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PhD expectations

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PhD expectations

Postby Mac F. » Wed Jun 15, 2016 8:49 am

Finding jobs that align with graduate education provides a range of options from junior positions to internships. However, once students carry on to gain a PhD their perceived possibilities of gaining a job that is outside of the academic market decreases. After 3-5 extra years in further education you would expect that post-graduate students would see a broader spectrum of job possibilities on the market. However, this is not the case with many PhDs and Post-Docs having tunnel visions of becoming group leaders and Professors in academic institutions or finding reduced options in the job markets that deal with their experience.

Last May I was on a panel for the pathology department discussing post PhD career options. Recently I carried out a (very basic) survey on SurveyMonkey and asked "Do Universities provide training/guidance for PhD students looking for jobs outside of academia" (92 respondents from 19 countries) and found that only 40% of Universities in question provided training for graduate students considering jobs outside of academia.

Secondly what was also interesting was the amount of PhD students that received grant writing training during their studies at only 35%. If PhD students are not being trained to look for jobs outside of academia or being trained to write grants to become academics what vision do Universities have for them?

Addressing some of these questions and providing support through grant writing classes, industry career seminars and business courses will provide life science PhDs to clear options to carry on with the goals and be economically beneficial to the University and state.

If you have any comments or thoughts please post below!
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Re: PhD expectations

Postby M.W.S. » Thu Jun 16, 2016 7:20 pm

I think there are opportunities available for students and postdocs interested in non-lab careers.

For example, one of the scientific societies I belong to offers a one week class titled something like "The business of Science" that is held in collaboration with a top-notch MBA and life science research university.

Many top research universities now have non-profit consulting companies founded by and run by graduate students and postdocs. This can serve as an introduction to the business side of science.

Finally, many of the top management consulting firms offer a one week class to introduce you to their business and of course recruit future employees.

Bottom line is that the opportunities are available for those willing to find them even if they are not tied directly to the university.
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Re: PhD expectations

Postby D.X. » Mon Jun 20, 2016 5:00 am

Mac F. wrote:Finding jobs that align with graduate education provides a range of options from junior positions to internships. However, once students carry on to gain a PhD their perceived possibilities of gaining a job that is outside of the academic market decreases. After 3-5 extra years in further education you would expect that post-graduate students would see a broader spectrum of job possibilities on the market. However, this is not the case with many PhDs and Post-Docs having tunnel visions of becoming group leaders and Professors in academic institutions or finding reduced options in the job markets that deal with their experience.



I think there may be a few issues here, taken from what I see posted on this Forum.

1. Alot of students/PhD holders think that with additional education, there is automatic entitlement to managment-level Job, without having to start of at the entry Level positions.

2. The above is Born out of spending time sheltered in an academic Setting and not the real world, so they are not Aware they the actually have to compete in the real-world for Jobs. They don't know what it means to interview, Job search, Network, etc. Things that this Forum addresses - the lose the art of "self driven" Hustling and being compeititive, i.e. they lose that ability to seek out traninng and Networks that they probably had as an undergrad (remember it took hustling and some work to get into grad School to beging with).

3. They think that the challenges in the Job market is specific only to those with PhDs, and think that others who have done a MBA or other advance degrees have an easier time looking for a Job, which is not the case, they too suffer Job market woes that are quite similar (degree with no experience in a competitive Job market).

4. failure to see that here is a broad spectrum of Jobs out there - see my Point 2, the lose that proactive, competitive and open mindset and dare I say, entrepreneural mindset, and get trapped in the academic, only Professor or lab head positions. They then expect and wait for "Training" as you mentioned. Not to negate that there is a Need and universities should Support, but as MWS noted, there is the Need to seek out things as an individual. As the saying goes - if you want results, you have to go out and make the calls.

Now, I admit I am quite disconnected from that School, Job hunt, Interface from a PhD Point of view, but based i think those are some of the challenges, and ist really a Change behavior Point of view in my opinion, or a Reversion to a behavior that once existed maybe that got diluted by spending too much time in an academic Setting, which can blunt competitiveness and self-promotion.

So start Training on those lost skills..and that already is a good launching platform.

My two Cents since you asked.

DX
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Re: PhD expectations

Postby Ana » Tue Jun 21, 2016 3:55 am

Hi Mac,

I was very involved in career development programs for trainees while I was a postdoc and I share your impressions that higher education fails to prepare trainees for future works. The focus is on producing publications, not on developing the skills that will help them succeed in or out of academia.

