In this episode, Emily interviews My-Linh Luong, a PhD candidate in physiotherapy at the University of Melbourne in Australia. My-Linh is at the all but dissertation stage of her PhD and recently accepted a dream job with a dream salary. She tells the story of how she prepared for and executed her job search, which involved an amazing degree of intentionality during her years in grad school, including plumbing her values, working on her mindset, and utilizing professional development resources. My-Linh’s job search took about a year and a half, and she shares how she stayed motivated and hopeful throughout the long process. She even shares some specific scripts regarding salary negotiation. Prepare to take notes or at least be ready to hit rewind to catch all of the gold nuggets My-Linh gives in this interview.
Links Mentioned in the Episode
- PF for PhDs: Tax Workshop Flyer
- PF for PhDs: The Wealthy PhD
- Atomic Habits (Book by James Clear)
- Beyond the Professoriate
- The Academic Society (Emily’s Affiliate Link)
- PF for PhDs: Podcast Hub
- PF for PhDs: Subscribe to Mailing List
- My-Linh’s LinkedIn
- My-Linh’s Twitter (@mylinhluong)
00:00 My-Linh: I want everyone to find a job where they’re paid well and using the skillsets and talents that they have. And so I just want to hold vision for everyone who’s listening. You know, like I’m not sharing the story to say, this is the magic bullet to do things. I’m sharing this story so that you can also see and plant the seed that it’s possible for you, too.
00:27 Emily: Welcome to the Personal Finance for PhDs Podcast: A Higher Education in Personal Finance. I’m your host, Dr. Emily Roberts. This is Season 10, Episode 10, and today my guest is My-Linh Luong, a PhD candidate in physiotherapy at the University of Melbourne in Australia. My-Linh is at the all but dissertation stage of her PhD and recently accepted a dream job with a dream salary. She tells the story of how she prepared for and executed her job search, which involved an amazing degree of intentionality during her years in grad school, including plumbing her values, working on her mindset, and utilizing professional development resources. My-Linh’s job search took about a year and a half, and she shares how she stayed motivated and hopeful throughout the long process. She even shares some specific scripts regarding salary negotiation. Prepare to take notes or at least be ready to hit rewind to catch all of the gold nuggets My-Linh gives in this interview.
01:29 Emily: My pre-recorded workshop that helps funded graduate students prepare their 2021 tax returns will be ready by early January 2022. The title is How to Complete Your Grad Student Tax Return (and Understand It, Too!). While I have sold this workshop to individuals for several years and will continue to do so, this year I’m making a big push to license it to university hosts as well. On my end, I can grant access to the pre-recorded workshop materials very quickly—like, within minutes of a host telling me they want it. But you know what can take a while? Budgetary approval. That’s why I’m bringing up the workshop at this time of year. If you have used this workshop in the past or wanted to, will you please ask your graduate school, department, graduate student association, etc. if they will buy it on behalf of yourself and your interested peers? I give a discount for bulk purchases and additionally will provide a private live Q&A call just for your group if a minimum order size is reached. I’ve noticed that these personal requests and testimonials go very far in bringing these purchases to fruition so I really appreciate you making this ask. Please send the decision-maker the PDF at PFforPhDs.com/taxflyer/ to introduce the workshop and ask them to contact me via email. Do it now so they have time to sort out the funding before the workshop goes live in January! Thank you! Without further ado, here’s my interview with My-Linh Luong.
Will You Please Introduce Yourself Further?
03:05 Emily: I am over the moon to introduce My-Linh Luong to you all. I’m so happy to have her on as a guest. She has an amazing story to tell you of her career progression, kind of throughout graduate school and post graduate school. But I want to get back up and tell you how we met. So My-Linh was part of my pilot program of The Wealthy PhD back in fall 2019. The Wealthy PhD is my group coaching program. My-Linh I’m so happy to have you here. Will you please introduce yourself a bit further for the audience?
03:35 My-Linh: Thanks Emily, I’m super excited to be here as well. So for the audience, I’m a behavioral scientist and public health researcher, and I completed my master’s in public health at UNC, and then I’m finishing up my PhD in health behavior change at the University of Melbourne. And I currently work as a medical and behavioral strategist in the healthcare industry. And more specifically in terms of what I do in the day-to-day is I use my training in behavioral science to improve the implementation of clinical trials.
Career Goals at the Start of Grad School
04:07 Emily: So let’s take it back to the start of graduate school. Maybe that’s the start of your master’s program. Maybe we’re even going back to undergrad. You know, what were those career goals that you set out with when you started your graduate journey?
04:19 My-Linh: Yeah, so I think when I look in retrospect and sort of reconnect with my values of why I started graduate school, it makes perfect sense how I landed here. So I was really interested sort of from my advocacy health research standpoint to improve the health and wellbeing of people in communities. So that’s why I went to a public health program. And I think somewhere along the way, you know, in the decade that I’ve been in graduate school, some of that messaging that lost in terms of what I was hearing about, you know, what people do with their PhDs. And, you know, there were moments where I was like, oh, you know, do I want to stay in the academic research track? You know, my friends are in that track. I see basically no conversation from my professors about what happens afterwards.
05:06 My-Linh: But I think it was helpful I have a sister and a parent who has a PhD who aren’t in academic spaces. So that definitely planted the seed for me to say, I don’t need to be in the academic space to be successful with how I use my PhD. And so now that I’m thinking back, it’s that reconnection, you know, with what I wanted to do in improving health and wellbeing and being able to increase in scale and impact and the work that I do. And the more I thought about being in academia first, honestly, I was like, I don’t think I’m cut out for this. And then secondly, I just wasn’t that interested in what that day-to-day looked like. Grant writing, teaching just became not as appealing to me. And as I figured out what is it that I like about what I’m doing? Because there are definitely aspects of academia I liked, right? The flexibility, sort of the autonomy, being able to be remote if I needed to be, that helped me get a lot more clear as I was getting sort of to the end of my PhD about what it is that I valued in what my life looked like post-PhD. So yeah, I think I was pretty early on in the mindset of, you know, I don’t think the academic track is the right track for me. So I was always open and curious about what opportunities were beyond that.
