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Career Planning

Going from internship ambiguity to internship OPPORTUNITY!

My first internship was incredible. It didn’t start out that way, but I was able to turn it around. Here’s the thing. I like structure…okay…I love structure. My first internship? Zero structure. I was interning at a small documentary production company in New York City, working with an award winning filmmaker – she was a genius, and needed assistance, but wasn’t quite sure what to do with me. So the first couple of weeks I did a lot of grunt work. Getting coffee, organizing computer files, answering an email now and then…it was a snooze-fest, and I was getting frustrated because I didn’t feel like I was learning anything. I also worried that I was frustrating my supervisor because I wasn’t meeting her needs. It was total intern ambiguity, and I didn’t like it at all. But, like I said, I was able to turn it around – here’s how I did it.

Look, listen, and learn. – The first glimmer of hope came when I started observing what was going on in the office—noticing challenges that continually popped up and were discussed. I noticed my supervisor was running around Manhattan most of the day picking up equipment and completing errands, while her email inbox grew at an astonishing rate. On several occasions I overheard conversations that more grant money was needed to complete the projects that were currently in production.  I also noticed communication challenges between the associate producer and the crew regarding call times and locations. All of these challenges meant opportunity for me as an intern.

Create solutions. – It’s easy to find problems; the hard part is finding solutions. I knew that if I could help solve some of the challenges my supervisor was having, I’d be an intern superstar, so I created a list of the challenges I noticed with my proposed solutions and scheduled a meeting with my supervisor to discuss them.

My solution to the wasted time my supervisor spent on the road running errands? I asked her if I could do them for her—that way she could stay in the office, answer important emails, and make calls to possible funders. I wanted to learn the city better anyway and make some connections with production equipment rental companies, so it was great solution for both of us. 

The grant money issue? I went into grant research mode, and created a list of high potential grant funding opportunities along with deadlines and application requirements. This was such a wonderful learning experience for me as I learned how most documentaries are funded, the best resources to use and how to prepare grant proposals.

The communication issue between the associate producer and crew? I created and utilized a password-protected web calendar for everyone to access and edit as needed. This solution worked much better than making separate calls multiple times a day—we could access the calendar, in “real time,” any time of day to get the information we needed. The associate producer was so impressed she called a couple of her colleagues and connected me to some freelance production assistant gigs throughout the summer (more great experience and some extra money!).

By paying attention, understanding critical challenges, and creating solutions (skills employers highly seek) I was able to create a structured and meaningful internship experience. At the end of my internship I was offered a full-time job and was told I was the best intern she ever had. 

For more tips on internship success, check out the Career Center Internship Guide.

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Career Development, the U.S. Job Search, and International Students

CHALLENGE: Lack of understanding the U.S. job search.

I see it over and over again. Students from across the globe begin their U.S. college experience thinking that the job-search process will be just like it is in their home country. Most of the time that process is something like: make great grades, study hard for the final test, and the higher your test score (and grades), the better job you get. And the employers will come to you! It is all about grades, and working toward being top of your class. There is little to no focus on networking or getting hands-on experience (though many of my Chinese students acquire a one month “internship,” which is more like an observational externship experience). Many international students have no idea about the U.S. job search, and that it is focused more on professional experience and relationships than grades.

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Be brave, be persistent and be myself: Walking on the road to my dream career

As a person who wants to study policy related to mental health and make a change back in China, I felt that I needed some advice on my career development from experts. This led me to the Duke Career Center where I met Paul Miceli.
I came from mainland China, and I received my M.A. degree in Economics in Fall 2012. After years of being a full-time student and planning to pursue a Ph.D. in public health, I preferred to take a gap year to explore my real interests while also preparing for my Ph.D. application. 

I joked with Paul that I was on a road less traveled because I was not interested in finding a full-time job but, instead, collaborating with faculty members to do research on mental health. This is particularly challenging for a student whose background is economics! I made appointments with Paul about once a week for almost three months, and we carefully discussed all my options and strategies.

At the beginning, Paul and I worked on looking for a lab with a focus on mental illnesses. I found out that I would need many of the same skills as someone looking for a full-time job or internship. Sometimes you really need to be brave in order to network with people and ask for informational interviews. I contacted my psychology professors and asked for information about their colleagues who are interested in the study of serious mental illness. I read professors’ websites, emailed them, and luckily received many responses. I went to their offices with my questions and research interests. I participated in conferences and I even found out that one professor randomly sitting next to me had similar research interests. I asked him for his contact information and followed up afterwards. Many times I felt nervous and even shaky before I walked into an office and handed out my resume and answered the question, “Why is a Master of Economics interested in mental health issues?” Through those conversations though, I developed a better understanding of the field I really wanted to make a difference in.

