Friday, March 30, 2012

Higher Education Conference Paper Accepted!

My alma mater's data shows that with graduate students from the past 7 years, only 15% of the them were currently in academic appointments. Academic mentors supervise them. What about the other 85%? We need non-academic leaders back in the ivory tower to advise and mentor.

In the spirit of academia, I wrote a paper submission to a Higher Education Conference about implementing a shift in graduate education with mandatory career development courses and my overall vision for the future. After peer review, it was accepted! I am presenting it in June, 2012.

When it becomes officially published, I will link it in.
It's an exciting time when a passion grows and becomes a career!

Thursday, March 29, 2012


You can now follow me on Twitter!
Nana Lee @NanaLee03

Symposium on Preparing for Your Career During Graduate School

I will be delivering this interactive discussion at U of Toronto, Main Campus on Thursday April 5 at 11 am. If you are interested in attending and not already on the mailing list, please contact me through LinkedIn, and I will send you the details!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Essential Soft Skills

Here are the soft skills required to enjoy a successful career and overall life during and after school.

1. Leadership. Take the initiative to create something you have a passion for, science related or not.

2. Collaboration and teamwork. If you think your science or other works would benefit from a collaboration, make it happen.

3. Interpersonal skills. Learn to work with many different types of scientists, teachers, entrepreneurs, students, other members of society outside your circle. This can be strengthened if you work on 1) and 2).

4. Effective communication. Learn to keep emails, oral presentations, discussions, reports as brief yet informative as possible. Less is more. Edit your emails. Listen. Follow-up. Ask for feedback. (See my entries about Listen, Follow-up and Feedback) This is critical for 3).

5. Networking. LinkedIn and other social media make networking something you can do even from home while the baby takes a nap (See Networking, LinkedIn.)

6. Multi-tasking. Time management is critical for any profession and integrating life (See Dividing the Hours in a Day.)

7. Problem-solving while meeting deadlines and within budget. Skills 1-6 are needed to make sure this happens.

8. Mentorship. Accrue a personal advisory board. Mentor others.

Everything is a full circle.

If one sentence can wrap all this up, it would be: live life with passion, initiative, fair communication with respect and good will to all others. That's it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Life's Career Transitions

Here are life's transition moments:

1. Undergraduate to Graduate school
2. Graduate school to Postdoc(s)
3. Postdoc(s) to a "Real" Job
4. Early Scientist to Mid-Career Scientist
5. Mid to Late
6. Official "Retirement"

Somewhere in there, there is also a side-step transition into motherhood or fatherhood, and then back. Some may have more than one postdoc. Some may have many mid-career transitions. Some may have multiple careers such as an academic administrator, CEO, author, mentor.

One of my advisors retired recently, and I found that he was faced with a similiar career transition. He still wants to give back, but was always the professor and researcher. It may take him a while to find his niche after the "official" retirement. Having said that, he faces the same issues as we do, transitioning from postdoc to industry, motherhood back to career.

Career transition skills continue throughout life. It only really hits grad students and postdocs, as they are no longer told which class to take, which papers to write. Students and postdocs have to use their own career transition skills, combined with their science to come up with their career niche. That's challenging for some, as these skills have never really been fostered for them.

Going from school to postdocs and perhaps even the first job is the easy part. When the expected job progression is "modified" with children, aging parents, downsizing companies, outside interests, then life becomes interesting. Life brings forth an "intermission" time which you can reflect and self assess. These are the rare moments in life when you can see what you are really made out of.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Parents with PhDs

These three words open up an explosion of discussions.

Let's look at some examples I know of.

1. Mom defends her PhD a few weeks before delivery of her second baby and with 2 year-old. It has been a climb, but she is finished! She takes time off with newborn, is involved in community projects, but how does she re-enter science after years away from research?

2. Dad is stay-at-home with 2 year-old and 3 month old as Mom is a Director. He has had biotech industry experience; but the last 2 years, he has not even had time to pursue his own interests, let alone read an article! Now what?

3. Mom leaves her Director position to have three children. Five years later - now what?

There are no support systems to help these parents. Fellowship funding after childrearing is often limited to 2 years (any other information out there?) And, older parents who were already in mid-management science positions do not qualify for fellowships.

I will tell you though that these parents are just as effective, if not more, in performance. Multi-tasking, meeting deadlines, budgeting, negotiation are all skills perfected in parenting. The only thing these parents need to have are the "refresher" conferences, meetings and time to read the latest science articles.

