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10. Tips on wrapping up your PhD and survive the job hunt

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In this episode, we discuss strategies for wrapping up your PhD dissertation and preparing for life after grad school. I am your Host, Ding Li. and today we have Henrique and David share their experiences around finalizing PhD theses. We talk about focusing on the minimum viable product rather than perfectionism. A done thesis is better than a perfect thesis.

Later in the show, we dive into the PhD job hunt - when to start applying, how many jobs to apply to, and skills like communication that are crucial for interviews. We also discussed the importance of talking to people who recently graduated to get insider perspectives on companies and positions.

Stick around as we reflect on the stress of the PhD job search and how to evaluate different job offers.

Whether you're still developing your thesis or already interviewing for your next steps after graduating, we hope this episode provides some guidance and reassurance during this transitional period.

Leave a comment in the youtube video or email me at [email protected]

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Ding (00m00s): In this episode, we discuss strategies for wrapping up your PhD dissertation and preparing for life after grad school. I'm your host, Ding Li, and today we have Henrique and David share their experience around finalizing PhD thesis. We talk about focusing on the minimum viable product rather than perfectionism. A done thesis is better than a perfect thesis. Later in the show, we dive into the PhD job hunt. When to start applying, how many jobs you apply to, and skills like communications are crucial for interviews. We also discuss the importance of talking to people who recently graduated to get insider perspectives on companies and positions. Stick around as we reflect on the stress of the PhD job search and how to evaluate different job offers. Whether you're still developing your thesis or already interviewing for your next steps after graduating, we hope this episode provides some guidance and reassurance during this transitional period. Let's get started.

Henrique (00m50s): Guys, this is like the hardest things to talk about because you work so hard and then you have to somehow, it all has to come to a close and then you have to make all these crazy decisions about what comes next. And so I'm very, I'm very curious where the discussion will go today.

David (01m02s): I think a professor, John Kender told me that if you were to inspect at any particular time in somebody's PhD, how close they are to finishing, if you have to ask, it's two years from that point. Exactly. Yeah. Until the dissertation is scheduled is two years away.

Henrique (01m18s): Even when you schedule it, it's crazy. There's so much you have to do between like juggling, finishing up whatever papers and talks you're currently working on. That's what's holding you back from finishing. Then you have to also do your dissertation. You have to get on the job market. You have to like finish out this relationship you have with your advisor and figure out where to go next. It's all these things that you're juggling at once.

Ding (01m40s): Yeah. David, do you want to start by talking about the minimum viable product idea that you have for thesis?

David (01m44s): Yes, absolutely. I think when you're crafting your thesis proposal, you have all these different ideas and directions you can go. Some people like me will get their thesis proposal done somewhat early, right after the candidacy exam is done. Some people will take a little bit longer or the thesis proposal will come in a few months before the thesis defense because everything coincides. What can sometimes happen is you'll have all of these different ideas, different directions you can go. You can really polish it and keep working on things. It's this 80/20 principle of I can put 20% of the effort to get 80% of the work out and that last 20% actually takes up 80% of the time. Most of the time when it comes to your thesis, you really only need that 80% of the work because all you need to do at the end of the day is satisfy what your advisor is looking for, your committee is looking for, and something that you can ultimately live with stamping your name on moving forward. You need to find that minimum viable product to satisfy all of those constraints because ultimately you can do all of those nice fancy things at your next job. At whatever you're going to do after this. And it'd be better to do those as a doctor than as a PhD student.

Henrique (02m48s): It's kind of like other parts of your PhD where you're working on projects and you're trying to over-optimize early on and polish everything. And then you create this amazing fancy for-loop and then your advisor is like, "This is not what we want. We need to go in a different direction." So it's better to just get something that sort of works on the table written down and then work with it and massage it if you need to. Because a lot of the times it's going to end up either moving in a different direction or you're going to have to workshop sort of what the main thesis is and all these things, even though it might seem obvious at first. The entire rest of your PhD, you're never writing a thesis. You only write one. And so it's something that you're kind of new at. So rather than pretending you know what you're doing, you just kind of put something forward and then get people who've read a bunch of these to tell you exactly what they want. And that's another part. We read some thesis when we're doing literature reviews and stuff like that as it comes up, but we're also not reading them very often. So it's this one time thing that happens right at the end. You look at other ones for reference to get a sense for what it needs to look like. But it's really this sort of script of it needs to have these chapters, it needs to have this format, whatever. And then once you start filling it out, you realize there's not too much in your control. So just get something out on paper rather than stressing out about how it's going to look and what it's going to say.