Along the way I’ve found that it is very important to have an advisor to be accountable to, and this is especially true for me because I had a big plan but no idea how to prioritize my actions. I tracked all my actions with a spreadsheet and asked for suggestions from Paul. Paul is very insightful and always straightforwardly pointed out the naïve points of my plan, but was also always encouraging.

Life is just like a puzzle game. You need to get many pieces and put them together, and surprisingly I’ve found my beautiful picture. That is, my desired destination. The most important thing is to be brave - do not be shy! A professor at Duke told me not everyone is clear about their dreams, so if they know a person who finds their dream and has passion for it, others usually are happy to help that person chase his or her dream. I have found my dream, and I know that many people are eager to help me achieve it.

Over the past year, extensive networking and perseverance has led to a coauthored academic article, a research position in the Department of Psychiatry, and many useful connections and relationships. I’ve also become the founder of an organization committed to helping depressed persons in mainland China. The skills and tools that I’ve utilized over the past year have been invaluable to getting me where I am today, and I know that I’ll continue using them throughout my career journey, wherever that may lead me.

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Recent Ph.D. alum talks about her successful job search

Starting at an early point in the course of my Ph.D., I was very aware that I did not want to pursue an academic career path. In fact, I had a good idea of this before I even started graduate school. During the final semester of my senior year at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, I took a science policy course that involved directly lobbying congressional offices for a chosen scientific issue of personal interest. Cold-calling and meeting with legislative assistants for some of the biggest names on Capitol Hill was an intimidating process, but it was also eye-opening for me. To my surprise, people listened to us, and my group was actually able to get our issue, which was a grant program to promote green buildings on academic campuses, included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. That experience brought to my attention a whole different side of science: the policy and administrative side.

When I first applied to graduate school, I was probably guilty of doing so because, like many of us, in some part I did not know what else to do with myself after college. I had done bench research throughout my undergraduate career and enjoyed it, and thought it would be great to get more research experience, but I don’t think I had a good grasp of what a Ph.D. could realistically do for me. However, as I entered Duke in the fall to get my Ph.D. in molecular genetics and microbiology fresh off of my flirtation with science policy, I was invigorated by the fact that there were clearly many avenues available for a trained scientist. In retrospect, I think that knowing early on that I probably did not plan to enter academia was rather freeing; when you are narrowly focused on an academic career, it can be a hard process to let go and consider other options, as I saw with people around me.

As I transitioned from a first-year to a senior graduate student, I felt extremely fortunate to be at a place like Duke: the graduate school made constant and tangible efforts to expose students to alternative career paths, whether in non-academic research or other roles. I was also lucky to have an advisor who was very supportive of me having a non-academic career. As my sixth and final year approached, I started to frequently attend seminars, career fairs, and information sessions for companies. I also started to work with the Duke Career Center to develop my resume, explore job possibilities, and find out more about interviewing. As I worked with my career counselor, consulting came up on my radar fairly quickly and initially seemed quite attractive to me as a great way to implement the analytical and creative thinking skills that I had acquired in grad school in new and different settings. My career counselor and I combed through consulting job listings, and I also spent time on the Duke eRecruiting site to find openings. I identified a number of possibilities, had my resume reviewed and tailored by my counselor, and enthusiastically applied to several companies including some of the “Big 3,” a healthcare consulting firm, and a niche pharmaceutical consulting company. I was surprised to find that I got interviews with two companies, but I was also quite worried, as I had no background with case studies. I conducted practice case study interviews at the Career Center ahead of my interviews, which was a very useful prep tool, although one that should be utilized starting far in advance of potential interviews to give plenty of time for multiple sessions and studying. I interviewed with very nice people at both companies, but I knew walking out from both that I was unlikely to get an offer, and furthermore I was unsure whether I’d want one. However, I chalked up both interviews as good learning experiences.

Soon after those interviews, I started writing my thesis and getting ready to defend in the spring, and I knew that the job search needed to get serious. Having learned a lot about how to conduct a job search through my time at the Career Center, I looked into various science policy positions, and knowing that I liked scientific writing and editing and had a strong background in both, I also applied to several editor jobs at scientific journals as well as scientific and medical writing positions. On the advice of my career counselor as well as my thesis committee, I had a few informational interviews with people in the scientific writing field to find out more about potential opportunities that weren’t immediately apparent to me, and I was interested in a potential career in that direction, but I wanted to look at other options too.

