Career Options for Life Science Graduates – Part II

In last week’s post, Emmanuel discussed several career options and pathways for life science graduates and for anyone interested in a career in the life sciences. In part I , the following areas were discussed; Teaching, Lecturing, Research, Transition to medicine, Business management and entrepreneurship and Sales.  In part II, we will now conclude on other career options including non-traditional career routes that are open and might be of interest to life science graduates.

Graduate School (PhD & Professional Doctorate) – whilst a number of life science graduates are interested in transitioning to medical school, a larger number of life science graduates proceed into postgraduate studies. This might be studying for a MSc degree, Masters by way of research or Masters Philosophy (MRes or MPhil) or a PhD. There has been an increase in the numbers of graduates embarking on postgraduate studies in the life science subjects in the UK perhaps due to difficulties in finding jobs upon graduation or the hope of better job opportunities with a higher degree. To embark on postgraduate studies in the UK, a minimum of a 2.2 is required i.e a GPA of 2.5 – 3.0 (dependent on University). With a 2.1 (GPA 3-3.5) classification, life science graduates are able to apply directly for PhD studies in the UK and in other countries. More universities in the UK now offer professional doctorate degrees which are equivalent to a PhD but focuses on the context of the workplace or practice of the applicants. Graduate school in the UK and USA are slightly different in the structure and modalities (we will expand on this later on in the future). We do encourage graduates to consider postgraduate studies as a great option however not before exploring the range of opportunities available to them first! After all, not everyone in a great career or job in the life sciences is a masters or PhD holder.

Forensics – Ever watched CSI, Bones, Law and Order or other US or UK TV Crime Drama? If you have, you’ve probably  imagined yourself as a forensic scientist or cool scientist, paleontologist or anthropologist of some sort. In our experiences dealing with prospective students interested in life science subjects we often find those interested in the area of forensics simply because of the television dramas. As scientists, we do welcome the interest created by such shows though we occasionally advise the young enthusiastic kids that life as a scientist is not usually or always as glamorous as the television dramas show. To embark on a career in forensics, a good degree in biomedical, biological or forensic science is a starting point – it’ll also help to study some chemical science or molecular biology during your degree. I (Emmanuel) remember interviewing for a role as a forensic scientist with the forensic science service (FSS) many years back and was presented with a very technical laboratory based practical alongside the formal interview. Thus, you will need good laboratory or technical skills to go with your degree.

Advisory and Consultancy – Do not be surprised about this, there are several advisory roles open to life science graduates globally. Several companies offer roles for Scientific Advisers, Medical Advisers, and Life Science Advisers. To be eligible for these posts, you will need a good honours degree (2.1 and above) with other skills such as good communication, analytical and presentation skills among others. Consultancy is also another area open to life science graduates and whist this is not a very common option for recent graduates, postgraduates (often PhD graduates) and experienced life science professionals work as consultants either on short term projects or in full time roles.

Scientific & Medical Communications – Life science graduate, not-interested in laboratory work but very capable when it comes to reading, analysis, interpretation, presentation and writing scientific or technical material? If yes, then a life in scientific or medical communications might just be the right career path for you. The terminologies for these roles are often interchangeable and sometimes these roles are also referred to in the same context as healthcare communications and medical writing. Many scientific organisations especially the biopharma sector contract some of the technical writing to medical communications firms who employ life science graduates to produce reports, study designs and writing of core scientific and general materials. This is a highly sought after career hence it is very competitive albeit with good remunerations. As usual you will be required to have a good honours degree and in some cases a postgraduate qualification and evidence of your ability to write including ability to design online materials which may or may not include blogging. Some Universities offer MSc degree programmes in Science Communication which is open to people of other disciplines which offers intensive training on different ways to communicate science and graduates from such degrees go on to practice in different environments including media, journalism and politics. For a good example of a MSc Science communication degree, click here

Recruitment – who is better at recruiting a science graduate than a science graduate? Working as a recruitment specialist or adviser for recruitment firms or other organisations that employ science graduates such as career departments at Universities and Colleges is also a good career path. Several friends have embarked on the journey into recruitment and have found it informative and interesting. working as a recruiter can be difficult for many reasons but it is also a great career as you get to interact with many job seekers as well as companies and imagine how much you learn about some of the clients and their products when you work as a recruiter (the science is never lost outside the lab!)