Professional Development and Career Exploration
06:36 Emily: I know that when you were in graduate school, you were taking advantage of a lot of the like professional development type career exploration type opportunities that your university made available to you. And you’re probably going outside of those as well. So what were you doing during that time to get this process going of what do I want to do with my next career phase, and how do I present myself so that I am competitive for those kinds of jobs?
06:57 My-Linh: So one of the things I found really valuable is, as I knew I wasn’t probably going to stay in academia, trying to find ways to apply research in settings outside of that. So doing short-term internships or consultancies. You know, when I was stateside, I worked with the Orange County department on aging to develop their master aging plan. When I was in the states, I worked for the productivity commission on sort of this systematic review to develop an evidence-base around the public health approach to child welfare. So having these opportunities outside of academia allowed me to see, I can apply research in spaces that are not specifically academic, whether that’s public service, whether that’s in the government. And I hadn’t had as much experience in industry. So, I wasn’t sure about what that connection was going to look like in terms of sharing my skills and expertise there.
Short-term Paid Internships and Consultancies During the PhD
07:52 Emily: So I’m curious with these like internships and other project-based experience. Was that something that you had to take like official timeout from your program to do? Is it something you did alongside continuing with your research and whatever duties you had in academia? And also were those paid opportunities or were they volunteer?
08:10 My-Linh: So they were both paid opportunities and I did them while I was in the PhD. I think being able to have flexibility with the program I mean, full disclosure, I didn’t share that much with my PhD advisors that I was doing this extra work. But I knew what was best for me. And this was what was best for me in terms of getting the experience I wanted and keeping me passionate about the work.
08:36 Emily: Yeah, I think that’s really helpful because oftentimes current graduate students do struggle with is taking this opportunity, which could be great for my career, is that going to detract from my progress towards my degree? And also the question of, will my advisor allow it? Sounds like you took the position of, you know, better to ask for forgiveness than permission and it ended up working out. So that’s great. Not everyone might have that approach, but I just like hearing from people who are facing those decisions, like, what did you do about it.
08:59 My-Linh: Yeah, I think you have to know what’s best for you, so you do whatever you need to do to get the experiences that you want that are fulfilling. And I will say also in full disclosure, I love professional development. Emily knows this, anybody who knows me well knows that I love this. So I’m speaking from the perspective of, I enjoy going to workshops and learning more and there is so much free career information out there. And one of the things I think, in retrospect, thinking about what’s helpful is not trying to feel like you have to do everything at once. Like there are stages to doing a job search that aren’t just like, okay, all of a sudden I have to like apply, interview, and get the job. There’s a much longer phase to that of sort of career exploration and understanding, and there are different workshops that universities might offer around that.
Evaluate Your Own Interests, Skills, and Values
09:57 My-Linh: I think there’s a lot around people talking about, oh, what are these transferable skills that you have? And I think about it less as like, oh, this is the transferable skill that makes me marketable in the marketplace. But more of doing that deep inner work. I did a lot more sort of on my own. And there’s plenty in that space around evaluating sort of your interests and your skills and your values in alignment. So one free resource that I really liked using was ImaginePhD, which has lots of assessments around that very specific around the type of things that PhD folks are doing. So that really helped me to better articulate to myself and then to other people what I wanted, but I definitely spent a lot of time sort of lurking.
10:44 My-Linh: You know, going to lots of career panels, hearing about that career journey. And just knowing that like, you know, even what I share today, it’s not like a magic bullet of things. Like you sort of take what works for you and leave what doesn’t work for you. And that’s something I just want folks who are listening to just remember that there’s a lot of information out there. If you disagree with it, that’s okay. You know, but part of, I think when I was going to all these workshops, because I was hearing a lot of the same things over and over. And at that point I knew I had reached saturation. And I think as a PhD student, I love doing the research. I want to know everything. I was very comprehensive in that. So in retrospect, I probably could have done a lot fewer workshops, but that worked for me. I don’t know. I don’t think everyone needs to like have all the professional development to be successful in their job search. I think there are really some very key strategies to how to approach the job search, and being thoughtful about that in phases is really important.
Give Yourself Time in this Process
11:48 Emily: I think just that like insight alone, one gold nugget already takeaway from this interview is like, you need to give yourself time in this process, and it’s not something you can take on, like in the few months before you have your defense, you’re submitting your dissertation and so forth, like when you’re actually looking for a job. This is something that, you have to let this breathe a little bit, give it more time. And if like you, you like professional development, you should be attending these kinds of things throughout your entire PhD, it sounds like, just to sort of, as you were saying, gain all the information and be able to give yourself time to sort through it, figure out what’s going to work for you, what’s not. What connects with you, what doesn’t. So that you have all of that background knowledge and the skills for when you actually jump into the, okay, I’ve decided on the career and I’m actually going after a job now or a set of jobs. Does that make sense?
12:37 My-Linh: Yeah. And I would emphasize that there are definitely people who are able to get jobs really quickly at the end of that. And so, you know, not saying that everyone has to spend all this time into professional development, but that when you are a graduate student and you do have that flexibility to spend time thinking about it, to take advantage of those opportunities, even if they don’t immediately apply. And that’s something that I definitely found is that, you know, going into this thing on interviewing, wasn’t helpful to me at the stage when that was in exploration, but it was still helpful to just sort of hear like what’s going to come down the path. So, I just recommend like, obviously there are people who are on an accelerated job search, but that feels panicked to me. So to be just prepared for that to be, you know, like sitting in and just hearing this and being familiar with what that job search looks like to be better prepared. Because I imagine that people don’t want to get to the end of their PhD and not know what’s next. So that’s part of just being prepared in graduate school is taking advantage of those opportunities when you have the time and space to think about them.
