Some researchers are providing short-term services such as writing science news articles and consulting on industry products to bolster their skills outside the lab. These side gigs can be valuable for career development, says Josh Henkin. (See related story here.)
I don’t see a lot of scientists taking advantage of the gig economy yet. People earning graduate degrees or working on postdocs are so focused on those immediate challenges, and most advisers don’t want them to work outside the lab.
There’s another subset of people who have a more strategic approach to career development. They use scientific gig economy opportunities to supplement their training to catapult them to a job. People blog and write articles for science news websites; I’ve hired postdocs and graduate students as interns to do social media. Those skills are highly useful to people who want to get involved in marketing or communications.
One of my clients volunteered to do unpaid work for a small biotech venture-capital company. She assisted with due diligence of products and did technical reviews to determine if they were worthy investments. There’s so much valuable information you can get doing these side gigs that influence where you go next in your career.
People who are successful in the gig economy need to have a lot of hustle and passion. It’s one way of demonstrating grit. If you’re interviewing for a job and you say, “I was able to manage a part-time job while I was doing research,” that can be very enticing to an employer. That can show that you will stay late when necessary and get the job done.
I think the scientist gig economy has yet to be defined. Ten years ago, you would never think to get in a stranger’s car and let them drive you to the airport, but now it’s commonplace. Maybe by day, someone works at a pharma company, and by night they do DNA testing in their basement and tell you about your propensity for genetic diseases.
I don’t know if the go-to science gig economy website exists yet, but it may come soon. When the Uber of science exists, that will be a game-changer. I work with scientists who are laid off — it would become easy for them to transition immediately to contract work.
Josh Henkin is the founder of STEM Career Services in Arlington, Virginia, which helps scientists find jobs outside academia. He is on the board of directors for the US National Postdoctoral Association in Rockville, Maryland.