How to find a career with a science degreeJanuary 4, 2016
I have been asked many times over the past year about how to find a job outside of the lab or how to make the next step to find a rewarding science career by graduate students and postdocs. It is not an obvious path. It is a very personal path and one that can be extraordinarily rewarding. Then again, it is your science career and what you want to do … and be.
The key to finding these elusive jobs outside of the lab is learning how to sell yourself. What do you want to do or become? How do you get there? What do you need to do? What jobs or skills do you want/need to have on your resume to help? These are the questions that you need to answer for yourself. They may not provide the answers that your mentor or others want to hear, but they are not living your career.
Not interested in an academic career? There are MANY other options. I listened to a talk show one time that was talking about how there are more lawyers doing other things besides law than in any other field – and on the flip side – scientists are expected to stay at the bench for their whole career. Why? Why can’t scientists provide expertise and thrive in other areas? Why can’t they work in other fields? What other professions are there? This struck me as one of the most ludicrous statements I had heard in a long time. After thinking about it for quite a long time, I think it boils down to how scientists sell themselves and communicate what they do with the rest of the world. How do you sell yourself to get other opportunities?
Be creative. You want to be a person who works with academics and legislators? Then look into positions where you are a scientific liaison – you can work in jobs that let you draft policy based on the scientific evidence for law makers. This type of job will let you work with academics to develop policy statements. You can also work with people in government relations (GR) to provide them the scientific information they need. I have worked in this area – answering basic science questions that GR and Congressional staff have about science. These have ranged from why are some diagnosed with stage 4 cancer while others “catch” their cancers when it is in a precancerous form? These jobs aren’t listed as liaison positions, but use Linked In to see the titles of people with science careers have – it could be director of research or science affairs, or science policy. In government positions they are called Health Science Administrator or Science policy analysts. Do your homework (research) and use tools like Linked In to see how to get there.
Do you prefer developing ways to fund science? Think about working for government funding agencies or philanthropic groups that fund science as a program officer. In these jobs, you keep on top of the latest advances and decide how the field should move forward by determine what areas should be funded and what shouldn’t. It is great – you keep very involved in the science and get to work with those who are doing the lab work without having to troubleshoot the experiments that don’t work.
Scientific publishing is also a thriving (and ever changing) field. You can be an editor for a journal or work in more mainstream media. This area is changing so rapidly that you can write your own way. There are those who have developed a brand as a science expert on twitter and other social media.
If you are interested in any of these types of careers, see what those who have these careers have done. This will help you understand what you need on your resume so that you can sell yourself. Get this type of experience – sometimes you can do this while you are in school or finishing your postdoc. Again, be creative in what you can do. The internet has opened so many possibilities that it is up to you to be in control of your brand and your future.
The quote I hear from most people looking for so-called alternative careers in science is: “I love science, but don’t want to stay in the lab”. Have your career – and enjoy it! There are many, many ways to be productive.
Why listen to me? I have had several paths in science – and have successfully landed both traditional and non-traditional jobs. Have questions?- reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am willing to listen – especially if you have a goal to reach…
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