I also think one of the mail limitations to some PhD holders is not their PhD but their sense of entitlement as DX already flagged.

Getting jobs nowadays is had for everyone. I come from Spain, a country with more than 25% unemployment rate, and let me tell you that PhDs do far better than any other group here when it comes to getting jobs (less than 5% unemployment). Sure, we should mention that many will be underemployed, in particular because in my country the industry sector is virtually non existent, but what I want to flag is that we probably still do far better than people with no PhDs when it comes to having jobs. So finding a job IS hard, and as DX pointed out in point 3 it is not a unique problem of PhD holders.

If there was some advice to be given to PhD students and postdocs it would be to be smart and take ownership of their own life-education process. Go out and talk to people, learn about the job market in general, and in their field. Hear other people stories, make contacts. Don't go at it alone or ignore that reality until you find yourself with a diploma (or the end of your fellowship) in your hand, and don't rely on your PI to take care of your career needs. It takes a village to raise a child, go build your village.

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Re: PhD expectations

Postby Dick Woodward » Tue Jun 21, 2016 9:10 am

First, let me point out that Ana is still very involved in career development - that's why she is one of the advisors for this forum.

That being said, both Ana and DX have given you very good answers. I particularly liked DX' comment about entitlement. I once received an application from a newly-minted PhD, with no industrial or business experience whatsoever, who stated that his degree entitled him to a management position (at a whopping high salary), a company car, an expense account, and sundry other perks which I, as the head of the department, did not have. (Neither did the CEO, come to think of it.) We laughed so hard that we almost cried...

This forum has had a great deal of discussions about non-academic and non-lab careers for PhDs. Mac, I would suggest that you spend a bit of time browsing the forum to look at what has already been posted.

Remember, part of the reason that the PhD programs provide no career guidance to the non-academic and non-lab career opportunities is that there is generally no one in the program that knows anything about these "alternate" careers.

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Re: PhD expectations

Postby Nate W. » Tue Jun 21, 2016 12:09 pm

Dick Woodward wrote:Remember, part of the reason that the PhD programs provide no career guidance to the non-academic and non-lab career opportunities is that there is generally no one in the program that knows anything about these "alternate" careers.

Dick


Nor is there much incentive in academia to train PhDs for the non-academic job market, especially when the PIs and departments are paying the bills for your education. PIs want quality papers as a ROI on their investment.

I understand the sense of the entitlement and the anxiety about future options. You want a ROI on your time and the PI's goals of high impact publications is often at odds with competing for even a faculty position and even more so for an alternative track position outside of academia. Less than about 10% of PhDs are able to compete for funding and subsequently land a tenure track position because their of PI's (grad advisor and future academic employers) lack of funding and potential opportunity for publication at a high level. The inequities in funding adversely effect the academic opportunities for a PI's trainees. The reputation and track record of your mentor (PI) is essential to a trainees career progress. This is why most tenure track professors come from a small number of labs and universities.

In the non-academic job market, a significant issue is that most alternative track employers are located in hub cities and the options in non-hub cities is significantly limited. The difference is quite significant. The Boston area has about the same number or more biotechs than the whole state of Texas. There is about 5-10 more VC money in Boston that Texas for biotech startups. This is all in a city that is 1/3 the size of Dallas in terms of population even though Texas has the second largest healthcare market in the country. Employees don't want to move to non-hub biotechs because options are limited and if they lose their job their prospects of a long job search are quite good. Plus, they have to get out of mortgage which wouldn't be the case if they lived in a hub like Boston or the Bay Area.

In a non-hub area, your options are academic research, crime labs, reagent sales, or MSL positions. Even in large cities like Houston or Dallas, there are only a handful of these jobs. Respectfully, I must disagree with DX, a MBA or EE graduate will have much easier time finding a job which supports a family in a city like Dallas, Houston, or Atlanta than a PhD in the life sciences. However, a PhD in the life sciences might easily find a good job in Cambridge or the I128 corridor of Boston compared other non-hub cities. Networking is the key to connecting and landing the right job; however, that is difficult when you live in a non-hub city (fly over country).Thus, it depends the job market job what type of companies are located that region. On whole a MBA or clinical degree (MD, PA, MSN, or PharmD), it much easier to find a job regardless of where one lives; as such these degrees would do well in Dallas. A PhD in the life sciences would do better in Boston or any other hub city.

Given the demographics facing a PhD graduate in the life sciences, the job search is a considerable conundrum, especially those living in non-hub cities.

