Frequently Asked Questions:

Most of us have trouble thinking ahead to the end of an experiment. We may be petrified to think to the end of the month, when really we should be thinking ahead much further than that.

Don’t worry, IGSA has your back.

We have pooled some of the career resources available to you and put them together here. We even listed some of the common questions most of us have had, and sought some expert guidance from the University of Toronto’s own Dr. Nana Lee GPD Coordinator. Check it out and see if we can help you in planning for life after Grad school.

If you have a question you can’t find here, send it in to IGSA: you are not alone in your questions and we can add it to the FAQ.  For now this is mostly PhD Focused, We intend to introduce more MSc  based sections to the website shortly, if you intend to graduate with an MSc, scale back the timeline accordingly.

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General

Q) When should you start seriously thinking about after your PhD?
A) In your third year. After you finish your reclassification it is now time to start seriously thinking about what you might want to do with your life. Begin thinking about the options, meeting with people, explore different careers through resources such as LSCDS, the GPD course, LSO. Check out mygradskills.ca and myIDP through Science Careers. If you want to leave or stay in academia, find mentors who are 5 years ahead of you so you know the inside stories. Outside academic mentors can be found through LSO or networking events.

Q) How do I start?
A) Start by attending career information events and assessing yourself. You should start actively networking and start early, not in the last 6 months. You should begin looking in the third year of your PhD. Ask professors how they got there. See what jobs are out there. Attend career events. Keep in touch with the people you meet there. For more on effective networking see How Will They Remember You.

Q) What if I don’t want to stay in Immunology?
A) An Immunology Graduate can do anything, not just Immunology. If your dream job is a large shift you will want to start transitioning early. Find projects geared towards your goals. Start collaborating with people closer to your desired field. Find mentors who can help you get where you want to be.

Q) When do I start actively looking?
A) If you know where you want to be you should start looking at what is available early. See what may interest you. You should start looking at posted jobs around a year before you graduate. Most should not start applying until 3-5 months before graduation.

Q) How do I know what jobs are out there?
A) Start looking. Research jobs that others have, or think about what people may need and create your own. You could find recruiters such as Hays Recruiting and HRCortex and ask them about biotech market trends, if you like.

Q) I have no idea what I want to do!
A) We cannot tell you what to do with your life. But not having an idea is no excuse to not think about it. Start by ruling out things you do not like. Think about what you already like leading, such as your student groups. The student collective is a fantastic place to start “thinking” like a professional. For example, if you initiated an an Outreach Program, consider collaborating with a professional Outreach Coordinator. This may be your future career! If you started Immpress, perhaps your career might take you into Scientific Communications. Consider the jobs that exist, the jobs that you would enjoy, and the lifestyle you would like to live. You can’t find your passion if you don’t think about it. Explore different possibilities, and consider inventing your own possibility. And remember, your passion can only put “food on the table” if it intersects with societal need.

Q) Is it okay to take time off before I start my next position?
A) Absolutely. It is highly recommended to take a 2 week to 2 month brain break for the next intellectual challenge. Travel. Write. Read. Cook. Delve into your arts or sports. Volunteer for something entirely out of science. Spend time with loved ones. Cultivate yourself.

Academia

Q) How do I know if academia is for me?
A) Success in academia is often correlated with publishing early. Those who publish a first author paper early in their PhD are more likely to succeed in faculty positions. (See Laurance et al, Bioscience, 2013). It is a correlation, not law, so don’t necessarily panic if you haven’t published yet. Grad students see their PIs sometimes a bit stressed during grant-writing time. But do not shy away from academia just to avoid this. All successful careers require dedication and being scientific thought leaders. Grants and finances are part of reality everywhere. Academia is a great place to be, especially if you love research and teaching.

Q) If I want a career in academia do I have to become a post-doc?
A) A post-doc position is an effective route into academia. It is not the only route; researchers routinely enter industry and move back to the academic world. An important consideration if you take this route is to keep publishing.

Q) Can I figure out “what next” from my post-doc or do I need to know now?
A) If you know you want to be faculty you should be considering that. Especially consider what you will take away from your post-doc position, with permission from your PI, of course. Eventually you will need to take away enough to start up your own lab.