Government and Politics – surprised about this? Don’t be! Following our involvement with events run by the UK Biology professional scientific societies we became more aware of the possibility for scientists to work directly or in close association to government and politicians. In the UK for example, the biology societies have a designated representative in parliament who acts as a liaison or link between government and the respective societies. Also, members of parliament (senators or the like in other countries) have scientific advisors in their staff who can advise them on matters relating to science within their constituencies. In recent years, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) have offered fellowships with research councils, learned societies and charities to sponsor PhD students and Post-doctoral candidates for about three months to carry out parliamentary placements. This offers experience for the fellows to learn about politics and policies also creating opportunities to work closely with politicians and law makers.

Life Science Solicitors – with the rising interest in medical ethics and law and with increasing discourse in genetics, climate change, assisted suicide and genetic modifications (GM) this is another interesting option for life science graduates. This would require undertaking a Masters degree or PhD degree in Bioethics and Medical Law or Jurisprudence. To embark on a career in this area, an undergraduate degree at 2:1 or above is required in the life sciences or other subject areas such as social sciences, law or medicine among others.

Whilst we highlight a range of career paths open to life science graduates, this is by no means the end of it. With the range of skills developed by life science graduates, there are undoubtedly other areas graduates of life science disciplines have found themselves so do not despair if you have not found something on here for you. if after reading this article, you have identified a career path that interests you, we would encourage you not to hold back and to chase your dream career.

For further detailed advice on Life Science Career roles and challenges, look out for our career profiles pages from people who have had success transitioning from University to professional life. To contribute an article, please contact us on @AspProfHub

 

Brand You! – Developing your online social presence.

Social mediaGoogle yourself – don’t worry, no one’s watching and I won’t judge you! Were you pleasantly surprised, alarmed or was everything just as you expected? Most of us think we have no social presence online because we do not have any social media accounts but that can be far from true. If your search yielded no results, is that what you really want? Whether you work in sales or not, we are all in the sales business. We are constantly selling our services – skills, expertise, experience – or products and to do this we need to NETWORK. Think of social media as networking with the biggest audience possible – the whole world. In this article, Amara shares how some of these social tools can be used to boost your professional presence and develop your unique and personal brand.

I  like to think of my social presence as not just how I present myself as a professional (and as a person) to the public but also how I am perceived by that public as well. Every time we interact with individuals or organisations, we create an impression whether we are immediately aware of it or not. This is true whether this interaction occurs face to face or online. Social media has become a powerful connection tool and I am constantly reminded of this by the number of guest articles we have received by people I have never met in person but have had the opportunity to connect with online or have just found The Aspiring Professionals Hub through Facebook or Twitter. 

So where to start? For ‘digital visitors’ like myself, I’ll share some examples of some tools and how we can use them to build an online social presence.

LinkedIn

Do you have a LinkedIn account? If no, why not? In my opinion, LinkedIn is the most important ‘place’ for aspiring professionals to be ‘seen.’ Think of LinkedIn as a Facebook for professionals. Your profile is akin to a CV and you are in control of what you choose to reveal or not. Establish a professional image by using an appropriate picture in your profile – no holiday snaps from the beach please! LinkedIn can be used to build connections with other professionals but just as important, you can follow organisations and join groups relevant to your field. There is virtually no discipline that is not covered by a group and if there isn’t one for you, why not start one? Are you naturally shy and find it difficult to walk up to someone at an event and introduce yourself? Look them up on LinkedIn and invite them as a contact. I always recommend adding a short note to the basic LinkedIn invite message introducing yourself. Be professional.

There are many recruiters on LinkedIn so your dream job may just be a new contact or updated profile away. Remember that all recruiters have to work with is your profile, so ensure you update regularly and truthfully. Joining your alumni’s LinkedIn group can help you develop relationships with alumni working at your target organisations who may be willing to offer advice and mentorship. Don’t ignore your LinkedIn page, share posts that you think are relevant to your contacts and within the groups you follow.

