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Options after PhD? some data

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Options after PhD? some data

Postby Ana » Mon Jun 08, 2015 2:56 am

I recently met in real life with a young researcher that is interested in volunteering for one of my client organizations. She finished her PhD earlier this year and while she remains in the lab to complete a big publication she ponders on what to do next. She only knows one thing: she doesn’t want to become the PI of a large lab. “All I can see is two options: PI or getting into sales, and I don’t want to sell!” she told me, knowing that it was too reductionist.

I found her in a place where most of us have been, not knowing what to do at the end of our PhD or even mid-way through a postdoc. So to help those not knowing what the options are, here is the career path 7-10 years after defending our PhDs of some of the friends I met when we were both PhD students or both postdocs:

- PhD to postdoc ~6 years to PI at large university (that was her goal)
- PhD to postdoc (still postdoc 9 years later, he wants to become a PI)
- PhD to postdoc to heavy teaching Professor position at her come country (that was her goal)
- PhD to postdoc (two postdocs) to program manager at a research foundation
- PhD to postdoc (~6 years) to non-TT PI at large university
- PhD to postdoc to Pharma to consultant (that’s me, I thought I’d end up in biotech)
- PhD to touring Asia as a science teacher to child therapist back in her home country
- PhD to MBA to Sales in small companies to Medical Affairs in large Pharma (always wanted business)
- PhD to postdoc to Research Associate/ Lab Manager
- PhD to postdoc to Research Associate/ Lab Manager (a different person)
- PhD to postdoc to high school teaching
- PhD to postdoc to fundraising to start-up CEO (always wanted to get into the business side)
- PhD to postdoc (to postdocs) to non-TT research position (wanted to be a PI)
- PhD to postdoc to research management (multiple jobs and titles, now Senior Policy Advisor)
- PhD to postdoc to Technology Specialists at a TTO to Patent Agent at a law firm (wanted to be a PI, changed her mind during postdoc)

Overall there are just 2 who did not do a postdoc after their PhD so doing a postdoc seems to still be the default route. However after doing a postdoc (2-3 years) the pathways split. Those that remained in academia did much larger postdocs and went on to have different outcomes, from the ideal TT PI position to less-ideal non TT positions to remaining as a postdoc/RA 8+ years after defending their PhD.

From the group that left the academic track after their PhD or postdoc there is a bit of everything. The main theme I would highlight is that most have had 2-3 career changes after leaving academia so it is not about knowing your destination from day one, but about having a feeling of the journey that you want to follow and the awareness that you are likely change tracks along the way.

I think it is important for young scientists to know this so that they realize their lack of clarity about their future path is normal.

Do you have other examples of career paths that started as the classical academic path (pHD+postdoc) and then ventured out into uncharted territories?

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Re: Options after PhD? some data

Postby John D. D, » Mon Jun 08, 2015 3:34 am

What you post is really interesting, because it shows in some ways how structured the completion of a Ph.D. usually is. Although it doesn't lead to a default career (as you point out), I guess most PIs feel responsible and accountable that those that have worked in their lab, have "respectable", salaried, positions. So, there is some guidance and positioning there.

On the less structured end, there are identities that build on the fundamental skill sets that both attract and develop during a Ph.D. :

explorer
writer
inventor
artist
critic/analyst/philosopher
scholar

If one is truly independently motivated, it is possible to wear different hats in an independent life, and still retain an identity as "a professional scientist" because it affects the way you think beyond the acquisition of "a position".
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Re: Options after PhD? some data

Postby RSD » Mon Jun 08, 2015 9:05 am

Do you have other examples of career paths that started as the classical academic path (pHD+postdoc) and then ventured out into uncharted territories?


Great thread! I will add the experience of some of my grad school colleagues:

PhD to postdoc (~5 years). Aiming for PI and I am certain will achieve it
PhD to postdoc(2 years) - biotech product development scientist (me)
PhD to business development, etc. in startup company
PhD to contract work at biotech to medical school
PhD to postdoc (~2 years) to teaching at small college

The only extended postdoc in the group is the only person with the desire to become an academic PI. I think that the postdoc trap is only a trap if you allow it to be your default.
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Re: Options after PhD? some data

Postby Dave Jensen » Mon Jun 08, 2015 10:21 am

This is a great thread, thank you Ana.

