Mapping Key Transferable Skills for Career Transition to Non-Profit

“You get paid for your job?”, pat came the question when I mentioned to my Uncle that I was working in the nonprofit sector. And was I surprised? No! Every time I spoke about my job or my passion for the social sector, I would get some curious glances from people around, followed by the question, “What is your real job?” Over the years a lot has changed and a career in the social sector is no longer considered as mere charity or a volunteering opportun6-million-work-in-nonprofit-industry-SEontario1ity but promises good growth together with a sense of gratification. Though organizations working in this space are there to engage and empower communities, the work ethic, and culture match well with that at a for-profit organization. I constantly come across a lot of professionals who are seeking a career transition from the for-profit sector into the nonprofit, social impact world. And irrespective of the background one comes from, one brings to the table a set of transferable skills that will not just help you excel at your work but will also add to an organization’s growing pool of diverse talent.

What are transferable skills? How do you identify them and market them when looking for a job? Don’t organizations have one-size-fits-all requirements and job profiles? What is the best way to establish the connection of your previous work with your new potential opportunity? Identifying these questions and understanding the skills is always a great starting point to start that transition.

What are transferable skills?

Transferable skills or soft skills are core skills that you acquire in a particular role but can be transferred and applied to a variety of roles across ind03896f7ustries. Be it your ability to communicate effectively, leading your team and efficiently delegating tasks and optimizing the available resource, managing time, undertaking research and data analytics or fostering successful collaborations and partnerships, these are crucial skills that can be used to successfully perform a job in any industry. Internships, volunteer work as well as your regular everyday job, all help you acquire and hone these skills.

Key skills that are transferable to the nonprofit sector

Data analytics: Although social sector organizations are nonprofit ventures, they are very data-driven and highly focus on the impact of their work. If you have experience as a data analyst in the corporate sector, you can transfer your analytics skills to help organizations measure the impact of their work and translate the findings into actionable inputs.

Communications and Marketing: Raising funds for the various programs and implementing outreach campaigns to engage with communities are two areas where nonprofit organizations are constantly looking for help. If you are a marketing and public relations professional and have experience identifying and cultivating prospective clients, making presentations and pitches, organizing road shows and brand activation events, then you can use these skills to help the organization raise funds, cultivate corporate partnerships as well as organize various outreach activities.

Management Consulting: Management Consultants bring with them a plethora of skills from their consulting experience. Problem-solving and analytical skills, project management, understanding the market and competition analysis or understanding a new geography for business expansion are some extremely valuable skills that can be transferred to the nonprofit space. Especially in the social space, we see an increase in social impact/ social venture funding organizations and microfinance institutions. It is no surprise that professionals with a consulting background are highly sought after.

Technology and IT: Technology is playing a key role in addressing various social issues. There are several Tech for Good initiatives that have used crowdsourced maps and mobile solutions to address issues around women’s safety, gender-based violence, urban planning & governance and health & nutrition. There is also an increased awareness to address the gender gap in STEM and nonprofit organizations are stepping up to equip girls and empower them with coding and other technical skills. If you are an engineer with experience in coding or building android mobile apps and want to use your skills for social impact, there are several organizations looking for people like you.

This list is certainly not exhaustive. There are several other skills that are transferable and can help one successfully transition into the social sector. Every role and every job help one develop different skills. It is important that every individual identifies those skills and understand how best they can use them to empower communities and bring about the impact they are passionate about.

About the Author:

Sharda

Sharda is a development sector professional who has worked in areas as diverse as urban planning, governance, gender empowerment and social enterprise. She is passionate about using the digital space for empowering the society and improving citizen participation at varied levels. She strongly believes in the power of education and the ways in which it can act as a catalyst in empowering communities. It is this belief that has been instrumental in her choice of working within the education domain.

 

 

Posted in Communication, Human Networking, Interview, Job Experience, Networking, Non Profit, Uncategorized, Work/Employment | Leave a comment

Stories Of Grassroots Education in India

If I had told my younger self that I would one day set out to write about grassroots level education, bottom-up change, and long term impact, I would have scoffed. Set in my aspirations of pursuing a career in journalism, I was not sure what I had planned out in my head, but being on the other side of the teacher’s desk was definitely not it. If only I knew.

