With a Ph.D. in physics, Torsten Wegner left academia to follow an alternative career path. He now shares with us the lessons he learned as he successfully entered the job market. In part I of the short series "Making the Transition: From Graduate Studies to the Job Market," Torsten describes the beginnings of his odyssey.
I must admit that I was quite surprised when the German Editor of this magazine asked me to write about my application odyssey. However, after I started writing down what I've learned during this recent period of my life, I found that it might be quite helpful for people who stand now where I was one or two years ago, unaware of what it means "to make the transition." So if you happen to face this phase, then I would kindly, yet urgently, suggest you read the following articles. Take some of your precious time, and join me on this virtual journey into the world of applications, interviews, presentations, courses ... into the life after university. ...
The question crossed my mind for the first time during the first year of my Ph.D. studies in physics. Software, hardware, management, or the academic career? I knew the latter, I had no clue what to expect from the others. And, not completely unlike many fellow Ph.D. students, I decided to postpone my decision for later. Instead I surfed my way through the Internet ( www.arbeitsamt.de, www.jobpilot.de) to get a first impression of what kind of positions are actually available. I found that the number of offers for young, successful scientists is, depending on your subject, overwhelming.
Again faced with the need to make a decision, I called the job office's university unit "Hochschulteam," a special unit at all major job offices (Arbeitsämter) set up solely to help young academics find their way into the job market. And I was flabbergasted when my appointment was scheduled 2 months later. Still, when the going gets tough ... After participating in this event, I would not really advise anyone to do it, although the officers were quite kindly. The first question I got to hear was: "Well then, what do you want to do?" Excuse me, if I had known, would I have been there? "Well then, you are qualified to do anything you want." It was hard to conceal my disappointment.
After some time and many, many talks with friends and fellow students, I realized I did not want to become the nth-plus-one academic with the Birkenstocks under his table, unable to answer any question going beyond the academic world. Eager to get going and do at least something, I plunged into a two-day application training offered in a publication by the "Hochschulteam"--and again postponed my final decision on what to do with that knowledge.
The course was not as sophisticated as I had feared before, but it proved valuable in giving me a better feeling for what to expect. Of course, one knows that keeping eye contact during a job interview has a different effect than a glazy look outside the window and that it is not to the advantage of the applicant to appear in a jumper. During the first day of this course, all details concerning a successful application were highlighted. I carefully wrote them all down and started to get extremely nervous. The second day I was submitted to a mock interview that was recorded on video and evaluated professionally afterwards. Now there I was, perfectly capable of surviving a job interview but still left in the dark concerning what to apply to.