I started out my career as an organic chemist, transitioned into computational chemistry, moved through several consulting phases and currently am a freelance technical editor with expertise in scientific career development. Some of these changes I sought out, others I didn’t even realize were happening until they were completed. In looking back on my own transitions, as well as those of other scientists, I have identified several steps that anyone can take to move their career in a new direction, and try out a new field.
So, here are Lisa’s Practical Steps to Change Your Professional Image.
1. Identify and join the professional society that covers the new discipline.
There are professional societies out there for every career, and in many cases more than one. Joining one shows you are serious about the new field, and signing up for their mailing lists will provide lots of good information about the new area.
2. Earn a certification or take some classes.
This allows you to build your credibility, learn the vocabulary of your new field, make connections with other professionals, and delve in more deeply to find out which aspects of the field are most interesting and relevant to your future career path. It shows potential employers you are serious about moving into this new field.
3. Attend local chapter meetings of the professional society, or start a local chapter if one does not exist.
This is a great way to find out the most current information in the field, from those who are doing it on a regular basis, as well as what is going on in your local area. If no chapter exists in your area, what better reason to contact the local experts than that you are organizing a meeting on a topic of interest to them?
4. Make a conscious effort to expand your network.
Actively seek out people who are working in your new field. Invite them to coffee or lunch, or ask if you can call and talk to them for 15 minutes. Ask them how they got into the field, how they recommend someone with your background make the transition, and what they wish they had known when they got started.
5. Get some hands-on experience.
If you can’t find paying work in your new field, volunteer to take on a small project for one of your contacts in that field. Again, this will give you a real accomplishment to put on your resume, serving as proof of your expertise and interest in the new area.
6. Practice presenting yourself.
It is important to think of yourself not as “an organic chemist who can do some computations”, but as a computational chemist. You must see yourself in the new role, and present yourself that way to others. Remember that this is next stage in your career growth, and not a failure or abandonment of your former career.
7. Rethink your references.
In addition to re-writing your resume to emphasize your skills in the new field, you also need to identify people who can speak about your expertise and accomplishments in the new area. Now that you have transformed yourself, you need to make sure others see you that way too.
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).