13:42 Emily: And I think another kind of factor in this, which we’ll talk about how this worked for you and your individual story in a moment. But another factor is what is your degree of flexibility at the end of the PhD if you don’t have a job at the second you think you want one? So like my own story, for example, is my PhD advisor decided to leave my university. And so he basically graduated like half of his graduate students, including me all at one time. Whereas I might’ve wanted to take maybe like another six months before defending and I did not have, like, I could not stay on as a postdoc. My PI was leaving. So there was no like sort of fallback opportunity or like flexibility around that timeline. And that was never something that I anticipated getting towards the end of graduate school that I would suddenly be like without a job, without a paycheck, without any control over that timeline.
14:32 Emily: So that was what happened to me. I’ll give another example of like my husband. He found a job very easily at a time that worked well for him because his advisor was very flexible with him about how long to keep him on. So he defended, then stayed on as a postdoc for about a year. That was totally open-ended. And so got a job at a time that it just was fine because there was that flexibility there. So you really need to think about your own funding situation, your relationship with your advisor, and what your opportunities are to know how well-timed this job search needs to be.
My-Linh’s Story: 2019-2020
15:06 Emily: So let’s talk about your story with this. And let’s go back to like that fall 2019 time when you and I met. Where were you in your graduate program at the time? And then take us through the next almost two years now.
15:18 My-Linh: Yeah. So the time that we met, I had already sort of gone through my confirmations. In U.S. terms, that’s basically ABD. And I was sort of, again, I had mentioned earlier that I knew that I wasn’t going to stay in academia. And wanting to be prepared, I just sort of started kind of putting out feelers there around job searching. And then I moved back stateside around December, I guess, is when I moved back stateside and was sort of trying to figure out I didn’t know where I was going to be geographically. There was just a lot of uncertainty in my life that felt out of my control. And I wasn’t finished with the PhD yet as well, right? So it was, I think what you were saying earlier about what does the end of the PhD look like, or when is the best time to start the job search?
16:17 My-Linh: I would say it’s never too early to start the job search. And it’s never too late to start either. And it’s never tidy. And so I didn’t know exactly when I was going to finish. I ended up actually taking a personal leave of absence, a medical leave of absence. So that kind of changed my timeline, that changed the structure of how I was doing my job search. And so there were a lot of like different conditions in my situation that kind of put a lot of things up in the air. So I understand, I know lots of listeners here understand, like there’s just a lot of uncertainty and a lot of precariousness in being a graduate student and lots of change. So I resonate a lot with that because it was a really chaotic period of time.
17:04 Emily: And let’s not forget that this period of time, March, 2020 is when the entire world was feeling some of the same, like precarity and uncertainty that you were already going through in your personal life. So all of that stuff that you were just saying was, okay, you’re not done with the PhD yet. So you’re still working on the dissertation, you’re getting close to the end. But you also decided to take a leave of absence. So there’s no real, like, I think there weren’t like deadlines for you to particularly meet like milestones on. And so you could take a little bit more flexibility. But you also, I think didn’t have an income or maybe your income was, you know, dramatically cut during that time. Do you want to talk about how you managed basically from the time that you stopped being paid by your PhD program until landing this job eventually?
Paid Leave in Grad School
17:46 My-Linh: Yeah. So I will say that it’s amazing be at University of Melbourne where they allow you to take a paid leave of absence for three months, which is, I think completely unheard of in a U.S. program. So, I was fortunate. And then when I decided to take my leave of absence, that I had a little bit of time in between either to figure out how I was going to, you know, gain more money or just how to be more financially stable. So having that bit of time where I was able to just have some funding and not have to get a job immediately, I could have a roof over my head and have my bills paid. I’m also fortunate in that, you know, my partner was working and he and I had a long discussion about whether or not I needed to just find something temporary to keep things moving and how I needed to contribute financially to the household.
18:34 My-Linh: And we made the decision to say, you know, I took a leave of absence for a reason to kind of give myself space in my own healing. And so, to add this additional stressor wasn’t really feasible and that we could live on his income. So in full disclosure, I did have the benefit of having a partner who was able to basically float me financially and that we could live on his income. And it wasn’t huge. And I think as graduate students, we’re used to living on very small salaries. So it wasn’t a huge quality of life change for me. And I will say you know, sometimes there’s no shame in taking a job that pays money that isn’t aligned with your future career goals or what you’re doing in your PhD. It’s not your job forever. So if you need to get a job doing something you don’t like just pay the bills. There’s absolutely no shame in that, regardless of what other people are saying. You know what’s best for you and you need a roof over your head and to be able to pay the bills.
Job Search Strategies
19:34 Emily: So, if I’m getting the timeline right, it was something like between a year and a year and a half between when you were starting to apply for positions, and when you actually finally got the job that we’ll be talking about later on. And so, what strategies were you using during that time? Did you change any of your strategies? Figure out something wasn’t working pivot to something else. And of course, keeping in mind like this was 2020, so I don’t know. Maybe everyone had to change their strategies during that time.
19:59 My-Linh: Yeah. So to speak to that, I think, you know, we spoke earlier about this and that I was very intentional about my job search. And I think I was feeling sort of this internal pressure and this extra pressure to be like, apply to jobs, apply to jobs, put applications in, and you’re not doing your job search unless you’re putting applications in. And I just want to recommend to the listeners if they have the time to really do that self-reflection, again, the ImaginePhD assessments, or just in general, understanding what your values are. I think about it as sort of being the compass for job searching so that you’re certain that the jobs that you’re applying to are a good fit for you. Because there’s certainly a bunch jobs that I could do and could be good at, but might not like, or might not be aligned with my values.
