After a Rewarding Career of Her Own, Diane Safer Turns to Career Development
“I’ve had a career path slightly different than most people,” said Dr. Diane Safer, who joined Einstein in February 2018 as director of career and professional development for graduate students and postdocs in biomedical sciences.
In her role, she prepares Ph.D. students and postdocs for the job market and helps them create a career game plan — even if their original plan has changed. When it comes to career paths that take unusual twists and turns, her own experience makes her a perfect fit for the job.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a bachelor’s in psychology and Columbia University with a Ph.D. in experimental social psychology, Diane worked as a healthcare researcher and information consultant at two leading public relations firms in New York City. After 10 years, she launched her own firm, working with clients throughout the United States until a chance encounter in 2014 led her on a new path.
While her house in Westchester was under construction, the contractor mentioned that his daughter was interested in studying marketing. Dr. Safer told him, “Have her call me.”
She recalled, “The more I talked to her, I realized she didn’t want to go into marketing at all. That was her father’s idea. She wanted to go into nursing. It was fascinating.” The conversation got Diane thinking: Maybe career coaching is something that I could do and help others.
She began to research the field and, to learn more, attended a Metropolitan New York College Career Planning Officer's Association meeting. At the meeting, she met the director of the career center at the College of New Rochelle, which is a short distance from her home. While the college didn’t have any vacancies at the time, she volunteered there until a career coaching position opened up.
“It was a great opportunity to work with a truly diverse student body, with many first-generation students and also a significant population of adult learners,” said Dr. Safer.
Her next career move was to assistant director of the career center at Yeshiva University. After a couple of years there working with both undergraduates and graduate students, she saw that Einstein was looking for someone with a Ph.D. and career coaching experience for their new office of career and professional development for graduate students and postdocs. It was a perfect fit.
“This is the ultimate job for me,” she said. “I get to use all the skills that I’ve been building over the last few years and my psychology degree.”
A Motivating Force
If she has a life motto, it’s the quote at the bottom of her Einstein email signature: “Be proactive! It starts with you!”
This is something she tries to instill in the graduate students and postdocs at Einstein. “If you want something to happen, make it happen.”
Her job is twofold. The first is to teach postdocs and graduate students about professional skills, including marketing themselves and navigating the job application process. This means organizing workshops on everything from writing resumes or CVs to networking in person and on LinkedIn. Over the past year she has offered a variety of workshops touching on helpful skills.
Dr. Safer addresses graduate students and postdocs at one of her professional and career development workshop offerings
This year, the focus is on communication skills. Dr. Safer recently ran a hands-on, interactive networking workshop. This fall, during National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week, Dr. Safer will organize an event focused on how to talk about science, which is a problem for scientists at all stages of their careers.
“How do you talk about your science without losing someone in the first few seconds?” she said.
Finding a Field That Fits
The second part of her job is to make postdocs and graduate students aware of the many job opportunities available — both inside and outside of academia. This is critical for young investigators since there currently are more scientists who want jobs in academia than positions available. She created a one-sheet document, called “What can I be with my Einstein PhD!?”
“This is where many of them initially plan to go,” she said, pointing to section of the page listing faculty jobs in academia. The rest of the list includes additional opportunities to explore, including jobs in industry (pharmaceutical, biotechnology, chemical, and food sciences), government, finance, communications, publishing, data science, non-profits, education, and patent law.
“I want to show them the opportunities that are out there,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen in your life, so we really don’t want them to put all their eggs in one basket.”
Dr. Victoria Freedman, associate dean for graduate programs in biomedical sciences, said it’s crucial for students to expand their view of the job field — and Dr. Safer is the perfect person to help them.
“Most students don’t realize the wide variety of jobs that they are qualified to do. That’s what Diane helps them see,” said Dr. Freedman. “She’s very savvy with social media and she’s already broadened the scope of our entire office. We’re excited about her vision for the future.”
Assessing the Options
Among Dr. Safer’s plans for helping postdocs and graduate students is to get them thinking about careers as early as possible. She’s even targeting first- and second-year graduate students, trying to get them to take inventory of their strengths and skills so they know what work they need to do.
“Counting backwards from the date you are graduating, what should you be doing?” she said. “We want them to have some sort of plan, even if the plan changes.”
Her own plans certainly have changed, but she’s proof that a Ph.D. can lead to a satisfying job that you might not even know exists.
“I love my job and working here at Einstein,” she said. “When you get a new job, there’s always a honeymoon period and usually, it ends in a few months. After more than a year, though, I can honestly say I’m even more excited now.”
Posted on: Wednesday, April 24, 2019