Twitter

Twitter could very well be one of the easiest and quickest ways of establishing connections and developing your online social presence. Using 140 characters at a time you can share what you’ve written, information you find insightful or you can follow that company you really, really want to work for, learn about different industries and global brands. For your professional Twitter account, I would recommend using your name in your handle, for example – @amaratweets, @emmanueladukwu, @AspProfHub) – so people associate your handle with your person. I have been pleasantly surprised when someone I have not ‘met’ before has walked up to me and said hello because they recognise me from Twitter. When writing a bio for your profile, make sure that people can understand what you do and not just who you are.

Whenever I attend a meeting or conference, I use hashtags to share information from speakers as well as connect with other attendees. Another way to interact with people in your discipline is to attend webinars and tweetchats. Don’t be shy, contribute to the conversation. Be nice, reply when people ask you questions or send direct messages, retweet what other people are saying. Don’t worry if you do not have many followers in the first 3 days, it takes time to build a network. This rule applies whether building a network face to face or online. You are building your brand – be careful what you tweet especially if you are tweeting on behalf of an organisation.

Facebook

A lot of us are already using Facebook to connect with our family and friends but it can also be a powerful professional networking tool. As of the first quarter of 2015, Facebook had over 1.44 billion active users and with this, the world can really be your oyster. I would advise that if you want to project your professional social presence using Facebook you maintain two separate personas.  I do not think there is anything suspicious about doing this. If potential employers are going to be checking job applicants on networking sites, it is in your interest to find a way to keep private things private. Alternatively, set your privacy settings to manage what you share with your ‘friends’ vs. your professional contacts.

Build your network by adding contacts, joining relevant groups and liking pages where you can connect with like minded professionals. I am learning how important it is now to not just be a silent observer but contribute meaningfully to conversations.

Blogging

Of course, I hadn’t forgotten. Blogging is a communication tool that can really allow you share your story. Everyone loves a good story, it doesn’t matter if you are sharing something personal or communicating your point of view on recent events. If you are a creative person, you can showcase some of your products on your blog. We all know people who have made millions off blogging. Like I said earlier, online, your potential audience is the whole world!

Know your audience and write for your audience. Don’t be afraid to mix things up on your website. Keep improving. Link your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to your blog and use social media to disseminate your work.

There are other tools like Google+, YouTube, ResearchGate. You don’t have to be involved with all of them. Find out what works for you and work it!

My rule when it comes to developing my social presence online is to be authentic and true to my values as well as being professional at all times. I try and practice #netiquette. Always have at the back of your mind that when it is online, it is forever. My mantra is, ‘if you don’t mean it, don’t post it!’ Project an image that you are proud of. It can be intimidating living in the ‘socialsphere’ but you can manage how much you put out there. In my next post, I will discuss some tips for managing your online social presence.

I am left wondering what the next decade will bring. Do you think a day will come – if it isn’t here yet – when our online social presence will mean just as much, if not more to employers than our CVs and personal statements?

HeadshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology and Food Science,  Amara is developing her career in academia – providing teaching and learning solutions in UK FE and HE Institutions as well as conducting research in Food Microbiology. Amara believes in the combined power of education, mentoring and productive relationships as essential tools for building successful careers.

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#CareerChat – Dealing with Rejection

1-rejectionDear Dr A 

Thank you for attending the interview for the above position. Regretfully I am now writing to inform you that, on this occasion, you have been unsuccessful.  I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for your interest in working for our organisation. We appreciate the time and care that you have given in submitting your application and attending the interview, and would be happy to receive a further application from you for any future suitable vacancy. I wish you every success in the future. 

Yours sincerely,

HR

It could come by letter, email or face to face but the emotions you experience are the same. It feels like some of the air has been let out of your lungs leaving you feeling like a deflated balloon. If you live long enough, work hard enough and take enough risks, at some point(s) in your career journey, you will experience rejection. In the last few years, especially since the recession, the employment market has been particularly difficult with new graduates bearing the brunt of it. We cannot count the number of times we have read in the newspapers or watched on television where new graduates discuss their inability to get a job despite incredible effort.  I (Amara)  heard about a lady who applied for over a hundred jobs and was not called to a single interview! Technology has made applying for jobs so much easier, however, this comes with the  increased chance of being rejected.