20:53 My-Linh: So I think getting a lot of clarity around what it is you want, both, you know, in your life professionally, but then needs to meet your personal values as well, sort of like what fits your life. So that’s why for me, I knew when I was looking at my job search, I wanted to prioritize working remote. I wanted to have autonomy. I want it to be intellectually challenged. I wanted to be at a relaxed pace. There were very, very specific parameters around which I was able to evaluate different types of jobs. So I think that’s the number one thing that I would do that I think people miss, I guess don’t necessarily think about it as being part of the job search, but like doing that deep work and reflecting to know what it is that you really want. Because then, that helps you articulate to other people, your friends, first of all, what it is that you’re looking for and helps you identify positions that are a good match.
21:48 My-Linh: So I definitely spent a lot of time just collating a bunch of different job titles, which mean like research associate at one place looks very different than research associate at another place. So I did a lot of that sort of just like information gathering and just like plugging it into my Evernote to just review and be like, “Oh, that sounds interesting. Oh, I hate that.” This sounds really cool. So I got a better sense of what the market was looking like, how they were describing things, and where I might fit or how I might be able to use my skills to meet those needs. And then from there, I definitely did. You know, once I had a better idea of maybe the types of jobs I wanted, I reached out to my immediate network to help connect me with people in those types of jobs. For example, UX research or behavioral science.
22:35 My-Linh: So just getting me connected to get a better sense of what the industry looked like, you know, either in government, in the private sector. Just to get a better sense of what people’s day to day look like and be like, “That sounds terrible. I don’t want to do what you do. That’s great. I’m glad you love it.” But just getting a chance to talk to people. And you mentioned, right, this is during COVID times. And I would say that people were very happy to connect. People want to help if they can, especially if it’s talking about themselves in a job that they love. So I think that, you know, please reach out to me on LinkedIn, because I will be happy to talk more about any specifics around the job search. So that’s what I also found helpful. And then having a community of people to hold me accountable and to talk through things. I love my partner, but he doesn’t want to hear everything about my job search. So finding those opportunities you know, with The Wealthy PhD, with other communities of people where I feel safe sharing my journeys and disappointments and challenges and sharing successes were definitely enormously helpful in my job search.
Quality Over Quantity Approach
23:47 Emily: Yeah. I have a couple of follow-up comments in there. So one is, it definitely sounds like you took this like quality over quantity approach. You’re not just blast in CVs everywhere, but you’re really curating the jobs that you actually end up applying to. And I think that is, you said this and I’m maybe just rephrasing what you said earlier, but when you have that intentionality and you’re limiting yourself and not just applying everywhere, you’re able to very clearly understand and articulate what it is that you’re looking for and why you’re excited about this particular opportunity. And, you know, that’s what an employer wants to hear in the interview process is like why you’re a great fit for them in particular. If you know, a lot, you know, very deeply, you’ve done informational interviews with their employees. Like that puts you at a huge advantage for actually being the one to, you know, receive the job offer.
24:37 Emily: So I love the way you phrased, why you did things that way, but I I’ll just call that like quality over quantity in terms of number of applications you’re putting out there. And then the other comment, you said when you started this, that like you felt pressure to just be submitting job applications. And I recently read James Clear’s Atomic Habits, and I’m just excited about a lot of the ideas in that book. And so also one of the things that he talks about is like metrics and tracking the right things. And so if you’re only tracking, did you submit an application? That’s not the most useful thing to be measuring and promoting in your job search and application process. It’s what you were doing of like, okay, well, how many job listings did I look at today and gathered the information that I needed and analyze it to figure out what I want and what I don’t want? That could be a useful metric to track, even if you end up not submitting any applications that day, that’s still a really useful step forward in your process. So yeah, I just like that you emphasized not applying all the time is like the only thing that matters. A lot of that deeper work, self-reflective work is really important to this process as well. One other tool I know about, a little bit similar to ImaginePhD, is Beyond the Professoriate. Were you part of that community, or did you use that tool at all?
25:54 My-Linh: Yeah, I was a part of that community. And it’s transitioning, so it looks a little bit different now, but I definitely have some folks from that community as well who I continue to work with in a professional development, co-working space. So that was a really great opportunity. Again, everyone in that space was job searching. Also had a PhD as well. So it was just a great community to be a part of. I can’t emphasize that enough is finding people to support you in the job search, because it often is long. There are a lot of barriers, perhaps mentally, that people are trying to overcome in transitioning. And so I can’t emphasize enough how valuable being a part of a community and having that support and accountability was.
26:38 Emily: It sounds like that’s one component of how you managed to keep going through this, you know, long job search process. I mean, you already mentioned the financial support from your partner, well first from your graduate program, but then eventually from your partner. That’s one way that you were able to sustain yourself through this. Sounds like community is another way. Were there any other factors that went into you being able to you know, keep your eye on the prize that like this job is out there and you’re eventually going to land it?
The Stages of Job Searching
27:05 My-Linh: Yeah. One thing I think about, and I mentioned earlier, is just job searching is overwhelming. If you just think about, I need to get a job. And so when you think about it in stages of job searching where you’re like, I’m focused right now on career exploration, or I’m really focused right now on doing my networking and learning more about this, or now I’m really, you know, I know the jobs that I want to apply to and the companies that are really interesting to me. Now, I’m ready to sort of like curate my materials. You know, now I’m going to move my CV into a resume. Okay. Now I’m ready to start applying. Okay, now I’m ready to start interviewing. Okay, now I’m ready to start negotiating. When you break it down into like lots of different parts and see that the job search includes more than just what I call the spray and pray approach.