Ding (04m00s): Yeah. And for me, like, because like David said, it's this minimal viable product. You need to have agreement with the advisor, like what that minimum is. And in my case, the hard part is not the thesis part. The hard part is more like what's the criteria to graduate? Once we had that conversation, we reached an agreement, hey, this is the number of papers, the impact that you have and I can graduate. Once we say we can graduate, the thesis part for me was relatively easy. I just put all my papers together and then, you know, add the overall intro and add the overall ending and then send it to the committee member for a couple of rounds of reviews and revision. But those round of revision are relatively easy for me compared with the actual peer review papers. They're not meant to kill the paper. They're just meant to make slight improvements. And because the professors, they have committee members, they have many years of experience. They want to make sure I feel comfortable stamping my name on the thesis. So they gave some minor comments.

Henrique (04m50s): That's a great point that unlike normal peer review journals, like everyone's on your team. Like you've selected the committee or your advisor has selected the committee. Someone you trust has selected the committee. And so here are five people who have your best interest. They're looking to make sure you tick the necessary boxes, which is just like formatting random things that your university puts out. And then after that, it's, can you guys hear that? Never mind. But then after that, it's a question of is it all on paper and is it like working towards the thesis that you set out at the top? So it doesn't really matter what's on there. They're going to want to approve you as long as you tick those boxes.

David (05m26s): I think something that's really important is also deciding on that committee. You want, I've definitely heard some of my colleagues say, oh, I got the most expert people in my field to be on my committee. Almost as like, you know, I really believe in my method and I think I want to impress them. I think at some point it's really good to have people who you've worked with already, who you're familiar with, so that you can sort of anticipate their needs, their requirements. And also these are, it's sort of a nice way for you all to come together as a camaraderie of you finished the PhD. This is really impressive. I worked with you this whole time and it's great to see you graduating and moving on and celebrating with people who you already know and like working with.

Henrique (06m05s): Yeah, I agree. I think you want to celebrate with people who mean a lot to you because like you put so many years into your PhD and whatever the paper is that you come out of it with like this thesis, you can use that to impress new people who you haven't met. So if you feel really good and you want to use them just to get like a recommendation or to like put yourself on their map and on their radar, that's one thing. But like years from now, you're going to either have their recommendation or not. But really it's these people who are with you along the way that are really important. So you want to sort of thank them and show your appreciation for them. While at the same time, like knowing that you'll have something that you can send out to other people that you can reach out to them with. So they don't necessarily have to be in your committee unless you're like about to start working with them or something. And this is like so important to you, but that really varies depending on what field you're going into.

Ding (06m52s): Yeah. And I think for committee members, it's also your advisor usually can help a lot. In my experience, it's a, I put together the first version through my internship advisors and then university collaborators and that probably already constituted maybe half of the committee. And then my advisor will kind of like David said, to find the researchers, professors who are more or less on the same page, who are interested in the same direction. Maybe we have never collaborated, but we look at each other's work and appreciate the efforts so that can form a very constructive committee. We don't have to spend a lot of time convincing each other. This is an important question to like problem to work on.

Henrique (07m28s): I mean, that's just figuring out the thesis on its own is something you have to like discuss with your advisor, I think pretty early on. So I'd say probably right after your candidacy, as you're approaching your final product, your final paper, you start to sort of imagine what is it that's tying them all together? And in a lot of cases, it's simple where it's just like a continuation of words that sort of create one full body. Or you're sort of stringing together different ideas, which is perfectly valid. It's just there. Then you have to find sort of what is the common theme between them and then find out how to glue those two to those two or three projects together. But in any case, if you discuss that early on with your advisor, you can at least know that like they're willing to like vouch for you and then they'll find the committee that sort of also supports that. Whether it's like one for each project or they all sort of agree with where you ended up and are interested in how you got there. It doesn't really matter. But just taking that load off your shoulder will be huge, given that while you're writing this, you're also, like I said, working on so many other projects. You're probably mentoring someone who is like relatively new. You're giving talks for the papers that you are including in your thesis. And then you're also starting to look at the code if you're going to industry. And so you're cranking out hours doing that and figuring out how to get on the job on the job market, which is also something you should have been doing already for like a year in advance before you even finished your thesis.