Rejection does not just apply to employment – it could be a manuscript you submitted to a journal or editor, an application you made to your first choice University or a grant application to fund your great big idea. Regardless of where it comes from, rejection can severely dent confidence as we often tend to equate it with failing and being a failure. However, rejection does not have to be such a negative thing. It can actually become a useful learning tool in our personal and professional development journey. So, when you face rejection, what can you do differently?

Keep things in perspective – You may have failed at something but that does not make you a ‘failure’. An interview result is not an indication of your personal worth. No one likes to experience rejection. The rejection letter you see above was one I (Amara) received  and remember how bad I felt when I read it.  I had been excited to make it to the last 4 out of about 100 applicants to be interviewed. The interview had gone really well (in my opinion) but a few days later, I found out I didn’t get the job. After a few days of reflecting, I chose to see the whole process as a positive not negative experience. No, I did not get the job but I had made it to the last 4 out of 100. The top 5%. This meant that there was something about my CV, covering letter, personal statement and application form that had appealed to the employer. Maybe I just wasn’t a right fit for them. Maybe they made a mistake! Interviewers are human after all. Choose to see being invited to an interview as a plus, regardless of whether you get a job or not, at least, they like you on paper! When you experience rejection, try and think objectively. Choose to see failure as an event and not an identity. 

To thyself be true – This calls for some ‘reflection-on-action.’ Think over your application process again? If you have applied for 100 jobs without a single response, then in our opinion there is a problem somewhere. Are you using the ‘scatter-gun’ approach to your job search? Is there a mismatch between your skills profile and the jobs you are applying for? Do both your CV and personal statement match the person-specification in the advertisement or are you just sending the same documents to everyone? Are there any technical or subject specific skills you lack that could improve your chances at success? Did you follow the journal submission instructions to the letter? Does your manuscript fit the scope of the journal where you submitted it? Do you meet the entry requirements to get on the course you have applied for?

Deal with the issues – When it is difficult to know where things are going wrong, seek expert help. A careers adviser can look at your CV and provide information that can be the difference between getting a job or not. A mentor who is knowledgeable of a field that you are trying to get into can provide invaluable advice or know someone who knows someone who needs someone? Do you find yourself really nervous at interviews? So do most people!  Just try to avoid letting your nerves get the upper hand. This might sound like cliché but Practice does make perfect.  If your CV has looked the same for the last 2 years, is there a course that can help you update your skills profile?

Embrace feedback – When you do receive feedback, please remember it is not personal (at least most of the time!). If someone, has in good faith, taken their time to provide that information, see it as them investing in you. They most likely would not do it, if they did not see something positive in you or your work that needs improvement to make it better. Feedback can be difficult to take but if you can be dispassionate about it, you will find it is essential for your personal development. When you find yourself in a situation where you have not done as well as you hoped, seek feedback. Send a follow up email after an interview when you did not get the job. You will learn and grow from it.

Never give up – You never know how close you are to that Yes! Read the biography of any successful person you admire and you will undoubtedly find a rejection story among its pages. A colleague who evaluates grant applications for the EU shared that sometimes the difference between ‘accept’ and ‘reject’ can be 1 or 2 marks out of 100. She has had to reject a grant application that scored 95 out of 100, simply because another one scored 97! Another colleague had a manuscript rejected four times but finally got her work published in an international journal. The biggest surprise was that it got published in the journal she had sent it to in the first place! Each time she got a rejection letter, she improved her manuscript based on the feedback and submitted it again. She had enough self-belief in her research not to be put off by a few stumbling blocks. Be that way about yourself too. Have enough self-belief in what your skills can bring to an organisation or what your big idea can bring to the world. Be persistent and tenacious. You just never know.

aa-headshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology, Amara is building her career in academia. She is grateful for every opportunity to teach and mentor a new generation of scientists, undertake research and develop international partnerships. She believes in the combined power of education and productive relationships in building successful careers. Stay connected on Twitter – @amaratweets

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#UniAdvice – Three simple tips that improved my academic writing.