27:54 My-Linh: So you just like put everything out there and you’re not prepared and you’re not articulating things well. And so just understanding to reduce the overwhelm, you don’t have to do everything at once. It’s just like, there are certain things that you can do at certain times to help move that ball forward in a way that isn’t overwhelming. And I think also to be really intentional about distinguishing your value as a person and how that’s connected to the work that you do. And not, yeah, just not connecting your self-worth to your job and not having a job. I think also, right, taking a leave of absence when I was not a student, I was like, how do I identify myself? I’m not, I mean, I am a student, but I’m not a student. I don’t have a job. So just recognizing that you are inherently valuable as a person and you’re worthy.
Self-Care and Boundaries
28:49 My-Linh: I think it’s really helpful in the job search to kind of, those are two separate things. Who I am and who I am in this job are two separate things. And to be intentional about boundaries that you have with people. You know, like who are the people you feel comfortable sharing your materials with to get feedback? That’s not everybody. Do you want to share your successes with everybody? Do you want to share challenges with only a certain set of people? So really being intentional about how you feel comfortable disclosing your own job search, I think is valuable. And I don’t think people, you know, thinking about whether your advisor’s going to ask you about it and how you want to respond. So for me, thinking about, you know, how do I have my emotional regulation up so that I feel prepared to have that conversation because it’s going to happen? Or your neighbor’s going to ask you, or your family’s going to ask you, and having kind of your own self-care on how you want to respond, what your boundaries are for that, because not everyone needs to know all your business.
29:58 My-Linh: What’s yours is yours and what’s theirs is thiers. And then just in general, just job search or just self-care around, like, what are the practices that ground you and having your daily practices so that you don’t just wake up and you’re just like job search. It’s sort of like who am I as a person beyond me getting a job?
30:21 Emily: I think so much of what you said is just like generally applicable to being a PhD student, being a PhD, and like that whole sort of conflation of your identity with your job, whether that’s as a student or not as a student. Like I can see how this was really helpful to you in this process, but this is going to be helpful to everybody listening. Even people who are not currently engaged in that or are approaching that process.
30:46 Emily: Emily here for a brief interlude. This announcement is for prospective and first-year graduate students. My colleague, Dr. Toyin Alli of The Academic Society, offers a fantastic course just for you called Grad School Prep. The course teaches you Toyin’s four-step Grad Boss method, which is to uncover grad school secrets, transform your mindset, uplevel your productivity, and master time management. I contributed a very comprehensive webinar to the course titled, “Set Yourself Up for Financial Success in Graduate School.” It explores the financial norms of grad school and the financial secrets of grad school. I also give you a plan for what to focus on in your finances in each season of the year that you apply to and into your first year of grad school. If this all sounds great to you, please register at theacademicsociety.com/emily for Toyin’s free masterclass on what to expect in your first semester of grad school and the three big mistakes that keep grad students stuck in a cycle of anxiety, overwhelm, and procrastination. You’ll also learn more about how to join Grad School Prep if you’d like to go a step further. Again, that’s theacademic society.com/e m i l y for my affiliate link for the course. Now back to our interview.
Applying For and Landing Current Job
32:13 Emily: So let’s talk about the job that you finally got. And I don’t know if this was the first job offer and you had declined other things, or what was going on. But the job that you eventually took, let’s hear about whatever you’d like to share about the process of applying for that job and landing that job.
32:27 My-Linh: Yeah. So I ultimately applied to, like put in applications for four different places. That’s the total. Just so folks have an idea of how many I actually put in. The way that I actually got the job I did right now was through sort of a casual connection that my friend had made for me on LinkedIn. I didn’t know the person actually very well, and so I had a very casual conversation. And I wasn’t sure if it was the right fit at the time, I was very just sort of like, let me just be open to what, you know, open to the conversation and see where that goes. And so she was very, my hiring manager and now my current manager, was very excited about me. And so I was really excited. I’m like, “Oh, this could be a really good fit. I’m not sure I’m like connecting the dots, but like she’s connecting the dots.”
33:21 My-Linh: And I did end up applying and interviewing. And I didn’t actually get the job. You know, when I heard back from them, I think in December, I think is when I heard. But she said, you know, we’ve hired somebody else who has 10 years of experience in this, but we might be hiring again in the future. So, you know, let’s just keep in touch. And to me, I was like, “Oh, okay. You know, whatever. It’s fine I didn’t love the job anyway, I’ll move on.” But then an opportunity, she reached out to me, she actually got back to me and said, “Hey, we have a job opening for this position. You know, we can do an accelerated interview process because we’ve gone through some of these initial things, and I think you’re great. You’re a great fit for this.” So, part of that was sort of like having that set up of that initial opening, networking conversation earlier on, getting rejected from that job, and then having them come back. And that’s very common in the work place, I think. Yeah. I didn’t necessarily know that, but I have since read that it’s very common, right? Like we’ll just sort of have a backlog of people who could be good for this position, and they’ll hire for it. And so then when they’re ready to make the hire, they have those people in the pool already,
Interviewing as a Way to Network
34:33 Emily: I had never thought about that either actually interviewing for jobs as networking, like, and even just looking at it that way of like, there are more positive outcomes from this interview, other than you getting this particular job. Because in your case, they had another job later on that was a good fit. Or, you know, what, they might even be able to refer you to someone else they know at some other company, because they realize you’re a good fit for them or whatever. So had not thought about that before. That’s so interesting.
34:57 My-Linh: Exactly. I mean, I hadn’t shared this earlier, but I had actually talked to a recruiter, and I had gotten connected through from another connection on LinkedIn. And she wasn’t quite sure where to fit me. She’s like, “But I really like you. I want to find a place for you.” And so, that didn’t lead to a job immediately. But now I have a really great connection. I continue to have a great professional relationship with this recruiter. And just having, you know, having planted all those seeds, not knowing where they were going to go. And I think that’s reality is like, you know, that first conversation I had in November with somebody who was like, we had a really good connection. I wasn’t sure about the job yet. And that just sort of continued progressing, you know, 3, 4 months later when we were getting closer to more interviews and meeting more people where it became a lot more clear that the job was a good fit for me.
