Category Archives: Applications

Is LinkedIn useful for biologists?

A lot of people asking about LinkedIn are actually motivated by this question:  “where online should I look for a job, or best position myself to find a job?”  If what you want is for people to find you and offer you a job out of the blue … Um, that’s not gonna happen.

The vast majority of jobs are filled informally. People hire who they know, and who their connections know.  What you need to do is build up your network.


This is usually the part where eyeballs start rolling around; there is nothing worse than “networking” as it’s understood by a lot of scientists.  The image we have is a bunch of fake salespeople glad-handing each other and frantically exchanging business cards. EW.

Guess what? You know how to network already. It’s called attending professional conferences.  Or giving advice on lab protocols. Or talking over seminar snacks. Or having a bunch of Twitter/Facebook friends.  Networking doesn’t have to be something you do in a suit.  In fact, let’s call it schmoozing instead of networking, to lower the creepy factor.

Schmoozing is the art of conversation, but with a purpose. Schmoozing is connecting with people, keeping in touch with them — and maybe, someday, benefiting from relationships with them.  Schmoozing is  investing  time and effort into establishing and maintaining career-related contacts.

These things are NOT schmoozing:

  • Talking only about yourself
  • Thinking only about yourself and what you want
  • Asking directly for a job
  • Beginning a conversation by handing out your resume

The idea is that the relationship is give and take. You share information with your friends that you know will be useful to them; they do the same for you.

A friend that only calls you once a year to find out if you have any job leads for them? Not much of a friend. Don’t be that guy.

Right, so this post was about LinkedIn, remember?

Yep, almost there. LinkedIn is a sort of portfolio/resume organizer. It makes you easier to find online, and creates a professional online identity.   If you are actively job seeking, it’s probably worth the hour or so it will take to set up a nice profile on LinkedIn.  Fill out the form to make an online resume. Link to any websites that are important or show your work. Connect to a few of your friends.

What happens next is up to you.

If you are an academic, and your goal is a home in Academia–you might find that other networking sites like Mendeley or are more helpful in making connections.

If you are thinking about working in industry or in non-profits, LinkedIn is very useful.  There are quite a few industry and professional groups that you can join, which immediately connects you to a whole bunch of people. Here’s some of the groups I’m in, for example: linkedingrps

See the little lock next to some of these? You don’t have to show all of your groups publicly.

Being part of a group mostly lets you see what people with a specific interest are talking about.  But it also lets you know the NAMES and EMPLOYERS of the people that share your interest.

Want to work for the Nature Conservancy? Go to their website, and you have no idea who to address your cover letter to.  On LinkedIn, you can look to see who works there. And in what division.  And you can do a little investigation and maybe even figure out their phone number and email, and call and introduce yourself.

THAT is what LinkedIn is for. That is how I used a connection with a former graduate student  to connect me to a Google recruiter, and scored an informal interview.  Alas, it didn’t work out (I think I would have made an AWESOME collegiate recruiter; Google was less convinced). But I got way farther, and learned more, than I ever would have applying via the giant automated funnel that is the Google Online Application system.

I’ve also used LinkedIn to find past bosses to help verify employment, as well as just watch the careers of former students grow and develop.

If you try to use LinkedIn as a place to selfishly pump people for employment information, and ONLY that, then won’t work for you. LinkedIn is a handy database of people that you like, and that you occasionally may ask for a favor.  If you become a person that shares useful information freely, posting things that help others, you’ll find that people will gravitate towards you.

LinkedIn is based in Karma. To paraphrase a cliche, “don’t pay love back; pay it forward.”

That’s how you use LinkedIn.

[Important Warning: do NOT let LinkedIn access your contacts or address book. It will send irritating emails in your name for months to all your friends. LinkedIn Corporate is apparently not concerned with bad karma. ]

If you are amused by this article or find it useful, please endorse me for “Insect Punditry” on LinkedIn.


Advice for Successful Career Decisions

I give students a lot of unsolicited advice.  I talk to both graduate students and undergraduates, and they are mostly worried about the same things:

  • Did I make the right choice when I decided to study ____?
  • Will I get a good job?  Is *this* job (graduate program/major/whatever) the one for me?

I actually have a mathematical formula that I use to help people figure out when they are in the right major or the right job, or if a career change is a good idea.  And I’m going to give it to you, for free, because you read my blog, and are, Post hoc ergo prompter hoc ipso facto, cool.


puppy!Here it is.

Job = Puppy

Yep. A job is like a puppy.  When you first get a job (or start a degree program), it’s wonderful and cool. Here, look –>

Doesn’t that make you smile?

Puppies are awesome. And if you have an actual puppy, you realize that puppies also have some downsides. Like…..poop.

There is no such thing as a poopless puppy.
There is also no such thing as a job with no shitty tasks.

The trick is to find a job that maximizes what I call the cute to poop ratio.

In other words, the quantity

recipe for happinessmust be greater than one.

If  the cute of your job is overwhelmed by the poop–it’s time to start looking for a new job.

I’ve made some really radical career changes–including walking away from a tenure-track faculty position.  Each time it was because the amount of poop in the job became overwhelming, and drowned out all the fun and cute elements.

Obviously, right now is not the easiest time to be starting a career, or make a career change.  Other things can modify this equation; health care benefits, for example, can turn a negative cute : poop ratio into a positive for me, at least in the short term.  If you are someone just starting out on your career path, taking a job that is not exactly what you want may also balance out, so you can get your foot in the door and start building a resume.

Just don’t stay in a job where the crap piles up around you and you are miserable longer than you have to be.
Life is short.  There has to be a balance.

Where should I look for a Job?

Updated October 15, 2018

One of the most common questions I get from students around this time of year is “Where should I look for a job?”

The question they actually are asking is “where ONLINE should I look for a job?”, and it’s the wrong question.  The vast majority of jobs for students are filled informally, without a search.

I always have extra work, and when I manage to have money + work that needs to be done, I usually tend to hire people I know – either a good past student, or someone recommended by a friend.

For full-time jobs, the question is a bit more relevant, but still, applying online doesn’t yield the results that using your network of contacts will.  If I happen to know someone involved in a search, and I send them a copy of your recommendation letter directly….yeah, that immediately moves your resume up to the top of the pile.

So, before I give you my list of places online to look at, let me ask:

what is the ratio of time you are spending pasting your resume online, to the amount of time spent chatting with your friends and professional contacts about where you want to go?

My favorite places to look for Ecological/Environmental type jobs:

Two other things to try:

  1. There are a lot of new job indexes that basically work by harvesting other websites. is a good example of that type of service.
  2. Don’t forget to look at local university and state websites! While the funding may be shaky long term, for those starting out in the job market, there are usually lots of opportunities.


Dear Parent:

When you email me about an internship I’ve posted, and tell me YOU are looking for an internship for your son/daughter, that pretty much puts the kibosh on me ever hiring your kid right there.  (BTW, It’s especially not helpful if you use the words “lost”, “adrift”, or “confused” to describe your child.)

I’m sympathetic. Figuring out what you want to do in the world is hard. But any student over the age of 18 should be able to write me their own damn email.

If your kid isn’t with it enough to seek me out on their own, then I’m not about to let them near my research. Sorry.

The Collegiate Employment Research Institute found that 23% of employers reported parents were involved in the hiring process “often” to “fairly often.”  In fact, some recruiters reported parents came to the interview with the student.

That’s messed up. Please don’t be a parentzilla.