Ding (08m47s): Yeah. Yeah. This is a great segue to talk about the other side of like wrapping up your thesis. So we talk about thesis committees. And so now let's talk about the job side. So you mentioned you have to talk a lot of things. Do you want to add more?

Henrique (08m58s): Yeah, I would say that there's like at the end of it, it's kind of a weird time because you're making all these huge life decisions. You're you're figuring out how to like close this chapter on literally your thesis. But you're also trying to figure out what is the next job you're going to take, whether it's like academic, want to become a professor or if you're looking to get into industry. Both of those come with questions of like, where are you going to be? So you're looking at like upending your life and moving to another city, possibly while preparing for these interviews, which takes a long time. If you're in the academic cycle, then there's like set months where people start to interview and look for things. If you're on the job market in general, you have to sort of on this rolling basis, get your name out there while preparing for interviews. And there's certain things that are outside your control, like what the state of the economy is and who's hiring. Like you can there's nothing you can do about that, whether there's like a global pandemic and you're going to be doing your interview over Zoom as opposed to like in person. There's nothing you can do about that. But really, the only thing you can do is like control how much studying you do, how much prep you do and like how quickly you put out your thesis, which is why it's important to just get this minimum viable product out there as early as possible because you have to focus on other things. I don't know if you guys agree. I completely agree with that. Something that's really important during the job hunt is cast as wide of a net as possible.

David (10m18s): There's a lot of opportunities out there that either you don't realize exist because you're myopically focused on maybe a company, you know, like for a lot of people in my field, it's the big name companies. It's the Fang companies. They're really exciting and enticing. And there's a lot of really good stuff going on there. There's a lot of really smart people there. And there's a lot of really smart people at other places, too. You're going to learn. It's really in a lot of ways your first job straight out of academia, whether you've had a career experience before. Often this really changes in colors the way you do work forward. It's OK for the first job you have coming out of grad school to not be your permanent job the rest of your life, especially given that people are changing jobs all the time. So it can be really beneficial to get lots of different experiences. You can go to startups, you can go to an academic job, you go postdoc and all of those things are equally valid. And so it's best to to apply. I personally applied to over 100 jobs last year when I was looking for companies to work for. I had interviews all the time. I was constantly juggling like how many people I'm talking to every day. But at the end of the day, I got a job that I was really excited about twice because I was able to cast such a wide net.

Henrique (11m35s): It's also it's useful because you're you're giving yourself prep, like you're you're doing these interviews, hopefully with companies that you're less excited about at first. You're getting this rest off and you're learning how it works because it's it's again, it's a process where you're sitting there and you're having to prove to someone that you're smart, who may or may not have read your stuff and then sort of like figure out if it's the right fit for you. So the more that you talk to, like the more you start to understand what it is that you like about certain things. And it's also like these companies are all hiring at different paces. So I would say I thought it was going to be like a quick like I only need like a month or two to start looking into it. And then it ended up taking like six months, eight months between finishing the dissertation and like all the different rounds of interviews and like hiring freezes and whatnot because of the economy. I had originally planned to only apply to like three or four companies I was super interested in and then applying to like dozens and dozens and then ended up at a job that I'd never imagined like initially at the offset that I would be at. And I'm super happy. And so it's just a question of like what's available, which is beyond your control, getting the right like practice and then using that to sort of figure out also internally what you like. Like as you talk to these companies, you're going to realize they're going to offer you different sorts of perks or different places and your own reaction to what they offer you is going to tell you whether you like it or not. But that's not something you can just like write a pro-sponsor list before you start applying. It's only after you see that it's like a real possibility and they start giving you numbers and locations to think about that you start to actually internalize it.

