Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Young Ph.D. Needs Job Reference

My name is Athena and I am writing to you from Athens, Greece. I was surfing the internet for some resume guides and I found your very helpful site.

I am 28 years old and currently looking for a job. I graduated from a British university in 2001 with a BSc in Biomedical Sciences, but for family reasons I haven't been able to work for four years. During the last three years I have been attending classes at the University of Athens, studying biology (I am graduating in a few months).

Since moving back from Great Britain the only jobs I have been able to get are part time jobs (because of my family problems) as a secretary or personal office assistant. I am trying to get a job in a field related to my studies, but with absolutely no luck. I have a lot of skills in computing and foreign languages, participate in seminars and congresses related to my study field, but my real problems are that I don't have any previous experience in working as a scientist and the lack of recommendations from my university professors.

You see, I graduated in 2001 and since then I haven't been in touch with any of my professors. Of course, I could write and remind them of me -- they can't always remember everyone -- and politely ask for a recommendation, but being just "lucky", the only professor that knew me well and could send my future employers a good recommendation letter, died two years ago.

Somehow, I don't think asking any other professor who doesn't even remember me to write something good about me is going to work. When I left Great Britain I did take with me a few recommendation letters, but I had to use them in order to get to Athens University for my second degree. After that, life happened and I never got the chance to ask for more recommendations from them.

I would appreciate it if you could help me out with any advice you may have.
Thank you in advance. -- Athena

Answer by Bridget Oakes, Senior Search Consultant

This is a tough one. References can be tricky especially for entry-level candidates. I can’t speak specifically about the European job market, but I can provide some advice based on my experience in the U.S.

In pursuing a scientific position, your professors would be the best option. If your British professors are not available, maybe it’s possible you can ask one of the professors from your second degree program to speak on your behalf.

However, I would not ignore the value of references from supervisors in your unrelated jobs. They won’t be able to speak to your scientific skills, but could discuss your work ethic, communication skills, computer savvy and other basic work skills.

Also, in a scientific role, your academic performance will speak to your skills, and having a transcript available for this purpose may be useful. I would contact the department heads from both your degree programs to see if this is an option. You may also be able to obtain copies of your recommendation letters for graduate school from the University in Athens.

It’s also worth a try to contact your former professors, we are talking about your career here and you just might be surprised at the helpful nature and memories of your former teachers.

A more long-term plan may be to consider other ways to obtain experience and make useful contacts in your field:
• Find an opportunity to volunteer your skills to a research group or hospital (depending on your area of study). Perhaps contact the National Health Service.
• Enroll in a continuing education course through a local university. It may be possible to contact your university and re-enroll in order to take an internship.
• Volunteer to tutor undergraduate students.

I hope you find this helpful; best of luck to you, Athena!

Bridget Oakes has nearly 10 years experience in executive search and recruiting. Well equipped to provide advice and guidance to candidates searching for new careers, Bridget welcomes the opportunity to contribute to The Job Lounge.

Susan Ireland’s Two Cents
Athena, when you get your next set of reference letters (using Bridget’s excellent advice above), be sure to photocopy them so you’ll always have a supply for future job searches.

Also, I came across this personal blog, YoungFemaleScientist. that I thought you might enjoy. I have a feeling you and Ms. Ph.D. (as the author calls herself) might have some things in common.

Job Lounger, do you have a question? Email it to me and I’ll post your question and an expert’s answer here in The Job Lounge.


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