Don’t feel frustrated. You have many fabulous career options.
Most PhD students and postdocs working today will not go on to head their own labs. With little infrastructure to guide them to the next stage, young scientists are inventing it themselves.
A year ago, we launched an interview series that looks at how PhDs and postdocs found ways out of the lab and into satisfying careers. We’ve spoken to people who work in regulatory affairs, technology transfer, business development, management consulting, science outreach and philanthropy, just to name a few. And we are eager for more stories to share. See below if you’d like to volunteer.
Though people’s chosen professions vary widely, three common strategies stood out across our dozen plus interviews.
Find clues in your non-research activities
If you’re always the one volunteering to recruit the seminar speaker, track compliance records, write up a grant or volunteer for a committee on student affairs, pay attention. Your ‘extra-curricular’ activities may be pointing you toward a path to a satisfying career.
Leslie Cruz found herself as the safety compliance officer in her labs. That gained her credibility when she began seeking jobs in regulatory affairs.
Elizabeth Waters recognised that managing a small budget for lab supplies and scheduling multiple, concurrent experiments transferred readily to what she needed to do to design and manage educational labs for bright high school students and their teachers.
Dorothy Jones-Davis realised that volunteering on university committees about campus life and diversity gave her the interpersonal skills and insight needed to manage scientific collaborations.
Seek out experience beyond your lab
When Tom Magaldi realized he wanted experience with policy work, he designed a ‘remote internship’ with the US Department of State and later took what he terms a ‘strategic postdoc’ so he could work in Washington DC. Ben Thiede took an internship at the University of Virginia’s licensing and ventures group to learn technology transfer.
All of these experiences were important in landing permanent jobs.
Talk to strangers
Cruz got her first position in regulatory affairs by introducing herself to a hiring manager at a training seminar. Christina Papke got a fertile job lead by joining a professional organization and introducing herself to a conference speaker. Arie Meir and David Crosby both describe how they became experts at informational interviews. They used LinkedIn to find people who had interesting jobs and whom they shared something with (often attending the same school). They did their homework and asked specific questions about individuals’ career choices and experiences. Those contacts yielded more contacts. That led to job interviews but, more importantly, it helped them make informed decisions about their careers.
We like to think of our Trade Talk and Job Satisfaction Q&As as open informational interviews, and we want to do more of them. If your story fits our TradeTalk/Job Satisfaction series, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do? How did you pick this career path? What did you do during your training that helped you look for and gain the job you have now? We’re looking for people who are within 5 years of leaving a lab they worked in as a trainees.