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By Leah Poffenberger
For students or early career APS members, career fairs at APS Meetings have provided a crucial opportunity to build connections with potential employers. At the 2021 March Meeting, which took place entirely online, the APS Careers team rolled out a virtual career fair to reproduce a traditional job fair as closely as possible. Following the success of that event, another online job fair—the 2021 APS Virtual Career Fair—will be held for the first time from September 13 to 15.
The career fair at the March Meeting was held across three days, drawing around 300 attendees over the course of the event to a virtual space on Gather.Town, which was set up to mimic the usual conference environment with customized booths for each employer. For the first time, the March Career Fair was open to all early career, undergraduate, or graduate student members of APS, regardless of whether they were attending the rest of the meeting.
Creating spaces for networking and building personal connections at virtual meetings has been challenging but employing a platform such as Gather.Town—where users have avatars they can use to walk around a space and initiate conversations—has its upsides.
"Eighteen employers participated, and most of them said they’d participate in a similar event again,” says Crystal Bailey, Head of Career Programs at APS. “The employers also said they were able to chat with potential candidates and get the word out about new programs…and the event attracted very good applicants.”
Attendees of the March Career Fair were able to visit with potential employers in a virtual exhibit hall.
“Gather is the best tool I’ve seen to partially recreate these environments. It’s not perfect, but there are ways it’s actually better, like finding people quickly or chatting across distances, which is not something you can do in an exhibit hall,” says Bailey. “A lot of people are going to be drawn to go back to the old way of doing things, but the important thing that Gather has allowed is a lowered barrier to participation. You don’t have to find money to come to an event or negotiate visas.”
The 2021 APS Virtual Career Fair is looking to capitalize on the success of the March Meeting fair by launching a similar event, this time combined with a grad school fair. The three-day event will welcome students and early career scientists to network with employers in industry, national labs, and academia, as well as graduate programs.
“This event will be very similar to March, with tables, literature, promo videos, and private conversation spaces—we’re also looking at best mechanisms for posting jobs or advertising specific jobs,” says Bailey. “We’re also combining the career fair with a grad school fair. A downside of grad fairs at March Meeting is that a lot of students have already decided where they’re going, but September is an ideal time to recruit.”
According to Bailey, following a slight dip in hiring last year due to the pandemic, hiring activity in physics-related jobs has bounced back. “Things are looking great,” she says. Still, for job seekers worried about job hunting in a virtual scenario, Bailey suggests seeking guidance from APS Webinars for tips and tricks on navigating career exploration. For would-be attendees of the September virtual career fair, Bailey offered more advice.
“Have an agenda—do some research, look at who is there, understand what they’re looking for,” says Bailey. “Think of this as an opportunity where you have access to people. Plan out who to visit, and what questions you want to ask. Be intentional, and use the resources on the APS Careers website, which has a lot of great information to prepare job seekers.”
To learn more about the Virtual Career Fair, or to register as a recruiter or attendee, visit the Virtual Career Fair page.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine