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.
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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