My Scientista Symposium experience is one I go back to in my head and yapp and yapp to people about when I want to feel super cool. Because let’s face it, if you were there, you know we were all pretty cool! I was in a room with more than 200+ women who all geek out about science. That’s my crew right there.
During my first day, I helped give out the badges at the front door. Oh gosh...talk about qualifications. Microbiologists, genetics PhDs, statistical analysis majors - plus other chemists like me! It was like getting invited to the coolest party ever. Our first keynote speaker, Sara Laschever, gave us some stats on gender and ethnicity issues facing STEM careers today, a topic that’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds. While progress towards increasing diversity in STEM was evidenced alone by the different backgrounds of the attendees, it’s shocking that this is still a major issue in 2018. It definitely had to be discussed right off the bat! We were all there to share our story and work towards a more accepting and label-free environment for women in STEM.
After the keynote speaker, we were instructed on what our options were for the afternoon: a career fair or the opportunity to have a professional photographer take our headshots for free. I learned that this is something that can be pricey and is definitely helpful in your professional development. However, I’ll admit to only having gone to one other small career fair in my life, so I decided to head to the first room full of booths and tables. I braced myself, breathed in and out about fifty times, and started walking around the multiple floors where the recruiting teams were located. Going into a room felt like walking into a convention center. It was crowded, and everyone had their eyes set on something. Lines started to form behind tables belonging to companies such as Schrodinger, Google, and Thermo Fisher. People clung to their resumes while engaging with the recruiters and talking about their experiences and passion for the field. I can’t lie, I was pretty scared myself. I thought, who am I to talk to these people? Wrong! This is where the real advice comes in, the nitty gritty…. As I approached one of the recruiters and told them what I was doing there, how I practically felt like ‘the mole,’ I was able to get the lowdown on the best way to talk with representatives at a career fair.
‘Mostly everyone is overqualified here,” said one of the company representatives. “All of our applicants have perfect GPAs, perfect volunteer opportunities...it really boils down to what makes them different from all of our other applicants- be it a sport, a charity they’re fond of, a family story, etc. We want real people.”
Similar to my new acquaintance’s perspective, other recruiters felt the same way. They understood how nerve-racking it can be for most of us to have all of our preparation boil down to a conversation lasting just a few minutes. They know that you’ve done the hard work- they mainly want to know why you want this so badly. What drives you to want to work with them in particular?
Besides learning about the companies looking to hire STEM graduates, I learned a lot about the ‘how-to’ of a career fair. Another tip? Do your research! Google the company prior to the fair, even if you only have a few minutes to cram. It will show the rep that you’ve made an effort to get to know them and their mission. You don’t want to ask the most basic questions about the company to get the same information that’s available online. Take the opportunity to talk with a real person, one-on-one, to find out what makes their company a good fit for you. It’s just as important as demonstrating that you would be a good match for them, and it allows you to highlight exactly what niche you could fill if you became an employee.
Another key when planning your symposium trip - business cards! I met so many people and the same question came up over and over: “Can I have your business card?” Well, you could...if I had one. Sometimes recruiters or investors don’t have the space or time to go through your whole resume right there, but if you give them your business card, they have something to trigger their memory later on. Business cards are really inexpensive. At times you can even ask your workplace to get you some!
Do you get a bit nervous like me? Prep what you’ll say in your head. Think of three things you always want to cover when talking to someone. If you freak out, like I’ve done, then you at least have a mini-script to work from so you can go on autopilot while you get your bearings. But honestly? Don’t sweat it! Recruiters see so many people a month that being yourself is the best bet. The right workplace for you will be the one where you can be who you are.
My last point is to always remember you’re surrounded by other successful and capable women (like you!), and we’re all here to help each other out. Don’t be shy about being ‘blunt’ or asking for recommendations for strategies that help when it comes to applying for a specific job or company.
Did you have an amazing experience too? Don’t forget you can share it with us below in the comments or let us know on Twitter and Facebook. Also, be sure to check out the Scientista Instagram for all the cool pictures shared during the symposium.
Karelly is from Monterrey, MX and recently moved to the U.S to become a Chemistry undergrad in Portland, OR. She plans on becoming a Science Communicator and advocate for Women in STEM. She runs her own blog thesolutionisk.com along with her Instagram page: KarellyRG. She hopes to soon start uploading videos to her YouTube which can be found on her page. Her goal is to promote an image of a healthy lifestyle paired with academic development for all STEM majors. Make sure to talk to her via Instagram and share your favorite science concepts!