Need Advice, close to finishing PhD Biology

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Need Advice, close to finishing PhD Biology

Postby C. Sephen » Fri Nov 06, 2015 12:01 pm

I will be finishing my PhD in Molecular Biology this summer. I am essentially making this thread because I am just looking for some input or advice from those that are currently working in the field after obtaining a Masters or PhD in science.

My thesis project has taken several turns and while there has been stress and concern at times about its direction, I ultimately have gotten some good, meaningful data and answers to questions I proposed. Because the amount of work I have put into the poject, I haven't had much time to think about or explore careers in my field until recently. I regret not having the time to do this until the last 2 months. I have been quite stressed as to what I will do next, what direction I will go in as well as the availability of careers for PhD holders in science.

First I don't know where I stand in the field. I will have two first author papers in mid level journals by the time I graduate and I also am a co-author on a review article and a research article. Other than a few small awards and extensive teaching experience, I feel my CV will be weak compared to others. I have a decent skill set of molecular techniques, most are geared towards plant based work. I have been told from some that paper publications really don't matter that much in your PhD work and others telling me I should have a specific number of papers published or one in a high impact journal.

Second, I often debate what I actually enjoy in this field and what type of work I feel I would be thoroughly interested in, feel qualified to do and also have a good work/life balance. At least for me, if I am not interested in the project or work, its not worth pursuing as I do my best work when I am passionate towards it. I am hard working but I also want to have time to enjoy with friends/family. I bring this last point up because many PIs seemed extremely stressed over grant funding and tenure tracks. I enjoy aspects of research, maybe not the entire package, but enough where I want to continue in science.

I have looked at the options I think I may have but I am sure there are (hopefully) others I am just not seeing. I have sought advice in my department on this matter too, but really haven't gotten anything sound or helpful.

Post-doc work would interest me if it was genuinely on a topic I find fascinating. Post-docs seem currently hard to find based on a saturated PhD market and recent reductions in grant funding. Some fellow graduate students have struggled to find post docs, and I have had a few that have changed fields entirely over this.

Industry seems like a big unknown to me. Its difficult to gauge if my skills would allow me to take an entry level position in industry, especially if it is plant based work. I feel that with post-docs positions being limited, industry positions are becoming

Immediate teaching tracks seem to be limited to private teaching based schools and most seem to ab adjunct positions.

I have been told technical writing or working for companies that sell products (including technical support) are options, although I haven't quite looked into this yet.

Thanks in advance for any feedback/advice!
C. Sephen
Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Nov 06, 2015 11:33 am

Re: Need Advice, close to finishing PhD Biology

Postby Craig B. » Sat Nov 07, 2015 11:43 am

You'll get more insight about specific options for your post-PhD career if you search the forum (or google) rather than waiting for specific information. Lots of people have the same questions as you do.

Your credentials aren't much different than other people who graduate from PhD programs. The key is leveraging your specific background and network into your next step.

Figure out if you want to stay in academic science or not. Focus your list of prospective careers--talk to your mentor and other people in your program about alternative careers.

Don't go into a post doc because it's the thing that PhDs do. If you want to pursue an academic career, figure out the research direction you want to develop and use your connections in your field to identify a prospective mentor.

Again, focus. You have some time to make a decision, but you need to pick a direction and head down that path. If it doesn't work out, there will be options to change course.
Craig B.
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Joined: Tue Mar 04, 2014 11:10 pm

Re: Need Advice, close to finishing PhD Biology

Postby MFM » Mon Nov 09, 2015 11:13 am

Go to a careers fair aimed specifically a biology/biochemistry PhD students. Most of the larger conferences will have a careers session, as do many universities. I found some of those quite useful - in my case I realised what I definitely did not want to do...

I agree with Craig B. Do not do a postdoc unless you are sure you want to stay in academia. If you do, be aware of what it entails (lots of work and a fair bit of uncertainty regarding job security and prospects). Ideally, plan out any potential postdoc from the beginning, including a plan B, just in case plan A goes down the drain....and be very careful in selecting labs.
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Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2015 2:38 am

Re: Need Advice, close to finishing PhD Biology

Postby Bright B. » Mon Nov 09, 2015 11:49 am

Hello C Stephen
It is not easy and I understand your situation. The leg work that you needed to do before graduation wasn't done for you to choose a career path.
I would suggest the following:
1. Research career options.
2. set up LinkedIn and other networking tools. Do informational interviews to get more details about your career options
3. PhD in biology can also have a good career in Government. Look for options in the federal government or paid PhD entry level positions
4. Get a postdoc position and use it as a Launchpad for networking and period to reflect on your career path (This will also allow you to determine if you want to stay in academia). I have done this and got a position eight month in my postdoc. Academia is not all that. There is a world outside of academia.

Papers are always good. It shows the work that you've accomplished during your training. Your CV might not be weak. All depend on how you present it. During grad school you have develop a range of skills that you can talk about on your resume such as communication, teaching and mentoring, analytical and others.

Bright B.
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Joined: Thu Oct 30, 2014 8:58 pm

Re: Need Advice, close to finishing PhD Biology

Postby C. Sephen » Mon Nov 09, 2015 1:23 pm

Thank you for replies, each one has been helpful and useful.

In general, you have to always be proactive in reaching a goal or finding a career. If you just "wait" for something to come your way, you'll miss out and will be disappointed at the end of the day.

I have done some searching so far, but its been almost entirely in post-doc route with a few industry positions, which I am not qualified for due to lack of experience. I am finding very useful information on this forum that has given me some ideas.

With the current funding climate and the over saturation of PhDs, the academia route just doesn't seem very appealing to me. However, I don't know if a post-doc would actually help me out when looking for industry positions. I agree with everyone's sentiments that I shouldn't just do a post-doc because that is what PhDs do after graduation.

Bright B, I wanted to thank you for your response, over this week, I plan on doing everything that you have listed as things to help me out. I really appreciate you taking the time to give me a structured list of things to do to help out! Also, I really agree with the idea of tailoring my CV towards skills acquired in my graduating training.
C. Sephen
Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Nov 06, 2015 11:33 am

Re: Need Advice, close to finishing PhD Biology

Postby Brian E. » Sat Dec 19, 2015 12:25 am

1. Immerse yourself in writing – and learn how to write a funding proposal
2. Find a strong mentor
3. Grow a thick skin and take critical feedback for what it is – constructive criticism
4. Find the right dissertation chair for you
5. Direct your course research projects or independent study for course credit towards your dissertation
6. Keep your dissertation topic as narrow as possible
7. There's a reason 50 percent of PhD candidates stay ABD...
8. Focus only on the next step or hurdle as you work
9. Find a strong quantitative (or qualitative) research colleague that will assist you with a strong design
10. Promote your work and talk to others
Brian E.
Posts: 1
Joined: Sat Dec 19, 2015 12:16 am

Re: Need Advice, close to finishing PhD Biology

Postby Lydia » Sun Dec 20, 2015 9:03 pm

Talk to people who are a few years ahead of you in their careers - you want to get a better sense of what types of jobs would interest you and how to get into those jobs. Conferences are a good place to meet people. Reach out to people who were finishing grad school or postdocs at the time you started at your institution. Volunteer for a relevant organization and/or attend network events.

If you do a postdoc, plan it to be only a stepping stone to the next option, and not a job in itself - gain skills, industry connections, a better location for your next job, etc. Keep it short.

Good luck!
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Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:29 pm

Re: Need Advice, close to finishing PhD Biology

Postby K.B.R. » Thu Jan 14, 2016 12:01 pm

In my opinion, you only do a post-doc for two reasons.

1. You want to be an academic.

2. It increases your future chances of getting a job in industry. For example, say you can do a post-doc in a lab where you can gain experience learning LC-MS or maybe next generation sequencing. Those are hot commodities and certainly improve your repertoire of skills. Another example is a lab that has direct tie-ins to industry. Maybe they collaborate on research projects or the P.I. is on the board.

Be very sure you want to do a post-doc though. I saw a lot of tormented post-docs in my graduate career.
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Joined: Sun Jun 24, 2012 3:27 pm

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