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Is there a science career for me?

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Is there a science career for me?

Postby Joanna » Fri May 20, 2016 9:40 am

Hi all,

I'm currently trying to figure out what I want to do as a career, and could do with some advice to help me decide whether to pursue a career in science or elsewhere.

I graduated last year with a BSc in biochemistry (with placement year). I like the idea of having a scientific-type of job (one which requires an analytical mind, and probably involves mostly working alone), but am put off science careers for a couple of reasons. One is that job security is important to me and I want to have good prospects for getting a permanent job at the end of any training, so a career in research feels like all too big a gamble for me. Another is that I don’t believe I have a natural flair for “innovation”, which I gather is a highly valued trait in scientists – and this makes me have doubts about whether I would be one of those who excelled in science.

I did spend a year on placement at a pharmaceutical company doing research, and really enjoyed it – I just didn’t come away feeling that I’d proven to myself that I was “talented enough” to succeed in research. Hence, I decided not to do a PhD. At the other end of things, I know I also wouldn’t be satisfied settling for a basic technician-type role.

For these reasons, I essentially “ruled out” a career in “science” (of the lab/research kind), and have been looking into other types of analytical careers. After a lot of researching and self-analysing, I’ve come up with a plan to train in statistics and potentially become a statistical officer for the government. All I would have to do to first is a year-long distance learning course next year.

HOWEVER, I want to know whether people think I’m wrong to rule out a career in science, and whether there is any career path of the laboratory-science kind that might fit with my priorities? Something that would offer stability and preferably not require a PhD as a pre-requisite? Am I right to place such a large emphasis on the need to be an “innovator”? Are there jobs where this is less vital, but which are still rewarding?

Any insights would be appreciated!
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Re: Is there a science career for me?

Postby Dustin Levy » Sun May 22, 2016 8:35 pm

Joanna,

I definitely think there are roles in life sciences companies that would place less emphasis on innovation and at the same time would place a high value on individuals who have interest/experience in statistics, which you seem to have. Quality assurance and control, or Six Sigma types of roles may be a good thing to look into. In these roles, you would be helping researchers transition innovations into tangible, high quality products and/or services.

At the same time, I also encourage you to keep an open mind about how innovative you can be. By comparing your own "innovativeness" to that of Ph.D. researchers, you may be ignoring many other directions from which innovation can occur. Companies can innovate through manufacturing processes, marketing, sales, customer service, quality, and whole host of other areas. Just because you feel you can't innovate like a Ph.D. researcher doesn't mean you can't be innovative in some other way.

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Re: Is there a science career for me?

Postby PG » Mon May 23, 2016 6:21 am

In addition to what Dustin already said what do you mean with "innovative"? Also within research and development there are very different roles. Working with late phase development is very different as compared to early phase discovery research. In late phase development you need to be innovative in the sense of having the ability to think outside the box and troubleshooting a problem that occurs trying to find alternative paths forward but this is very different from being innovative in the sense of seeing a completely new product opportunity.

You also mention "not being talented enough". This is something that I think happens to everyone in this field. You are in an environment were having a PhD is sometimes more common than not having a PhD, everyone are smart, talented, have experience from things that you dont and it makes it easy to start questioning whether you are good enough or not. Keep in mind that usually all those things that are true for everybody else are also true about you. You probably have value to add that others dont have. Questioning yourself is a good thing to do sometimes but when you do it is a delicate balance between being honest to yourself about what your capabilities and limitations are. You want to end up with a view that is not overly optimistic but also not overly negative. Most people tend to go towards the negative side when thinking abou themselves especially when you are in a situation that you dont really see a good path forward from at the moment.
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Re: Is there a science career for me?

Postby Joanna » Thu Jun 02, 2016 11:40 am

Thanks for your replies.

When I say “innovative” I mean the ability to come up with new ideas. When doing research projects before, I made tweaks to my methods and searched literature to get some ideas to use in my projects, but none of it involved any real “out of the box” thinking. (Are the standards I’m setting myself too high? I’ve done a 12 month placement and a 10 week university project so far). I also found it a bit daunting embarking on “unfamiliar” territory (like using new methods), and felt more in my comfort zone sticking to what I knew. I tried to “fight against” this instinct, but it still gave me the feeling I might not be “cut out” for being a scientist.

On the other hand, it was the (few) times that I did try out my own suggestions for things that were the highlights of my previous projects, because the fact that they were my ideas acted as a big motivator. So it’s not the case that I’m completely opposed to trying anything new, I suppose it’s just initial reluctance and/or finding it difficult to come up with the ideas in the first place.

