Alternative careers in science, Part 2

In a previous post, I talked about academia not being designed for people who have depression, anxiety, etc to succeed.  I also spent some time talking about imposter syndrome, specifically asking:

How can I sit with a student who has imposter syndrome and say “No, you’re truly awesome and don’t realize it” when if someone tells me that, my first thought is how naive that makes them sound?

And while I know that there are people who can work through these kinds of thoughts and succeed in academia, I am personally considering alternative careers.  Why?  Because I believe that there is a career that will allow me to give back to the scientific community (and non-scientific community interested in science) that does not require me to constantly be at war with myself emotionally.  If you missed it, there was some good conversation in the comments that I hope you’ll take a look at.

This particular post is the first in a series about careers other than being a research advisor (PI) or even being a researcher in industry.

In Part 1, I described how to figure out what alternatives exist.  I also talked about teaching, working within a business, starting your own business, policy, and administration.  In this part, I’ll discuss more options you might consider if you’re thinking that “academia or industry” doesn’t hold enough options for you.

What options are there?

So let’s talk about the next few options listed on IDP besides traditional academia and industry.

Non-traditional research

We all know about the path to becoming a Principal Investigator.  Finish our PhD, go through 2-8 years of post-doc, apply around the world until you find a starting faculty position with a reasonable startup package, sometimes you even have to apply separately to tenure track.  Then you are bound to your committees and offices, writing grants and figuring out collaborations, even going to many the conference and recruiting talent for the lab.

Maybe you just love research, the action of it.  Obtaining the data and analyzing the results yourself.  Or perhaps you just want the ability to do the science and apply it to things other than academic research project.

Think about these two options from IDP:

  • Research staff in a research-intensive institution
  • Scientific/medical testing
  • Drug/device approval and production

In one of these tracks, you’ll be in the action.  You’ll continue to work with the guidance of others, but still have your own projects and be able to obtain your own funding.  I think this track can be very rewarding, especially so if you want to think about academia as a future option.  Find out more about working in a government lab.

Specifically, testing specialists are imperative to intelligence agencies and departments of justice, as well as in clinical diagnostic settings, in order to provide quality data and data analysis.  For drug and device production, if you have experience with drug development, consider using these skills, instead of for research, for regulatory affairs.


Public health

This career path might suit those who are in biomedical sciences, and could potentially require further schooling in epidemiology and statistics.  However, this is a community that gives back directly to communities in a very hands-on manner.  IDP lists the following career tracks under public health related careers:

  • Public health program analyst or evaluator
  • Epidemiologist
  • Biostatistician
  • Medical informaticist

If you already have the statistics background, this could be especially enticing, as those skills are indispensable to the public health world.  If you’re hoping to apply those skills, think about public health.

There’s a wealth of information out there, especially on professional society websites, so check it out.

Intellectual property

Perhaps your lab has patented their diagnostics or a compound and you have experience with patents.  You may need additional schooling, but there may be a place for you in patent law.  The need for lawyers with real scientific knowledge is real and should not be underestimated.  Jobs listed by IDP in this category include:

  • Patent agent
  • Patent attorney
  • Technology transfer specialist

Use what you know about science and take a different route in life.  I see this career path as an option for people who want to be in the applied science world, seeing how science is improving our world, while also helping to protect the intellectual property of scientists.

There are professional societies for this as well:

Clinical practice

I hope that most of us went into science because we loved it, and perhaps many of us went into science because we wanted to make the world a better place.  Some might argue that working directly with people is the most straightforward way to do help improve a person’s life.  If you’ve been feeling disconnected from real people in your science, perhaps you’re ready and willing to do one of the following careers listed from IDP:

These career paths need differing amounts of training, some rather simple and others taking many more years.  However, if you love working with people and want to make a truly hands-on contribution to improving people’s lives, this may be the way to do it.

If you’re specifically interested in genetic counseling, check out the National Society for Genetics Counselors.

There are more career options out there, and I plan to finish the list from IDP in Part 3 of this series.  However, I also want to note again that sometimes even a long list of careers doesn’t capture everything.  Also in Part 3, I’ll be considering career options that aren’t in IDP.

Are you thinking about alternative careers in science?  How willing are you to get extra training?  Do extra years of schooling scare you?  What’s your ideal career look like?


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