Writing 1Do you approach writing assessments with fear or excitement? Do you procrastinate till the day before your paper, dissertation, essay, technical report is due because you just do not like writing. In this article, Emmanuel shares his journey to becoming a better writer. No one is born a great writer, we all have to work at it!

Speaking to my students in a revision class this afternoon about writing dissertations, I was reminded about some of the advice I received that changed my understanding of writing and actually made me appreciate academic writing and dare I say, start to enjoy it. The funny thing is that like many other students at university, I enjoyed creative writing.  I could write for fun, tell stories and create tales etc. However, I found academic writing challenging. I will share three of the key bits of advice I received during my masters and doctorate.

The first major change in my writing came from my MSc project supervisor (and mentor) who told me that my writing was too modest. Initially, my thoughts were, of course it should be modest. Clearly I did not understand the logic behind the statement and as she occasionally reminds me, she read my work about ten times before giving the go ahead to submit (I despaired at that point). Looking back over the years, my writing was modest for many reasons – one in particular which resonates with many students which is cultural background. Coming from a cultural background where you are not meant to criticise or question ‘authority’ creates a writing mindset where you write like you are walking on coals of fire “softly softly” just to get through the writing rather than express your ability, knowledge and critical awareness. She said, “Your writing is a reflection of your personality” so project yourself well through your writing.

The second bit of advice that got me through my academic writing was the importance of planning your write up before you put pen to paper or better still, fingers to keyboard. With the experience of marking dissertations you get to see different levels of engagement and ability to write but it is all so easy to see the unplanned dissertation or thesis write up. An unplanned dissertation or thesis is usually more difficult to write and for the marker hard to read or follow. Without planning, written work can lack coherence and structure. So what to do? There is no generic first step but before you start writing it would be helpful to seek advice from your tutor, adviser or supervisor (who obviously understands your topic or project) about how to plan your writing and what would be important to communicate in your work; review past successful dissertations in similar subject areas and have the key materials you need to begin your writing. For example, if writing a science focused dissertation or thesis, without  a well written ‘Methods’ and ‘Results’ section, you are unable to articulate your findings and tell a good story. Many Universities provide writing support through their learning development units so take advantage of them!

The third key I received from my doctoral supervisor was simple but effective. Writing a thesis is like telling a story. Considering these great bits of advice came from women, does it mean women are better writers???? Food for thought. Back to reality now, if you cannot tell a critically appraised, logical and well written coherent story then your write up would not be received as well as you might think or believe. From personal experience and talking to several examiners, it is common that at the end of a viva (Oral examination) examiners tend to comment on the quality of the writing and in some cases how easy or nice or pleasant a thesis or dissertation was to read. Think about this, if your work is easy and pleasant to read, perhaps it would be easy and pleasant to assess??? So remember, tell a good story (not a narrative) of your academic work or project and ensure it reads well and makes sense before you press the submit button.

Many thanks to my supervisors for the key tips that ensured I developed a liking and value for my voice on written academic work. Please share your own tips in the comments sections. For any suggestions or tips about getting through the academic writing process, please feel free to email us at info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com. Connect with us on Twitter @emmanueladukwu and @amaratweets.  

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#UniAdvice – Before you choose a course to study at University

We recently attended a series of international Higher and Further education institutions’ education fairs in Nigeria. It was great to meet very enthusiastic prospective students as well as their parents! We did however identify an area of concern regarding ‘course or program choices’ which is something we have also encountered in the UK. The reasoning behind some of the course applications and choice of courses were in some cases worrying while others were alarming! Why did you choose the course you studied (or are currently studying) at University? Are there things you know now but didn’t know then?

Why does course choice matter?

Well if you consider the huge financial commitment required for studying in Higher Education, you will agree it does. Regardless of what part of the world you come from, going to University is an expensive business. This cost often multiplies by several factors if you choose to study in another country as an international student. The importance of course and University choice can therefore not be overemphasised. A colleague with years of experience recruiting international students often asks applicants an important question, “If you are given £30,000 (convert to your own currency), would you or your parents happily pay for the course you have enquired about or chosen? Why? This question provides food for thought and must always be at back of the mind of anyone making an application to study at College or University. Answering this question can allow you reflect on how your course choice fits in with your life/career goals.

