Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Resources for finding a career away from the bench

If you are a graduate student or postdoc in the sciences, you are likely aware of the "PhD problem"*, the academic bottleneck caused by an increasing number of PhDs with a concomitant decrease in the number of tenure track positions. Unfortunately, the statistics suggest that the problem is not likely to get better any time soon. In fact, the issue has gotten so bad that even the mainstream media has picked up the story. The default pathway is no longer PhD to postdoc to tenure track; this great infographic from ASCB  (see below) suggests that the tenure track is the real alternative career. While the statistics may seem grim, I think there is some good news: the academy is starting to wake up to the harsh reality**. In the past, postdocs and grad students complained that PIs were only capable of training them to become a PI. Increasingly, PIs and universities are aware of the prospects for their trainees and they are starting to find ways to help guide them for a number of careers.
ASCB.org infographic

As a Scientific Editor, I often get questions from graduate students, post docs, and PIs about my transition away from the bench. After a recent chat with a grad student at a meeting, I decided it was time to put together a post of useful resources for finding a career away from the bench. Because I am in publishing, my links tend to focus on that path, but all of the websites I list below have articles about other career paths as well. 

The first two places you should be looking for a job in science are Nature Jobs and Science Careers. Both websites have listings for a variety of careers paths as well as an array of great content for helping you navigate your job search. Whether you are just starting to think about your future directions or preparing for an interview and negotiating your salary, there are relevant articles for you.

Nature Jobs has a very well-organized site. I recommend spending some time there to explore their content, especially their blog and their career toolkit. This article from their blog gives a great general overview of the types of jobs available to people with a PhD in the sciences. Be sure to check out The Postdoc Series for articles aimed at post docs at different stages of their careers. Nature Jobs also hosts a career expo, which I have read good things about.

On the Science Careers website, check out the tips and tools and explore the articles in the Career Magazine; they have more than 10 years of content available. By far the most valuable resources I found when I was searching for my current job were this collection of articles about science writing and editing and this 2002 article "Careers in Science Editing". These give a very general idea of what different types of scientific editing jobs entail. This informative article from Cell Press' Debbie Sweet describes the specifics of working for a reviews journal or a primary journal. Once you find something of interest, the related article feature (which seems to be available for newer articles only) will help you find more to read.

Societies relevant to your field will likely also have career resources available. For cell biology, ASCB's Career Development section has a number of articles available. My favorite among these is the Career Publications, which are free to download as PDFs. The ASBMB also has some useful articles, like these Career Case Studies.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is generally best for searching for a faculty job, but they also have some excellent articles on non-academic jobs, such as "The PhD's Guide to a Non-faculty Job Search".

If you are feeling isolated in your decision to leave the bench, you can find some comfort by reading some "quit lit". It seems many scientists find it cathartic to share their story;  indeed, I have written my own quit lit posts on this blog (here and here). Over the years, I have read many posts in this genre; I particularly enjoy finding updates, which tend to have a happier mood than the original post. Eva Amsen's (Outreach Director for Faculty of 1000) "Five Years Later" was very positive and shared some useful links and tips. Likewise, SciCurious (a science writer in neuroscience) tells her story in "The system failed me. It should have failed me sooner." 

To learn more about a career in science writing, read Ed Yong's collection called "On the Origin of Science Writers" where a variety of working science writers share their journey as well as tips on how to make a living writing about science. The National Association of Science Writers also has some great content in their resources section.

In short, these links should give you some ideas of the paths that are available to you. Hopefully you also have some valuable resources at your institution (e.g, postdoc association or a career development office). If you find other useful links, please share them in the comments. 


* There are numerous suitable links that describe the problem; I have chosen the one that I first discovered. Nature had a 2011 special issue called The Future of the PhD, which included the great story The PhD factory.  

** The Future of Research symposium has been putting together meetings to find solutions to these problems.