In the last six years, the classroom haunted me. Time and again, I found myself walking into them, again and again, and again. I walked into them as a volunteer, as a government representative, as a well-wisher, and finally, a year ago, as a full-time teacher and “language expert”. From the mountains in rural Ladakh to the plains in the deep south of Tamil Nadu, I soon came to seek out the classrooms, and as classrooms are wont to do, they taught me important lessons time and again.

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As a graduate in Development Studies, I have spent an embarrassing amount of time discussing, debating, and (our personal favorite) deconstructing the “issues” behind our “growth models”. For hours we would roll the ball between us to no avail. Where did the problem lie? In the way, the policies were framed? In the implementation? In the many steps in between? Yet today, I am more than ready to put the theory aside. For me, the real importance of grassroots level education lies instead in the stories, of boys and girls and teachers and students in the country’s classrooms. If only we cared to listen, they would tell us why we should take a single-classroom school seriously, why even the most innocent of coloring exercises can teach us more than any academic debate ever has. Today, I will tell you stories from every classroom I have been in, and you will tell me the importance of grassroots education.

My first experience in the classroom was in January 2012 in an underprivileged private school in Chennai. The students were largely the children of daily wage laborers, a fact that came alive when the principal told us “every day when they leave, we don’t know if they will come back or if they will ever go back to school.” It was a sobering note to begin our engagement as we tried to evaluate the school’s library (or lack thereof) and enthuse the children to read. I remember enacting Rapunzel once, complete with nonsensical replacements for names that only ten-year-olds can come up with. They loved it! At the end of it all, I pointed them in the direction of the books, saying they could look at the pictures and piece together the words from those books there, and we left, our work is done for the day. The next week, when we came back, we were told a story that astounds me to this day. A dozen of the children had pooled together one rupee each to photocopy one copy of the book between them, bargaining with the shopkeeper for the rest. Twelve kids, twelve rupees, one English book. When I walked into the classroom the next week, they showed me pictures they had drawn and attempts at retellings. By engaging in their classroom, we had given those dozen kids an opportunity to tell a story, with the promise that someone was listening. Grassroots education is important to Indian Rapunzels waiting to be heard.  

The year after, I was in rural Ladakh, working with an organization to help set up libraries in rural government schools. The “library” was a wooden shelf filled with a standardized set of a hundred books, a cataloging system, and a student-management code. Just as the year before, I was engaging the children in exercises to make them feel connected to these alien books, and one such was an art activity about their ambitions. The socio-cultural milieu of the school was such that most boys aspired to enter the tourism industry and most girls were slated to be teac52_04_49_54_india-girls-education_H@@IGHT_400_W@@IDTH_620hers. At a stretch, some others may become farmers and a motley few drivers, but that was it. When we asked them to draw, I got answers that blew me over. I want to be a scientist, a girl told me, stuttering over the word but crystal clear in intention. Another wanted to be an astronaut, his picture complete with the dome-shaped helmet on his cartoon head. We picked out books for them with equivalent protagonists and they settled contentedly into their corner, their minds probably already many steps ahead. As for me, I was stunned that they knew those words, those eight-year-olds living in villages where electricity was still a precious commodity. Yet those books took them places we couldn’t, beyond the trappings of their immediate environment of broken benches and shared slates. Grassroots education is important for that future scientist and that to be an astronaut.

Today, I work full-time as a teacher of English as Second Language in a rural school catering to the students of the local tribes. Just the other day, when someone asked my kids what their fathers did, the answers came fast – brick kiln worker, electrician, plumber, land broker; each a story of a parent working hard to keep the kids in school. My first students are just gearing up to give their IGCSE ESL exams and are the most spirited bunch I have ever seen. Ask them what they want to be? You will hear about ornithology, law, ayurvedic medicine, app development, writing lyrics. You will hear of “occupations” their families have never seen thus far, that they have only seen in the books and movies around them. But you will hear the conviction in their voice as they ask me for permission to use the computers in the staff room “to search about my ambition” or ask if I know anyone they can talk to. Grassroots education is important for that bird watcher and attorney and Top 100 songwriter in the making who sits in my classroom today.

