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#91 Francesca Cappellini Story

Dr. Francesca Capellini holds a PhD in Biology, is a scientist writer, a science communicator and also works as a researcher for the NPO Fondazione Umberto Veronesi. In this episode she talks about how she prevailed over common mistakes done while applying for a job.

Published onJan 17, 2020
#91 Francesca Cappellini Story

Welcome to this new episode where Dr. Francesca Capellini shares her experience about her career path as a scientist. Francesca did a PhD in Biology and held a postdoc position on nanoparticle toxicity at the IMM Institute Karolinska. She is currently working as a researcher for the non-profit organization Fondazione Umberto Veronesi. She is also a scientist writer and a science communicator.

In this episode, she talks about the common mistakes done while applying for a job or position as well as how she prevailed over those. Would you like to know how she overcame her circumstances? Listen to this episode.

If you also have a story to be told or if you know someone, please don´t hesitate to contact us. Enjoy Listening!

Tina: Hello everybody! This is Tina Person, founder of the podcast PhD Career Stories. Today we have a very exciting podcast…I was tagged by this woman on LinkedIn, and I was surprised because I recognized her. It was Francesca Capellini from Italy, and the first time I met her, that was at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and that is actually many years ago but I remember her. I was at that time working at the Career Office in Stockholm and we had a possibility to meet, Francesca and I…and that turned out to be a change for her. I’m extremely glad for that. But you can hear more on that in this podcast here. But why is this podcast so interesting? Well, the reason is, for you who feel that no one is replying on your applications, you don’t hear anything back from the recruitment companies, or companies in general… You apply and you apply, and you simply don’t hear anything. You start to lose hope because you think there is something wrong with you. The thing is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you, but most probably you have the wrong technique. You probably brand yourself in the wrong way, and your cover letter and your application in general, it does not really have the right touch. Francesca will help you here because she has been doing all these kinds of mistakes so she will gladly share these kind of mistakes with you in the podcast here. Today she is back in Italy after a short trip to Stockholm and she works as a researcher in a non-profit organization, and then she has done something more clever here, because she learned that it’s not enough to have a cover letter, you need to do something else and as we know, we are living in a more digital world, you need to have a LinkedIn presence, say, by changing her attitude to networking, transferable skills, approaching people, hidden job strategy etc, she has now started to find a way to maybe her dream job. But she’s also learned something more important: volunteering. Today, she is not only a researcher, she’s also in science communication. She works as a medical writer, and she has her own blog. So very welcome to listen to this fantastic Francesca and learn from her, because career development is all about doing a lot of mistakes and learn from them. All the best, Tina.