Ding (12m59s): Yeah, I completely agree. Like many PhD students that I know, they limited their interview pool to like the fan companies and some will also consider academia. So they are kind of just juggling between the small pool of universities and fan companies. And I did not take that approach when I applied. I'm very similar to David and Hiki. I applied to dozens and dozens of places. I forget if I applied to a hundred or not, but it's definitely in the high fifties, the high seventies. And only a small percent of them eventually got back to me because the net is so wide that I'm not well connected in a lot of those companies. So it's reasonable that they never got back to me. But then out of the those that we end up connecting, I feel like I've learned a lot about those companies. And that kind of built up my own confidence that, okay, I'm picking out the ones that that that are truly passionate about. I know they're really creative work going on in like FinTech, on Dells driving car, on whatnot. But I'm just more passionate about the things like creative tools, the things that I end up doing the most that help me settle me down for a couple of years until my interest like pivot again.

Henrique (14m01s): It's also like your interest change and it's draw your PhD. I'm sure if you check in with yourself like every year where you want to end up, that is likely going to change, which is like all the more reason why you need to sort of be thinking about this both along the way and making the right connections along the way. Like a lot of the understanding I got about the companies I was applying to was from talking to people who had graduated recently within like one, two, three years and trying to understand what it's like on the other side, because like that's what you're going to experience. And it's not the same as like in an internship where even in a research internship, you're just like working on a fun project. Now you have like sort of like larger responsibilities. You might have interns of your own and you're also having to like permanently relocate. And so talking to people about that experience gets you to sort of prepare yourself mentally for all the different options. It also helps with the whole networking aspect of like them letting you know this particular team is hiring. I think it'd be a good fit for you and whatnot. And maybe it's a team you hadn't even knew existed or you hadn't considered applying to originally. So like when did you guys start applying? Like what at what point? Like how many months or days or years before your actual defense did you guys like send out your first resume?

David (15m05s): I started applying. So I graduated May of last year. I started applying November of the previous of 2021. Roughly six months. But I think the bulk of the interviewing that actually happened was February to April. In April, I finally decided on the company. I will say that that was really helpful for actually defending because I got to practice the thesis talk over and over and over again with every single company. So that is also a benefit to doing this early in that you can kind of do a rough draft of your talk a bunch of times.

Henrique (15m39s): That's the other thing. I forgot about the talk. I had I had to give a different talk depending on each company. And they were all like different mixtures of my slides for my defense. I also I think maybe slightly different to you guys. I defended before I had accepted. So I was like I was still on the market while I'm like deciding. I had done multiple rounds of interviews. I was sort of negotiating like trying to figure out where I was going to land. But I didn't have something. So it was a weird feeling of like at the end there like congratulations on your defense. Like where are you going now? And you're like, I don't know. I'll let you know in like a week or two when I finish negotiating.

Ding (16m12s): But when did you start? I graduated in July of 2018. And then I think I sent out my first application in February that year. So like four to five months before. Yeah. And then for the first three months is just interviewing at this diverse pool of companies. And then for the final one or two months is focusing on the companies that I originally had high hopes for.

Henrique (16m33s): Like the research labs. It's similar to like applying to undergrad where you have like your REACH schools, your safety schools. Like you have all like the different spectrum because at the end of the day you want to make sure you have a job. But it's also you're not entirely sure what it is that you want or who's going to be hiring. It's just so hard to be like have anything along those lines in your control. And like not to mention like you're still focusing on writing your thesis and you're still focusing on giving talks both for interviews but also for like conferences. So it's really it becomes a stressful time which is why it's important to both talk to your advisor and not go through it alone. I think or someone mentioned earlier like to have a job hunt buddy in terms of emotional support. Was that you David? Was that Ding?

Ding (17m13s): I wrote that down. Yeah. I think it's super helpful to have a job hunt buddy or multiple. And because you will have rough patches and then like you want to have somebody to talk to who is going through a similar struggle as you do so that you don't have to build up all the contacts and everything. Yeah. And you will, the two of you, the three of you will experience the same economic downturn or upturn. And so that will be really helpful. And at that time I had a few friends that I just texting all the time. Like whether I'm on flight because interview at that time is like all onsites are actual onsite not like virtual onsite these days. So I'm always on the road. So on the road I can keep texting and on my experience. How should I answer this question when they ask this type of like behavior question? What's the best answer you've given? We exchange information all the time. That's really helpful. Aside from reading extensive blogs online, I think getting this personal touch is also helpful.

Henrique (18m06s): Yeah. It makes you feel better like to understand the economic situation you're dealing with. Right. Like I'm not getting like rejected or turned away because I'm a bad candidate. It's I've now talked to 10 people who all have amazing resumes and I've seen their work and they're just not hiring anyone. So that gives you sort of like a little bit of a boost, especially when things start to turn south.

