Job Loss- And a Heads-Up

Todd Washburn |

The world of university-based research is driven by grants.  They are the life-blood of a researcher’s work and career. Grants provide the money to buy supplies, pay staff, go to conferences and all the other things involved in running a lab.  Grants usually come via a competitive, peer-reviewed process.  There are always more requests than money- so you end up with winners and losers.  Not getting a grant can severely impact a scientist’s position at the university since without the money, the work doesn’t continue. So losing a grant is like losing a job.

The economy is certainly growing, though slowly.  Unemployment has dropped quite a bit in the last few years.  However, there are still folks being laid off or moving out of the workforce involuntarily (i.e. illness, caring for a family member).  GSK announced a large layoff late in 2014.  There have been some others in the paper over the last few months.  Losing your job is a tremendous shock to the system- emotionally, financially, for your family and others.  There are, though, some things to do to prepare for such an event, and there are other things to know if it happens.

While you still have your job, you might want to periodically assess your situation.
Are you:

             •   Staying current with the knowledge, skills and abilities expected in your field?  (Careful to not be just cruising.)

             • Networking regularly?  Do you keep up with former colleagues, supervisors, friends and professional acquaintances?  Harvey Mackay wrote a book about this:  Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty.  It might be worth a read.

             • Keeping your finger on the pulse of your industry and employer?   Do you know where things are going, where things are working or not?

Have you:

             • Put away a rainy-day fund to give yourself time to regroup and job-search without having to worry about paying the bills?  How long is the typical job search in your field?  Save for that length of time plus a few months.

             • Sat down and figured where initially you might tighten the belt just to preserve some cash?  You may not want to drastically change things in the household- it can be scary for your spouse and kids. But, if the rainy-day fund is small or non-existent, you may need to make major changes quickly.  Think that through ahead of time.

             • Updated your resume or CV?  Be sure to use the language of our field (look at job ads in your field) since many resumes are first screened electronically for key words.

             • Learned how to use on-line search tools and submit resumes online?  It’s a radically different world out there than even 10 years ago.

If you are laid off, take a deep breath.  Assess your situation. Fill your family in on the situation and your plans for the search.  Understand that in some cases it wasn’t your fault - the company’s needs changed, and you were caught in the middle.  Once you are a little settled:

             • Understand that for most people finding a job is your new job.

             • A severance package isn’t a pass to do nothing until it ends. It’s support while you look for another position.  Don’t squander this safety-net.

             • See if you can get favorable recommendations/testimonials from former supervisors or colleagues.

             • Start tapping that network- online and in-person.  Tell people your   situation.  Don’t hide it out of embarrassment.  If you’ve been networking, they’ll know what you’ve been up to, and you won’t be in the position of contacting them only when you need something.

             • Be somewhat flexible.  A temporary lower-paying job- even a little out of your field- may be better than nothing.  It’s money coming in, activity on your resume, and a chance to meet people who might be able to help in finding your new dream job.

The Heads-Up:  When you lose your job, you may be offered continued health benefits under the COBRA program. That can be great- especially if you have a spouse or minor children dependent on your health plan.  But if you’re age 65, you are eligible for Medicare.  You have 8 months to apply for it once you stop working- or face life-time penalties for not enrolling on time.  COBRA can last 18 months, so sometimes folks wait until it ends to apply.  That’s too late to avoid the penalties. and you may find you can’t enroll until the next year- leaving you without coverage.  COBRA and Medicare can work together.   Typically Medicare is primary coverage, covering 80% of costs.- COBRA picks up the other 20%.  But if you don’t have Medicare, you could be on the hook for the 80%.  Ouch!

For most scientists, losing a grant isn’t the end of the line, and neither is losing a job the end for most of us.  But a little preparation, a realistic assessment of the situation, and some knowledge can go a long way toward helping you get your grant “renewed”.