In one of our previous articles, we talked about ‘Beginning with the end in mind.’ This is also important when it comes to choosing a course. Would you invest money (insert education costs) into a business which after 3-5 years would yield no profit, no return on investment and require another huge cash injection to ‘hope’ for some level of success? For majority of us, the answer to that question will be a big, fat, No! Perhaps then, what you study should be given the same type of consideration.

For home students in the UK, what is the point of getting into debt (on average £35,000 – £40,000) to fund your education just to find out that you chose a course you actually hate?

Things to consider when making your choice – do your homework!

Prior to applying for and choosing a course to study, it is important to think about the course in careful detail. Seven times out of ten, when we ask Forensic Science students the reason for choosing their course, their response is ‘I love watching CSI! That in itself is not an issue if you enjoy subjects like analytical Chemistry, but if you do not, well, there may be problems on the horizon. Some courses e.g. Medicine or Dietetics have interviews as part of the application process – if you cannot articulate why you want to get on the course, you may not get a place! If you hate Biology and Chemistry and have never done well in them, why do you want to study Medicine?

How would you answer the following questions?

Why go to University in the first place? – Improved earning potential? Pre-requisite for chosen career? Have fun before entering the ‘real world?’ Develop subject knowledge and transferable skills for the future?

Why this course? – What subjects interest me? What are my academic strengths and weaknesses? How does this course fit into my life goals?

What is the course structure? – E.g. what modules/subjects? How many credits?

How will my course be taught – lectures, seminars, tutorials, lab sessions, how many contact hours etc.?

What is the expertise of the staff at the department or faculty that offers the course?

What are the career opportunities after the course?

Is the course accredited or linked to a professional body?

What support (academic or pastoral) do students get on the course or program?

Some of these questions pertain mainly to course choice but others could help you choose a University as well. We would recommend that applicants, their parents or fee paying guardians reflect on the answers to these questions as they navigate the often daunting application process. Use a Careers service e.g. National Careers Service (UK only) or talk to recent graduates.

Oftentimes prospective students as well as parents are uncertain or unsure how much to ask or are scared to ask critical questions when attending an education fair, open days or speaking to college or university representatives. Our advice is to think about that event as going into a BMW showroom to buy a car – you would not spend that amount of money without asking a few questions. University representatives are usually very happy to answer all your questions and provide you with accurate information.

In some cases, we have had students focus more on the night life and the vibrance of the city or town. Don’t get us wrong, these are important aspects too, but quite often, we meet students who at the tail end of the degrees regret the choice or course or are lost as their course choices seem to have limited and often uninteresting career options.

Parental or family influence in choosing

At an education fair we attended, a lady enquired about studying for a PhD and whilst she came across as interested, it soon became evident, upon further discussion,  that she was fulfilling someone else’s desire not to be the only family member without a PhD!

In other cases, parents have insisted their children study courses to meet with a family tradition etc. Coming from an African background, we can relate! Medicine, Law, Engineering, Accounting are the courses that are very dear to our parents’ hearts. From experience, this is due to the fear their children may be stranded without ‘good’ jobs after studying certain degrees.  Providing clear information to parents about what courses consist of, their value and the variety of career paths upon completion of these courses more often than not changes their opinions. This is why it is very important to do your homework!

Get information – A lot of Universities now offer ‘taster’ sessions to provide a glimpse of what studying your course at their University could be like. You may be able to attend a psychology lecture or conduct an experiment in a teaching laboratory! Attend Open Events and Education fairs – the latter being particularly pertinent for international students.

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#MyUniStory – My experience of being an international student

8-studentsI attended a student conference recently where students shared their experiences of being in Higher Education. I was surprised at how inspiring and moving some stories were. ‘Reflections’ is our latest addition to the Hub, here we leave our aspiring professionals to just share their stories. Story telling remains one of our most effective communication tools and we hope you will take something away from each one. In the first article of the series, Ebu will be sharing her experience of being an international student in Canada.

My name is Ebubechi and I am an international student in the first year of a Psychology course at Fraser International College (FIC), Vancouver, Canada. I will be transferring to Simon Fraser University (SFU) this fall (September 2015) for my 2nd year. The programme at FIC has been designed to prepare international students for integration into the Canadian University system as well as preparing for life as a University student. I would recommend a similar pathway to any international students considering embarking on an undergraduate degree in Canada. There is no difference in subject course content between the 1st year at SFU and FIC. The difference lies in how teaching is delivered. My classes are taught in a tutorial style format with smaller classes, allowing more interaction between students and teachers.

My experience as an international student here may differ slightly from other students as my education up to this point has been across two continents! Having started out my primary education in Nigeria, my Year 6 – 6th Form (Primary school – A ‘Levels) was completed in the United Kingdom. I guess this means I could say that I am used to what can be described as a ‘Western Education System.’ This also meant that my whole education had been in English and there were no language barrier to overcome as such. Despite this, there were aspects of the Canadian Higher Education system that were alien to me such as their grading system. Here, your performance in every class contributes to your Grade Point Average or GPA and you have to achieve a certain number (3.0 for Psychology) at the end of the 4 year course to obtain your Bachelor’s degree.

My lowest point was my first week here. I suffered from homesickness and I was surprised by how much I missed my family. I felt so alone, as this was my first time of going to a different country on my own. However, with prayer and the support of my family (thanks Skype!), I was able to overcome homesickness. I am very reserved by nature and it usually takes me a while to develop relationships in a new setting. However, when going to a new school, especially University, you have to remember that everyone you meet is in the same boat as you, i.e. being away from home and not knowing anybody. When I realised this, it was easier for me to start making new friends both in and outside of classes.

I started making friends who shared the same experiences as I did such as moving away from home for the first time and getting used to my surroundings (trying not getting lost so many times), everything started to fall into place and I became more comfortable. I have got involved in my college as part of the Campaign team which means I have to give talks to students on different issues that affect them like study skills and promote the services available from the University. This has helped me learn a lot more about the University as well as develop my communication skills.

For the most part, I have not found much about living here too different. Thankfully the spelling remains the same e.g. ‘colour’ is ‘colour’ not ‘color’! Thankfully, I live in Vancouver where the weather is a lot milder than other places in Canada. The weather is also very similar to London, i.e. rain, rain and more rain. If you are planning on moving to Vancouver, NEVER go anywhere without an umbrella. Please. A surprising discovery was how much everything is taxed here which in my opinion makes things much more expensive. In the UK, VAT is included in the price on the tags so you don’t really notice it. In Canada, like the US, it is not included in the retail price so you have to make sure you have enough money as you do not want to be embarrassed at the till! Generally Canadians are friendly people, of course you will find the oddball here and there but most people are very approachable and accepting as it is a very diverse country with lots of different cultures.

Preparing for life at University is difficult as students have to come to grasp with a totally different way of learning (insert independent!). Doing this in unfamiliar surroundings sometimes feels like an additional hurdle to overcome on the path to succeeding. My advice to international students would be to ensure that you look out for the support available from your University. In today’s connected world it is much easier to stay in touch with family and friends. It is hard but what about life isn’t?

Overall, I would say that I’m happy here and this is for several reasons. Going abroad to study has increased my confidence and independence beyond my imagination. Here, I am responsible for the choices I make and how I choose to conduct myself both at school and socially. Therefore, I would recommend that if you have the opportunity to study abroad even if it’s just for a year, take it. You are going to discover new things about yourself that you didn’t realise before.  Also, not very many people get the opportunity to study abroad and for that I will always be grateful.

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#UniAdvice – 7 Ways to Enhance your University Experience

University studentsWhat thoughts come to mind when you reflect on your time at University? If you could go back in time and start out again, would you do anything differently? For students currently in Higher Education, have you ever thought about what you want to take away from your time at University? 

