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OTHER JOBS FOR SCIENTISTS, PART III: UNCONVENTIONAL APPROACHES TO FIND OR CREATE EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES

 

Many Jobs now are Available for Doctoral Scientists  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Many Jobs now are Available for Doctoral Scientists   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The first 2 parts of this series have explained that job seekers holding a PhD in science have a large range of different employers and job positions to consider (see recent articles in the Scientists category on “Other Jobs for Scientists, Part I: Working in Science Outside of Traditional Situations” and “Other Jobs for Scientists, Part II: Research Jobs in Industry or Government Labs”).  Some provide opportunities for continuing to work in laboratory research, while others involve science and research only indirectly (i.e., science-related jobs).  Yet other possibilities do not involve science or research at all.  Many in this last group can be seen as being very unconventional jobs for scientists.  The nature of such unusual employment, and advice about how to find or create it, is presented and discussed in Part III below.

Finding science-related jobs for science PhD’s

Traditionally, a career in scientific research or any other business can be considered as being analogous to climbing a ladder.  This viewpoint necessarily means that if you are not able to step onto the first rung of the ladder (i.e., find some type of first job), then there is zero chance that you will ever be able to climb up that particular ladder.  However, once you have acquired some job and accomplished something (i.e., have moved up to rung number 2 or 3 by doing well and learning more during 1-2 years), it also becomes realistically possible to jump onto a different ladder (i.e., to switch to a different and better job).  Yes, experience makes a big difference!  Each job seeker must find their own path to a good job.

For some young scientists, it can be difficult to find a traditional research job either at universities, industrial research and development centers, or government research facilities.  In such cases, it is necessary to become more flexible about theoretical possibilities and realistic practicalities.  A key major question you must face is how much you as a scientist are determined to work only on research activities.  If you will consider working with science at non-traditional venues, or working on science-related jobs that do not directly involve lab research, then very many additional possibilities for employment will arise.  I already have introduced many examples of different science-related employment positions in Part I.

Becoming unconventional in your job search

The more doors that remain open, the greater choice of jobs you will have.  Restricting where and what you are looking at necessarily closes some doors.  What if nothing works in your search for employment and all seems hopeless?  Then, it is time to learn to think very much more creatively!  Even if you are only seeking a conventional kind of job, using unconventional approaches might give you an advantage or open some more doors.

Many new science PhD’s and Postdocs must escape from the straightjacket of traditional academic research, and learn to consider other possibilities outside universities and even outside science.  If these are unconventional, so what?  I once actually encountered a professional driver for a limousine company with a PhD; he likes to talk with scholarly overtones to me and all his many different clients about philosophy and politics, and seemed quite happy doing that!  I doubt that he ever planned to be a fulltime professional driver; it is possible that he first tried this job only as some temporary work, and then unexpectedly came to realize that this unconventional position suited his individual situation very nicely.

I consider Edwin H. Land as a spectacularly creative scientist and admirable human (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science”).  Land did not seek a job, but instead he created one for himself!  Actually, he created several jobs for himself (i.e., scientist, educator, engineer, industrialist, and visionary)!  Even in his early college days, he was so determined to do experimental research that he got permission to work at night on his own research in a professor’s empty laboratory; he went on to continue to do research on several subjects during his later years running the Polaroid Corporation.   Probably, none of us has the same magic that emanated from Prof. Land, but you can try to copy his creative spirit when seeking to find a suitable job for yourself.  Can you do that?  Try it and see!

There are many different ways to create your own job.  If you can form some small business operation, you can hire yourself!  If you can convince a company that they need some new service, and if you can provide exactly such, then you might have created your own job!  If you can invent something new and useful to others, you can either manufacture and market it, or sell the idea or patent!  If you can innovate some new software that others will want to utilize, then you can license it for use or establish a new computer company!  If you do not have enough money to be able to start something like this, you can borrow funds from family or friends, or you can work temporarily at some ordinary job until you have saved enough capital; another approach is to try to win support via crowd-funding [e.g., 1-3].  Be imaginative in what you try to do!

Miscellaneous advice for job seekers from Dr.M

New scientists should never forget that you do indeed already have some valuable skills and experience in science and research, or you would not have succeeded in earning your doctoral degree.  Hence, you can have confidence in your own abilities to overcome the problems with finding a suitable job!  Besides your own self, you already have many external resources to help your search; never hesitate to consult with your former thesis advisor, postdoctoral mentor(s), favorite teachers, fellow research workers, and good friends about the current status of your job search.

