H.O.P.E. for STEM grads starting Careers
Updated: Sep 2, 2020
It is daunting to take your first steps into regulated sectors so here is some useful advice if you’re graduating soon -
Hero : Believe that you can self-direct your own career.
With technology developing at such a pace, it is difficult to predict what form jobs will take in the future. Careers are likely to be non-linear and a ‘Protean’ approach might serve you best. ‘Proteus’ was a Greek mythological figure and God of sea-change. ‘Protean’ means “versatile” so be open to a wide range of opportunities rather than overly focused on one particular job, or even industry. Be guided by what you really want to learn rather than earn. This is a position of strength to start taking charge of where you’re going.
Optimism : Believe that your best self is meant to be.
We are not defined by our degrees or personal history. However, habits of mind can be limit or liberate us. Realise that your willingness to learn is what you most have to offer employers. This benefit of a “Beginners Mind” i.e. approaching everything from a fresh perspective inspires others to question the ‘obvious’. Often this helps solve even the most complex problems.
To make a living you need to find out what the world needs of you. Your journey isn’t a destination and you can be both optimistic and realistic about your abilities. Get to know yourself by reflecting on how you dealt with people, ideas and events in the past. Identify improvements you can make and take responsibility to own these. For example if time management is an issue for you; structure each day for work (or work search) and play. Learn to tell the story of where you have come from without talking negatively about yourself. Avoid over-generalisations like - “I’m not good at time management”. Instead, prove that you can self-rectify by forming new habits like monitoring you spent on social media etc.
Passion: Believe in your interests as your core offering.
There is a Japanese philosophy called ‘Ikigai’ about finding purpose. The steps are easy to follow to find your ‘flow’ i.e. when you are most creatively engaged -
‘Flow’ is different for everyone but it is far easier to approach work when you know yours and what you stand for. These beliefs will be reflected in your preferences. Clarify the thinking skills you are best at e.g. analysing, interpreting or synthesizing information? social skills e.g. listening or managing other peoples’ expectations? and the ethics that guide you e.g. “do no harm”? Articulating these to employers is extremely important and these should be your anchor message for interview.
Efficacy : Believe in what you CAN know and do.
Once you identify your passions, the next step is to join the dots between these and what the world needs. Apply a wide angle lens, talking to lots of different people across many industries. Find out what a typical day is like in different jobs. There are lots of examples on the grad ireland site, incidentally www.gradireland.com
You can next reverse-engineer from tasks in jobs to the skills and interests needed. You will notice that even people in the same roles are attracted to their jobs for totally different reasons and that this evolves. Your interests and skills will emerge gradually too (like the Protean principle) so don’t be hard on yourself; have faith that you will get there. In fact, managing STEM careers is in essence like the work itself. ‘Figuring things out’ is the point. You don’t have to be an expert to contribute and the right attitude is enough for now. Be open to new situations and ways of knowing; aiming to learn something new monthly.
For example, two very practical software tools that can learn easily are : Minitab (if you are a STEM grad.) and advanced Excel (any discipline) on platforms like Udemy and Linked in Learning have lots of interesting courses to offer.
The good news is that you don’t have to be in a paid job to do well on your learning journey. If not working right now, review what you studied in college and use XMind, a free software tool, to map out your knowledge domain. What subjects were inter-related? How? and which are you most confident in?
Remember, it is our capacity for social learning that really differentiates us as humans. Keep your network strong. Stay in touch with your study groups. Ask people to teach you what they are learning. In very general terms, there are two kinds of knowledge – the knowledge you have and the knowledge you gain by asking someone else to share what they know. This will also be a key activity at work and it is within your grasp now so reach out for help. Contact me on this website if you want to receive my free newsletter or email firstname.lastname@example.org - I look forward to hearing from you.