The only way to do that is direct financial and time investment.

1. Attend a conference.
2. Dedicate at least 2-5 hours a week on reading up on science (while they sleep), and global scientific issues.
3. Keep in touch with the network - ask them what they and the organization are up to.
4. Mentor. You still can.
5. Be mentored (mentornet).
6. Sit on an advisory board.
7. Speak at career development talks for students.
8. Organize a local Moms and Dads in Science Group or Peer Mentorship Group.
9. Volunteer for a science-related cause.

To all these parents, you have to squeeze out the time. Somehow, it has to be done, to keep in touch. Then, through all these activities, you will make connections and assess your own career eventually find your path.

It may be lonely sometimes.
Sometimes you will doubt yourself.
This "career transition" may be the toughest one yet, but don't give up! You have the intelligence. Just add some creativity and you'll get there.

Just New: LinkedIn Group "Parents with PhDs." See you there!

Another resource:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Really Live Each Day

If this was your last day, would you be happy with what you accomplished, what you contributed to the world?

It's the little things. Did you listen to your loved ones? Did you take the time to really listen and hug your children? Did you contribute to your work with as much passion as you wanted to? Did you say good night with nothing left unsaid and no one left upset? Were you content with your actions and your words towards other people?

Did you sing or dance? Singing, whether you are a vocalist or not, is an expression of your soul. You must sing - in the car when you are by yourself or out loud with a huge audience. You feel better. I am a scientist, but my whole life would be very empty without the expression of the spirit. If you haven't carried a tune in a long time, try it. Hum while you walk or email.

Sing, work, play, laugh, love, stay good... it's your last.
"Live life with your head, each day with your heart."

That is happiness.

Virtual Job Fair for BioCareers

Bio Careers is organizing a Virtual Job Summit, the only online event for life science PhD's and MD's. Sounds like a great opportunity for everyone! Check it out at:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Seeking Career Advice

I am not quite sure why people prefer to remain anonymous or hesitant when searching for answers for a job, career, or self-assessment.

Perhaps, there may be some instances if you are applying for another job and you don't want your current employer to know. Having said that, that in itself means there is a lack of communication somewhere. If you are not happy with your job, try to address why and try changing the job within the organization.

Or perhaps you feel "embarrassed" to be asking questions about career and life. Perhaps there is a voice saying "How could I not know? I am a PhD!" Please do not feel that way. Everyone has career development and transition issues more than once in their life. Life is never a straight path. No need to feel inadequate about asking for some directions. I still do! And so do many mid and late career scientists.

If you have questions about career directions and would like some help, coming out of the shell with good questions is more than likely going to help you more. Because more than likely, somebody else is in the same shoes and wanting to ask the exact same question. To those who ask, the answers will come. And if there is a name and face behind the inquiry, key people will remember you and that extends your network.

Think Outside the Find Your Career

As mentioned in a previous entry, some of our education systems zap the creativity right out of us. All through school, university, even graduate school, jobs we are given a task to complete. We are told this is it, and thus, it is so. Some of us are not given the chance to create our own curriculum, our own collaborations, our own "Fedex" days. "Fedex" days are those in which everyone in the lab, company or organization takes 24 hours to work on anything they want. At the end of the day, presentations are given over a social meeting with food and drinks. Some of the most innovative ideas to improve efficiency, save money and resources have been invented during these "free" to create days.

I remember a colleague of mine who took the initiative to create her own major in university, something she had a passion for. She took an assortment of classes and proposed a major to the administration, and she was awarded that degree. Wow - how many of us had that creativity way back at age 19?

Creativity and thinking outside the box are critical when finding the passion for a career, not just a job, but a career you love and jump out of bed for. There are no set rules, just the scope of your imagination and self-assessment. Career objectives change throughout graduate school, and one must be flexible with that as well.

I will illustrate with an example. Student A is tired of the academic pursuit and wants to try something else. But has no idea what. Her goal of the ivory tower has changed since starting her fourth year of a PhD. During her last year, she reads up on nonacademic career options from various organizations and blogs. She fills out her LinkedIn profile, attends networking events, and realizes she has always been interested in scientific policy. There are no internships in her area. She begins talking to people about her ideas, and a colleague says she knows somebody in Washington she can talk to. Moving to DC is not an option, but she speaks to her colleague's friend and learns all about the policy world. She is given the name of another connection in her own city. She volunteers once a week in their office during her thesis write-up, and loves it. After graduation, she is given a paid position. She has entered the first year of her career.
(More on Career Transitions entry.