Be vigorous in your job hunt, and always show self-confidence, initiative, determination, and a high energy level.  Check out everything, not just the most likely prospects.  As one colleague helpfully explained to me long ago, the time to worry about salary level and which desk you will have is only after you have received a job offer, not before.  Be willing to move if that is required for a job that you know would be good for you.   Be flexible.  Always be 100% honest during interviews, and emphasize how you are well-suited for the particular job opening you are applying for.

If you are looking in unconventional areas or trying to create a new job for yourself, then never limit your imagination.  Try to see more than everyone else does.  One of my own university science teachers retired at age 65 and then took several art courses to learn how to paint.  Within just a few years, her canvasses were selling and she was the featured artist at several shows and galleries in other states.  None of us students ever guessed that she also had a hidden talent as an artist.  She said unconventionally that for her, science and art have many similarities.

Concluding remarks

The main message in Part III is that job seekers with a science PhD should be imaginative and creative, and should not hesitate to consider nontraditional employment possibilities. 

Your main message for this entire series (Parts I-III) is that a PhD in science qualifies you for very many different types of employment, including positions that do not involve laboratory research or working in traditional job sites. 

Dr.M wishes all doctoral scientists much good fortune with their search for a suitable and satisfying job!

 

[1]  Kickstarter, 2014.  Kickstarter – Start a project.  Available on the internet at:  https://www.kickstarter.com/learn?ref=nav .

[2]  Rice, H., 2013.  Crowdfunding, Overview.  The New York Academy of Sciences, Academy eBriefings, October 9, 2013.  Available on the internet at:                        http://www.nyas.org/publications/EBriefings/Detail.aspx?cid=82c4e4b4-f200-49b3-b333-c41e1e2f46aa .

[3]  Schmitt, D., 2013,  Crowdfunding science: could it work?  Higher Education Network, The Guardian, Nov. 11, 2013.  Available on the internet at:                                                        http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/nov/11/science-research-funding-crowdfunding-excellence .

 

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OTHER JOBS FOR SCIENTISTS, PART II: RESEARCH JOBS IN INDUSTRY OR GOVERNMENT LABS

Many Jobs are Available for Doctoral Scientists  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Many Jobs now are Available for Doctoral Scientists   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Commercial industries now employ a very large number of doctoral scientists for their research and development efforts.  The annual total money spent on scientific research and development by all USA industries was almost 300 billion dollars in 2011 [1].  Very large research facilities established and run by the federal government also employ very many doctoral researchers from all branches of science.  New science Ph.D.’s and Postdocs who are seeking their first employment should have a clear understanding of the fundamental differences between researching in industry vs. academia, and in government research centers vs. universities.  These distinctions are discussed in this Part II discourse.

Researching in industrial research and development centers

The goal of industrial research operations usually is to build a new product or to improve some existing commercial offering or process, thereby increasing the profits of that company.  Experimental research areas at each center are highly focused and are selected with regard to their commercial products and activities; they do not involve any wide array of topics.  Company research programs not only provide salaries and benefits, but also furnish money for all equipment, supplies, and other expenses needed in their laboratories.  Provisions for compliance with regulations, environmental protection, health, legal issues and patents, maintenance of facilities, safety and security, waste disposal, etc., usually are done in-house or via contracts with outside operators.  Decisions about key questions for researchers such as what will be investigated, how the experiments will be conducted, how much time can be spent collecting data, who will work on what aspects in the team research effort, when something needs to be patented, and, when a project is completed or must be stopped, all are reviewed and made by research officials and/or company directors.  There is much more emphasis in industrial science operations on obtaining patents, and less pushing for published research reports, than is found at universities.

When university faculty scientists look at industrial research workers, their eyes usually open very widely since some aspects definitely are utterly wonderful (i.e., better salaries and benefits, laboratories with the latest research equipment and a full range of supplies, teams of good coworkers and research assistants, interactions with stable collaborative groups, and, absence of the need to apply for research grants).  On the other hand, this excellent working environment is accompanied by certain problematic aspects; these include that research projects can be stopped by administrative decision, a research worker can be transferred out of a project and inserted into another study at any time, and, some traditional parts of research freedom are missing or restricted (e.g., opportunities to work on a subject of one’s own choosing).  Each company has a different culture and some particular distinctions, so individual young job candidates must always carefully evaluate the respective positive and negative features involved locally.  If an industrial research center needs a doctoral worker in exactly the same area as the researcher’s own personal interest, then that employment can be very wonderful.  Those biomedical and physical research scientists working in industrial laboratories that I have met all seemed very satisfied with their professional careers.

