Reposted from the OHSU Neuroscience Graduate Program blog (requires OHSU log-in)
Recently, Kateri Spinelli, a PhD student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program, posted her research on things you can do with a science PhD besides the traditional postdoc pathway. She’s given us permission to repost her findings here, including lots of links below the fold. Thanks, Kateri!
By Kateri Spinelli
Over the past year or so, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what to do after I defend my PhD. Being in grad school for 6.5 years is in some ways a blessing, especially in the middle of a recession, but suddenly I needed to start making decisions again. Decisions about career, personal life, and what I’d like to spend my time doing in the next few years. I’ll tell you up front, I wanted to do a post-doc, and then I didn’t (even after post-doc interviews), and now I’ve come full circle and have found a great lab that I’m really excited to join. But along the way, I’ve learned a lot about what else is “out there” for PhDs who are looking to step away from academic research. While we receive great mentoring on how to search, apply, and interview for post-doc positions, I don’t see graduate students getting a lot of advice on career searches outside of academic research. That’s why I’d like to share some of my experiences with the NGP community in the hopes that others can benefit from what I’ve learned.
There are in fact a lot of other career paths for PhDs; the new Career Development workshop will help highlight some of these options. PIs who have chosen the academic path don’t always have a good understanding of what else is out there – you can’t really blame them, this is the path they chose so it is what they know best. But they also probably know journal editors, science writers, NIH grant managers, etc. who would be happy to talk to you about their careers. So, ask your PI, ask your committee, ask the PI next door. They want you to succeed, but they can’t help if you don’t communicate with them.
This brings me to my first big suggestion – network. Talk to as many people as you can about what they do, how they got there, and what advice they have given your specific background and interests. After working in a lab for so long, most of us have little idea of what it’s like to come to work and sit at a desk all day. Finding out what it’s like day-to-day for the careers you’re interested in will help you narrow down whether or not you could actually see yourself doing that job. Many people will give you more contacts to follow up with, again depending on your specific interests – contact those people too. Not everyone is going to email you back, which is more reason to put out your feelers to as many people as possible.
On this same note of networking, make a LinkedIn profile. It’s helpful for connecting with people you may have known long ago who now have the job you want, and people who you don’t know but may be interested in telling you about the job they have. LinkedIn has groups and organizations that you can connect to that could be useful in your search. Finally, creating your profile is a great way to practice describing your work and your interests in a broader context.
Start a careers journal. Don’t laugh, this has been very helpful for me. Take notes when you talk to the people you’re networking with, jot down ideas when you’re perusing the ScienceCareers website, make a list of things you like and don’t like about your graduate work. Having all of these notes in one place is hugely helpful.
Here are some careers you may be considering: biotech, teaching, science writing, publishing, editing, science communications, and science policy. Volunteering is a great way to try out some of these options, for example: contact someone at Lewis and Clark or Reed college about volunteer teaching opportunities, or even to just sit in on a biology class to see if you think you’d enjoy teaching at a small college. [I know there are NGP students that have taught classes around Portland, so talk to your fellow students too]. If you’re interested in science communications, volunteer at OMSI and for the Brain Fair through the OHSU Brain Institute (OBI). If you’re interested in biotech – there are a lot of different paths you can take, both at the bench and as a project manager or Medical Science Liaison – check out the webinars on sciencecareers.org that highlight the differences between academia and biotech, and also provide tips on how to apply for jobs in biotech.
One of the wise Garys once said: do you like to read, write, or talk? Answering that question will narrow down the options for which career path will make you happy. And my final piece of advice: don’t do a post-doc just because it’s the easiest thing to slide into, or because you think it’s expected of you. If you’re not happy, it’s a bad situation for you, your PI, and your colleagues. Remember, there are lots of options out there! Whatever direction you go in after graduate school, I encourage you to take some time to explore, think about what you really want to do, and be proactive.
*thanks to Rachel Clemens-Grisham for the ScienceCareers article links
http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/ – LOTS of info about many different careers, including webinars, blogs, career profiles and career searches; here are 2 articles that I found particularly helpful and relevant:
http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2006_11_10/noDOI.4277528898545922912 - Mastering you PhD series, with helpful info from choosing a mentor to writing your dissertation and applying for jobs
http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2004_08_27/noDOI.10925311399901543611 – A really open and honest blog that tracks a young scientist through 6 years of grad school, post-doc, and transitioning to a job away from the bench
http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/education/schools/school-of-medicine/academic-programs/neuroscience-graduate-program/ngp-graduates/copy-of-graduates-by-year.cfm – List of NGP graduates and what they’re doing now, this is a great place to start networking
http://www.oregonbio.org/ – Oregon Bioscience Association – there’s not a lot of biotech in Portland, but there are a few medical devices and high-throughput cancer research start-ups; OBA hosts events to connect the business-minded and scientifically-minded people in Oregon (including scientists at LifeSciences/Molecular Probes in Eugene)
http://www.linkedin.com/ – Professional networking site
http://www.awis.org/ – Association for Woman in Science – career advice, mentoring opportunities
http://versatilephd.com/ – Information on non-academic careers for PhDs, including forums, job postings, and networking opportunities
http://www.omsi.edu/volunteer – Volunteering at OMSI
http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/education/schools/research-institutes/brain-institute/ – Volunteering for Brain Awareness week through OBI
http://fellowships.aaas.org/ – AAAS Science and Technology Fellowship, aimed at post-docs who are interested in policy work, must already have a PhD
http://www.aaas.org/programs/education/MassMedia/ - AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship, aimed at graduate students interested in science writing, must be within one year post-defense to apply