This pathway is not set in a box, not outlined for anyone to follow. There is no manual. Creativity, people skills, networking, communications, self-assessment, and thinking outside the box will get you there.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Week Away

Hello Readers!
I left "electronica" behind during my vacation and I found much activity! Thanks for reading! I have published all of your helpful comments and look forward to writing more tips for everyone.  More to follow later...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"The Future of the PhD"

Are there too many PhD's in the world?

My thoughts? No, not too many PhD's, I think it is marvelous we have so many educated individuals. However, it is long overdue to rethink the system that was built to train professors. Some institutions are creating graduate student career development and leadership programs, but much work remains to be done. There are not too many PhD's, but too few of these programs alongside the PhD. All higher educated individuals need some sort of guidance and options made available to mold the PhD experience into their own business tool.

Most schools have student-run career and volunteer mentorship groups. Some programs funded by university administration are scattered across North America, but some of the funding sources are up to the creativity and leadership of the program directors. Some of these are at NCSU, UC Davis, UCSF, Michigan State University. Graduate career and leadership programs need to be part of the curriculum and not "extracurricular" as they are just as important as the publications.

If your university does not have a graduate student career development office, you need to find these workshops and explore your options on your own. And find a mentor! I cannot stress this enough.

See "How do I find a Mentor?"

Relevant articles are found at:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fast Healthy Meals with Kids

As a working mom, you want to feed your family the most healthy and tasty but not take too much time. It's all about planning and selecting kid-friendly cuisine, and realizing that you do not need to make a gourmet meal each time.

My kids love rice, the rice that is mostly brown, only sold at a Korean grocery store (Galleria.) The rice is so yummy, my kids and I could eat it just plain; but it is high in fibre and contains extra vitamins and minerals. We eat it at least once a day, usually at dinner time. I have a rice-cooker with a timer, so I just wash and time it so it is ready by 5 pm.

The kids also love plain or seasoned dried, flat seaweed sheets (the same kind that you wrap sushi, called "nori" in Japanese). Nori is high in iron and is "one of the richest in protein (up to 50 percent of the plant's dry weight), and one sheet has as much fiber as a cup of raw spinach and more omega-3 fatty acids than a cup of avocado. Nori contains vitamins C (a potent antioxidant) and B12 (crucial for cognitive function) and the compound taurine, which helps control cholesterol." (

One of their favorite meals is the rice, nori, cucumbers and cheese, which only take minutes to prepare once the rice is done.

Other quick entree favorites are listed below.

1. "Smart" pasta (has extra fibre without the "wheaty" taste) with shredded cheese and some pasta sauce.
2. Tacos with cheese.
3. Homemade pizza with Fleishmann's Pizza Dough Yeast (no need to wait for it to rise, just mix it in with the flour)
4. Udon noodles (frozen or dried) in soup with fishcakes
5. Hand-made frozen yummy Dumplings (just boil)
6. Buckwheat noodles with soba sauce
7. Boiled tofu, sliced and then topped with some soy sauce with rice
8. Organic soy chicken with rice
9. Veggie, Kidney bean, mozzarella cheese Lasagna

Along with the entrees, I usually chop up at least one vegetable (peppers, cucumbers, carrots) or cook corn or peas. After the meal, I serve one type of fruit. They like all fruit. I find that if I serve a mix of fruit everyday, it loses its novelty, so I serve only one fruit per meal. Having said that, we serve much of that one fruit, as my 2 daughters are known to finish one strawberry container in one sitting. After fruit, we sometimes have ice cream.

These meals only take less than 30 minutes except for the chicken and lasagna, which may take about an hour with most of it baking/boiling time.

Breakfast is usually a high fibre cereal (I add wheat bran to each bowl) with organic milk, pancakes, toast, or leftover rice and miso soup from the night before with some fruit.

Lunch is sometimes leftover dinner, sandwiches, noodles and soup, or simple tortilla wraps with veggies and fruit. One mom friend mentioned she wanted to make a lunch muffin with cornmeal, bran, cheese, carrots - sound yummy and great to pack in a lunchbox!

Hope that give you some ideas to think about.
Have fun in the kitchen - recruit the kids to help too.

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