Francesca: Hello everyone! I am Francesca Capellini and today I’ll talk about my career path as a scientist and I hope you will find it useful. I studied biology in Italy and I got my master’s in 2011 and that same year I started my PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology. During my master’s and my PhD I was studying nanoparticle functionalization for biomedical and industrial purposes. During the last month of my PhD, I had the opportunity to be visiting PhD student in Karolinska Institute, in particular, IMM department where I started studying nanoparticles toxicology. I enjoyed very much the atmosphere at Karolinska and I actually liked very much Sweden, and I decided that I wanted to continue my career in Sweden…And so I started to create contact there and thanks to one of my colleague I managed to get in contact with Hanna Karlsson. At that time Hannah was just starting a new lab so I just told her about my interest in keeping working on nanoparticle toxicology and I proposed myself to help her anyway I could after my PhD defense that was due in December. Actually in January Hannah contacted me saying that she might have some work for me for three months. So on the 6th of February I was already in Stockholm, I didn’t know how I managed to find a place to live in in just two weeks and and so I started my first, let’s say, post-doc experience for these three months with Hannah. The experience was so good that the three months actually lasted one year and a half… so I stayed with Hannah until June 2016 and, unfortunately you know how it happens in research, sometime fundings are there, and sometimes there is no more funding, so I had to start research for other position, for other job and that time was very
hard because was the first time for me that I actually had to send CV, letter of presentation, find job to target…was very difficult because at that time I didn’t know my value and sometimes I still don’t…I didn’t know what to target, which position was good for me and actually I didn’t know my possibilities. When you finish your PhD you are in a condition where you’re sort of afraid…I mean…for me it was like that! I finished my PhD and then I was so lucky that I got this contact and I started my post-doc…but I never had the possibility to really think about my possibilities, which job I could target… so I was a little bit lost and I started targeting every job that I could find…of course with no answer… like… totally no answers. I was getting frustrated because I was sending every day, every day, letter of presentation and CV and…but I was not even getting an answer…and if I was getting an answer, it was “I’m sorry but we already found another candidate that it is better.” So I was just so depressed…one day I participated to a conference of the Career Service in K. I. and there, I had the possibility to sign up for a face-to-face meeting with Tina Person. That meeting was really life changing for me! So if my first tip for you is if you are lost, like, you have the possibility to find answers somewhere, you have services that are there. Just ask for help and people will help you! And for me it was really fundamental. So talking with Tina I realized what I was doing wrong in my job search, that I was targeting completely wrong jobs. I was projecting myself in a completely wrong way, my letter of presentation were not effective, everything was wrong. In my letter of presentation I was just begging for an opportunity, for a position, and this is not the way you should sound. And I was telling my story to convince them that I could fit into the job…you don’t have to tell a story, they don’t care what what you work for and what you work on before. They care about your skills, so I was not giving any transferable skills in my letter of presentation. So after my meeting with Tina I started targeting jobs that where right for me and I also started targeting jobs that before I was not even considering because I always dealt with nanoparticles and toxicity and cells. So I will never answer to a post-doc position that was about immunology, or animal studies because I thought I didn’t have the skills. But this is not true!! During your PhD you develop so many skills that probably you are not even aware of. So I applied for a position in Nutrogenomics, and yes it sounds very different from that of nanoparticles and actually it is…but in my letter of presentation, I was describing all the skills that I developed during my PhD and Master that could be applied to this job and, surprisingly enough, they answered to me saying they were interested in an interview with me. This was incredible for me, truly incredible…like…this was the first time that I actually got to the interview step and this was just right after my meeting with Tina. So just because I changed the way I was proposing myself. I got an interview and during the interview I was confident in presenting again all the skills that could be applied to the job and there was another problem in the job description: the job was on animal studies. I had very weak experience in animal study. I knew how to handle animals and I knew how to process tissues…but I never actually killed animals and I cannot do that…I know that I cannot do that… I have no problem working with animals, no ethical problem but I just know that I cannot kill an animal. So this for me was a problem, of course because if it’s a lab that is working with animals, you cannot just say: Hey, you know, I don’t kill animals…So but I also think that you need to be talkative and to be honest of course! It is the most important thing. You need to be confident about your skill but you need also to be honest in what you can do and what you cannot do. So during the interview I said this problem, I said I had no problem in handling animals, in treating, and processing the tissues but I had problem with killing animals. And actually they were okay with that. So
after my interview, some day after, they actually sent me an email that I got the job and that I was so surprised and so happy. So on June 30th I finish my experience in Karolinska and on July 1st , another contract in Italy, was starting. On one end I was so lucky that I got the job immediately after the previous one, but on the other hand I made a mistake, because even if you are going back to your country, it is not easy to end a job and leave the country and to start another job in another country in two days. It’s not easy but at that time I didn’t ask for any day for adapting, because I was too scared. I was scared they were taking back their offer or I don’t know what I was scared about. This is something that I want to share with you like, if it happens that you need to move from one country to another, from one job to another, and you feel that you need some time for adapting, just ask for it. For me were enough just few days, just to get back home and get familiar again with my home and start a new job. Instead I got home on Sunday at eight pm and on Monday at ten I was already in the new job. So this is something that you should try to avoid because the first period was really tough. So I started this new job in nutrigenomic and it was tough…it was tough because it’s a totally different job and when you are a post-doc, you are supposed to be in charge with your project and you are supposed to know what to do and to write your own project…So was really hard for me because I arrived in the new lab, they said that you need to complete this job, this is what we want you to work on, get some idea and also in September you need to write a project and apply for funding. You can imagine that it was scary…it was scary but…I mean if you want something you can do it…and you have all the skills that you need to do it…I really truly believe that the a PhD prepare you for anything. So I just did what I always did: I started studying, I starting getting idea, and I wrote my first project. and I applied for funding for a non-profit that is Fondazione Umberto Veronese, an Italian non-profit that deals with the cancer research and also lifestyle and for disease prevention and this is actually where I applied for. Because my job was and is, and still is on natural molecules that can help to prevent some disease. So I applied for this funding and I got it! And this was another little success because I came from a totally different field but I managed to create a project and to get funding for it. So once again you are truly capable of anything…like…I mean… I am not special, I am just as anyone of you, so if you are put in front of a challenge, just give your best and you will win. So I started this collaboration in January 2017 with this non-profit and now is the third year that I’ve been working for them. I am writing project and getting their funding for my projects and when you work for a non-profit or when you are funded from a nonprofit, you are asked also to do some dissemination activities and science communication activity and these actually opened me a world that I was not aware of. And I actually didn’t know that I could like. So I started to have some dissemination activity or science communication activity to school, to students. I was also invited as a speaker for some lay public science events and I discovered a passion for a science communication especially for lay public. So I started to imagine future life as a science communicator or as a medical writer. But how to go in that direction? I mean, I just know the academia environment, I don’t know anything about industry environment. Of course I started participating to every activity that I could for the non-profit that I work for as a researcher for but I also wanted to experience something more, and something different. So I started to look around for a position as a freelancer, for a medical writer but of course I couldn’t find anything because my background was again academia, and again I didn’t know how to propose myself to an industry public. During my search I discovered the cheeky scientist
association. The cheeky scientist association is an association of a PhD that help other PhD to transition from academia to industry. How do they do that? they just provide information on how the industry works and they train you to speak the industry language and to translate your academic skills into industry relevant skills. So I joined cheeky scientist association in August, I started their training and I completed their training and after this, I started to be more confident in how to present myself in industry and I started the networking. Networking is something that for me, that I am I a shy, super-shy person, is impossible…or seems impossible so I but…It’s important. Networking is the key to get you any job that you want. I mean, you probably know, but the job market, for ninety percent, is hidden. The ads that you find are just ten percent of the available job and most of them are actually already taken because they are just advertised because they have to advertised but probably the position is already filled. So how to get in that ninety percent hidden job offer and this is something that cheeky scientist association teaches you. So I started networking and before networking I started to update my LinkedIn profile. I was not aware of the importance of LinkedIn. It’s something that everybody tells you, LinkedIn gets you jobs like recruiters are on LinkedIn, but when I started my LinkedIn profile years ago I saw that it was not working for me. I completed my LinkedIn profile and no recruiter were calling me. Then I got to 500+ connection no recruiter were contacting me. So I just thought: okay LinkedIn doesn’t work! okay it’s just a myth! Instead is not, I was just using LinkedIn in a totally wrong way. So for you all PhD that want to transition into industry, or just want to get more possibility for your future job, learn how to use the LinkedIn. I had to! So I started networking there and once you start networking on the social network, you also become better at networking also in person. And this worked for me as well, so I started networking and this networking make me speak with friend of mine that spoke with another friend of her, at the end a third person came back to me and was like: Hey, you know I was working for a communication agency based in Milan! This is the person that you might want to contact. So I contacted the head of the medical writers of this agency on LinkedIn. She gave me her phone number and we had a call. This is another suggestion like, if you want to network with someone start with messages or email but actually as soon as you can get on the phone with this person because it’s better, because you can talk directly and the bond that you create is deeper. So I started talking with this person, the head of the medical writers in the agency and I asked her, I started asking her for tips, how a person like me with no experience in medical writing could gain experience, there are courses that I can do, books that you can read, or stuff that I can do… and she actually told me that it is not a job that you can learn, you can learn how to write better. But the background that you have from your PhD is more than enough to be a medical writer… and then I offered to collaborate with them anyway…I called for free… this is another advice from me: at the beginning don’t try to rush to a perfect job and don’t be afraid to offer your skill for free for a while, just to start…because this actually worked with me. So after this phone call, I got a test, they sent me a test to see how I was performing. And I did the test, and then we… I got to an informational interview with them so I met with them in person, and after that informational interview I started to collaborate with them for free and then as an external collaborator. So now I am a researcher full time and then in my spare time, I collaborate with the medic communication agency as a medical writer. And this is very important because in this way I can learn how to be a medical writer. Another theme that I started with the aim of improving my writing skills is to write on LinkedIn. So I believe that there is not a better way to learn how to write then just
writing and LinkedIn was a free platform to try to write down, to do something, to get experience. So this is what I do, I did. I started writing every day, five days a week, a post and in this way I started to realize how to write on such a network, how to get engagement, how to present stuff, what people are interested of course in my network and I started to understand that LinkedIn is based on giving value and help people, and by doing this, by helping people and giving other people value, you will get so much help and so much value back. So here is where I am now: I am a researcher full time for a nonprofit, I am a science communicator for non-profit, I am a medical writer for a communication agency and I started to I’m starting to build a LinkedIn profile that can get to me many other opportunity in medical writing and science communication. So this is my last tip for you: if you wanna do something just start doing it, just believe in yourself. Few years ago I couldn’t even imagine like, if someone would have told me like…hey, you could be, like, a medical writer I wouldn’t believe it…But..You can do anything that you put in your mind to do…like…if you decide something and you want it that strong enough, you will get it! So but just start working for it and this is what I did…like…if I look at myself back now, I can see that I wasted some time, I was not giving one hundred percent of my possibility. This is why now I’m trying to do everything that I can. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming yes but I am starting to see the results of what I’m doing. So I hope that my story will help you somehow, I hope that you got some inspiration from my story and if you have some other questions and or you want some other tips, or anything, just contact me on LinkedIn, I am always there and I always reply to everyone. So I truly enjoy telling my story and I hope you enjoy listen to me. Bye everyone.

Tina: So, Tina Persson here again! I hope that you learned a lot from Francesca here and I promise you she will be back very very soon, with her episode two on some specific tips and tricks that could help you. But till then, I hope that you follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and you can find more episodes on the webpage! And never hesitate to mail us on [email protected]. We’re interested in you and if you have any person or if you are interested in sharing your story or be interviewed contact us. All the best, good luck.

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