Q) How does networking work for a post-doc?
A) Very similar to industry. Begin networking early. If you have a simple R&s;D post-doc position you will need to find connections for your placement. If you are researching a more elaborate project and partnering with industry you will need more contacts and need to start earlier.

Industry

Q) What does a career in industry look like?
A) A career in industry is fast paced. Everything needs to be done 5 minutes ago and you will need to be an excellent multi-tasker. You need to be an excellent communicator of science for non-science business colleagues and clients. You need to be well-read and know the latest in technology to use or compete with. Beyond that the requirements will be specific to the industry and role you choose to pursue.

Q) Can I look for a job before I have my PhD?
A) You should begin building a network in your 3rd or 4th year. You should begin looking at posted jobs a year before you will be graduating. You shouldn’t be applying until 6-3 months before you expect to graduate.

Q) How long does it take to get a job in industry?
A) For some people it can be very quick. For others it can take longer. It can depend on the company, the field and the market. From the beginning of effective networking it can take around 1½ to 2 years. This is not a time limit for a specific job, those can vary, but you will need a network to find the opportunities. Begin building a network before your last year.

Q) Should I accept an unpaid internship?
A) In an ideal world everyone should be paid for his or her time, but sometimes this is not feasible. If you have a passion for what you would be doing, then do it. There are some internships available during your PhD as well. It is not common, but taking 2 months during the summer to experience a career may help you understand what is required to get the job. Anyone interested in Biotech should apply to the ASCB annual summer conference on the biotech industry. Two weeks, tuition fully paid if they accept you.

Government

Q) What kind of government jobs are available?
A) Government is a large category, including jobs at the municipal, provincial and federal level in Canada, in foreign nations, or in international organizations like the UN/WHO. These jobs can range from bench work, to policy advisement. Expect a slower pace then industry

Q) How do I get a government job?
A) Same as for the other categories: explore what positions are available and network early.

Q) Do I need to speak French?
A) This will depend on the position you want. Some jobs list it as a requirement others do not. Knowing French will likely not hurt you on your resume, but begin exploring your options early to know what barriers you may need to overcome.

Q) Do I need a second language?
A) Again this will depend on the job you are looking for. To work for the United Nations (which includes the WHO) you are required to be functional in English and a second UN language. This is not the requirement for all organizations. Having a second language will certainly help in any application, but the best advice is to start exploring career options early on so you can break out the language books if need be.

Q) How do I network for an international government job?
A) Effective networking is not substantially different on the international scale, but who you network with may change. Look out for opportunities to interact with people who have the job you want, or have had experiences you would like. There are internship programs available for the WHO,CIDA, IRDC and various other international organizations.

Q) Are Canadian government jobs only for Canadian citizens?
A) You will likely need to be a permanent resident. Some positions will have more stringent requirements.

Q) Are there limitations based on your home country?
A) Yes. Government jobs may have criteria that involve citizenship and immigration status. The junior professional program at the UN is unavailable to Canadians, but may be available to you if you were born elsewhere. Again these criteria will vary by job. You are not excluded from the entirety of government work by where you were born, or where you now call home.

Q) Can I work for a foreign government?
A) This is a large question. Requirements and criteria will vary country to country but yes there are opportunities available within other national bodies.

Q) Are international jobs only for old people?
A) If you have been networking you may find that there are many positions that require a significant amount of experience. You cannot get every any job from the moment you graduate, but you also don’t expect a tenured faculty position immediately.

Self Employed

Q) Do I need to be independently wealthy to be self-employed?
No. You just need an idea. You don’t need to make this your main source of income. Have something else going on, a Post-doc, a job, or even the end of your PhD, then get started on the side. See if your idea takes off. If you do not have any idea, but want to be part of a start-up team, check out the Techno Program by the Impact Centre, directed by Dr. Cynthia Goh.

Q) Do I need a brilliant idea or just an okay idea?
A) Go for brilliance. What you need however, is not a brilliant idea, or an okay idea, it is a marketable idea.

Q) If I have an idea how long should I follow it before I call it quits?
A) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you start your own thing on the side you can keep going for longer. Then, if it starts to be successful, you will eventually have to decide to follow up on that success or not.

Q) I have more questions you didn't answer!
A) Check out the resources we have listed (there are some amazing one) or use the form below to send us your questions. Chances are you are not alone in asking them and we may add them to this list in the future.