How I got my dream job! – A personal perspective

The right job is like the wedding dress, when you see the right one, you feel it!

I have been jumping around for the past 3 days because I got a job offer for a position as a scientist in a pharmaceutical company. I am beyond ecstatic to keep working in research and use my knowledge and silks to promote innovation in the field of drug discovery. Honestly, it sounds incredible!

When I left the small village where I was born and raised in southern Italy 10 years ago, I didn’t even know that this career was available for someone like me. Everything you are taught and see around are women who have to get married or have kids to be validated by society. That wasn’t my call, so I left rural southern Italy with no specific plans. I just wanted to get a degree because this is what everyone was doing and going to uni was kind of an obvious option because my grades were excellent.

Fast forward. I collected a bunch of degrees, left Italy, created a brand, started a website and the list goes on. However, getting my dream job was a long and painful journey. I had to search for it very carefully and I have been going up and down the country for the last 5 mounts to make sure to find the right spot for me! So the journey started 5 months ago, around August, when I started to apply for jobs outside academia. I sent 23838298 job applications and got invited for 10 formal interviews. Very often, for positions as senior scientist, before landing a formal interview (meaning that you are invited on site) you are required to do a Skype or phone call which is basically a technical interview to assess your scientific knowledge.

I honestly never thought that my persona could fit a job in research and this is why I was keeping my options open to different kind of jobs, for example in science communication, scientific affairs or an editorial role. But the more I was digging into those jobs, the more it became clear to me that they would be too distant from doing science in a traditional sense. A job in science communication meant doing more communication than science. Additionally, all the money in science communication is in medical communication. Any time I was given a task to assess if I was suitable for the role, I had to deal with biology or clinical studies, pathologies and other medical conditions. Some people might like it and are passionate about the human body or anatomy, but that wasn’t clearly my call. I fell in love with chemistry 10 years ago and this is what I wanted to do in a future job. Plus, the only side or biology or the human body I enjoy was biochemistry which is still chemistry.

I fell in love with chemistry 10 years ago and this is what I wanted to do going forward!

My first job interview as senior scientist was crucial to decide which career I wanted for myself. I wanted to do research but not in academia and this is where I started putting all my energy and focus to. After a long reflection, I got to learn that I didn’t hate research nor science. I just hated academia, its dynamics and outdated, medieval and gatekeeping mentalities. Doing research in a company is a totally different story. First of all, you work as part of a team and if you have problems you aren’t left on your own dealing with it. You have a team and a line manager that support your research and work and they are happy for you to give feedback, help you grow and become a better scientist.

You aren’t left alone dealing with scientific problems and those which have nothing to do with science.

Once I understood my call, I just needed to find the right spot. In industry, people care about your professional development as much as your personal growth. And that was a big component for me in selecting which company I wanted to work for.  Any job interview I had, I was asked if I was happy with the process, my thoughts about the company, I was encouraged to ask questions about the work style, the culture of the company, to talk to recently-employed PhD graduates and see how it was like for them to work there. Your contract of employment requires 37.5 hours of work a week and you are obliged by contract to take one hour of lunch break. None expects you to work or answer emails on weekends, strange or unsocial hours. It might occasionally be the case but you GET PAID to do that!

In my specific case, I made it clear in my CV that I wasn’t the kind of scientist that fits the mould of what a scientist is supposed to be or look like. In my CV, I included all the communication stuff I did and I did refer to my website if people wanted to know more about me. If people weren’t happy to accept my outspoken personality, then I wasn’t the right fit for the company. Women in science are questioned about everything they do and they often find themselves in the position of choosing between their job or being themselves.  I do not believe that anyone has to be put in the position to do so. You can’t possibly expect people to be one thing (read their professional life), above all, when they go through a PhD training and learn how to think critically and independently for themselves!

I was born a woman before becoming a scientist and I will not compromise my being for my job.

NOTE: By the way, this goes also for a romantic relationship, You shouldn’t be asked to choose between the two. But this goes beyond the scope of the article.

I absolutely love my new job and the company. I had a great time during my interview. The hiring managers set my interview in the afternoon because they knew I was travelling from Nottingham and I needed the morning to move around. First thing, they made sure I was paid back for my travelling expenses. I was very comfortable during my technical interview, I was given time to think and answer to chemistry problems that I had never seen before. After a tour of the facilities, I was specifically asked what I thought about it. It was specifically stated that the job interview was a two-way process, they were assessing me and I was invited to assess the company too. I was always encouraged to be honest and be myself because, once it was clear I knew the chemistry, they just wanted to know more about me. In conclusion, the big boss came along and asked if I was seeing myself working there, I liked the workplace, the new city, I had other job interviews lined up. Finally, he walked me to the door to ask a bit more about myself and my academic career.

I didn’t need much else to know that the answer to “would you like to work here?” was a big YES! I can’t wait to start my new job and still be working in research and specifically in organic chemistry! It is and feels like a dream!

To know more about the job-hunting process check my old posts on structuring your CV, looking for jobs outside academia and dealing with the brutality of the job market. For face to face consultancy on how to land your dream job send me an email and please read carefully the section consultancy.

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