An outspoken essay by Julio Peironcely for new science job seekers recently has appeared on the Next Scientist website and deals with how to find employment in industrial research and development centers (Peironcely, J., 2013.  Leaving academia: How to get a job in industry after your PhD.  Next Scientist, Helping PhD Students Succeed (April, 2013).  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nextscientist.com/job-in-industry-after-your-phd/ ).  This article is very illuminating and provocative, and is highly recommended by Dr.M for all job candidates.

Working in government laboratories and national/regional research facilities

The USA federal government sponsors and supports its own national centers and special facilities for research (e.g., Argonne National laboratory (Argonne, Illinois), Brookhaven National Laboratory (Upton, New York), National Center for Electron Microscopy (Berkeley, California), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland, Washington), Sandia National Laboratory (Albuquerque, New Mexico), etc.).  The research direction at each of these operations is related to the targets of their governmental sponsor and funding source (e.g., Agricultural Research Service [2], Communicable Diseases Center [3], Department of Energy [4], National Institutes of Health [5], etc.).  Much additional information about all governmental labs, their current research operations, and their different sponsoring federal agencies is available on the internet.  Government labs all are large operations and often participate in “big science” (i.e., working with unique research instrumentation costing millions or billions of dollars); most have valuable programs enabling use of these special facilities by visiting research scientists.

When compared to university research operations, the labs at government research laboratories have many similarities.  The government research centers, just like universities, have huge bureaucracies, very many rules and regulations affecting all research workers, and, all sorts of administrative reviews that gauge research progress.  Doctoral science employees often have job titles and ranks analogous to those at universities.  Both reports in science journals and patents are valued at the government research centers. Amazing wastage of money is easily evident in laboratory operations at both government research centers and universities (see my earlier article in the Money&Grants category on “Wastage of Research Grant Money in Modern University Science”).

One of the biggest differences is the absence of the hyper-competition for research grants (see my recent article in the Money&Grants category on “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants”) at the government laboratories.  This is due to the fact that most of their research activities are funded internally.  However, government centers do have several levels of internal funding, and there is some normal level of internal competition between the different government sites and between the several different research operations at each site.  Another distinctive difference is that graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are found at both universities and federal research centers, but are much more numerous at academic institutions.  Research at government centers generally has more of the flavor of group efforts; individual stars at government research centers usually are associated with group efforts, and these successful scientists often can be given leadership positions at their location.

Concluding remarks

Employment seekers must be realistic and realize that no job is perfect!  Employment at academic science departments, industrial research centers, and government laboratories all have different advantages and disadvantages.  These positive and negative features must be carefully and realistically evaluated before accepting any position.  It always is very valuable to talk frankly to one or more current employees, and to ask about their views on the local positive and negative features; after that, you then must ask yourself, “Do I want to be like this current worker, and will I be personally satisfied with this working situation?”.

The main message from Part II is that many good jobs for doing laboratory research are available at industrial and government facilities, as well as in universities.  I recommend that graduate students and Postdocs wanting to find a job doing experimental lab research should become familiar with all 3 of these different settings for employment as a research scientist.  This will enlarge your available opportunities for finding a supportive working environment.

The forthcoming Part III in this series will be directed to the virtue for young scientists of being more creative and unconventional when seeking to find a suitable employment position.

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[1]  Wolfe, R.M., National Science Foundation, 2013.  Business R&D performance in the United States increased in 2011. Available on the internet at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf13335/ .

[2]  Agricultural Research Service, US Department of Agriculture, 2014.  About us.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.ars.usda.gov/AboutUs/AboutUs.htm .

[3]  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014.  About CDC Prevention Research Centers.  Available on the internet at: http://www.cdc.gov/prc/about-prc-program/index.htm .

[4]  US Department of Energy, 2014.  The Office of Science Laboratories.  Available on the internet at: http://science.energy.gov/laboratories/ .

[5]  National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2014.  About NIH.  Available on the internet at:                      http://www.nih.gov/about/ .

 

 

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OTHER JOBS FOR SCIENTISTS, PART I: WORKING IN SCIENCE OUTSIDE OF TRADITIONAL SITUATIONS

 

Many Jobs are Available for Doctoral Scientists  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Many Different Jobs now are Available for Doctoral Scientists (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Numerous scientists with a Ph.D. now are employed in university laboratories, but many others work happily outside of academia.  Most doctoral scientists work on research, but others find good jobs completely outside of science.  Traditional and non-traditional employments can be made by choice or of necessity (i.e., at times when research jobs at universities or industrial centers are very hard to find).  By expanding your horizons you will find a greater number of doors that you can knock on.