I suppose, at the end of the day, I’m probably unlikely to go for a PhD, at least for the time being, because I lack the conviction that it’s the right thing to do (whether or not I’m right), what with the 3-4 year commitment and competitive job market at the end. Probably if I WAS to get a job in “research” in the near future I’d go for some kind of Research Associate role – if I could find one that was more than just a technician role -, and then if I ended up regretting not doing a PhD I could do one later on! But I’m still thinking some kind of data analysis job could be the best option.

Thanks for pointing out the QC/QA option. I’ve had a research about it. I just wonder how interesting/rewarding it would be? Do you think it would have the potential to be fulfilling for someone who is a high academic achiever?
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Re: Is there a science career for me?

Postby Rich Lemert » Thu Jun 02, 2016 1:00 pm

I get the impression you seem to feel research must always involve ground-breaking, innovative developments and ideas that have never been tested before. In my experience, very few projects/programs meet this requirement. Most research is actually "filling in the blanks." It's an incremental examination of nature - looking at what was just discovered and asking "what does this mean?"

Consider, for example, most of the gene sequencing work that's going on. The idea of gene coding has been around for quite some time, as have most of the techniques involved in sequencing. What's happening today is people looking for patterns that suggest where a certain trait may be coded, then testing to see what happens when that gene is targeted.
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Re: Is there a science career for me?

Postby Joanna » Thu Jun 02, 2016 5:30 pm

Hi Rich,

Thanks for your reply. Part of me has suspected that I am putting too much emphasis on the need to be innovative, and that I am setting expectations of myself which are too high (it is typical of me to do so). I think that I am just intimidated by both others who are more experienced than me, and the fact that there is so much competition among people with PhDs for jobs in academia or R&D. I feel like, because of the competition, I would have to feel I had evidence that I was particularly talented to have the confidence to pursue it.

I might be reassured if I knew there were good “fall-back” options for those who don’t “make it” to the PI level (or equivalent in industry). What other kind of options would a PhD-holder have, assuming they wanted to stay in the lab? And that they wanted a job with stability (not just fixed-term contracts?) If you were prepared to compromise on pay, could you be confident of getting something decent with interesting work? If so, what kind of job titles would these be (and how MUCH would you have to compromise on pay)?

I’d also be interested to know what you and anyone else would say sets a good scientist (or one who succeeds) apart from a mediocre one (or one who doesn’t succeed)?
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Re: Is there a science career for me?

Postby Yandorio » Thu Jun 02, 2016 10:43 pm

Careful, something like 90% of grad students in Biomedical
programs do not become PIs these days, and the post doc,
formerly a 1 or 2 year stint is now often a 10 year slog... It's a lousy time to try to go the academic route, if you look at the statistics. Also NIH grant approvals are at or near all-time lows.
Google "postdocalypse" if you want more info on the mess.
Clinical degrees (MD, RN, DVM etc) are providing much higher percentage of employment once you move up the ladder. Do you really want
to devote 15 years to science with the current predicament?
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Re: Is there a science career for me?

Postby Joanna » Fri Jun 03, 2016 3:49 am

I know, those are exactly the reasons I was put off in the first place. I don't have my heart set on being a PI though, I'm just not quite sure what the alternatives are (would they generally be in industry?), and whether those jobs are also hard to get...

And then, I was put off industry jobs in the past because they seemed to put more of an emphasis on "innovation". But perhaps I'm just being scared off too easily.
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Re: Is there a science career for me?

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Jun 03, 2016 9:42 am

Yandorio wrote:Careful, something like 90% of grad students in Biomedical
programs do not become PIs these days, and the post doc,
formerly a 1 or 2 year stint is now often a 10 year slog... It's a lousy time to try to go the academic route, if you look at the statistics. Also NIH grant approvals are at or near all-time lows.
Google "postdocalypse" if you want more info on the mess.
Clinical degrees (MD, RN, DVM etc) are providing much higher percentage of employment once you move up the ladder. Do you really want
to devote 15 years to science with the current predicament?


"Often" 10 years of postdoc? C'mon now -- if you're going to continue to represent these end-of-the-world scenarios for science careers, at least don't exaggerate. I have no idea why we continue to allow your commentary with these wild claims that often include pure nonsense. Maybe it's time to rethink that strategy.

Readers, please comment . . . Should we continue to allow what are obviously emotional and not-based-on-fact rants on this forum, on either side or the other of this matter? Similarly, we wouldn't want to allow posts that make light of the situation for science graduates or which promise a job around every corner.

Dave
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Re: Is there a science career for me?

Postby Yandorio » Fri Jun 03, 2016 1:16 pm

"In the sciences, postdoctoral fellowships have reached a historically high number...In the sciences, the average length of postdoc time has stretched from around two to seven years, according to Sally Rockey, the deputy director for extramural research at the National Institutes of Health."

Okay, so the average is seven. Therefore it's reasonable to
assume 10 years is fairly frequent. They even have a new word for it--permadocs..
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