Yet it isn’t just the students who are impacted by intervention at the most direct level. During my time as the representative monitoring the implementation of Sarva Siksha Abigyan-Mid Day Meal Schemes in government schools in Tamil Nadu, I heard the stories of many of the teachers. They tell us to use Activity-Based Learning, one teacher said. They say assessments are not good and we should not conduct exams. But the parents of the children want to know about ranks and marks, not stars and “improvement.” So we do both. The reality of national-level policy making does not take her voice into account, does not realize that someone with thirty years of teaching experience just does not feel equipped to jump from chalk piece to jigsaw puzzles overnight. Grassroots education is important to make sure these voices of experience and wisdom are heard, addressed, and accounted for.

Every day, we hear of unemployability and soft skills and how we are on the verge of losing out on our demographic advantage. We hear of how the “standard” is “dropping” because of our need for competition and rankings. We hear of “facts” being misrepresented in textbooks and opinions masquerading as Truth, capital T and all. We crib about how policy can fix all this, how if we just took a hard stance on many of these issues, things will fix themselves. This is where the grassroots come into the picture.

Education in the country today is at a crucial juncture. If we want our students to grow up into employable, skilled, but more importantly intelligent adults, we need to invest in them. While their desks and uniforms and blackboards are definitely integral to the learning experience, grassroots education is fundamentally an investment in individuals, their stories, and dreams, their questions and curiosity. The commitment to grassroots education is a commitment to ask questions that matter, answer queries that confound, and be present in direct, sometimes messy, but always gratifying ways. The commitment to grassroots level education is explaining homophones in class; talk about the difference between ‘pair’ and ‘pear,’ and being willing to deal with “you mean like Bluetooth, Ma’am?” without batting an eyelid. Because there is no textbook in the world that teaches you how not to blink stupidly at that.

It is my belief, one that has only gotten strengthened with time, that anyone who hopes to work at the policy level, empowered to tell that teacher in that classroom that she should use building blocks instead of a Math notebook, should mandatorily spend some time in environments directly impacted by these policies. Talk to those kids. Share a cup of tea with the teachers. Find out where there is such a large gap between ‘talking it’ and ‘doing it’. In that process, you will inevitably invest in the individuals around you, just as they invest in you. Your worlds will expand, your vocabularies will grow, your opinions will get remolded. And just like the story of a man throwing individual starfish into the sea, you will make a difference to one, two, half a dozen students somewhere, somehow. Grassroots education is about throwing each starfish into the sea and teaching it to dream of crossing the oceans one day.

About the Author:

Yashasvini_3Yashasvini Rajeshwar identifies most strongly as a writer. With over ten years of experience in journalism across national media and multiple magazines (including writing for The Hindu), her current work centres most often around gender, education, youth affairs, and disability rights. Apart from her commitments as a freelance writer, she is currently a full-time teacher of English as a Second Language at a school for first-generation learners in rural Tamil Nadu. She also works as the Head of Communications and Media at Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation as well as the chief content developer at BeingYou, both platforms working towards creating a more equitable, accessible, inclusive society. She writes of her teaching escapades here and all else here.

Posted in Communication, Human Networking, Networking, Teaching, Uncategorized, Work/Employment | 1 Comment

Guide To Journalism in a Democratic Republic For Amateurs

Life is all about unlearning and relearning. The sooner you understand and accept this, the better it is for you to explore new avenues.

As someone who has always been fond of writing, I was super thrilled about studying journalism as part of my postgrad course. Shouldn’t be too hard for someone who can write, right? Well, not really.

Journalistic writing can be quite challenging. If you’re someone who has done mostly creative writing, there is a lot of unlearning to do. Needless to say, there is not much creativity that goes into a piece of the news report. Hard news reporting is merely stating facts that include the 5 Ws and 1 H (who, what, when, where, why and how).

When you’re writing a piece for any print organization (or even for new media), it’s important to ensure that the facts you state are accurate and that they are reported in unambiguous terms. judithmiller2

Unlike a story or some other piece of creative writing where you wait till the climax to reveal something important, all crucial facts in a story should be stated in the first one or two paragraphs of a report. This style of reporting is a format called the inverted pyramid that a lot of print media organizations follow in their stories.