David (18m26s): Yeah. Yeah. My buddies were and Heeky was one of them because we were going through the same process at the same time. And Carmine Alvesio did it a little bit earlier than both of us. Yeah. But I had I think something that really helped me is I didn't have buddies that were just going through it. I had buddies who were internal to these companies, too, who were, you know, still roughly around the same age as I was. So they did this recently and they had some experience. And then I was also talking to professors and people in industry. And like I had internships at Goldman Sachs. I was talking to some of those contacts I had from before. And so I think it helps to get perspectives from lots of different people in different stages of their career, because at some level, the people who are a lot more established or have been doing this longer have a lot more of a everything's going to be OK. Yeah. Everything happens for a reason. You'll be fine. And the people who are suffering alongside of you who are also kind of naive, you know, like you can at least feel some sense of sense of catharsis about what you're going through.

Henrique (19m24s): You're commiserating because the world's on fire and you're going to be out of it. But then your advisor is telling you that they've seen 100 students graduate and they're like they all ended up with a job eventually. So like you're going to land somewhere. But you're getting caught up because like that one job you really want is not like hiring right now or whatever. And then you lose sight of the other like six amazing offers that are being handed to you right now. It's tough, especially I mean, throughout a piece. There's like dozens of instances of imposter syndrome. Like right when you start off from undergrad, like your first paper and going through all those reviews, defending now the job hunt. And they're like, this is it. Like there's all these moments. And so it's it's important to have like support and to and to use the support, whether it's like your advisor or your colleagues or people who recently graduated or are already at their jobs. Because everyone experiences it to some degree, like anyone who says they don't is lying to your face. And so it's just a matter of like getting through this rough patch and figuring out where you're going to learn. Because then after that, you have this minimum viable product of a thesis. You have everything you need to do. You just need to edit it. Everyone knows how to edit things easily. And then now you're at your job and you have this diploma that says that you're a doctor. And so here you go. Here's the rest of your life.

Ding (20m35s): Yeah. I want to follow up on the point of not just talking with your peers, but also people who are slightly senior than you, but not too senior that they're like out of touch. And I find that super helpful because they some of the most interesting, like useful tips that they share is on how do you evaluate different offers? Because as a PhD, I was amazed by the offer numbers that I got. And that's the only thing I could look at because that's easiest to compare. You have number A and B, you know how to compare A and B. But there are a lot of things that are not really conveyed in numbers. Like, for example, how long is the commute? If you choose different companies, if you want to live in a particular area, then different companies have different commutes. And what's the PTO policy? And if they're unlimited, how many days are actually people are actually taking it? Do people actually answer the message during PTO or is it actual PTO? And those are things are more subtle. That's just not conveying any of the offer letters I got when I talk with different companies. Some companies I have contacts and they will share, oh, this is a perk, hidden perks that we all love and does not present in anywhere else. And that helped me form a better overview of what I should be looking at.

Henrique (21m37s): It's tricky because unlike in grad school when you're visiting places, both for undergrad and grad school, they let you go on campus and you meet with professors and you shake their hand and you get these 15 minutes to talk to them and ask them things. And you also talk with students. Like here, you're going on a job. You're either doing these interviews virtually and you don't know what it's like until you accept it or you get to go on site. But then the only people talking to you are people trying to convince you to accept the job offer. And you're not really talking to that many people about these other more awkward questions about perks or things that they don't like. So having that sense of community by having a friend who is a couple of years into it, who you trust and they're willing to tell you these things, I think is priceless. And then you have to sort of do that no matter what industry they're in, talk to them so you know what questions to ask when you get to the actual place that you're applying.

Ding (22m24s): I have a question. In February that year, I started prepping for like lead codes and a few weeks afterwards I started interviewing. And aside from the maybe three to four companies that have a big research lab presence, I did not end up giving job talk a lot. Like I probably did, I don't know, 20 actual interviews and out of 20, maybe three to four have job talks and maybe only one or two of them actually care about the job talk. The other two or three is just, okay, if you want to give it, give it. But we are not really using it in the evaluation. We don't know how to evaluate your job talk. So my question to you both is, do you feel like your PhD, you spent all this day publishing papers and then all the interview process is more like lead code and just coding questions. How do you think of that?

