Top tips for building a career in Research….

By Casey Dugan, an engineer in the Cognitive User Experience Group at IBM Research in Cambridge, MA.

 Casey awardDuring my time here, I’ve heard a number of different senior vice presidents speak to us, and each time the message has been the same:

“IBM Research is made up of world-class talent, who are uniquely qualified to and should be tackling the most challenging problems, to make the world a better place”


Pretty inspiring stuff, no matter how many times I hear it! And when you think about IBM having over 400,000 employees and IBM Research representing less than 1% of that, it seems like a pretty elite group to be a part of. But the most important tip I’ve learned, which I’ve heard in almost every hiring discussion I’ve been a part of, is that regardless of whether there is a formal job opening advertised, there are nearly always opportunities in IBM Research for world class talent!

So how do you show you’re world class? Here are my top tips….

A passion for innovation

No matter what kind of candidates I’m interviewing, I’m always looking for a passion for innovation. I’ll never forget my very first interview at IBM Research, and being asked a very simple question: “what kinds of new features would you add to an instant messaging client if given absolute freedom?” As an undergrad in college, where most interviews consistent of coding tasks to test your knowledge, this was the first time someone had given me an interview question like that. I remember coming up with some ideas on the spot then going home and coming up with a LOT more. I knew then that this was the kind of place I wanted to work!

Cambridge researchers

Self motivation

Researchers also tend to be pretty self-motivated, pursuing that passion for innovation. A salary isn’t usually what makes researchers pull all-nighters before a big conference deadline! So I’m looking to work with people who have tried to pursue some of those great ideas or make them happen as side projects.

Patience and persistence

After working here for nearly a decade, I think a great candidate also needs patience and persistence. We’re working on the future, and sometimes need to be prepared to guide the rest of the world and wait while they catch up. I’ve had other business units come back to us ready to productize something we worked on years ago – which is just as much of a success to me as the work that sailed through more easily.

Try an internship

I mentioned before that my first interview with IBM was as an undergrad. That was for an internship. I ended up interning twice with my group before finally joining full-time after getting my Master’s degree. That is another piece of advice I’d offer to anyone still in school: intern at IBM to increase your chances of joining full-time. Not only does it give you an inside look at the company before you have to make a full-time commitment, it also gives your future colleagues a way to see everything you’re capable of. At one point, over half of our group was made up of former interns!

Don’t be scared to reach out

My final piece of advice, for people looking at IBM Research, in particular, is to reach out to individual researchers doing work that interests you. Many of us publish at academic conferences and those papers include contact information. Why not reach out to discuss that work and make a new connection in the process? You’ll be able to better find out what kind of opportunities in that group might be available, from internships to post-docs to full-time positions. And even if a job isn’t available right now, you might still be able to collaborate on a project together!

Read the tips and think you have what it takes to work in IBM Research? My group is hiring!  We’re looking for researchers and engineers to work on the latest cognitive technologies. Apply here

See all the jobs available in IBM Research at

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