The answers to the questions posed above are quite revealing. Recent graduates says things like ‘I wish I had focused on identifying and developing, skills, attributes and more importantly, relationships that were necessary to succeed after University.‘ Interestingly, for the most part, current students tell us that they want to finish with a good degree (2:1) and have some fun while doing it. There is nothing wrong with having a good time at Uni, in fact, it is advisable you do! This article is about thinking of ways to make the most of the relatively short time you spend in Higher Education.

Begin with the end in mind – While graduation may seem a long way off in your first year, sooner or later your course will come to an end. Apart from a degree certificate, what else are you going to leave with? ‘Beginning with the end in mind’ is a concept that was first described by Stephen Covey in his best selling book, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.’ This is about reflecting on where you want to be at the end of an endeavour before you start out. In other words, throughout your time at Uni, think about what you want to leave with. This allows you to modify your thinking and actions towards SMART goals to get you there. This enables you recognise and  maximise resources at your disposal. How do you want your CV to look on the day you graduate? Start working on it from Day 1!

Experience, experience, experience – If you do not do anything else while at University, try and get some relevant experience. The key word being relevant. If you are studying for a degree in Biomedical Science today in the UK, it will be near on impossible to get into a graduate training position without some laboratory experience. Having a part time job in a bar may provide some much needed funds but just won’t cut it for the type of job you are after. This is because Universities are churning out graduates by the thousands each year and there are just so many jobs. Even if it is an unpaid internship, see it as an investment in your future. Another benefit besides making yourself more employable is that you can decide if that profession is for you or not. Believe us, you do not want to get stuck in a career that you derive no satisfaction from.

Get involved! – You’ve committed the next 3-4 years of your life to your University, you might as well get more out of it than a degree certificate. Join a Society or start one. Become a Peer Mentor, a Student representative for your course or run for the Student Union. Organise a student conference or plan a study trip that can help take your learning outside the classroom. Become a student ambassador and engage with prospective students on Open Days. If you’re that way inclined, sign up for University Challenge! Do something that shows you are able to take initiative and are innovative. Do not just go through your University, allow your University go through you too.

Use your University’s Careers service – We are constantly surprised at the number of students that pass through a University and never speak to a single Careers Adviser! These are specially trained individuals who can provide advice and help you with creating a CV, personal statement, filling in application forms, interview preparation and so much more. Most importantly, the service is free! A number of Universities now organise Career fairs and events, providing opportunities to network with prospective employers. We advise making an appointment with a Careers advisor at least once each academic year. This allows you review what you have done in the past year and identify skill gaps. You can then set goals to fill in any ‘gaps’ for the next year. It can sometimes be difficult to see the link between work experience and skills developed. A good Careers Advisor can help with that and help you enhance your CV.

Join a relevant professional body or Learned Society – Most disciplines are associated with a professional body. If you are in your 2nd or 3rd year at University and do not know which body is relevant to your discipline…there are no words! There are many advantages to joining a professional body including – careers advice tailored to your discipline, information about conferences which provide networking opportunities, grants to support you attending a conference etc. Many of these organisations offer reduced rates for students (sorry not free) but are definitely value for money.

Develop key horizontal and vertical relationships – So you want to be a lawyer, accountant or dietitian? How many professionals in your field do you know? Is it possible to ask one of them to mentor you? Mentoring (vertical upwards) relationships are very powerful in opening doors and getting a leg in. You can only get so much information online. Mentors come with a breadth and depth of experience that cannot be obtained from lectures or textbooks. What about you? You can develop mentoring relationships (vertical downwards) with students just starting out. Tell them what you wish someone had told you when you were starting out. Maintain a good relationship with your peers (horizontal). They are the future of your profession and you never know when you will need their skills and expertise.

Do your homework – What do you want to do when you finish? Get a job, start your own business, maybe both, maybe neither? Know what is required for your next step. Will professional certifications put you at an advantage? What are the main skills and attributes employers are looking for in your sector? Where are you now and what do you need to get where you want to be?

This is by no means an exhaustive list and we may do a follow up post soon. We would love to hear your thoughts too so please join the conversation by clicking the comments button.

aa-headshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology, Amara is building her career in academia, teaching and supporting a new generation of scientists as well as undertaking research. Amara believes in the combined power of education and developing productive relationships as essential tools for building successful careers. She tweets @amaratweets.

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