Henrique (23m05s): It's definitely true in a lot of cases where to get to the part where you're going to give the job talk, I had to already pass like three rounds of interviews of lead code. And so there's a lot of early weeding out on things that you never really focus on, especially in research.

David (23m20s): When I did my job hunts, so during the PhD, I was not just publishing papers. I started a company that was doing cryptocurrency credit default swaps on Ethereum. I helped start another company that was doing marijuana delivery in Massachusetts. I had a lot of different varied experiences. I mean, I also did improv and stand up and stuff. I spent a lot of time cultivating my marketing skills. And so even when I went to those lead code interviews, what was really lead code style interview. What was really important was the human and social component of talking to another person and explaining things that was going on in my mind and thinking on my feet and adapting to this. So I think it actually really helped me to have that human component. As far as the job talks themselves, I was able to make a pretty polished presentation, not only because I had presented it so many times at that point, but also because, you know, I really put thought into, OK, I'm saying things. But what is the message that I'm delivering? What are they going to internalize from this talk? And I think even if they went into that room thinking, oh, this is whatever, I don't really care about these things. I think I left a good impression on everybody who attend those things because I put so much thought and effort into things. And I also had a great network of people who wanted to help me think through the presentation and work on it. I know Anheke saw my press like three times before it actually happened. So I think that's a really important component that most PhDs don't end up focusing on purely out of survival. I mean, there's really it doesn't seem like that's an important component. You just need to do the research, put your head down and get it done. But I think if we take a step back, we look at this from a third party perspective. Really, ultimately, what you need to learn out of PhD is how to market and sell your research to other people, because that's how you can keep doing the fun thing. You can't just do it in a vacuum. Some people can. They're very lucky. They're brilliant. They're coming up with great ideas. I'm not one of those people. I need to know how to sell it effectively so that I can.

Henrique (25m15s): It's also like they're hiring you as a PhD as opposed to just a master's student because they want you to eventually lead or take over some project or do stuff like that. So they're not interested in just you being smart and being able to answer these legal questions. They can find someone else who's grinded through all of these. So they want to make sure that you're able to sort of communicate your thinking out loud because that's the person that's going to be sitting next to them. And that does like two dustovers is someone they're going to ask for help when they can't just like Google the answer or like work through something that already has a solution. So like the communication is like the most important part, I think, of all these interviews. Once once you like land them, then they get you through to the next round. And then eventually I had to give a job talk on a lot of mine, actually. I think maybe all but one or two. I ended up giving a job talk for. But at that point, you've given it so many times and you're using it for your thesis also. So it ends up being like you're you're all rehearsed at it or you use this to rehearse for your thesis or whichever order it comes in. But that's again another chance to show them how well you communicate your ideas. So it always ends up being about communication.

Ding (26m18s): Yeah. So I agree with the marketing and communication points. And I wonder, David, you say a lot of like, I don't know, project or hustle to start up doing your PhD. I do not see a lot of that in my I do not have that in my PhD. I do not start companies for any major efforts. What's what would you say to the PhDs and Dars do like in in in the process? Would you suggest them to do the same following your path, starting some companies to practice this marketing skills? Or is there other approaches that you recommend?

David (26m48s): There are much easier things to do than to go start an entire company. And that's really not for everybody. I bring it up as an example of something where you really have to learn how to mark stuff quickly. You need to get your elevator pitches down and need to understand. I mean, the term minimum viable product is straight out of the lean launchpad that I've taken now three times or something. You are trying to build up a brand around yourself. And there's a lot of different ways to cultivate brand. You can do that by something that really helped me was improv class. Right. Like you have to think on your feet. You have to work in tandem with other people to make something up on stage live in a in a fluid, organic, funny way. And recognize that there's a lot of fun in just doing things that it doesn't have. You don't have to explicitly be funny. You don't have to be explicitly smart in your thesis for it to interesting. There's a lot of ways to convey your research. And so taking creative writing classes, taking marketing classes directly, you can go practice your singing or presenting or acting. I mean, I would try this multidisciplinary approach in whatever alternative field it is. I mean, you could just be doing dancing. It's about expanding your mind into other dimensions. You're smart enough to do that. You're smart enough to study the thing you're smart, you're studying. You're smart enough to study some other topic, at least superficially, so that you can sort of understand these things from a sort of a cognitive dissonance way where I am both holding this idea of I need to be really smart and understand this thing really well. And I also kind of need to understand it superficially so that I can sell it to people who are only going to ever look at it superficially. And that only really happens when you start mixing your disciplines and looking at things from a lot of different.

