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Graduating PhD looking to fly away from academia...any advice?

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Graduating PhD looking to fly away from academia...any advice?

Postby Linds K. » Tue Nov 01, 2016 8:48 pm

Hello, fellow scientists!

I was wondering if I might be able to get some advice from those of you that have successfully transitioned out of academia into industry. I am finishing up my 6th year of my Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology and am very interested in avoiding the postdoc route and transitioning into a career more suited to my interests. My graduate program provides very little "careers outside academia" exposure, but I am very interested in moving into the government sector as a researcher or into the public policy field. Does anyone have an experience in making this segue or any advice? I realize networking is a very important part in making an impression, but I'm not sure I quite grasp how to effectively do that without seeming needy. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
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Re: Graduating PhD looking to fly away from academia...any advice?

Postby D.X. » Wed Nov 02, 2016 8:12 am

LindsK wrote:Hello, fellow scientists!

I am very interested in moving into the government sector as a researcher or into the public policy field. Does anyone have an experience in making this segue or any advice? I realize networking is a very important part in making an impression, but I'm not sure I quite grasp how to effectively do that without seeming needy. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!


Hi - On your first question and specific to public policy, have you given thought into what area of public policy you would like to Play in? The more you can drill down your interest the better and more efficent starting Point and focus area can have. In the begining I recommend you find an area where you may have a Passion for, even an interest. Maybe even an idea of what you want to acheive.

One you have narrowed down your Areas of interest as it pertains to policy, you start where we all start, stakeholder mapping. Who are parties that have your shared interest and stakeholder presense, both influence wise and end-receiver in that relevant area. From there you can start reaching out and get to Informational interviewing. Some places to start can include Medical Societies, Patient Advocacy Groups, as well as Government and Non-Government Organizations to create your map. You may be able to drill down to individual Offices or individuals where you can reach - many can be interlinked as can be the case with Medical Societies and Patient Advocacy Groups, the Patient advocacy Group can be an arm of a medical Society (i.e. National Kidney Foundation ext etc.) Some of These really big Medical Societies may even have a Policy Arm, i.e. European Heart Association or American Heart Association etc. etc. You may even identify political stakeholders who hold an elected govenment Office (just as an example, Charles Rangle, US HR Rep to NYC, with historic interest in Dialysis Quality Improvement Policy)

My recommendation is to not only Focus on the top but don't Forget local. Often Folks equate policy with Washington DC or Brussels with subsequent policy Setting, dessimniation, interpretation and local implimentation, don't Forget policy can have grassroots and can initiated locally too and expanded out.

Your second questions:

when you start informational interviewing you Goal is to ..well..get Information. In this Phase you are trying to understand the role of each stakeholder, process, challenges, motivations, outcomes being seeked, and unmet Needs - from there you may find a Point of mutual interests (see my Point above on Passion/interest) where you can then chase. But if you do the first part right, and ask the right questions, framed appropriately, you wont' be perceived as needy, in General when you are in the world of policy, you are in a place where generally, People are driven by the same interest, and if you're sharing that and genuinely, then it's potentially a mitigator of that perception.

You'll find People are generally interested in having additional help here and whereas you first opporunity may not yield monetary rewards - you'll have some other rewards that may make you richer in other catagories.

So, do some Desktop Research - maybe first defined you area of interest may even already existing policy initiatives which you may already pursue (in industry we say, already align and piggy back on to). that can be low hanging fruit for you. Start with the medical societies, especially the big ones, most will have a policy arm where they will usualy have thier plans mapped out or roadmapped, you get some ideas. Look for Terms such as "White paper" etc. that's usually one of the first deliverables in policy process. Read and formulate your questions - Find stakeholders involved and reachout for informational interviewing.

I can't give you any advice on Research in government other than contact the US Military. Low hanging fruit with some good career Options and Long term stablity Job wise with competitive packages. Assuming you are US citizen. If not, well try it anyways, many years ago they had paths to US citizenship provided you offered a skill set that was in Need.

Dx
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Re: Graduating PhD looking to fly away from academia...any advice?

Postby Renee L. » Wed Nov 02, 2016 6:54 pm

I have worked in the past as a US government contractor in Wash. DC, and my suggestion for you is to look for a fellowship that is government-sponsored, or at least is in someway connected to the government. These fellowships are really post-docs, but they are more geared to what is important to the government, either research, regulatory, or policy-wise. To apply for most of the fellowships, you can't be more than 5 years out from having earned your Ph.D.
AAAS sponsors some fellowships, as well as do some professional societies. A lot of fellowships are administered by the ORISE organization, so you can look there for openings. USAJobs.gov is the federal government's job site, and they also have fellowships listed, though these can also be called 'term appointments'. Of course, you can also apply directly for any federal job openings that you find on USAJobs.gov. For many federal agencies, they often hire for permanent jobs from the pool of people who have held fellowships.
If you still want to do some lab research, there are all the government labs to apply to for fellowships, such as the USDA labs, the EPA labs, FDA labs, NIH, Dept. of Energy, etc. This is another way people have entered into government positions.
The following is just my opinion - but if you are interested in the policy/regulatory side of things, get yourself to Washington in some way or another once you've earned your Ph.D. You'll get to meet people who do a variety of jobs with science backgrounds, and I think you'll have a better chance long term of finding positions that match your interests.
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Re: Graduating PhD looking to fly away from academia...any advice?