Edited 6/22/2016
Last edited by Nate W. on Wed Jun 22, 2016 9:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: PhD expectations

Postby D.X. » Wed Jun 22, 2016 3:16 am

Nate W. wrote:
Dick Woodward wrote:Remember, part of the reason that the PhD programs provide no career guidance to the non-academic and non-lab career opportunities is that there is generally no one in the program that knows anything about these "alternate" careers.

Dick


Nor is there much incentive in academia to train PhDs for the non-academic job market, especially when the PIs and departments are paying the bills for your education. PIs want quality papers as a ROI on their investment.

I understand the sense of the entitlement and the anxiety about future options. You want a ROI on your time and the PI's goals of high impact publications is often at odds with competing for even a faculty position and even more so for an alternative track position outside of academia. Less than about 10% of PhDs are able to compete for funding and subsequently land a tenure track position because their PI's (grad advisor and future academic employers) lack of funding and opportunity for publication at a high level. This is why most tenure track professors come from a small number of labs and universities.

In the non-academic job market, a significant issue is that most alternative track employers are located in hub cities and the options in non-hub cities is significantly limited. The difference is quite significant. The Boston area has about the same number or more biotech than the whole state of Texas. There is about 5-10 more VC money in Boston that Texas for biotech startups. This is all in a city that is 1/3 the size of Dallas in terms of population even though Texas has the second largest healthcare market in the country. Employees don't want to move to non-hub biotechs because options are limited and if they lose their job their prospects of a long job search are quite good. Plus, they have to get out of mortgage.

In a non-hub area, your options are academic research, crime labs, reagent sales, or MSL positions. Even in large cities like Houston or Dallas, there are only a handful of these jobs. Respectfully, I must disagree with DX, a MBA or EE graduate will have much easier time finding a job in a city like Dallas, Houston, or Atlanta than a PhD. However, a PhD in the life sciences might easily find in Cambridge or the I128 corridor of Boston compared other non-hub cities. Networking is the key to connecting and landing the right job; however, that is difficult when you live in a non-hub city (fly over country). Given the demographics facing a PhD graduate in the life sciences, the job search is a considerable conundrum, especially those living in non-hub cities.


Well lets set the expectations for PhD programs and non-academic careers. The purpose of PhD programs is to train scientist to conduct Research with a goal of becoming an indepedent investigator, usually acadmic. End of Story. If that not the expectation coming in from a Student Point of view, then my view and advice becomes, leave, don't apply and go away.

That's the contract and thus should set the expectation. Anything beyond that can go past the Expertise of those in the practice of delvering that education, one can debate on the quality of that education within that sphere of responsiblity (i.e. Access to grant writing etc). But put it this way, would you expect a scientist to teach a fire fighter on the skills of firefighting? Once one has the expectation then that begins to modify thinking a bit on non-academic careers. See Dicks and Ana's Point on self drive. But I stop on that Point no Need for endless debate, obviously some have recognized that science careers do go beyond the bench and do go "out of their scope" of Expertise and responsiblity to provide some insights via some career discussion programs, invited Speakers etc etc. etc.

Nate makes a great Point about one influencing environmental factor when it Comes to job search which is geographic Location, so called hub vs non-hub. Link that to subject matter (i.e EE), or different fields (finance) and you get high correalation to where jobs of a certain field are enriched, geographic wise. True.

However, one should take from Nate's post regarding this issue, is that there is an increasing need to be geograhically flexible. It's can be an Advantage to have that flexiblity and certainly that geographic flexiblity can offer opporunity to evaluate other Avenues. Its not limited to moving to hub Areas. In fact, Nate mentioned that in Texas that there ARE biotechs, maybe not the same concentration and number as Boston, but there are opporunities. And as part of a career mix, sometimes, looking at an opportunity outside hub Areas can give an experience that could be worth its weight in Gold. So that's the expectation that can be managed, which is be geographically flexible - don't Limit oneself to hub Areas = yes Jobs may be enriched and a high Chance of finding Job ..maybe...but other Areas that a non-hub or not of high interest to many may give good results as well. So be open minded. And if one has expectation managed, one can easily pursue such non-hub opportunity as a shorter-term Engagement with the idea one is not there to settle, just to get an experience then move on.

Things like Mortgage, Family etc. can be managed..and are managed. Even if its a fly over state. There are ways this can be managed if one does not want to uproot.

