If you find yourself asking the question, “is a postdoc really my only option after receiving my Ph.D.,” this article is for you. Here are 10 great alternative career paths to consider when a postdoc isn’t your ideal route.
When starting the path to a Ph.D. in the life sciences, most students have their minds set on pursuing a career in academia. It is not surprising that this is often the only option students consider because it is the most talked about, and it is the path the professors who mentor the students took for their careers. Unfortunately, however, it is estimated that only 8 percent of Ph.D. students will go on to receive a tenure position in a university during their career. There are very few tenure positions that open each year and many applications are submitted for them.
Scientists with doctorate degrees are useful to a variety of fields ranging from government jobs to nonprofit organizations. Here are 10 promising career paths to consider during your journey to becoming a Ph.D. over the next few years.
1. Research and Development
One of the most common alternatives to working in academia is working industry. While there are many different types of industry jobs available, working in research and development is one of the most popular. R&D jobs include those related to discovery of new drugs and other preclinical research. Ph.Ds are typically the scientists that test new medical therapies before the drug moves into clinical trials on humans. There are also positions for Ph.Ds that focus on development of processes and optimization of production of new technologies—whether that be a new drug or some type of instrumentation necessary for another scientific application.
While there is an option to complete a postdoctoral fellowship in industry, most companies do not require you to have completed a postdoc. If you want to increase your chances of getting a position in industry upon completion of your Ph.D., look into getting an internship in industry while you are still in school. This will give you experience working in the field without the completion of a more lengthy postdoc.
Another popular type of industry job is working for a pharmaceutical company, particularly as a pharmaceutical scientist focusing on drug discovery. There are many different jobs which fall under the pharmaceutical scientist category which include but are not limited to analysis of drugs and metabolism of drugs.
A scientist can also work as a pharmaceutical sales rep whose job it is to sell products. Ph.Ds have the ability to understand the way drugs work and affect the body, which makes them appealing as pharmaceutical reps who will be educating physicians on the company’s products. With bonuses for making sales goals, scientists have the potential to start out making more money as a pharmaceutical rep than a post doc, and Ph.Ds also have the ability to move up to management positions within pharmaceutical companies.
3. Scientific Entrepreneurship
If you are a grad student who is spewing creativity, scientific entrepreneurship may be a great choice for you. First, you have to have an idea. Next, you have to get people interested in your idea. This step has become much easier with social media and crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter. Starting a business isn’t easy, but with the right group of people assisting you, you can be very successful. Many scientists have started companies by joining forces with colleagues who specialize in business.
4. Patent Law
Many intellectual property law firms will hire Ph.Ds to work as advisors. This is a great opportunity for those who are interested in dealing with the newest scientific discoveries on a daily basis, but you have to be willing to explore a variety of fields. As a scientific advisor, a Ph.D. may be responsible for drafting and securing patents.
Another option for Ph.D.s interested in patent law is going back to school to become a patent lawyer. This can be done on your own or with the support of a law firm who may help finance your education.
5. Scientific Writing
One alternative to pursuing a career in academia is to become a scientific writer. If you have strong writing skills and don’t mind swapping out your lab bench for a desk, this may be an option for you. You can work for journals, magazines, pharmaceutical companies, etc. Many Ph.Ds with writing skills also obtain jobs for marketing departments or editing scientific articles. One way to get started is to look for internships in science journalism. This will get your foot in the door as a writer and help you to gain experience necessary for a career as a scientific writer despite having spent a majority of the last few years in the lab.
Another area that scientists can find jobs in is finance. According to Science magazine, scientists often make great financial analysts not only due to their extensive training in mathematics and quantitative analysis but also because they have the ability to understand the science behind new technologies. These skills allow them to determine the best investment decisions for their company.
Industries that employ scientists for financial analyst positions include pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Investment companies and large financial corporations also hire scientists to head their healthcare and life science sectors. It is to their advantage to hire someone who understands the processes involved and science behind new designs.
Of course, moving into finance from science is not a simple change. While your science degree has provided you with the reasoning and mathematical skills that you will need, you will also need to increase your financial literacy through reading and enrolling in finance courses at university or online.
The military offers alternative careers for scientists as well. Military scientists study infectious agents such as bacteria and viruses and study disease, drugs and chemicals. They also work to keep all military personnel free of contagious disease and are involved in studying the effects of different exposures and activities. Doing research for the military can be a very rewarding career for a Ph.D. who is not ready to leave the lab bench but is not set on a career in academia.
There is also the option of completing a postdoc in a military research program like the United States Army Research Laboratory. This is an alternative career path to entering academia that can increase your chances of working as an independent military researcher in the future.
If you decide to go into the military before receiving your doctorate, you may be able to use the post-9/11 GI bill to pay for part of your education when you decide to go to graduate school. Talk to a recruiter before enlisting to get more details on the stipulations of the GI bill.
8. Policy & Politics
While most people who deal with science policy are politicians and lawyers, there is a need for more educated scientists to get involved in the field. Many people who are currently in these positions have never studied science or participated in research and don’t have the background in science necessary to make the be st decisions and work towards the goals we have for science policy. Having trained scientists work towards policy changes will benefit the field as a whole.
Getting involved in policy can be challenging at first. Some suggestions are to first start becoming more aware of what is currently going on in regards to science issues by reading and watching the news. Once you feel comfortable discussing policy and know how you would like to get involved, you can start networking. Call up your local representatives and share your opinions. Get involved in different societies related to your field. You can also search for fellowships or internships in science policy to help jumpstart your career. Those who have the most experience in science may be the most influential when it comes to working with policy so it is not a bad idea to do bench work and gain some experience and publish papers before making the switch to a career in policy.
9. Secondary Education
You’re probably thinking that this article was about alternatives to academia and you’re right. However, teaching at the secondary level is a lot different than pursuing a career as a college professor. It takes less time to reach the goal because there are no required postdocs and there will be fewer people applying who are as educated and qualified as you are with a Ph.D. While you can always go back to school to get a teaching certificate, whether one is necessary will depend on the state requirements and whether you’re looking into teaching at a private or public school. If there is a requirement for a teaching certification, look into state-approved alternate routes to get certified. Teaching science at the high school level can be really fun if you enjoy working with teens.
10. Nonprofit Organization
Working for a nonprofit organization, you can do almost anything with your science degree. From getting involved in policy to doing biomedical research of interest to the organization, there are numerous possibilities. While there are many positives to working for a nonprofit such as independence and flexibility, there are also a few disadvantages to consider. Most nonprofits cannot afford to pay scientists as much as they would make in other industries. Additionally, there will be a lot of time spent raising money and applying for grants in comparison to working for a larger corporation. Take all of these factors into consideration when deciding on the next step in your journey.
While this list of alternatives to a career in academia is not comprehensive, it will give you some ideas to consider when deciding whether to apply for postdoc positions at the end of your Ph.D. Consider all of your options carefully and apply to multiple types of jobs—you never know what you might get and actually enjoy. Though choosing where you will begin your professional life is an extremely important decision, you are not locked into working in a certain job for the rest of your life. If you know what your goals are and you work hard to achieve them, you are on the path to a very successful career.
GoldBio Staff Writer
Rebecca is a medical student at the University of Missouri.
She previously worked as a lab technician while studying
biology at Truman State University. As an aspiring
reproductive endocrinologist with an interest in global
health, Rebecca has traveled across Central America on
medical mission trips. With a passion for the life sciences,
she enjoys writing for GoldBio.
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