Previously, we covered how to add communication skills to our CVs; now it’s time to consider teamwork and networking! In science it can sometimes seem like finding ways to work as part of a team are difficult – after all, how many people does it take to do a Western blot? However, there are ways that we can show that we are able to work effectively and communicate with others in a group to achieve a common goal, and we can expand this idea to networking with other groups as well.
The Need to Team Up
Science can be so frustrating sometimes. In my experience, sometimes I’ve had to do the same experiment over and over again, often for silly reasons like a reagent has unexpectedly gone off, but sometimes the protocol just isn’t right for what you’re doing. It’s times like this that we need to call on our peers for advice (and sometimes be the ones giving it). It’s skills like these that employers like to see: they don’t want you sitting and agonising at a bench wasting time and money trying to get something to work – they want to see you can admit you’re stuck and ask for help. Equally, they like to see that you can offer suggestions and help, even when it isn’t needed. Businesses need to be kept in good running order – like a well-oiled machine – and by acting as a team player, you can maximise their efficiency.
How to be a Team Player
When it comes to being part of a team, some of us can be reluctant. I hated team projects in school, because I felt the less hard-working people I’d been stuck with would bring my efforts and final grade down. It wasn’t until I was older that I realised a big part of teamwork is knowing how to handle these people. It’s times like these where you have to show that you can be organised and a bit of a leader. Delegate the right jobs to the right people: look at their skills and see what they are most suited to do. Imagine this: you’re working in a lab and are tasked with creating a chimeric receptor (that is, a receptor composed of components from two or more different species). Obviously this is going to require a number of skills: molecular biology, PCR, cloning, transformation, cell culture and protein analysis (and probably more!). Think about who in your team is good at what – it’s no good having somebody who specialises in cell culture doing the molecular biology and cloning portion of the project. If they’re not confident in those skills, it could take weeks or months to accomplish anything. Instead, have them look into transfection reagents and the ideal cell lines for the purpose. Likewise, have the protein scientists look into appropriate antibodies and buffer conditions for your final product. By splitting the work up this way, you’re maximising the chances of success.
But teamwork in science doesn’t have to be limited to the lab. Employers like to see that teamwork is something that you can apply to any situation, and not just at the bench. Try organising a team-building day out: for instance, some outdoor-oriented companies offer team-building days where you need to work together to figure out puzzles or to achieve a common goal. Or try organising a social event at your institute with a group of people: put together a Christmas Charity Quiz, or perhaps get people to participate in something like Movember, with a party at the end to celebrate the funds raised. Parties are a great (and fun) way to divide up a workload.
Friends of mine have also attended interviews where they are presented with a “teamwork role play” test. Sounds crazy, right? One friend of mine had to pretend (along with the other people being interviewed for the job) that they’d been in a plane crash and were now on a desert island. The company observed them, and wanted to see how people reacted when in an unfamiliar situation – who were the natural leaders and followers? And who could lead without being overbearing? A good tip in these situations is to make sure you’re heard and that you can also listen and take other opinions on board. Don’t stand there and do what everyone else tells you to – you need to show some initiative!
Expanding from your team to others: Networking
Working with people you know is all well and good. But another good skill is to be able to seek out other groups with similar objectives and look for an opportunity to collaborate. Through collaborating, you not only get two different teams working together, you also benefit from the other team possibly having access to resources you don’t have. Good opportunities for finding collaborators are at conferences (no need to feel intimidated… a lot of people presenting at conferences are PhD students who will probably appreciate any help and advice you can offer!) and through the course of your reading. You may find a particularly useful paper where the authors used a technique you may have found useful, or perhaps they developed a cell line or an antibody that could work for you. Having the initiative to contact that group and get something useful out of them and organise Material Transfer Agreements looks good on your CV – plus, sharing materials often saves you (and your lab’s budget) money!
Don’t panic. Chances are you’ve already accomplished some things which can be construed as team work. For example, if your lab has a common goal or disease it studies, you can talk about how your project contributed to the overall aim – perhaps you’re planning on combining your research with somebody else and submitting a paper? And in the years you’ve been carrying out your PhD, you are more than likely to have played a team role in presenting some data or teaching less experienced people techniques you’re more experienced at. Or maybe you’ve even made your own protocol which you’ve shared, or you were instrumental in getting a cell line or other reagent that improved everyone’s experiments. Perhaps you helped to write a grant which brought in money, or organised an outreach event to your community with your peers. All of these things add up to helping out your team, and look good on your CV. However, do consider trying to add an extra teamworking achievement to your CV – it’s the unusual achievements we put down which stand out the most and get you the most credit and attention from potential employers!
Do you have any tips or experiences in team work? Share them in the comments section below!
Finishing Flatland, a novella published by British mathematician and teacher Edwin Abbott a good 20 years before Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and the growth of quantum mechanics, leaves the reader wondering what Abbott could possibly have known about these later figures and events. But the book’s very existence underscores just how fundamental those 20th […]
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