The language you use in the story is crucial. Remember that a newspaper is read by a wide plethora of media consumers from different segments. So ensure that you keep the language as simple as possible for it to be understood by everyone. If and when you have to use certain technical terms, it would be better to briefly explain them.

Another major factor when it comes to any piece of journalistic writing is credibility and newsworthiness. The credibility of a piece depends on the sources (primary or secondary) who vouch for what you’ve written in your report. Ensure you name your sources correctly. In case they want their names to remain confidential for security reasons, do not breach their trust and retain their anonymity. Newsworthiness, however, is a very tricky concept. Simply put, it actually refers to anything that is important enough for it to be considered “news”. In recent times, however, defining it has become hard. While some newspapers consider plunging necklines of a movie star as newsworthy, there are others that try to stick to conventional and traditional definitions of newsworthiness. So ensure you have a clear cut understanding of what newsworthiness is to you before you go ahead and write a report on something. Newsworthiness, in a nutshell, is any incident, report or decision that could have an impact on a large number of people. There are, of course, human interest stories and other soft news stories apart from them.

superman1Double check, or even triple check, facts and figures used in a piece. It is saddening to see quite a few websites (I shall refrain from mentioning names for my own good.) which spread fake news. Loss of credibility is easily one of the greatest threats to any print medium organization. So get your facts right. Follow up with sources if and when in doubt. Even if you’re writing a piece for a blog, an online website or any other new medium, it does not serve as an excuse for you to put up statements or facts that are not credible.

All of this should be done keeping in mind the deadline for the story of course. If you’re writing an analytical piece for a column that has periodicity, you might have a little more time on your hands. However, if you cover hard news – politics, sports, business and other current affairs, it goes without saying that you would need to turn in your stories the next day. So make sure you get your facts right and ensure the credibility of your piece while keeping the language simple and precise.

Once you finish doing all this and think your piece is ready to go, you have two more important things to do – proofread and edit. Check for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes or even minor punctuation errors. Even the most proficient writers sometimes miss a comma or two (it might help to know beforehand whether the organization you’re writing the piece for, is for the Oxford comma or not), so always proofread what you write.

And finally, edit. Be ruthless. There are a lot of news stories that go into a single2f130294f853d63fd3dd36b976fc5d70_yeah-if-everyone-could-start-proofreading-their-posts-before-proof-read-meme_625-351 newspaper. The space you are allotted will depend on the importance of the story (as well as advertising space reserved for that particular day). But more often than not, your editor is going to chop off anything that is not required for the story. So it is better that you do your own editing before you turn in your story. Make sure your report is detailed and yet, concise. It’s not a piece of creative writing for you to ramble on and on. Keep that in mind. Avoid using flowery language. Such language might be okay if you’re working on features but not when it comes to hard news stories. Like I said, it’s all about unlearning and relearning.

While you’re at it, there are a lot of brilliant pieces of journalistic writing from The Washington Post, The New York Times, Esquire or Rolling Stone that you should read. You will learn a lot just from reading these pieces. Here are a few of my favorites (they are not hard news stories though, so be prepared to read long pieces of amazing, investigative journalism). Trust me, they are worth your time!

  1. http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a638/frank-sinatra-has-a-cold-gay-talese/
  2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/pearls-before-breakfast-can-one-of-the-nations-great-musicians-cut-through-the-fog-of-a-dc-rush-hour-lets-find-out/2014/09/23/8a6d46da-4331-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html?utm_term=.da24db758fbd
  3. http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-brilliant-life-and-tragic-death-of-aaron-swartz-20130215

About the Author: 

IMG-20160914Nanditha is a Masters student majoring in Mass Communication. After her bachelors in Commerce, she worked with Google for a while before teaching primary school students in Chennai for a while. During the course of her Masters, she developed an interest in research as well as development communication. She loves critiquing movies, discussing good pieces of journalistic writing and watching culinary shows apart from reading books when she does find time for them.

Posted in Job Experience, Journalism, Work/Employment | Leave a comment

How to Write Professional Emails

We’re all emailing all day, every day. They form the initial point of contact for so many of our conversations. With an increasingly global workforce, emails are generally the go-to method for communicating with colleagues across the world. So how do you write professional emails?