Right after I defended, I had a fortuitous opportunity find its way into my inbox. My advisor, who was very enthusiastic about helping me find a job, forwarded me an internal email from the Duke Human Vaccine Institute  (DVHI) that mentioned they had one or two scientific management positions open and were looking for newly-defended graduate students who wanted to start a non-academic track career. As soon as I saw it, something clicked. I had always enjoyed the administrative roles that I had taken on in the lab—keeping things running smoothly was very fulfilling to me—and I hadn’t ever considered a science management position before because, despite all my exposure to alternative career paths, I didn’t realize that jobs like that existed for new Ph.D.s. Additionally, for personal reasons I was keen to stay in the Durham area, and loved the idea of remaining at Duke. I immediately emailed the head of the DHVI to express my interest, and I was told that day that they’d like me to come in for an interview within the next week or two. One month later, I started at the DHVI.

I am learning how to manage large-scale grants, which entails tracking experimental progress, financial progress, coordinating members of the consortia associated with each grant, coordinating shipments of materials, helping to plan studies, and many other tasks. The skills that I will acquire in this job are incredibly useful and applicable in any management position, and I am very confident that I made the right choice to go in this direction for my first job and to build a strong foundation for my career. Overall, by far the most important part of my job search was finding someone, in this case my advisor, who was connected into a network and could send potential jobs my way. Additionally, I found that it is important to consider job avenues when they come along that you might not have realized you were interested in. You never know how various aspects of your graduate career, in this case some of the laboratory administrative work that I was involved with, turn out to be the tasks you most enjoy and want to pursue.

Samantha Bowen is currently the Program Manager at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.

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Becoming Part of the Career Ambassador Team

Towards the end of my sophomore year I decided that I liked the Career Center so much, that I wanted to work there. So, I applied to become a member of the Career Ambassador Team. In case you don’t know, the Career Ambassador Team (CATS as we prefer to be called) is a group of students who serve as liaisons between the Career Center and the undergraduate community. We assist students with resume and cover letter writing, do presentations regarding the Career Center around campus, and help employers when they come for on campus recruiting events. If any of that sounds like a plug for you to come and join the Career Ambassador Team next year, it definitely is. As you can probably tell, after I applied for CATS, I was accepted, and it has been one of the greatest experiences of my college career. I say this because working and being in the Career Center has its perks. It’s like yeah, the Career Center is a great resource to help you navigate your time at Duke and prepare for the real world, but at the same time there are just some great people there who really want you to succeed. I know that sounds cliché, but it is the truth.

As both a student and CAT I have had the opportunity to sit down with the different advisors and talk about everything from bad resume writing habits to the release date of my favorite movies, and I have done all of this while receiving a constant stream of love and support from those around me. And I’m so serious about that--Cindy literally jumped out of her seat when I told her about a summer program I got into back in May. Was I expecting that? No. But who doesn’t love making others happy, and knowing that someone is supporting you. And that is what you get when you come into the Career Center. It’s not just about getting some quick tips on how you can better address the fact that you built a jetpack over the summer, or whatever fantastic thing you did during your internship. It’s about meeting someone (and by someone I mean everyone in the Career Center) who wants nothing but success for you, and then clinging to them for dear life! I’m kidding. But it is really about fostering a relationship with people who genuinely want to see you succeed. These days as I finish up my time here at Duke as an undergrad, you can still likely catch me in the Career Center talking to undergraduate career counselor Nikki Smith about one of our favorite tv shows Parks and Recreation. #TreatYoSelf to some time in the Career Center.

#dukecareers

In the fall, Ashley will be heading back to her home city of Los Angeles and attending UCLA in pursuit of a Masters in Public Health.

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Why the Career Center has been one of my Biggest Supporters

Arriving at Duke, I pretty much had my dirt bike to success juiced up and ready to go. I was going to be pre-med, major in biology, participate in a few extracurricular activities and, of course, have some fun along the way. Fast forward to the middle of the spring semester of sophomore year and there I am, walking out of the Academic Advising Center, a freshly declared African and African American Studies major with a minor in history. Who would have known? Not I. To put things in perspective, organic chemistry and I were in a very rocky relationship and I was slowly coming to realize that a desire to work in healthcare did not have to translate into just being a doctor. So, I was at a crossroads. Should I completely drop the whole pre-med thing, or just give it a break and come back to it later?