And if one decides to uproot, it is very well possible one may find something quite interesting, as in my case and many others I know. And at a personal Level, geographic moves does strengthen the Person from a change Management Point of view - just look at an expatriot community, they eat change management for breakfast. Not to say they don't have the issues, but like anything in life, they manage it and grow from it.


So Overall manage expectations but do keep an open mind.

DX
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Re: PhD expectations

Postby PACN » Thu Jun 23, 2016 3:42 pm

At my institution, we offer at least 2 types of programs to help students prepare for jobs outside academia. One is career panels of PhDs to come talk about their jobs (like science writing, MSLs, etc.). The other is more focused on skills to get a job, like resume writing and interviewing. A major problem we have had is attendance. We have over 500 biomedical PhD students and postdocs at our institution. The attendance at the last 3 events were 4, 13, and 30. It's like Mac F said, students have blinders on and don't take advantage of the opportunities that are offered. Then they get to the end of their PhD and have no idea what else is out there. I can lead the proverbial horse to water, but I just can't figure out how to make him drink at this point.

As another question, other than exposing them to careers, what else should programs be doing to prepare students for outside careers while they are still in academia? Job training for specific careers is beyond our scope, I would say. We think we are teaching them critical thinking and writing skills. But beyond that, I advise our PhD students to build soft skills outside the program by seeking out leadership opportunities in student groups or finding volunteer opportunities that help with their goals. But what else can our programs be doing?
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Re: PhD expectations

Postby D.X. » Fri Jun 24, 2016 3:17 am

Hi PACN -

Man o man 500 students?! Wow. Regarding attendence, it confirms your Point about leading a horse to water. Personally, I would run a Survey to understand why the low attendence rate - ask the right questions and you may find some Areas where you can target behavior Change with some Level of proactiveness (jeez, sorry for sounding like a Marketeer, but that's how we integrate market research/customer insights into Marketing to define a strategy). Just like you did here, you can ask what they want, within defined boundries (i.e we don't do job specific Training). And this could be the first question to ask, before the "what else?".

Your advice on leadership skills via Student Groups or volunteering is fantastic. I would probably guide in that direction as to what they can consider -i.e. Community Service such as American Red Cross etc.

Regarding what else, here are a few ideas:

1. Support students desire for external Training time wise. i.e if a study wants to take a Business 101 course, at their own expense, that only takes up 2 half days a week, then provide a System to back them up time wise. Serve as their advocate to thier PI and negottiate time wawy from the lab.

2. Support a comprehensive interview Training course - for tenured students. This would touch on a variety of Topics to include some soft skills but more importantly, insight into how one Expresses one self, at least tip of the ice berg, in a non-academic, corpoate Setting.

3. Low hanging fruit here. You are probably in a hosptial Setting. Give your students some clinical insights. Most biomedical students are doing laboratory work to Support increase knowledge of a disease molecuor mechanism or trying ot understand a drug target - but I'm sure they know Zero, nothing, zilch, zippo, nada, about the clinical aspects the area they are working in. I'm sure they have never seen a Patient with thier disease or even understand a tinyist bit on how These therapeutic interventions are examined in patients within their disease Areas, what clinical Primary endpoint are used and why. Once one goes into non-academic Settings, such as corporate or non-proftis, it is most likely the subject area will be more clinical in nature (certainly on my side of pharma we are mainly focused on clinical data). So build some bridges to your clinical departments - tactically as a first step you can have students spend at least 2 days on clinical rounds with a physcian and then Bridge that by allowing their Access to Clinical department Journal Clubs (where they can attend at least 1 once every 2 months), more if they build relationships, and raise awareness of relevant Grand Rounds lectures (i.e if you see a new therapeutic being discussed). I think the very first step of seeing a Patient will modify their thinking a bit, as it did for me. In my case, I was proactive and I found it myself - i did rounds in a Neruology department and was really the first time a saw a Patient and got "real world" insights into how they were monitored for disease Status, Progression, what drugs were being used and why, how they were looking at efficacy (not like what you see in a clinical paper and definately, notbhing like one can imagine if one is looking a western blotts all day). And no..TV Shows like House doesnt make the cut.

I hammer on that one, because that clinical awareness was a key knowledge Point to Access my first path into the industry (a MSL role). So try supporting that...to those who are interested.

4. Also Bridge to other Groups in the Hospital, such as the IRB - see if you can get a Student on there (ad-hoc) as layman. Or Reach out your Office of Medical Education or Grants Administration, you can see if you can get a half day spot in one of those departments.

Hope this helps!

DX
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