  • A clear and crisp subject line: The subject line of the email must inform the other person what the email is about or at least be as indicative as possible. People get swamped with tons of email every day, a clear subject line helps everyone categorize their email better. For e.g., sending an email with the subject line ‘Resume’ does absolutely nothing to inform anyone of why you have sent that resume, give a little more detail? You could make it ‘Resume for XYZ position’ instead. [Ed Tip: Standard subject line to use for job/internship applications: “Application for Internship at <Insert Firm Name>, <Insert City>, for the period <Insert starting date> to <Insert ending date>”]

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  • Do not forget to attach an attachment you’ve mentioned you’re attaching in the email: Gmail will even remind you now if you’ve mentioned the word ‘attached’ or its varied connotations in your emails and then haven’t attached a file. Especially keep this in mind in your initial days at any place or while applying to a place for a job or with a query – we all err sometimes, try not to make a habit of it.

 

  • Decide who you are sending the email to: please do not ‘cc’ jghjtix5hj2cps7p_v2_additional people on an email they do not need to be part of that conversation. Think before hitting ‘reply all’ and please refrain from using ‘bcc’ unless you are sending a bulk informative email.

 

  • Do not email from someone else’s email ID: It’s 2017, you need to have your own email ID – I have nothing further to say here. [Ed Tip: Yes, it happens far often than you may think. Also, please make sure your email id is professional, i.e not something like‘dragonballrokzzz1@gmail.com’]

 

  • Do not conn3ect people over email unless they have consented to it beforehand: If you think two people should connect over some project or if a friend wants to connect to an ex-employee of yours – great! Always help people out when you can, but make sure you check in with all parties if they are open to helping out at the moment or even have the time for a quick connect before you actually just go ahead and connect them over email. Once you’ve connected them without consent, just puts everybody in an awkward situation with very few ways out of it.

 

 

 

  • Proofread: just recheck your emails for grammar and spellings, it is actually super simple. You can also download software that will proofread your email for you.

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  • Signing off on emails: Keep the signing off portion short. While your name, title etc. can be part of your standard email signature, you do not need to add a thank you and a dozen other end wishes before ending every email. Keep it short and relevant.

 

  • Please do not forward your emails when they shouldn’t be forwarded: Some email exchanges are meant to be private. If you need to send a document from another email conversation with someone else or just forward1-V56yLBdOrsyxLYRNlb_fyg one email in a chain of emails – please do not forward the entire chain. For e.g., please do not email your CV to a potential recruiter in a manner where they can still see your entire previous email exchange with someone else. [Ed Tip: Or for the matter BCC the same email to multiple recruiters. They understand what you are doing.]

 

  • Be nice: check in on how the other person is doing, maybe ask them about their sick parent/child/pet they told you off the last time you spoke. Try to personalize emails in this manner, but know when and whom you’re emailing and what conversation is appropriate and what isn’t. Eventually, a little kindness never hurt anyone. [Ed Tip: But do NOT go overboard with this in a completely formal business email. In case you know the other person only in a professional capacity, kept it concise.]

 

About the Author:

Bio ImageVandita Morarka is the Cofounder of Students for Social Reform Initiative and has previously been the Youth Outreach Coordinator for Safecity and has also initiated their flagship Campus Ambassador program. She works with youth organizations in various capacities and has mentored and trained over 500 young persons in the past few years. Vandita is currently the Policy, Legal and United Nations Liaising Officer for Safecity (Red Dot Foundation) and also does independent policy based consulting and legal research for government agencies, NGOs, and philanthropists.

Posted in Communication, Internship & Applications, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Things Interns Shouldn’t Do.

  1. Read about the organization before applying. If it’s a slightly obscure place for which you can’t find information online, ask the person you are corresponding depositphotos_7168212-stock-illustration-research-magnifying-glass-over-backgroundwith for the internship to give you any relevant reading material. Don’t ask the recruiter to tell you what the organization does, they would expect you to already know their core work if you are so interested in applying. Feel free to ask other questions related to their work that you may want more details about. A recruiter will not be selecting you if you haven’t even read up about the place you want to intern at, even if you have a stellar CV, because that just shows a complete lack of dedication and interest.

  1. Errors in language, spellings, formatting etc in your emails and any further correspondence with the recruiter are entirely unacceptable. You have free tools available that do the checks for you, integrate them with your email if you can’t recheck yourself. [Editors Tip: Download Grammarly if you haven’t already. You are welcome!]

