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Natural Sciences Careers

Natural Sciences

Making a career out of your love for the natural sciences isn't just about innate curiosity or an advanced degree - though those are both definitely pieces of the puzzle. But whether you're aiming to become an expert in cell biology, astronomy, organic chemistry, nuclear physics, genetics, virology or entomology, your initial education is only the launching pad. For long-term success, you'll also need the support of colleagues, the insights of career experts, and a toolbox of informational resources to keep you ahead of the curve. So here, we'll explain how to find tools like these, how to gain access to them, and how to put them to work on behalf of your scientific career.

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When you're first diving into your scientific field, it can be hard to keep your excitement to yourself - so you've probably already been seeking out the writings of researchers who've studied your subject of choice, and sharing what you learn with everyone who'll listen. And that's great - but there's no reason to stop there. It's easy to track down communities filled with other people devoted to your scientific passion, on the same social-networking websites you already use to stay connected with your friends.

It's easy to track down communities of other people devoted to your scientific passion...

For example, Facebook communities like "Astronomers" and "Entomology," Google Plus communities like "Physics" and "Organic Chemistry," and LinkedIn groups like "Virology Professionals" and "Molecular and Cell Biology" all host active discussions joined by thousands of members - and you can locate groups focused on your own area of interest simply by typing its name - for instance, "molecular biology" or "genetics" - into these sites' search boxes, seeing what suggestions appear in the drop-downs, and following the links to recommended pages from there. And while you're at it, don't forget to check out ResearchGATE, a sort of LinkedIn equivalent that's designed specifically for scientific researchers.

Social-network groups like these can be handy resources for expanding your professional network and staying up-to-date on the latest developments in your field. Just keep a few fairly obvious criteria in mind as you skim each group's page, and you'll avoid wasting your time. For example, how recent are the most recent posts - and how frequent are they? Do a lot of members start and participate in discussions, or just a select few? Do comment threads peter out quickly, or persist for a few days? All these can be telling clues about a group's usefulness - but one factor that should never stop you is the fact that a group is marked "closed" or "private." Just submit a join request and see how the admins respond. They may decide to grant you access to their exclusive club.

See about getting recruited

When it comes to job-searching in the sciences, you've got a few options in addition to your school's career center and internship programs. Two of the most effective tools are recruiting firms and online job databases. They each have their own ups and downs, and you'll probably want to combine both as you explore your employment options.

Recruiting firms (also known as staffing agencies or staffing firms) take a commission for each employee they're able to place in a position on one of their clients' teams - which means they'll keep job-hunting for you until they either find you work or exhaust their address book. Recruiters typically work with a relatively limited range of regular clients - but this can actually work to your advantage: If you're able to find a recruiting firm that caters to clients in your area of interest, you may gain access to employment opportunities you'd never have found on your own.

Find a recruiting firm that caters to clients in your area of interest, and you may gain access to opportunities you'd never have found on your own...

The fact is, though, that quite a few of the largest recruiting firms in the natural sciences focus on the medical aspects of the field. The Chase Group, for instance, recruits almost exclusively for positions in medical research, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and healthcare; Clark Executive Search also focuses on the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries; and Powell Search Associates targets both the clinical and commercial sides of the life sciences.

This isn't to say, of course, that you'll have to work for a pharmaceutical company if you don't want to - but in terms of cost/benefit for recruitment firms, this is where a lot of the money is right now. Still, if you're open to the possibility of building up your CV by working in this area of the industry, firms like these are actively seeking new recruits for roles in research and administration - so it may be worth your while to call a few of them and see if they can find you some stimulating work.

Track down targeted job databases

The good news is that recruiting firms are far from the only option in your natural-sciences job search. The Internet is packed with searchable databases of scientific jobs - some of them including sections dedicated to the natural sciences in particular. Whether you're just starting out in your career or trying to make a major upward move, a few searches on sites like these will give you a clearer idea of what's out there - and what salary range you can expect.

Job database sites can give you a clearer idea of what opportunities are out there - and what salary range you can expect.

If you've recently completed your doctorate and are looking for an entry-level research position, Post-Docs.com is a great place to start - the site offers advanced job search tools, including email alerts when positions that fit your custom criteria get posted. If you're a chemist or a chemical engineer, you'll find a sampling of job openings in your field at ChemistryJobs.com - or, if you specialize in organic chemistry, check out the job boards at Organic-Chemistry.com and OrganicWorldwide.net. Cyber-Sierra.com offers a database of jobs related to natural resources and conservation. The Ornithological Societies of North America offer a job board for those with birds on the brain The American Physical Society and the Physics Today Career Network both list jobs in many areas of physics. And the American Society for Virology gathers job postings for those who work on and around viruses.

But this is just a surface-scratching sample of the specialized job-search resources available in the natural sciences. You can easily track down job boards focused on your own area of the field by running a few Google searched for terms like "astronomy job board" or "microbiology job postings" - substituting your own field as necessary. Even if you can't seem to find a job board that caters exclusively to your field, more broad-based databases like NewScientist Jobs and ScienceCareers.org may offer positions up your alley. In all these cases, you'll avoid the irrelevant clutter that plagues sites like Craigslist - and have an arsenal of science-oriented search specifications at your disposal.

Examine some associations

No matter how far along you are in your natural-sciences career, you've probably considered joining (or already joined) at least one scientific organization at your school. And while organizations like these can provide handy benefits and networking opportunities, you may find that a national or international association dedicated to your field can broaden your horizons even further, and provide access to entirely new classes of benefits.

An association dedicated to your field can broaden your horizons even further, and provide access to new classes of benefits.

The American Astronomical Society, for example, offers its members insurance plans and insider access to professional conferences; the American Chemical Society provides very similar benefits to its members, as does the the American Association of Physicists in Medicine; and the Entomological Society of America offers discounted rates on board certification and peer-reviewed journal publication.

Although membership in a professional association is rarely free - especially at higher levels - you may find that benefits like these provide some peace of mind as you progress in your career. So Google some terms like (for example) "biochemistry professional association" or "bacteriology professional society" and find out what associations and other professional groups might exist to serve your needs down the road. Bookmark the sites of those that look like they could come in handy someday - you'll be saving yourself time in the long run.

Success in the natural sciences requires a love for learning new information - whether it's technical information about your own field, or practical information on moving your career forward. But with a network of smart colleagues and a toolbox of job-search resources at your disposal, you'll be well-prepared to get your career onward and upward. All that's left is to dig in and put the info you find to use.

Helpful links

EntryPoint! -- Internship opportunities in science, engineering, mathematics, computer science, and some areas of science-related business.

ResearchGATE -- A social-networking website created specifically for scientists, which includes tools for sharing and critiquing research projects.

ScienceCareers.org -- Tips and resources for pursuing a variety of scientific careers, provided by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

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