For anyone with a Ph.D. in science who is trying to find suitable employment, 4 giant questions need to be faced before the job search  begins: (1) do I want to work for myself, or for someone  else, (2) do I want to work at a university, or outside academia, (3) do I want to work on science and research, or on non-science, and, (4) what employment situation suits me best (e.g., business and commerce, communication services, computation and data analysis, legal work, management and administration, military, public service, social services, teaching and tutoring, the arts, etc.)?  A variety of important practical questions also will enter your search for an employment position (e.g., domestic or international job, geographical location, local cost of living, onsite presence of a good friend, salary level, size of the employer, type of facilities, etc.).

This article, which is the first in a series, presents provocative perspectives about how and where modern young scientists can find employment that is good for them as individuals.  It emphasizes that there are many types of positions now available besides those in traditional settings.

Working for oneself

Some doctoral scientists successfully convert their experimental science activities and research interests into a small start-up business.  The nature of these new small businesses is very diverse.  Some self-employed scientists are able to direct their own research investigations and to continue studying what they believe is very important; having their own small business provides the opportunity to escape from the world of research grants and to actually again have fun doing research.  They initially often employ a few associates and technicians to work at their company lab, build their personal fortune, and grow to become a larger business operation.  I personally know one very good doctoral scientist who used his research skills and good creativity to found a small company selling special research kits and reagent supplies; the financial success of his new venture in science has increased his reputation as being a very clever scientist and productive researcher.

Working within universities vs. other sites

Some Ph.D. scientists who do not conduct any laboratory research are employed by universities.   They work full-time as teachers, librarians, or administrators.  Others are able to completely sidestep usual problems for the science faculty by switching to work on the history of science at a specialized university library.  A different possibility for scientists remaining totally dedicated to doing lab research is to work as a “research associate” for a successful faculty scientist; in theory, this job lets someone else worry about research grants and deal with bureaucracies, while you get to have fun at the lab bench and produce professional publications.

Many doctoral scientists today now are more open to working completely outside traditional university-based jobs.  They work in science-related positions at advertising companies, commercial businesses, consultancy agencies, industrial research and development centers, lobbying groups, news and media agencies, private foundations, etc.  These positions all are outside universities, and range from selling or repairing expensive research instruments, to designing commercial advertisements and publicity programs for new pharmaceutical agents, and, to working for a publishing house as an editor and publicist handling science and technology.  Other examples of modern science-related jobs include working on software design for large computation companies dealing with scientific data and various science endeavors (e.g., medical records and regulatory compliance at hospitals, geological surveys for petroleum or minerals by natural resource companies, agricultural monitoring and statistics, etc.).  One should not think that doctoral scientists working outside the lab at science-related jobs must all be losers; I know one cell biologist who published several excellent research reports, but later switched into advertising for a very large pharmaceutical company where she was extremely successful and much more satisfied.  Science-related positions provide the opportunity for doctoral employees to use other skills besides those needed to juggle test-tubes in a lab.

Working outside science

An increasing number of professional employment opportunities for doctoral scientists now are offered in the world of finance.  Some scientists work at investment businesses as analysts who monitor different industries, analyze stock and bond offerings, and evaluate specialized companies with regard to their selection of mutual funds and exchange traded funds.  These doctoral workers can be employed by mutual fund companies, exchange-traded fund businesses, investment advisors and analysts, large investment banks, government agencies, and even private individuals.  A select few of these workers rise to direct a mutual fund in a science-related area (e.g., biotechnology, pharmaceutical industry, nanotechnology) and have become so successful that they are leading stars at their employing investment firm.

Concluding remarks

The main message in Part I is that a Ph.D. in science provides very many employment opportunities besides those traditional faculty jobs at universities. 

I hope that the ideas discussed above will stimulate those doctoral scientists having a difficult time locating suitable employment to form some new thoughts.  Some of the other job situations discussed above offer the opportunity to still conduct lab research studies, while others enable you to use your special knowledge and professional skills in creative and profitable ways completely outside the research lab.  Yet other modern jobs involve working in various science-related activities, but without any laboratory operations.  It pays to keep an open mind when seeking a job!

Part II in this series will discuss doctoral scientists working on experimental lab studies completely outside universities (i.e., in industrial research and development centers, and at government research facilities).

 

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