35:52 My-Linh: And I was very fortunate in the sense that I had another job that I was applying to that I almost thought was a good fit for me. It looked very different. It was a, you know, small behavioral science think tank, mostly government focused. And I would be doing sort of like end-to-end research as a research associate. So, in this job that I ended up landing, I’m a medical and behavioral strategist in the healthcare industry. And you can look me up on LinkedIn to find out what that company is. And so my department specifically focuses on using behavioral science to improve clinical trials, the training and engagement for that. And, you know, as a behavioral scientist, that’s a perfect place for me to be, but I would never have put myself there. But they saw. They saw those connections before I did.
36:41 My-Linh: So I ended up getting offers the same week. And I don’t know how common that is. I wasn’t trying to be super aggressive in the job search. It was just sort of happenstance that the timelines worked out because this other job for this think tank, I had just started applying, you know, maybe a month and a half previous. So it was happenstance that yeah, just the way that the timeline progressed to get offers in the same week. Yeah, it was very, very fortunate on my end. So in terms of the actual job offer, when I had first interviewed, I had had a chance to talk with the recruiter. And so when our recruiter had asked me, you know, what are my salary requirements, which is very common for a recruiter to ask, you know, this is not a time for negotiation and this is not a time to give numbers.
Keep the Conversation Going
37:37 My-Linh: So you want to keep the conversation going. So what I typically recommend is to say, thanks so much for asking about salary. You know, it’s not the top priority and I’m sure this is a really good fit for me and I’m sure we can find something that’s amenable for both of us. With that in mind, could you tell me what range you had in mind? Or what range you had budgeted for the role, right? So like to turn it back on them. And so that’s how I knew that the range for this, what they pitched to me back in November actually, was you know, probably 95 to $100,000. I was like, you know, I didn’t have any emotional response to that, but I knew that’s sort of where I was. And so when I was going into the second time I talked with the recruiter, he asked me the same question again.
38:26 My-Linh: And I literally just said the same thing to him. He talks with lots of folks so I don’t think he remembered my particular script. And he said to me, you know probably between, you know, the low end would probably be $115K to $130K. And so, right, without saying, I had thought a lot about like, you know, do I want to say, “Oh, well, last time you told me this.” I just kept it open and just sort of was open to that. So I knew that the salary band had increased. So I thought, okay, well maybe, you know, coming up not even having my PhD yet. And you know, I do have some experience, but I don’t have any industry experience, you know, probably I could get 120 maybe with that. So when I found out that I got the job offer, they called me up and their offer was within the salary band of 130 to $150,000, upper end of that. And my jaw just dropped. I pretended to stay cool, but it was completely unfathomable to me what they had offered. Yeah, I just, I didn’t think that I would ever be in that salary range at all. Based off of right, just like my own limiting beliefs about what I could make or how I deserve to be compensated.
39:49 Emily: Because I’m thinking that’s probably like four to five to six times what you were making as a grad student, right?
39:54 My-Linh: That’s right. Yeah.
39:55 Emily: So never anchor yourself on that grad student salary.
39:59 My-Linh: Exactly. And so another part of, I guess, being open to that is when I talked to people, informational interviews, I also specifically asked them if I knew them well enough to say, how much do you make? Just so I could get a sense of where people were. So I knew that $80,000 was probably on the low end of what would be acceptable for my training and knowledge and that, you know, a hundred, 120 is sort of where people are at. So to come in above that at the offer, I was like, okay. So being again, someone who loves professional development, I knew I had to negotiate. And it felt very uncomfortable to negotiate because I was like, no one’s ever valued me, like at that. And again, right, I’m not talking about tying my value to my salary, but that was just completely unfathomable to me.
40:52 My-Linh: I would’ve been happy to accept, you know, with that salary range. And so I took some time to kind of reflect and say, they’re expecting this of me. You know, it’s a large company. All recruiters expect you to negotiate. But you can’t just come to say, like, I deserve more money because I know I should negotiate, right? So again, to be prepared for those negotiation conversations, like, you need to have a rationale for why you want that increase and sort of what you’re bringing to the table for them. And I knew that there was nothing to lose. You know, I was already happy with the salary. And I think that the common myth that people have is like, oh, if you ask for more, you seem greedy. When in reality, you know, you value the work that you bring to them and you are going to be a top performer for them.
41:42 My-Linh: And it’s in their best interest. Having gone through the whole hiring process, they want you, so that’s when the cards are in your hand to make a negotiation and at no time before that, until they give you an offer. They want you, and they will do everything that they can to go to bat for you, if you provide them with enough information. So that’s what I did. You know, ultimately it was a five minute conversation with the recruiter and that, you know, that got me increased by 15K within a five minute conversation. And part of that was being prepared for that, all the anxiety and nerves that come with having a negotiation and knowing that recruiters do this day in and day out. So they’re not phased at all when they asked you for a number, but even if it was a five-minute conversation, that was like three days of me preparing for that conversation, getting prepped, mentally, knowing what my scripts were and how to respond, but that five-minute conversation increased my base salary immediately.
42:43 My-Linh: And so, I just really want to advocate, you know, as a woman, as a person of color, anybody should be negotiating, even if the offer is amazing. Because 1000% my offer was amazing and I would be happy just signing off on that. But like five minutes, you know, someone went to bat for me, they were excited and it said to me, yeah, this is the right place. You know, for me, they really valued what I’m bringing. So that’s just what I want to emphasize to everybody is that even if they’re coming at you with a really impressive salary, that it’s always in the cards for you to negotiate, and if they’re going to low ball you from the beginning, I personally would walk away, because you know that they’re not valuing you for what you want. So like, when they low ball you, you might get maybe 2000 more, maybe.
