Sarah Blackford, academic and science career specialist, shows that bioscience researchers and PhD students have opportunities in many different roles outside of academia.
Contributor Sarah Blackford
Thanks to everyone who voted – I’m not surprised that this was the highest scoring question. I’ll also incorporate a little bit about how to prepare and where to look, since these questions came a close second and third.
Here is a list of career areas which I present in my career workshops with PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. Researchers in scientific disciplines other the biosciences may also be able to see careers on this list of relevance and interest to them.The careers are ordered so that those at the top of the list are the closest and most familiar to PhD-qualified graduates and researchers.
- Academic Research (universities, research institutes, government)
- Research in industry/business (technology companies, bioindustry, food technology, policy think tanks, media)
- Teaching (university, colleges, schools)
- Scientific services (advisory, sales, data management, technical specialist)
- Associated commercial careers (technology transfer, patent examiner, patent attorney, regulatory affairs, marketing)
- Communication (publishing – editorial, commissioning, production – press officer, outreach, medical writer)
- Administration/management (conference organisation, science administration, policy)
- Self-employment/consultancy (spin-out company, freelance)
- General professional careers (finance, project management)
Familiarity with academic research and its associated work environment make these jobs a popular choice post-PhD. However, apart from the devastating statistics which show that only around 3.5% of PhD graduates realise a permanent, tenured academic position, if you enjoy working in the lab and the practical side of your research, a research job in the private sector, ultimately, may be more suited to your skills and interests. There are also research roles where the work may not necessarily take place in a lab; you can use these skills in office-based jobs such as policy.
Large and small (SME) companies offer a range of roles, some of which are listed above. For some jobs, direct entry is not possible and may require professional qualifications and/or additional experience. Viewing profiles of others who are already in these jobs can give you invaluable insights into how to break into particular professions. LinkedIn is a great way of researching job sectors and employers, whilst extending your network. You could also approach your university alumni office and investigate other sources of career information, such as Naturejobs.
Your specialist scientific knowledge can be an advantage in careers such as publishing, patent examination and data management, where you need to understand complex information and communicate with academics.
Moving down the list, further away from academic research careers, the PhD qualification itself may not be as essential to the job and your transferable skills become more important. This means you will need to promote them to prospective employers on your CV to highlight the most relevant experience and qualities, even demoting your PhD to the second page and omitting your list of publications.
Self-employment can be risky and requires careful preparation. Is there a market for your service or product? Who are your potential competitors? Will you generate enough income to live on? Consultancy work can be achieved by seeking employment with management and technology consultancy companies, where you are assigned to businesses to conduct a defined task or help solve a distinct problem.
If you are considering more general professions, such as these and other management, administration and finance careers, a visit to your career service may be helpful to prepare yourself. They hold lots of information on these types of careers and are experts in helping graduates to gain entry to specialised training schemes. They usually run workshops on interview technique, assessment centres and psychometric tests, all of which may be required hurdles to negotiate to secure a job.
This list is just a tiny snapshot of the international job market. To maximise your job search, try to become familiar with the career landscape so you are aware of opportunities. Bear in mind that job satisfaction is largely dependent on whether the role and work environment suit your personal preferences, namely your skills, values, personality, interests and work/life balance. Most people compromise their personal and professional lives more than once during their careers according to their situation and changing priorities. The criteria on which they base their career decisions also change; it’s likely that you will do the same, or have already done so!
For more of Sarah’s advice, you can go to her blog at www.biosciencecareers.org