussion scheduled for the 30th November. Unlike my wife, none of them appear to be pregnant”

The proverbial cat was let out of the bag when my wife came to speak at the “Expanded Career Opportunities for PhDs in the Humanities and Social Sciences” panel discussion put on by one of my colleagues at Career Services. My wife has a PhD in anthropology and now works as an Executive Director of a non-profit organization here in Philadelphia.  As soon as that cat was unleashed from its bag, it ran around the Career Services office with frightening, supersonic speed. My colleagues both congratulated me and then chastised me for not sharing this exciting news earlier. I only started at Career Services in September, and so perhaps I can use this fact as a partial excuse.

You can probably see where I am going to go with this. It is easy enough for me to (unintentionally) conceal the fact that my wife is pregnant, and despite the many adventures that March will bring (caring for a baby is much like taking care of cats, right?), I can continue to turn up each day and do my work without too much trouble. If I were applying for a job, would my wife’s pregnancy be something I would share? Probably not, unless it just came up in casual conversation, perhaps with an interviewer who had also recently had a child. Building some common ground with future colleagues is not necessarily a bad idea. Would employers care if my wife was having a baby? Well, some employers might see this as a positive, because if I got the job, I would probably work hard to keep it and the necessary benefits that came along with it.

Understanding the culture of the organizations you are applying to will be important in terms of how much information you might be willing to share. Some places are likely to be more “baby-friendly” than others. Taking the opportunity to conduct informational interviews with someone from the organization might help you find out more about this culture, and give you a better perspective. You should also find out about Family and Medical Leave benefits that employers might offer for fathers and mothers.

But what if I was a woman…, or perhaps less confusingly, what if my wife was applying for jobs while pregnant? Should she talk about babies, family, personal goals, or any of that? In general terms, if she were not showing, then she wouldn’t have to say anything about being pregnant. The same is true during phone interviews where there are no visual clues. Being pregnant does not prevent anyone from using their academic and work-based skills in the jobs they are applying to, whether these are academic or non-academic careers. When it is obvious that you are pregnant, you should probably make mention of it, even though you are generally not required to do so during interviews. Most employers are legally bound not to ask you about personal matters like this as part of interviews (or to discriminate against you for being pregnant), but the topic of families might come up if your interviews have some social element associated with them (e.g., a 2-day campus interview for a faculty position with lunches, dinners, or other social gatherings).  If it is obvious you are pregnant, it is best to address it head-on, and address it confidently.

CB101642

Being pregnant provides you with an opportunity to illustrate some key skills, and show your understanding of the requirements of the job. For example, if you have thought about how you intend to rear a child and work full//part-time at the organization you are applying to, and can present your proposed approach coherently to employers, you are showing an ability to plan and organize your time effectively, and to use a little creative problem-solving to do so. For example, for academic jobs you might be able to have your classes organized ahead of time, or be able to convert them into hybrid/blended courses (part face-to-face, part on-line) prior to the start of the semester. But interviews should not get side-tracked by your pregnancy; you need to make sure that the focus remains on your teaching and research skills for academic jobs, and your relevant transferable skills (e.g., leadership, team-work, communication) for jobs outside of academia. You need to stick in your interviewers’ heads as an outstanding candidate, not as a pregnant candidate.

You can learn more about pregnancy and its relation to academic job searching, and non-academic job searching, by following these links. Wish me luck for the spring, because there is no doubt in my mind that I will need it – lots and lots of it – especially as I have just been told that looking after a baby is absolutely not the same as looking after cats.

Resume Speed

by Dr. Joseph Barber

When commuting to and from work on SEPTA regional rail, there is plenty you can learn from staring out of the window (at least, before you fall asleep and start drooling). For example, I have seen one house next to the railway line that seems to have a horse in its garden. Being social creatures with long legs that need stretching, a garden-living horse doesn’t sound like the best idea. I have seen a taxi graveyard, where old, battered taxis rust mostly in peace, their innards strewn over the ground and picked over for anything useful. The newer, working taxis reside in the lot next door. Perhaps their proximity to the graveyard makes them stay more reliable on a day-to-day basis, as if to say to them, “stay working, taxi, or you know where you will end up”.

The other day, I saw a sign along the railway track that read “Resume Speed”. Now, working at Career Services, my brain is specifically attuned to terms such as CV and résumé, and so it is perhaps not surprising that I completely misread this sign.

ResumeSpeed

Résumé speed? What on earth is résumé speed, and why are train drivers interested in the speed of job application materials?” I would have said, if I wasn’t on a train full of people who would have thought me somewhat crazy to be talking to myself early on a Thursday morning.

Fortunately, the commonsense part of my brain stopped drooling, and woke up in time to set me straight. Of course, the sign was actually telling train drivers to return to some speed they were travelling at before they had slowed down for something. Yes, that makes much more sense. However, it did get me thinking. Is there such a thing as ‘résumé speed’ when it comes to job applications. It wouldn’t refer to the speed of creating a résumé, because that should be a slow, careful, and continuous process. It might refer, though, to the speed at which employers read your résumé. In certain cases, ‘résumé speed’ is extremely fast – much faster than the regional rail at any rate. You often hear that employers may spend only 30-45 seconds reading your résumé. No-one knows for sure if this is accurate, but it would probably be a good idea to write your résumé as if you only get 30-45 seconds to impress. You résumé should showcase those key skills that are most applicable to the job you are applying for – and thus your résumé will look different for every job to which you apply. If you want to know how successful you have been at getting the message across about your skills, hand your résumé to a friend, count to 30, and then snatch it away from them. Ask them what stood out the most from their brief reading of the document. If they say the fancy font you used for your name, the funny e-mail address you have (e.g., boblookingforjobs@yahoo.com), or the fact that the résumé was hard to read, then this means that you probably need to spend some more time on it.

If leadership and staff management are key requirements for the job you are applying to, then what you want, of course, is for your friend to say something like, “Oh my…, you certainly have a lot of leadership experience; that’s a jolly good show, old chap”. In this case, your friend is English, pretending to be English, or being possessed by the ghost of an Englishman. But if your foreign/strange/possessed friend can spot the skills you are highlighting, then so too will potential employers.

You are now clear to ‘resume speed’, and we’ll see you at Career Services where we have more advice and assistance if you need it.

5 Differences Between SEPTA and your Job Searching Experience

by Dr. Joseph Barber

SEPTA

1)      SEPTA strikes can sometimes start at 3:00am. You will probably never be offered a job at 3:00am (unless you are in the mob).

2)      Sometimes SEPTA trains catch on fire for no particular reason. Even the best written CVs/Resumes never spontaneously combust – although it would be impressive if they did.

3)      SEPTA trains usually end up at a fixed destination. Your career search may take you to uncharted waters within or outside of academia if you keep an open mind.

4)      Falling asleep on the SEPTA train may mean that you miss your stop. Falling asleep during an interview has more serious consequences. Try to avoid doing that.

5)      The outlook through windows on SEPTA trains is never rosy. While the job market isn’t particularly rosy, either, it is never greasy.