Association of Polar Early Career Scientists

APECS cryo mentor panel picAGU 2013: Cryosphere Career Development Mentor Panel & Pub Networking Event
December 12, 2013 from 6-7pm
Moscone South Mezzanine room 270-274, San Francisco, CA

There are many challenges faced by early-career polar scientists as they transition from their graduate studies to private-sector, government, or academic jobs. This panel discussion addressed the exciting career opportunities and challenges faced by scientists who study various aspects of the Cryosphere through a question and answer session with four panelists at various stages of their careers both within and outside of academia.

The panelists included (from left to right in the photo) Dr. Jennifer Kay (National Center for Atmospheric Research), Lynn Yarmey (National Snow and Ice Data Center), Dr. Gwenn Flowers (Simon Fraser University), and Dr. Ryan Neely (National Center for Atmospheric Research).

This event was made possible through a partnership between the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS) and the AGU Cryosphere Focus Group. We extend our thanks to the partner organizations and panelists: this event would not have been successful without your participation and support!

After the panel, the evening of discussion and networking was continued at the nearby John Colins pub. We thank the AGU Cryosphere Focus Group for providing pizza for the panel attendees during the pub networking event, which helped prolong the post-panel networking and provided the early-career panel attendees with an opportunity to interact with the panelists in a casual setting.

Key Tips/General Advice
1) Don't judge what you do and do not want to do for your career at the end of your PhD because you'll be exhausted and worn-out and you may need to take some time to recover. If you take time off, you can simply list years rather than months and years in your CV in order to fill the gap time.
2) At the end of your PhD and/or while appointed as a post doctoral researcher, apply for all the jobs that you would actually want, even if they may seem like a bit of a stretch because the employee may think of you for a job in the future.
3) Have something to say to each person that you meet with during an interview. It's totally acceptable to keep a 'cheat sheet' with talking points.

Questions & Answers (summarized)
Q: Did you consider working in the private sector/industry? Do you know of opportunities outside of academia?
A: The National Science Foundation hires consultants for polar field services that are engaged in the Arctic but are not necessarily carrying-out science. In general, IT and consulting companies will recruit people with transferrable skills (like remote sensing, programming, etc.) but may not otherwise have a background in the specific services that the company provides. If you have a background in instrument design, you can either start your own company or look for work at instrumentation corporations that value the scientific approach to problem solving.

Q: What about non-profit organizations? Do you know of anyone who works for one or of any organizations that are interested in polar scientists?
A: Although Arctic research needs to engage local communities, there are few non-profit organizations that fill that niche, leaving the door open for people interested in developing their own non-profit polar community outreach organization. Polar Bears International ( works toward educating people about polar bears and climate change.

Q: How do you learn/develop data management and grant writing skills?
A: Seek mentorship from either your advisor or other successful scientists and ask to participate in writing a proposal (or part thereof). You want to gain proposal writing experience when it is low-stakes, meaning your job doesn't depend on the proposal getting funded. Reviewing other proposals can also be helpful so ask to review proposals written by your peers or volunteer to serve on a panel review for a funding agency. Data management skills can also be developed through training courses on data curation offered by university libraries or online tutorials.

Q: What is the current outlook on government funding?
A: There is a continued, growing interested in climate change and polar regions so funding opportunities will not totally disappear but you need to make the most out of the limited opportunities that are available. You can also apply to receive funding from private organizations that are invested in the environment and the impacts of climate change.

Q: How do you decide when to apply for a faculty position?
A: You should be confident that you will be able to conduct your own research, but if you really want a job, it doesn't hurt to apply for it even if you do not feel totally prepared because a forward-thinking place will give you extra time to develop (e.g., delay start time to complete a post doc appointment). It's important to keep in mind that the timing of job applications is different in the US (fall to winter) and Europe (spring) so make sure you are looking for opportunities at the right time.

Q: What goes into a job application in academia?
A: Put together research and teaching statements and your CV. Compile some publications that highlight your work. Ask if people that can serve as good referees can write you letters of recommendation and fill them in on the details of each job so they can tailor the letters accordingly. Write a cover letter for each job that is specifically tailored to that job (i.e., how you meet their qualifications and needs). If you have to submit publications, include why you think they are important to the scientific community. If applying to a job in Europe, you may be asked to write a personal statement asking you to evaluate yourself (tip: initially write it in the third-person then go back and change all references to yourself to 'I's).

Q: Can you give some insight on the tenure process?
A: If you have been working hard, get funding, mentor students, teach, etc., you have already been preparing yourself for success. In this case, a large amount of stress is self-imposed and you really shouldn't worry too much in advance.

Q: How do you balance your responsibilities at a current position while looking for another job?
A: Be sure to clarify expectations with your current supervisor because each supervisor will have a different opinion regarding whether you can work on application materials at work. If you ask your boss for a letter of recommendation, they will know you are applying, so it is best to define expectations in advance.

Q: How do you handle reference letters? How much information should you tell your referees about the job? How many referees should you have lined-up?
A: Ask for letters from potential referees well in advance of deadlines. Once a referee has an initial letter prepared for you, it doesn't take them much work to modify the letter for each job. When you ask for them to write a letter for a specific job, include a draft of your CV (at the least) and other application materials as you feel fit. Ask for letters from numerous referees that will all write you strong letters. If you start a new job, you don't necessarily have to get a letter from your current supervisor because they may not know you and your work well enough to write a strong letter. Try to get letters from referees at multiple institutes, however, the strength of the letter is paramount so don't select someone just to add diversity.

Contact APECS

APECS International Directorate
Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research
Telegrafenberg A43
14473 Potsdam
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