43:36 My-Linh: And if that’s where you’re starting, all of your bonuses, all of your pay increases from there, start from that point. So that’s why I want to just emphasize for everybody that having that base salary is really important to negotiate. And then there’s other things you can do in terms of like, you know, PTO or other professional development things, which fortunately they were already included in my package. So there wasn’t really that much more for me to ask because they had given me what I wanted with salary. So the worst they can say is no. The best is, you know, you get some increase in that base.
5 Minutes Could Gain You $15K
44:12 Emily: I really like that you mentioned these timelines. So it was a five-minute conversation that you spent three days intensely preparing for, especially emotionally. But I think also some logistically, so you put scripts together and so forth. But as we talked about earlier, it’s also the years of building towards this moment that gave you those tools and the mindset to know to ask for that extra $15,000. And that, I mean, that is a big amount of money, even on top of an already generous salary. I mean, that’s almost going to be your whole 401(k) for like the whole year. So it’s an amazing amount of money, but just knowing there was so much preparation, just to keep in mind, there was so much preparation that went into that five-minute conversation. Not even just the three days immediately spent before it. Is there anything else that you want to share about that negotiation process?
45:05 My-Linh: I would say that it is stressful, but there are a lot of resources out there on how to prepare for that. And practicing is crucial. Again, like I mentioned, you know, you probably get to negotiate maybe like three, four times in your life, maybe on a salary, whereas recruiters do this all the time. So it does take preparation and you can do it, and there are lots of resources and I’d be happy to share those with you. And practice. Practicing it out loud so that you feel comfortable.
Balancing Work and Finishing the PhD
45:36 Emily: That’s a very generous offer. Just to give like a quick update. So you’re, I don’t know, a month or two into actually, you’ve started this job now. But you’re also still finishing your dissertation. So can you just give us an update on how things are going now that you’ve started this fantastic job and what your plans are for the coming months?
45:57 My-Linh: Yeah, so actually part of the negotiation was asking for a later start date. And yeah, being able to actually have like three extra months to put in full-time work on my PhD, knowing that I had a job, gave me some peace of mind. So, also, right, you can negotiate for a later start date. But yeah, it’s been tough navigating both, right, when you’re sort of like onboarding. And I knew I wanted to get to a certain place in my thesis to just sort of feel comfortable with doing both. And, fortunately, I work on a globally distributed team. I can work flexible hours. And so I mostly work on Eastern time hours. So I worked from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM, take a break. And then I do thesis work for between like two to three hours. And I take Thursdays off from doing any additional thesis work.
46:50 My-Linh: But it’s a lot, so it’s a lot to be managing that. And I, like I said, I wanted to get to a certain part of my thesis where I didn’t have to do as much analytical work so that I can really focus on the writing. And not everyone has, you know, things don’t always work up with the timing. But yeah, that’s sort of where I am right now. My job, you know, knows that I’m working on my PhD, is 1000% behind me finishing my PhD. And so that’s another thing I think I wanted to mention is that people oftentimes think that, you know, organizations don’t value your PhD or you need to your PhD. There are institutions that want you because you have that credential and because you have that knowledge. And being at a place that recognizes the effort that you’ve put in and wants you to fulfill, you know, your degree is a place that you want to be. You know, a place that you can use your PhD and that values that. So that’s another thing I want to emphasize in job searching.
Money Mindset Influenced by The Wealthy PhD
47:53 Emily: With our second to last question here, I want to come back to where we started the conversation, which is where you and I met, which was through The Wealthy PhD. And one of the sort of effects of The Wealthy PhD that I could see on you especially is that you really took to the mindset, the financial mindset, the money mindset aspect of that curriculum. And you really, even more so than I do, like were implementing the strategies from, you know, working on your money mindset. So can you just speak a little bit about what influence The Wealthy PhD or the mindset stuff that you learned from The Wealthy PhD, what effect that has had on this job career search process?
48:31 My-Linh: Now, I think The Wealthy PhD was so crucial right at that time when I was job searching and also just ready to like get my finances in order and be responsible. And so yeah, one of the first activities was around mindset and just understanding how many limiting beliefs there are as a PhD student about money. Especially around yeah, how you should be valued in the workspaces if you’re not in academia. And so this idea of like PhDs, we’re so passionate about research, it’s fine if we don’t make a ton of money, that’s not the priority. And it still isn’t, you know, my salary isn’t my priority. Or this idea that like I have all this specialized knowledge and people outside aren’t going to value that. And, you know, I shouldn’t work at these places because they don’t value what I do or, you know, there’s so many limiting beliefs around money.
49:27 My-Linh: And being one of the first activities that we did, I think it was helpful to say like, well do the research that proves or disproves this. You know, where do you see this being affirmed, and where do you not? And then anyone who knows me knows that I love a good affirmation or two or 10. So to share those affirmations, I have them on sticky notes and I continue to share them with other people who are job searching, which is my skills and talents are in demand, and I deserve to be paid well. Those two, you know, they’re very simple, but I kept looking back at those, you know, on my sticky note to kind of ground me in my search. And so that was huge. For me, you know, when I sort of got the job offer to be like, yes, this is the affirmation realized. My skills and talents are in demand, and I deserve to be paid well.
50:23 My-Linh: And obviously this wasn’t some like woo-woo magic, right? Like there’s a lot of work that went into realizing that, but that definitely, you know, when we talked earlier about what sustained me, having that to ground me in my job search was exceptionally helpful. So yeah, people are going to come in with all sorts of, you know, mindsets about money, about the job search. And, you know, even people listening today and be like, “Oh, this isn’t for me. You know, I’m not there. I don’t have those circumstances.” So, you know, what I have to say to that is like, you find what works for you. Maybe the affirmation doesn’t work. But you have to find the mindset that’s going to facilitate you doing what you need to do. And if you want to continue having the limiting belief, then that’s only a disservice to you. And so how do you get yourself in this space? Not from a toxic positivity mindframe, but the idea of like what is going to help me be successful initiating my goals? And having a healthy mindset is a part of that.
Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs
51:24 Emily: I think you phrased that so well. And this interview, and this part of this interview, I think can be one of those examples of when someone listening has a limiting belief around how their skills can be valued outside of academia, or whatever. They can say, “Well, I heard My-Linh talk about this wonderful job that was such a good fit for her that’s paying her fabulously,” and look at that. That is an example of, you know, a counterexample from this limiting belief that I have. I’m glad you mentioned, like, this is not woo-woo, this is not toxic positivity because there’s a phrase that I see kind of thrown around sometimes, which is whether you believe you can, or you can’t, you’re right. Which is not a hundred percent true, right? There are actual, in real life, not in your head barriers to you achieving something that you want to achieve, whether it’s in your finances or your career or whatever. But it is also true that your mind and your mindset will limit you if you allow it to. So, like, in addition to those real, in the world, barriers that many, many people face, don’t add your own mindset on top of that, right? Like do the work to get your mindset in the right place so that you can do the best you can in the circumstances that you’re in. And also of course, work to dismantle those barriers for yourself and for other people later on. So is there anything else you wanted to add about this before we conclude the interview?
52:45 My-Linh: Yeah, I guess I wanted to just be open with our listeners and to say, you know, I don’t share my story to say, “Oh, look at me. I make all this money, I have this great job and look what I’ve achieved.” I share this story to say, imagine the unfathomable happening. Imagine that I’m in your corner rooting for you, too. This is not about a competition. This is not about who gets paid more. Who’s valued more. I want everyone to find a job where they’re paid well, and using the skillsets and talents that they have. And so I just want to hold vision for everyone who’s listening. You know, like I’m not sharing this story to say, this is the magic bullet to do things. I’m sharing the story so that you can also see and plant the seed that it’s possible for you, too. And, you know, again, when I said earlier about, you know, who’s kind of in your support system, you want people who are rooting for you for that job that you want, and that pays you well. And, you know, count me in that corner.
Best Financial Advice for Another Early-Career PhD
53:44 Emily: Oh, thank you so much for that thought, My-Linh. I wish we actually were ending the interview there, but I have one more question for you, which is the one I ask of all my guests. Which is what is your best financial advice for another early-career PhD?
53:58 My-Linh: Yeah, I think for me thinking about, we talk a lot about investing, and I think about investing in quality of life. Investing in the things that are important to you. And there’s a lot of like scarcity in the PhD world. We don’t have large salaries. I’ve lived in that space. But spending money on things that you know are going to be helpful in supporting you professionally, personally, in achieving your goals. And I can’t emphasize enough. Like I invested in myself by being a part of the Wealthy PhD, and other PhD communities that I’m a part of. And yes, that’s money, and it seems like a lot of money. And it’s not directly related to your research, but taking time to figure out where you want to invest in yourself and what that looks like monetarily, to help support you in your goals is something that I would recommend to all early-career PhDs or in general to anybody. But I think oftentimes, right, this idea of just we have to save all this money. I don’t have money for this, find places where you can invest money in yourself. Not the market, but yourself for the longterm.
55:10 Emily: I love that sentiment, of course. And I’ll add onto that as well. Like just to broaden that thought into the rest of our conversation on this job search and career exploration process. Like you’re investing heavily in yourself by getting a PhD by all the opportunity costs that you are incurring, by all the time, heavy, heavy investment. But getting the PhD is like maybe an 80% solution to getting the job that you want. Like you need to put in that last 20% of the career exploration, of the networking, of the professional development, of all the stuff that we’ve been talking about during this conversation to really ultimately land that job that’s a great fit for you and compensate you on everything that we’ve been talking about today. So like, it’s just getting, we’ve used this ball metaphor a couple times, but just getting to that, like finish line, getting to the end zone, like just that last couple of steps of the process to give you that amazing satisfaction in your career that you are hopefully now going to enjoy.
56:02 Emily: Yeah, you need to do that last little bit of investment on top of what you’re already putting into the PhD or else, you know, you could enter the PhD and not be super happy with a job that you end up with because PhD programs don’t really prepare you that well for the many, many types of jobs that are available to PhDs. You have to do just that bit more that we’ve been talking about. So My-Linh, I loved this conversation, and thank you so much for coming on the podcast and sharing all of this with the listeners. You’ve mentioned LinkedIn a couple of times. Is there any other good place where people can find you?
56:33 My-Linh: That’s probably the best place to find me, and yeah. Feel free to connect with me. I’d be happy to talk more specifically about my job search or about my job. So yeah, feel free to link up with me on LinkedIn.
56:45 Emily: Very good. Thank you so much.
56:46 My-Linh: Thanks, Emily!
56:53 Emily: Listeners, thank you for joining me for this episode! pfforphds.com/podcast/ is the hub for the Personal Finance for PhDs podcast. On that page are links to all the episodes’ show notes, which include full transcripts and videos of the interviews. There is also a form to volunteer to be interviewed on the podcast. I’d love for you to check it out and get more involved! If you’ve been enjoying the podcast, here are 4 ways you can help it grow: 1. Subscribe to the podcast and rate and review it on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or whatever platform you use. 2. Share an episode you found particularly valuable on social media, with a email list-serv, or as a link from your website. 3. Recommend me as a speaker to your university or association. My seminars cover the personal finance topics PhDs are most interested in, like investing, debt repayment, and effective budgeting. I also license pre-recorded workshops on taxes. 4. Subscribe to my mailing list at PFforPhDs.com/subscribe/. Through that list, you’ll keep up with all the new content and special opportunities for Personal Finance for PhDs. See you in the next episode, and remember: You don’t have to have a PhD to succeed with personal finance… but it helps! The music is “Stages of Awakening” by Podington Bear from the Free Music Archive and is shared under CC by NC. Podcast editing by Lourdes Bobbio and show notes creation by Meryem Ok.
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