One random day, later that semester, I got an email from the Career Center talking about Drop-In Advising. Now to be completely honest, I used to delete those emails every single time I received them. It was like, “Really? How many career fairs can you have in one semester?” But then I thought, since I really don’t know what to do with my career/academic pathway let me go and talk to somebody. *Cue dramatic music* And that’s when everything changed.

On some fateful day in early March I had my first Career Center advising appointment with Cindy Broderius. Now let me tell you this. If you ever, ever ever, ever, need a pick me up, go and see this woman. By the time I walked out of her office, I could have sworn I was Oprah. In the hour that I spent with Cindy, I realized that I still had time to get my act together with the whole pre-med thing, and that organic chemistry and I still had a fighting chance with our relationship. I walked out of the Career Center that day having renewed my passion for the so-called pre-med struggle and a new friend and source of support. What I did not realize then, however, was that there were tons of people just like Cindy in the Career Center waiting to make students feel like Oprah, Obama, or any other powerful figure who fits your fancy.

#dukecareers

Subscribe to the blog and check out how Ashley further engaged with the Career Center and became part of the Career Ambassador Team.

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2013 Duke PhD Grad Talks Career Counseling

After getting my Ph.D. from Duke in Mathematics, I was confident that I could navigate my way through the different job applications to land my dream job. I knew I was interested in both industry and academic research jobs, so I Googled several documents on how to write CVs, resumes and cover letters. I thought I had it all under control. I started applying to jobs at the same time as a colleague who landed a great job in NYC only a few weeks after his Ph.D. defense. When I asked him for tips, he only gave me one piece of advice: “Go see Annie Maxfield in the Duke Career Center.” To be completely honest, my ego and I thought I would be just fine without the Career Center. I could not have been more wrong.

The next day, I called the Career Center and scheduled an appointment. I wasn't sure what to expect. At best, I thought that she was going to suggest some formatting issues and perhaps fix some of the syntax in my resume and cover letter. On the day of the appointment, Annie met me at the reception desk. She had a big smile on her face as she greeted me and took me to her office. After we both sat down, she asked me to articulate to her what I wanted from my next job—my meeting with her was already starting to look different than what I envisioned.

Over the few weeks that followed, we had several meetings, each of which involved her bleeding on my CV and resume with red pen. Each time, it got a little better. By the end of this process, my resume was unrecognizable from the one I brought in to show her on the first day. My goodness, I thought that original one was ready for job applications! Once I saw the result, I was embarrassed to think I would have sent out the original to potential employers.

Along with a tremendous amount of help with the resume and CV writing process, Annie helped me with things I didn't even realize I needed help with. As a Ph.D. student, I am trained to talk to other academics and I am comfortable explaining my research to other experts in the field. What I was not trained for, however, was talking to industry and business professionals about my research. Annie helped me write and practice an elevator speech, a 5-minute explanation of my work aimed at non-academics and, most importantly, potential employers. Armed with my elevator speech and my wonderfully reworked resume, I went to the NC Master’s & Ph.D. Career Fair and nailed it. I walked away with scheduled interviews, several of which manifested into actual job offers and allowed me to have my choice of a career. And it would not have been possible without the wonderful expertise and dedicated assistance of Annie Maxfield and the staff at the Duke Career Center.

#dukecareers

Elizabeth Munch received her Ph.D. in Mathematics in 2013. She is also a Freelance Harpist. For more information about Elizabeth, check out her Math and Music website at http://elizabethmunch.com

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Advice for graduates

As a 22-year old Duke graduate, the task of starting your career is both daunting and exciting. Imagine being thrust from the safety of food points and chapel views into the real world of making real-life decisions. Transitioning into a career path is anxiety-inducing for any graduate because everyone is in search of something I call the P cubed-- Perfect Post-Grad Position. Yet starting your career is about more than the perfect job, it's about using the tools that Duke equipped you with.

First things first, don't hyperventilate! When you take into consideration that the job market and the definition of a career has changed since the time of our parents, it will allow you to confront this challenge in a well-informed and stress-free manner. Your first job won't be your last job and you must look at it as a way to gain experience, strengthen your skill set and create a network with greater depth. Many graduates feel lost and confused and often forget that the possibilities are endless.