Postby Linds K. » Thu Nov 03, 2016 5:58 pm

Thank you both so much for the quick replies! I plan on pursuing policy/government work only if my husband ends up in Washington since I think I have the best chance of one of those positions there. Renee, how accessible are these fellowships to someone directly out of a Ph.D.? I worry I am not an impressive enough of a candidate to earn something as impressive as that. Ideally, I would like to leave the bench for good but still keep my hands in science in some way.

When you were a government contractor, how did you secure the position? Did you do a postdoc first and then apply? I attended an alternative careers seminar today and a number of the speakers, all established Ph.D.'s that have gotten away from academia, said the postdoc is not a necessary thing to do for the positions I'm interested in.

Thank you so much for the advice, Dx. I am still trying to decide which area of policy that interests me the most. There is a lot to consider since I am really just beginning to explore alternative career options.
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Re: Graduating PhD looking to fly away from academia...any advice?

Postby RGM » Thu Nov 03, 2016 9:01 pm

Linds K. wrote:Thank you both so much for the quick replies! I plan on pursuing policy/government work only if my husband ends up in Washington since I think I have the best chance of one of those positions there. Renee, how accessible are these fellowships to someone directly out of a Ph.D.? I worry I am not an impressive enough of a candidate to earn something as impressive as that. Ideally, I would like to leave the bench for good but still keep my hands in science in some way.

When you were a government contractor, how did you secure the position? Did you do a postdoc first and then apply? I attended an alternative careers seminar today and a number of the speakers, all established Ph.D.'s that have gotten away from academia, said the postdoc is not a necessary thing to do for the positions I'm interested in.

Thank you so much for the advice, Dx. I am still trying to decide which area of policy that interests me the most. There is a lot to consider since I am really just beginning to explore alternative career options.


I know this policy route pretty decently as well, having tried to enter it as well as giving career advice to a few who made it as AAAS fellows.

The truth is the AAAS fellowships are THE gold standard in DC. You get one of those, something will come your way provided you look for it. That's the good news. The bad news, they are EXTREMELY competitive. To give you an idea, someone I know had a Nobel Prize winner well regarded in the policy circles write him a letter of recommendation; this person was wait-listed, ultimately got it, but non the less, an alternate.


Contrast that to someone else I know, similar background as the above person, talked all about his thesis (something AAAS people told him NOT to do), and he gets in right off the bat.

Contrast w/another person I know, didn't talk about his thesis, had some basic policy experience too, and wasn't considered at all, ie no interviews.

A postdoc is not necessary per se, but it often puts you in the right geography. Such as getting your ticket punched at the NIH, and through networking converting that into a policy job.

IMO, for policy slots, it's like real estate "location location location", if you aren't near it, you won't get it.

Whatever you do, DO NOT count on the AAAS or any other fellowship at all as your path to policy. You will likely regret it. There used to be a small amount of people who applied to these, now there are tons. The competition is fierce.

The best way is to move to DC. There are numerous societies (they don't have large policy staffs mind you, and these jobs are rarely open), and assorted NGOs.

That's your best bet really. If you count on the various fellowships you'll regret it.
Apply, but do not at all count on it.

If you want to learn more about cracking the AAAS Fellowship, OR the others that exist, do yourself a favor. Just network, be it LinkedIn or elsewhere with former members. They typically have a good idea of what they are looking for, more so if they are one of the "judges".

Lastly, some states offer their own fellowships at the state house. Again, don't count on it, but apply. The same is true for some Mayor offices, usually larger cities though, eg NYC, LA etc
"Some men see things as they are and say why, I dream things that never were and say why not"
"If you think research is expensive, try disease." - Mary Lasker
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Re: Graduating PhD looking to fly away from academia...any advice?

Postby Renee L. » Sun Nov 06, 2016 1:39 pm

Dear LindaK,

I got my job as a government contractor without doing a post-doc, but I had several years of industry experience, that was related to the work I did as a contractor. And I got the contractor position the old fashioned way about 10 years ago, via an ad on CareerBuilder.com. The job was in the Wash. DC area, where I was able to move to.

You do not need to have had a post-doc to get a government fellowship, either at a government lab, or at a government agency doing non-lab work. In fact, it is somewhat better to not have had a post-doc, since the fellowships are limited to those who are no more than 5 years out from having earned their Ph.D.s. This means that a person who earned their Ph.D. in 2010 would be ineligible to apply for these fellowships now (a policy I am opposed to, but that how things are).

There are fellowships available in federal labs, many of which are located across the country. Though these are laboratory positions, they are another way to get one's foot in the door for getting more permanent government-related positions. The ORISE organization administers the posting and placement of people into many of these fellowships, and you can read more here about this: http://orise.orau.gov/science-education ... ellowships. You do not have to be a brilliant scientist to get these.

So, good luck finding something that works for you. It's good you're thinking about this now, rather than waiting until after you've finished your degree.
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