  1. Don’t ask the recruiter anything that you can get on the first page of a Google search. Or even on the second page. It is a waste of the recruiters time and probably would leave them a little annoyed with you.

  1. Do not lie or inflate skills on your CV. If you list Social Media Management as a skill, the Recruiter will expect you to be able to do more than just share posts on social 660a06d511807f33030116c88da792f7media handles. Lying is inefficient for both parties, you won’t be able to do the work assigned to you and the Recruiter will need to hire someone else again to do that job. If you have already lied about something, please teach yourself the skill required before you start the internship.

  1. If you don’t understand some task, ask the Recruiter again, but not 5 minutes before your submission deadline. Please always get your doubts regarding any work clarified before you start working on it, or during the initial stages. [Editors Note: It is also better to ask silly questions and sound stupid than to not ask those questions, mess up the work and prove your stupidity.] Not understanding something is never an excuse for not finishing the work towards the end.

  1. Messaging someone you are reporting to at 2 am is unacceptable unless they have given you leave to do so or if you are working across different time zones. If pertinent, drop an email. Having said that, just let the person you are reporting to set the tone of how they would like to interact with you, everyone has a different working style and you need to understand that and work within it.

  1. Please do not hit on/flirt with the person who you are interning under. If you really want to ask them out, wait until the internship is over. Otherwise, it’s just an awkward and unprofessional situation for everybody.

[Read About How To Possible Convert Those Internships Into PPOs HERE]

 

About the Author:

Bio ImageVandita Morarka is the Cofounder of Students for Social Reform Initiative and has previously been the Youth Outreach Coordinator for Safecity and has also initiated their flagship Campus Ambassador program. She works with youth organisations in various capacities and has mentored and trained over 500 young persons in the past few years. Vandita is currently the Policy, Legal and United Nations Liaising Officer for Safecity (Red Dot Foundation) and also does independent policy based consulting and legal research for government agencies, NGOs and philanthropists.

 

Posted in Human Networking, Internship, Internship & Applications, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize: Breaking the College Limbo

Life-in-Limbo

By the third year of your university life, the proverbial gears start slowing down. You will find yourself skipping more classes than usual as the part-time internship starts demanding more and more of your time. There will be more assignments and projects to complete than there are hours in the day. The Canteen-waali chai and Maggi noodles- that’s it for both lunch and dinner, that is if there is time to eat! Those junior years will be by far the most challenging part of the collegiate experience. As the pressure to perform increases so does the feeling that life is cassette stuck in on ‘play and repeat’.  

There are ways to snap out of this mind-body limbo, and the feeling that you are living the same day over and over again, provided that you are invested in the solution -100%!

 

Step 1: CHANGE YOUR ROUTINE

Shake things up by drastically altering your daily routine. Sleep on the wrong side of the bed. Wear those purple shoes. Take an Uber to college and relax in the back by watching the world go by.

Step 2: WALK THE BLUES OFF

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Keep moving to enjoy the full movement of your limbs.  Commit to a 15-minute walk every evening after dinner.  Pull on your joggers and walk out the door. Don’t overthink it.

Step 3: FRUITY BUSINESS

Mama must have told you so, and it’s true that eating healthy is pretty much the solution to 99% of our problems. Grab an apple for lunch. Swap out a sandwich for a bowl of watermelon cubes.  Not only are you in for some delicious flavors, there are healthy sugar and tons of vitamins to be found in every bite!

Step 4: MINDMAP IT (The Most Important!!)

Address the elephant in the room. You need to get invigorated again about why you are pursuing your degree. Take thirty minutes to draw out your end goals; basically your xwaitlist-limbo-body.jpg.pagespeed.ic.HCrBSQfKJP“whys”. By mind mapping it and placing these motivations on your mirror or above your study desk, you are recentering your focus. Draw a plan, and remember why you are doing what you are doing. 

Keep your eyes on the prize. And it will be within your grasp. Trust me.

About the Author:

WhatsApp Image 2017-04-16 at 14.58.20

Mariam Shoaib is a Corporate Trainer and Editor at the Catalyst Woman Coaching & Consultancy. She can be reached at www.catalystwoman.com and at @Marsonearth at Twitter.  