Every day I meet people who are on the senior level of their science career, and I'm going to start tracking them in more depth to find out if I can get a similar, but more detailed (longer) career history.

We'll keep this thread going, I'm sure!

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Re: Options after PhD? some data

Postby Dave Walker » Mon Jun 08, 2015 4:13 pm

I love it!

I am closer out of school than many so I think most of my colleagues are still in their postdoc. I've also left off the less desirable landings, like those who went from PhD to Research Associate at big pharma or non-tenure-track faculty at a university.

PhD to interim postdoc (1 yr) to Senior Scientist at Big Pharma
PhD to Consultant (Life Sciences)
PhD to associate consultant (general)
PhD to part time postdoc (1.5 yr) to medical school
PhD to medical school
PhD to Sales for biotech company (that's me!)
PhD to FDA "ORISE" postdoc fellowship
MD/PhD to residency (4 years) to private practice
PhD to Patent Agent
PhD to FDA "Pharmacologist"

Nearly all of the Scientist/Senior Scientist/Principal Scientist clients of mine have gone PhD to postdoc (2-5 years) to Scientist I roles.
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Re: Options after PhD? some data

Postby D.X. » Tue Jun 09, 2015 8:49 am

Ok, I can give a few from my network me:

me:
PhD to postdoc (1 year) to Pharma (Medical Affairs, now Marketing)

them:

PhD to Tech-transfer at University (months) to Pharma (Clinical Development)
PhD to 3rd Party Medical Communications Firm (vendor) to Pharma (Marketing)
PhD to Post-doc (<1 year) to 3rd Party Med Comms Firm (up the ranks to VP level) (I know many here)
PhD to Pharma (Medical Science Liaison to Medical Director; Medical Affairs) (I know many here too)
PhD to post-doc (4 years) to Permanent Lab Tech Researcher in non-native country (now a citizen thereof)
PhD to Law school to Patent Lawyer
PhD to Post-doc (years) to Big Pharma (QA)
PhD to Post-doc (5 years) to TT Research University (5 years) to TT now Tenured Teaching University (couldn't get grant due to uncontrollable circumstance hence this move)
PhD to Post-doc (3 years) to TT Research University to Consulting (by choice)
PhD to Post-doc to TT Research University to Big Biotech (MSL to Research Scientist Discovery to Principal Scientist in same company) - this was an interesting one - used the MSL role as back door to what he really wanted
PhD to Pharma (Sales then Marketing)
PhD to CRO to Pharma (Drug Safety)
PhD to Pharma (Health-economics)
PhD to Big Consulting Firm to Pharma (Business Development)
PhD to Post-doc to Cosmetic Company Scientist

Just a few - obviously I know more about those who ended up in Pharma.

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Re: Options after PhD? some data

Postby Ana » Tue Jun 09, 2015 12:12 pm

This is so interesting!

Just in DX post we have people that eventually got to pharma from a PhD after working in consulting, or a CRO, or in medical communications or at a TTO at a university! And we have listed many that went to pharma and then left to do something else. I'm sure the more senior the people we ask the more transitions we will see.

These are many examples of how a "career" should not been seen as a lineal ladder with a single direction but a chain of multiple "careers". That certainly takes some pressure off when making decisions about your next job and opens a whole spectrum of possibilities!
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Re: Options after PhD? some data

Postby PG » Tue Jun 09, 2015 3:59 pm

me, partial PhD to group leader at biotech startup (completion of PhD on company money) to head of R&D at second start up to head of R&D at one of the offices of a larger diagnostics company

A few that I dont think that I noted in the previous lists
PhD to technical sales specialist selling laboratory supplies
PhD to McKinsey consultant to startup CEO
PhD to postdoc to academic scientist to being responsible to university training within a specific field with limited time for science

multiple classical academic careers ie PhD to postdoc to academic scientist to PI to assistant professor or PhD to postdoc to company scientist
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Re: Options after PhD? some data

Postby BMK » Wed Jun 10, 2015 10:24 am

Me: PhD to postdoc to PI/academic staff scientist (currently applying for assistant professor positions now)

Another path I know several people have taken which hasn't been mentioned yet:
PhD to postdoc to government employee in well-known agencies where scientific backgrounds (and sometimes PI status via being awarded some competitive extramural grant) are required for the position.
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