The ‘4R’ Principles for STEM graduates joining industry
Getting off to a good career start in the medtech or pharmaceutical industry is achievable through embracing this Manifesto – 1. Reason well, 2. Apply Rigour, 3. Show Respect and 4. Be Responsible. Adopting these now may even help you to secure the successful interview that gets you work in the first place:
1. Reason Well -
This sounds an obvious one, but it may not be. We use a lot of mental shortcuts to ease the workload on our brains and aren’t always aware of which thinking skills we apply. Much of our information processing in college is about memorisation rather than interpretation or evaluation. However, industry is all about figuring things out e.g. finding new ways to solve problems with others.
One great way to start is by challenging yourself by wrapping your head around a new technical topic and grasping the general principles or set of standards that apply. Why not draft a set of criteria e.g. for design of a product feature or equipment upgrade. This will help get your thinking in terms of criteria. You will find this is less black and white than you might expect but if you pay close attention to the 3C’s : Criticality, Causality and Considerations (practical & quality-related( then you’re training yourself to fit-for-purpose reasoning for industry. In fact, reading any complex text or literature and synopsising it (e.g. in a Blog) is also a great way to hone the level of thinking you’ll need to apply.
2. Apply Rigour -
Often the focus in college is on passing exams; now it’s time to reflect and take a slightly different perspective. Reflect back on your top three subjects/projects and your bottom three. What connected these top subjects – how do they reflect your strengths and interests? What about your least favourite subjects; ask yourself what these have in common and there are blind spots or weak points you need to address. Are there short courses e.g. on Udemy that you can undertake to ensure these don’t trip you up later? Being diligent about your own skills and testing your thinking clarity daily is a good habit to get into. Be scientific by using evidence and methods e.g. Plan-Do-Check-Act for your personal activities and you will bring this into your work setting more easily,
Challenge yourself regularly – don’t be afraid to test your assumptions by seeing if you can take two opposite positions on discussion points. Cherish and don’t avoid people who disagree with you or flag your mistakes. Getting constructive input and feedback will help you develop the critical thinking skills and social resilience that you will need in a challenging work environment.
3. Show Respect -
There is a saying that “no idea is above scrutiny and no person beneath dignity”. This begins with respecting yourself; not talking yourself down to others or engaging in self-talk that limits you e.g. “I am not a creative person or good at X, Y or Z” when you havn’t had a chance to try. It doesn’t matter what level of college degree you have at this stage in your career. Even being average is great as it implies, you’re easy for others to work with.
Equally, show others due respect by assuming they want to help you, even if they don’t immediately reply or respond to your queries. When approaching them, get your timing right. This might mean asking another colleague when is best to talk to them. Take care to then ask questions that you are well-formulated well and you’re satisfied no one else can answer. Be specific in what you need e.g. explanation of a technical point or their take on a planned action. Either way, make sure to clarify the relevance of what you need from them i.e. why,
Remember, there are two types of knowledge: the knowledge you have already and the knowledge you attain when you ask the right person. Often this is not determined by job title or level in the organisation but simply by who is closest to a process or equipment set on a regular basis. Even less experienced people can help you immensely if they have recent exposure to, share your curiosity about and/or can make finer distinctions than you. Respect people and they will want to work with you again.
4. Be Responsible.
Working in a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) environment means sharing the responsibility for any risk, whether to the product, patient or fellow employee safety. There are lots of useful tools for risk analysis but the most important one is the habit of taking ownership. You can also apply the thinking behind tools by applying them first to yourself.
Reflect on when you underperformed in the past by taking a critical incident approach. For example, did you make a poor presentation or fall down during an interview? Ask yourself what you could have done to correct that action at the time e.g. it’s OK to ask for feedback during an interview, giving yourself another opportunity to answer. You can also prevent a poor future performance e.g. by practicing presenting regularly in a safe environment until you gain in confidence. I know one young engineer who overcome a fear of interviewing by becoming a stand-up comedian. In other words, he took responsibility to address his weakness and learnt to overcome it by doing something he (eventually) enjoyed.
Ultimately, the most important responsibility we have to ourselves and our community of colleagues is to continuously learn. This is how we build continuous improvement cultures.
Learning is not just for college – live your life as if tomorrow is your last day, LEARN as if you will live forever.
Fiona Fennell is a Career Coach to STEM professionals who wish to become fit-for-purpose for the pharma and medtech sectors. Please contact her for more details or even to discuss the above article; extracted from one of her programmes. Fiona@think4purpose.ie