Posted in College Life, Post-Grad, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Career in Scientific Research and the Pathway to PhD Decoded.

As I entered 11th standard ISC, a barrage of information on competitive exams was thrown at me and a lot of people asked me the standard question “Are you going to choose Engineering or Medicine?” given that I had chosen Science. But my mind was fixed on pursuing scientific research and I hope to give you readers a glimpse into my journey including key decision points and procedures I followed hoping that it might help you in making the same choice. I will break the journey into different time points to enable easy readability.

High School (9th and 10th)

As this was the first time one gains exposure to wider concepts and opportunities, I would only say take this time to experience things as there is yet no pressure to decide. A lot of schools have international collaborations these days, so make complete use of them.

The turning ponus-science-summer-camp-2013-18-638int for me while choosing my current field of study, Nanotechnology, was when I attended the NUS Science Camp while in 10th standard. This exposed me first-hand to an international research environment, where I was made aware of the current research advances and what scope there would be for future work.

If international opportunities are out of reach to you for whatever reason, either look for scholarships or local opportunities in Indian universities. A lot of universities conduct outreach programmes for school students and involvement in such programmes is great because they help you to begin understanding whether research is for you and also make a great addition to your CV to demonstrate your commitment to science.

Senior Secondary School (11th and 12th)

A lot of us are under the pressure of performing well in board exams and competitive exams but this phase is extremely crucial, especially if you are applying to universities abroad for undergraduate studies. Now is the time to convert your enthusiasm for science into something more practical – so this would involve either undertaking some laboratory/research shadowing or contributing to your independent research project.

51a0076230d082509a3de05aabb3af88The difficulty of doing this depends on your field. For example, it might be easier to write a code to solve a programming problem rather than convince a professor to let you do some experiments in the lab. However, just try emailing professors in your area of interest stating your interest in the field and how spending time in their lab would be crucial to your future career. You may not get responses a lot of the time, but don’t be disheartened! Also in India, I saw that having contacts help, especially at this stage.

Personally, I completed an observership before the start of 11th grade at the Department of Neurovirology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore during which I gained insight into diagnostic methods for diseases such as HIV, H1N1, Japanese Encephalitis, Herpes Simplex type 1, Measles, Dengue, Chikungunya and Rabies. In the summer holidays before 12th grade, I undertook another internship at Tumkur University working on a Materials Science project synthesising nanophosphors and characterizing them, which led to a scientific publication.

I cannot stress how important these experiences were in helping me to secure further internships and Masters/PhD positions, all while helping me better understand what field I would like to pursue in the future – I now understood that I enjoyed materials synthesis and wanted it to have an impact on human health. Also, this helped start my publication record which is something of paramount importance if you want to become an academic. Obviously, universities don’t expect you to have published before undergrad, but there are a number of journals which accept submissions from school students.

Undergraduate Year 1 and 2

I moved to the University of Leeds, UK to pursue a BSc Nanotechnology course, which I thought fit perfectly into my academic trajectory. During the term times of 1st and 2nd year, I focused a lot on developing interpersonal and leadership skills through involvement with societies such as AIESEC, Women’s Cricket Club and also became an active part of the student representation system. In my opinion, involvement in such activities will help you no matter what, whether you are applying for jobs, internships or scholarships in the future. And yes, keep your grades up as high as possible if you want to pursue a PhD as competition is very severe for international students in almost any country – I currently have an 82% average, which is considered a high First Class in the UK.

In the summer of my 1st year, I returned to India for an internship at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) at the Light Scattering Laboratory as most internships in the UK was meant for 2nd years. I gained experience in Surfaced Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS), a characterisation technique that was widely used in Nanotechnology. Although the project I worked on did not completely work, it provided me with important training in wet chemistry synthesis.

2nd year was more crucial as I had three options in front of me – a study abroad year at the University of California, a year-long internship at GlaxoSmithKline or a summer phd-notesinternship in my university supported by the Royal Microscopical Society. I chose the second option as I felt that it would enable me to gain extended laboratory experience and experience research in an industrial setting. And I was not wrong! I worked in the Materials Science department supporting global projects on colloidal formulations using characterisation techniques such as rheology, optical and electron microscopy, and thermal analysis. This year did not just help in developing technical skills, but finer interpersonal skills such as negotiation, presenting to senior management and accounting for cultural differences. Also, it helped me understand that I would like to incorporate soft matter in my further research.