Considering that the possibilities are endless, my next piece of advice is don't get stuck. Try different career paths or job options that interest you, even if they're not related specifically to your degree or prior experiences. If you enjoy the position, that's wonderful! If you don't, at least you've learned a few new skills and begun to figure out what you want your career to look life.

Be sure to utilize everything that Duke has offered you to the fullest of your ability. Upon graduating from Duke, you are now a part of a group of people who have achieved incredible things. Don't be afraid to tap into that network to ask questions, learn more about different industries and explore your options. Finally, remember that you also will do amazing things. Though the future seems uncertain right now, you must remember Julian Abele didn't build the Duke Chapel in a day. Building a career takes time and patience, but you're more than equipped to succeed in this next stage of life. 

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CLG workshop at IHouse - Immigration Issues

H-1? Green card? Immigration? Intercompany transfer? Treaty countries? L-1?

Getting to the U.S involves enough paperwork, but what about if you want to stay? Just looking at the lists of forms and deadlines can be daunting enough! Luckily for those who attended the CLG workshop this week, we got an expert to tell us all the information we need to know.

William Stock from Klasko Immigration & Nationality Law came to give international students and employees the low down on working visas and green cards.

There are possibly thousands of important and interesting facts that we learned that evening but here are some of the most important:

1.    Go to klaskolaw.com; it will tell you what you need to know.
2.    You can apply to change to H1 status to work in a specialized professional capacity if you are currently in the U.S on a legal status (and have an employer willing to sponsor you for such visa).
3.    There is a cap on the amount of H1-B visas that are given out and this quota can be reached as early as mid-May.
4.    In order to get the best chance at securing this visa, you need to have filed by April 1st.
5.    You can remain in this status a maximum of six years.
6.    An L-1 status is used to transfer from one branch of a company outside the U.S to a different branch of the same company within the U.S.
7.    You need to have executive, managerial or specialized knowledge capacity in order to gain this L-1 status.
8.    There are fees, deadlines and wait times involved with all of these processes, amongst others.

This is a complex and lengthy process and involves work from both you and your potential employer. As such, your employability may be lessened a little. Never fear! Make sure that your employer knows that you are worth this extra work; you may have a specialized skill, work in a unique field, have lots of experience or just be generally fantastic!

It is never too early to start thinking about the future…and definitely never too early to start thinking about visas!

Make sure you go to klaskolaw.com and read up on all you need to know.

Tierney Marey
Undergraduate at Trinity School of Arts and Social Sciences
Class of 2017
Sydney, Australia

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Possibilities in the in between: Helping humanity through technology

Ali Habib, Fulbright Scholar and 2009 graduate of the Duke Master of Engineering Management Program (MEMP), headed home to Karachi after graduation with aspirations of finding a way to bridge his technical expertise with his desire to give back to the people of Pakistan. In the years following his return to Pakistan he has been able to do exactly that. As the Director of Informatics at Interactive Research and Development (IRD), a nonprofit, public health research and service delivery group, Ali has found ways to use cellular phone technology to create efficient methods for health researchers to collect data and manage patient care.

By using the cellular phone technology that Ali’s group developed, researchers are able to collect health data in the field more easily and with greater accuracy than they could using paper forms. The elimination of human error, inconsistencies and paper documents allows for more efficient data transfer. In addition, Ali’s company has created a way to centralize patient files via cellular phone so that a network of healthcare providers can clearly understand a patient’s treatment history.

Thanks in large part to Ali and his IT team, IRD has been incredibly successful in leveraging cellular phone technology not only in Pakistan, but in other parts of the developing world as well. They try to use open-source software and technology whenever possible to ensure that developing countries can access and use their research and records tools. According to Ali, the thinking behind that effort is, “if they can’t pay for medicine, they obviously can’t pay for software licenses.” These global efforts have been widely recognized and have earned IRD significant funding from organizations like the Stop TB Partnership, but they aspire to fund even more advancements and access for these tools.

Under Ali’s lead, the IT sector has recently spun off into a for-profit company, Interactive Health Solutions, in order to help fund even more research in the nonprofit sector. Ali has transitioned from Director of Informatics to CEO and hopes to continue using cellular technology to improve health outcomes in the developing world. Ali considers himself to be very fortunate to have found such a happy balance between technology and human interest, “I never thought I would be writing code to improve health. I have been very lucky.” Lucky to find that sometimes, opportunities lay in making your own possibilities.

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