Henrique (28m33s): I would back that I would say absolutely. You want to work on as many disciplines as you can to become more like a holistic person. Like that's crucial for for all aspects of your life. You're like complimenting the part of your of your intellectual self, like the the PhD type of your life with these other disciplines and other interests. And that's also a lot of times where ideas come from. It's not from reading the same textbooks everyone else has and trying the same things everyone else has. You're not going to get lucky. It's from like you start thinking and experiencing things outside of that same box. And that's the new point of view that's going to sort of shake things up from the perspective. If for whatever reason that doesn't float your boat, there are plenty of opportunities that you'll get in your PhD to also kind of express yourself and learn new parts of yourself. So, like, for example, like TA, whether it's like teaching a lecture or just like being a TA and helping people with their homework, be like really, I don't know, careful and conscious about like not just giving them the answer, trying to help walk them through to the answer. Or if they're struggling, like asking them the right questions, because that's what's going to happen during your interview. Right. They're going to ask you a question and they're going to want to see how you showed your work, what you did there. And just like that communication, that expression of yourself is what they're going to be looking for. So like use those TA sessions or whatever as like practice, but like very consciously. Because whenever we were doing this, you weren't thinking about the job market. You weren't thinking about that. You're just like, I just need to do this. I need these guys to leave so I can get back to running my algorithm because right now it's broken and I don't understand why. But like you, since you have to be in that room anyways, like take advantage of it fully and like use it to sort of practice expressing yourself.

Ding (30m02s): Yeah, I think we are, we covered most of the points. The only one that I haven't really touched on is the networking, start networking as early as possible. And I did not have a lot of networking experience before graduating. And that's probably also why I kind of had a hard time. I have to just submit to a lot of companies hoping I will find interesting ones. Do either of you have good networking experience before you graduate?

David (30m24s): So the networking I did was, I think the pandemic screwed a lot of us over. I think even professors were telling me how bad they felt. Just the lack of networking that you're supposed to be doing by going to conferences and talking to peers and selling your research and meeting people. An important aspect of this could be that you can tap if your advisor is a little bit older and there's a very large number of alumni. And presumably they have a good relationship still with your advisor. You can definitely try to talk to them and leverage that network because odds are professors have been around for a long time. Students are probably doing well enough that they can connect you or they have job openings themselves. And that helped me a lot is that my lab had a great network of really talented researchers. In fact, one of them who was a professor of mine before my advisor, helped me get a job right after the PhD. And that was a really great synergy.

Henrique (31m19s): While you're in your PhD, you'll have these networking opportunities by doing internships. You'll meet other interns who are going back to other universities and they'll be at different levels. So not necessarily all the same year as you. Look them up, see where they're at, see if they're happy, ask them all these questions. The one thing I found is that I did a lot of networking from my experience going to conferences, which I know that not everyone has. But I also did a lot of like cold talking to people who it's like a friend of mine has a friend and they're in the job that I want. And so it's kind of like a little bit more awkward where you're just like reaching out to them and then maybe you can chat with them for a little bit over Zoom. But all of them were super welcoming, not just because they're all wonderful people, but because they all had to experience the same thing. At some point, everyone had to go through this job hunt. It's kind of uncomfortable. There's the imposter syndrome, like I talked about earlier, but they all sort of made it and they want you to also make it. So they're on the same team as you, which you have to remember. You're not competing with any of these people. Hopefully you're all going to end up working together. And so feel free to reach out to people cold and they'll get their attention for 10 minutes and they'll tell you like one or two things that you may not have thought of that are interesting to consider or who to apply to or who to talk to and whatnot. And that's like invaluable. That's something that's not going to be on the job portal. So you have to take advantage of it. No matter how social or antisocial you are, you have to sort of like this is the moment to reach out to people, call them a favor. Because then once you're on the other side, you can move around more easily. But that sort of first initial jump feels like the hardest one. Things also change, right? Like we're like a year or so out, then you're a couple of years ahead of us. I'm sure you look at candidates slightly differently or you you think back on it being slightly more challenging or less challenging. Whereas for us, it was really just like dealing with this whole pandemic and the potential recession seemed to like cloud over our entire interview process where we weren't sure if the job we were accepting was just the only one we'd get. Or is it the best one? Or is it the one we actually wanted? But in the end, it's like just like schools, you go to any school, you end up being happy, you end up having like a different path than what you thought you would. But it's also not permanent. You can get up and leave at any moment, which is different than grad school where you're sort of locked into this long contract, right? Of like until I defend, I don't I have to sort of some cost. But now you have the freedom to sort of go wherever you want. And so you just need to land somewhere.