Irrespective of which country you are pursuing your undergraduate in, I highly recommend obtaining an internship in the summer of your 2nd year. There are many schemes advertised by universities and over-arching organizations, but the only way you can find out is by contacting your home university or searching on the internet for internships you might be eligible for – unfortunately, there is no shortcut process.

Undergraduate Year 3/4

Depending on what sort of degree you are doing, this may be your penultimate or last year. If it is your penultimate year, I would say try to cram in one last internship depending on what you want to next. I did mine at the University of Alberta under the UARE programme, researching on microfluidics as this was one area I had found very interesting while studying a Nanophysics module but had not explored in depth yet. I fabricated microfluidic devices using CAD modeling and 3D printing, thereby adding to my skill set. This internship proved to be yet another pivotal one as it provided me the skills to complete my final year project and resulted in another publication (in preparation).

2If it is your last year, then you would need to start thinking about whether you want to study further or apply for jobs. Since I chose the former, I can only give advice about this aspect. I have applied to both Master’s and PhD programmes at the moment and detail my observations below.

Applying for Master’s Programmes in Europe: This process is quite straightforward and does keep in mind that funding is limited to international students, although there are Erasmus Mundus programmes that provide scholarships. You generally need the following documents:

  • Official Transcripts from undergraduate universities: Remember that these take the time to obtain, so allow sufficient time!

  • Statement of Purpose: This is one that I wrote for KU Leuven. Focus on how your prior study and research experience link to the programme offered and how this programme will help in your career goals.

  • Curriculum Vitae: Tailor it to the programme by highlighting specific internships, here is an example I used.

  • Passport information

  • 2 References: Ask professors who know you well, they could be research supervisors or lecturers. Sometimes work managers are also fine, if you have been out of education for a while.

Applying for Master’s Programmes in Canada: While the documents mentioned above remain the same, in Canada most universities that provide funding for international students require you to apply for a Master’s by Thesis/Research. In this case, you would have to contact individual supervisors and ask if they have funding for you before submitting an application to the university. Here is an example of an email you could use for enquiries; the format I have used has resulted in a 100% response rate so far!

Applying for a PhD in UK:  The UK is one of the few countries in Europe to allow for direct progression from Bachelor’s to PhD but you should remember that funding is extremely limited! Check out University Scholarships and the Commonwealth Scholarship. While some scholarships only focus on academic excellence, others want you to have demonstrated leadership, volunteered etc., so your extracurricular activities will play a big role in differentiating you from the next candidate. Again, one generally needs to contact potential supervisors and submit documents similar to those mentioned before. An additional component would be the research proposal – this is something that you would agree mutually with your supervisor and is based on your current interests coupled with your previous experience.

What can I do with a PhD?

So far I have related to you the path I have taken to get to a PhD, but you might ask me scientificresearch_29824805_croppedwhat can you exactly do with one? Of course, you spend 3-7 years working on your personal research topic and gaining expertise in preparation for an academic career. But let me tell you that there are also many opportunities outside academia. In GSK, a lot of senior management and technical personnel had PhDs and I have also seen consultants in firms such as PwC with science PhDs. So if at any point, you decide that the long drawn academia path is not for you, there are other opportunities out there! Doing PhD will teach you time management, project management, and interpersonal skills while increasing your resilience, all of which are valuable in industry.

Final note

I have tried to condense all that I have learnt and experienced over the past 6 years into this article. But if you would ever like to obtain more information do contact me on akh276@gmail.com or connect with me on LinkedIn, I will be happy to help!

About the Author

Akhila_ImageAkhila Jayaram is currently in her final year studying BSc Nanotechnology at the University of Leeds. Keen to pursue a career in scientific research, she has secured admission to competitive Masters and PhD programmes in universities such as Cambridge, KTH Sweden, KU Leuven and Imperial College London. She has also worked with various NGOs globally engaging in enabling access to education, empowering youth, encouraging sustainability, inspiring children to pursue science, and advocating gender equality for the past five years.

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