Expert offers advice, words of encouragement for science students seeking jobs

Dr. David Olson spoke to attendees about job hunting in the science industry Tuesday in the Baylor Science Building. Katy Mae Turner | Photographer

By Sarah Wang | Staff Writer

In an attempt to help science students tackle job-hunting in the scientific industry, the Career Center hosted a panel called “Scientific Job Hunting: Differentiating Yourself from the Crowd” Tuesday in the Baylor Science Building.

Dr. David Olsen, scientific associate vice president at Merck Research Laboratories with expertise in the science industry for more than 30 years, spoke throughout the panel. As an individual who is on “both sides of the table,” Olsen said he has interviewed more than 100 people in the field, and the “cheat code,” is all about differentiating oneself from the crowd.

Starting with basic interview preparations and guidelines, Olsen addressed both the scientist and human resources side of interviews to give students a better picture of what scenarios they should expect. He also advised on how students can be better prepared before entering the workplace.

The job interviewing process is not just the scientific credentials, but it’s the demeanor. It’s how you present yourself because any hiring manager is looking at you as an individual, and to be honest, it’s quite easy to find a lot of people who are qualified scientifically for a job,” Olsen said. “It’s really a much more difficult to find someone that’s going to fit in with the people in the lab.”

Olsen highlighted curiosity as one of the characteristics employers in the science industry are often seeking from applicants.

According to Olsen, interviewees should come up with better answers than “I don’t know,” if they are being asked questions that are beyond their knowledge.

“The answer I’m looking for here is, ‘With the knowledge that I have, here’s my best guess,'” Olsen said. “It’s showing your dialoguing with me on a scientific level, and I want to hire someone that has curiosity.”

Olsen also said he suggested applicants should demonstrate curiosity by asking questions. This will show the applicants have done their research on the company they are interviewing for and are curious to learn about their opportunities.

“One of the most important things you can do during the interview is to ask good questions,” Olsen said. “Never ever say all my questions are answered. If you can’t ask me one question after we’ve been talking for 15 or 20 minutes, I’ll advocate super strongly the next day that this person has zero intellectual curiosity.”

On the human resources side, Olsen also provided guidelines to deal with phone interviews, face-to-face interviews and performance in a professional environment. He shared insights on an employer’s favorite answers from applicants, how applicants are assessed on the day of their interview and the appropriate ways to handle business cards.

Dr. Joseph Taube, associate professor in biology, said for students, the best takeaway from this lecture is to prepare for an interview by doing background research on who they are going to speak with, and bring passion to their answers.

“This lecture was a fantastic opportunity for Baylor grad students and undergrad students to get an inside view of how pharmaceutical companies function and how to get a job there and how to accomplish great science outside of academia,” Taube said.

Taube also said this lecture differentiates itself from the general job-hunting lectures with Olsen’s expertise in the field.

“The key feature of this lecture was his firsthand experience interviewing so many people and knowing what makes a great hire and giving really concrete examples,” Taube said.

Olsen closed the lecture with a poster that said “never give up.” He provided some last words of encouragement to the students who were planning on entering the industry soon.

“Feeling comfortable in an interview setting, takes place,” Olsen said. “What is a better way to practice for a job than going into it?”