Feb. 23, 2001

Lab physicist writes the book on how to put your science to work

Graduate students and recent Ph.D.s in a wide range of sciences recently crowded into a large lecture room at the American Geophysical Union’s meeting in San Francisco to get some advice on a topic of increasing concern: What are my career options? The person they had come to hear was Peter Fiske, author of the just-published "Put Your Science to Work: The Take-Charge Career Guide for Scientists" (2001 AGU).

"Career development remains a primary issue for young scientists," said Fiske. "In one survey we conducted of young AGU members, we found that concern about the job market was the number one most cited reason why some students had considered leaving graduate school. It’s an important issue not only for young scientists, but for the health of the discipline as a whole."

Fiske, a physicist working in the Physics and Advanced Technologies Directorate, is something of a guru for young science graduates seeking interesting careers, thanks to a previous career guide, "To Boldly Go" (1996 AGU).

"This book is unusual in that it’s written by a scientist, for scientists. I’ve revised just about the whole thing," he commented.

"The situation is vastly better than it was just five years ago. The economic boom has been largely technology driven," he continued. "This technology-based economy has opened doors every where. Scientists are now highly sought after, whereas before we were sort of the Quasimodos of the employment scene."

But, he adds, "universities and Ph.D. programs are still not providing the sort of information and guidance newly minted Ph.D.s need to hit the ground running. I want to point out all the options and get scientists thinking more broadly about their own futures."

Science graduates are now in demand in a variety of fields, including business, industry, journalism, government, and congressional staffs, Fiske notes in his new book. But many students believe that their advisers consider inquiries in such directions as tantamount to treason.

"I respond that students need to understand that they are in charge of their training and their professional development" said Fiske.

"While an adviser can provide a stimulating and nurturing environment in which to do research, the student ultimately must chart his or her own direction. Most often, students are overly nervous about discussing career issues with their adviser. Just because advisers are unfamiliar with other career paths does not mean that they are hostile."

In Fiske’s view, the best approach for a young scientist is to explore all career options by devoting a small portion of every work week to exploring new areas and by building an active professional network. That is what "Put Your Science to Work" is intended to facilitate. It provides advice from potential role models in a variety of scientific fields and professions, along with suggestions for learning about good job openings in unexpected places, writing winning resumes, successful interview techniques, and many other elements of the job search.

"I’ve gotten some great feedback. There’s been interesting discussion and the book is selling briskly," Fiske said.
For more information on the book, see the AGU Website, http://www.agu.org/careerguide , or e-mail Fiske at fiske1 [at] llnl.gov"> fiske1 [at] llnl.gov .