Ding (33m31s): Yeah, I think the time when I look for a job, it's very different from the past two years. I think at that time, I think companies are a lot more aggressive in hiring than the past year or two. And another thing I noticed is that when I look for online things related to software engineering, I can usually find very good either YouTube videos or blog posts on it. But when it comes to researchers, industry professors, the information is a lot sparser. And also there is just not that many CS related industry research. There might be other fields, but like computer science researcher is just a little bit different, I think, because we have this close tie with academia and we're at this cutting edge of all this tech company product. So I had I hope I wish to see more of this content out there so that I don't have to reach out. I mean, reaching out is good, but I'm also an introvert and I feel like by watching content at my own pace and reflecting on it, it's a good format for me. And that's partially why I kind of started the first the Chinese version of the podcast. Now the English version, I want to be more of this passive content that people can enjoy at their own pace. And of course, our emails are out there so people can reach out to us. And most of the time, I read the email all the time. So I agree that if you are there, and if you have specific questions that we do not answer, you can always reach out to us and we can help you out. Absolutely. Is that everything you want to talk about today? Any more thing to add? We didn't hear any thunder. What a pity.

David (34m53s): Yeah, it was all on the pre-show. Yeah, all the pre-show. It was way more exciting before we started recording. Sorry, everybody.

Henrique (34m59s): Just finish it. Just write something, turn it in, get some notes on it and start applying earlier than you think you need to. I definitely waited slightly too long to start applying because I thought it would happen quickly. You can always accept and then wait. They don't need you to start immediately the next day. They know that you have to defend and so they'll give you time. Start everything sooner because it all takes longer than you think.

David (35m21s): And speaking to old me, you do not have to worry so much about all the details. You can just do something and it will probably be good enough.

Ding (35m30s): Exactly. And now looking back to the grad school job hunt, I think it's a lot more stress-free because now if I were to do a new job search, I have more responsibilities and I have more stuff to think about before jumping. So I feel like the previous one is much more manageable. Yeah, I guess that's another episode we could talk about. Why are you still at the current company or when would you consider switching? I don't have good heuristics and I would love to hear your thoughts. Rohan also has some ideas. Karman has some ideas, but I don't think they're, I don't know if they are willing to come and talk.

Henrique (36m06s): Yeah, we'll have to reach out.

David (36m07s): We can also do one about how to start a company since that came up in this podcast as well.

Ding (36m12s): Yes, I'd love to hear that. I want to start eventually.

David (36m16s): I have a person that we could bring on who's now started like three and he's very, very cool. I have another friend who's also done a bunch of crypto stuff, but they're not PhDs. So I don't know if that's sort of the criterion for... No, no. Yeah, I have some friends that I think would be good for that. Actually, I have another, yeah, I have a bunch of people that would be really good for that episode.

Henrique (36m39s): I don't know. We should also do a how to start a podcast thing.

David (36m42s): Yeah. That would be cool. I do kind of want to also have my own thing, but I also keep being like, I should just focus on my job, get my job really good.

Ding (36m51s): Yeah, yeah, yeah. We can talk about that as well. And for all the startups, as long as they're not doing shady things, we can talk about them.

David (36m58s): No, they're all above board. I can send you their LinkedIn. They're very cool, very smart people.

Ding (37m04s): Great. It's great chatting with you both again. Let's hope to reconnect in two weeks. Yeah, sounds good. See you guys. Thanks for being with us for this episode. If you have any questions, please let us know. My email is in the show notes. Our podcast is also available in video formats on YouTube and the audio format in all major podcast apps. Check the links in the show notes to subscribe to us and leave us a five-star review on Apple podcast or whatever your favorite podcast is.