Young Researchers Should Explore Opportunities, Build Transferable Skills

Josh Henkin, founder of a career coaching company for STEM graduates, gave the keynote address at GW’s Postdoc Appreciation Day.

Josh Henkin
Josh Henkin, a member of the National Postdoctoral Association board of directors, recently spoke at GW’s annual Postdoc Appreciation Day. (William Atkins/ GW Today)
September 25, 2018

By Kristen Mitchell

Josh Henkin has had a number of jobs in his life. From owning a bar and playing professional rugby to pursuing a doctorate degree in cell and molecular biology, his career has been a road of unexpected twists and turns. Every position that got him to where he is today, however, was an opportunity to explore his interests and build diverse skills.

“What’s gotten me to where I am in my career has not been my technical skills, it has been my transferable skills,” he said. “Look for opportunities outside your academic labs to gain some of these skills, and while you do that you are also building your network of colleagues that can help you along the way.”

Dr. Henkin, founder of STEM Career Services, a career coaching company that helps STEM graduates find careers outside of academia, and a member of the National Postdoctoral Association board of directors, spoke at Science and Engineering Hall Friday morning as part of George Washington University’s annual Postdoc Appreciation Day. Postdoctoral fellows participate in temporary mentored research and training for a set length of time.

Dr. Henkin encouraged postdocs to begin preparing to apply for jobs, even if they won’t be actively seeking new positions for several months. He suggested they always have a polished resume they can send quickly to contacts they meet through networking. Postdoctoral fellows should continue to update their resume and Linkedin pages often with new skills and accomplishments, he said.  

Job seekers often fear that accepting a position that isn’t their dream job could derail their future, but Dr. Henkin encouraged applicants to change their mindset. Being open to new opportunities can help young professionals explore their passions. The next job doesn’t have to drive your career, he said.

“You are the boss of your career, don’t ever forget that,” Dr. Henkin said.

He also told fellows to be unafraid to seek opportunities outside their current field. Young professionals should not feel locked into a career path just because they have a certain degree, he said.

He noted that postdoctoral fellows have an advantage in the job market: after several years in Ph.D. programs, postdoctoral fellows are not afraid to work hard. The perseverance and grit they have built, he said, will serve them well when they are vying for positions.

“The competition is there, but there are not that many people that will work as hard as you will to achieve the goals you want to achieve,” Dr. Henkin said.

The event was planned by the GW Postdoc Association, an organization formed in 2016 that focuses on networking, professional development and social engagement across fields and school boundaries. Several other speakers discussed their careers in research, government and industry throughout the day.

Several awards were given out during the event. Alberto Bosque and Katherine Chiappinelli, who are both assistant professors in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences department of microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine, were awarded the Mentor Award.

Postdoctoral fellows Kedar Aras and Derek Jones received the “Gold Star Postdoc Award.” Chloe Bouarab, Rachel Resop and Sarah Jaumann were awarded prizes for their 12-minute TED talk-style research presentations given during the event.

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