Job search advice from academics by academics: a short informational interview with PhDs who have taken different career trajectories.
Aimee (Richard) Garlit – Off-centered quality technician, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis.
I work in the quality control lab for a major craft brewery. We’re responsible for making sure that every beer that goes out the door is something we’re proud of. This encompasses testing everything from the alcohol by volume to the dissolved oxygen to the strength of the crown crimp. While my coworkers and I rotate through the different jobs of the lab (e.g., packaging testing, facilitating sensory panel, etc.), I’m the subject matter expert for our microbiology program, so I spend the bulk of my time on that. The micro program involves sampling tanks, plating samples on selective media, and then interpreting the results to ensure that we don’t have any contamination by bacteria or wild yeast.
How did you get your first job out of academia?
I was finishing my second year as a postdoc and had decided that academia wasn’t for me. Thankfully, my PI was really supportive of my goals, so I was able to be open about the whole job search with both him and my labmates. I had spoken with some people in the beer industry about how to job search, and while there are a few websites with job listings, which I did use, networking seemed to be the most effective tool. So, I found a trade conference near me and just attended. I made a lot of good connections that day, including people who are my current co-workers!
Tell us about your academic background.
I received a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Michigan in 2012. My dissertation research revolved around the bacterial pathogen Vibrio cholerae, which causes the disease cholera. I worked on a specific regulatory RNA that this bug produces and learned that this small piece of RNA controlled a much bigger process – uptake of glucose from outside the cell. This research helped us understand how this bacterium adapts to a rapidly changing environment as it cycles between the host intestine and pond water. For my postdoctoral work, I chose to explore the other side of the host-pathogen interface. I spent two years at the University of Pennsylvania using an infant mouse co-infection model to study transmission of the bacterial pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae. Through this research, I determined that inflammation produced as a response to one infection (influenza virus) helps to promote spreading of a second pathogen (S. pneumoniae) by triggering bacterial shedding via mucosal secretions from the host.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?
Be persistent. The first brewery job I interviewed for picked another candidate over me because I was “overqualified”. Thankfully, I stuck with it, and am very happy in my current position. Talk to people who have the job that you want – they can often point you in the right direction of where to look!